Thursday, October 20, 2016

Zulu Wars in the Shed and back to the ACW?

Well it was nice to get over to the Shed this week and see the extension that Eric has been working on over the summer.  We played a Zulu Wars game with the new The Men who Would be Kings rules by Dan Mersey. My account of it is here and Eric the Shed's much more comprehensive view of it is here.  We had five players and my dice throwing was a bit better than usual although not as good as Alastair's!

Throw five or six to hit!

My DIY skills do not extend further than putting up a curtain rail or, possibly, a shelf, at most.  I cannot do things with wood, let alone build a shed from scratch!  We got a shed a couple of years ago but I had to pay Mr John Lewis £3000 for it (plus another £1000 for the base).

How do people even learn how to do this stuff?  Even if I did learn I would still be rubbish at execution.  My father in law despairs of me.  He has a whole workshop full of stuff for doing stuff to stuff. I get stressed if I have to put on an electric plug.  Maybe its about having the right tools.  This is his workshop.  Look at the size of it!  It's got two boats in it he is working on.  This boat was at Dunkirk in 1940!

Eric's Shedstension means you can stand back and admire his lovely table from afar

Oh well.  The Shedstension means that Eric now has more room for his stuff.  This is useful wargames stuff, which is proper stuff, not weird tools stuff (although he probably has those too).  I was over at my father in law's the other week and he was talking about a new 'router'. What on earth is a router?  What is it for?  I have never heard of such a thing.  Some sort of power tool, I gather.  I didn't ask in case he told me and made me feel inadequate.  He gets cross that I make the Old Bat lay concrete and such like.  I don't make her, actually, she does it herself.  I am always in trouble for not maintaining the house.  How do you maintain a house? Things fall apart (as that annoying Nigerian novel was called which I had to study at school - I seem to recall it was mostly about yams) and you put up with them not working until it gets so bad you get a man in to deal with it (or get the Old Bat to do it),  

It even looks evil!

If the Old Bat gets really cross with me ("Have you paid for Guy's rowing?"  "Have you paid for Charlotte's physiotherapy?" etc etc - it's always pay, pay, pay for something for those waste of time and money babies) she threatens to buy me a Black & Decker workmate for Christmas.  She does this because she knows it would be my worst present ever and I would never use it (I probably would struggle with getting it out of the box).  She just likes the idea of it sitting there in the shed like a malevolent spirit (like that evil rocking horse in the scariest film I ever saw when I was little, The Rocking Horse Winner (1949)) making me feel uncomfortable.

Anyway, the Shed has been much enhanced with the addition of things like a kettle and also music (we had the Zulu soundtrack by John Barry playing).  Of course from now on I will expect appropriate music for every game!  We also had a new player along although, of course, they were a proper wargamer, not a terrified amateur like me.  The reason I stopped going to Guildford Wargames Club was that I got so stressed about having to play against clever people who knew the rules.  The Shed is a very friendly environment, though and people are patient with me.

I haven't played a game there since May and this was only my third game of the year but I have been very busy at work (I am back working from home - I didn't like going back to commuting) and dealing with various issues with the children who are both stressing me out.  I really want to get back to doing a bit of painting but my eyesight seems to have taken a turn for the worse and I know I can't paint to the standard I used to (which wasn't that good, anyway) so I am a bit frightened of picking up a brush in case my eyesight is even worse than I thought.

What I am now not sure about now is where this leaves my own Zulu Wars project.  Eric now has every figure you could possible need for a game so it seems a bit pointless to carry on at my glacial speed painting figures.  I have painted 40 Zulus and some 25 British but this is about 10% of what Eric painted in a few months.  Still, some solo skirmish games might be on the cards.

I have been good at not buying any figures and haven't been to a show since Salute but I might try and get to Warfare.  I am very tempted by Perry miniatures new Union ACW plastics, despite stopping and starting with the period several times.  This is all to do with Airfix days, of course and the recent article in the September issue of miniature Wargames on recreating a Terence Wise scenario from his book Introduction to Battle Gaming. using plastic 1/72nd figures.

The (fictional) Centerville battle was one I played many times with my friends in the mid seventies.  To do this again with 28mm plastics and the same rules is very tempting.  Now Guy has gone to university it would be easy to set up our table tennis table in his room for a solo game.  Each side has 81 infantry (3 regiments of 27) 12 cavalry and three guns.  So I reckon that would be eight boxes plus a few metal command. Hmm...

Of course I would have to paint all those figures and that would mean sacrificing painting quality (which I find really hard to do - I just cannot contemplate army painter!) but if they were plastics maybe I wouldn't care so much.  Now the real issue is that I have only painted 10 figures this year but a project like this might get me painting again.

Exciting update: I based some Mexicans today.  My first hobby activity for six months!  Hooray!
Not such an exciting update:  There is a chance I will have to go and work abroad for three months.  Boo!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Back from Africa 1: Botswana

I haven't done any painting for three months as I have spent six weeks of the last eleven in Africa and two in Cowes. The rest of the time was spent preparing for those trips, writing reports afterwards and getting Guy off to university for the first time.  I have been following lots of wargames blogs and Facebook pages and noting, in particular, the buzz around Congo and some mixed reviews for The Men Who Would Be Kings.  

This used to be under water

Although I have been to Zambia once on business, all my other African visits have been to North Africa (Tunisia, Libya and Egypt) which is a very different prospect from sub-Saharan Africa.  Botswana is in Southern Africa, and is a different environment again. They haven't had any proper rain for three years and water is becoming a problem.  Botswana is the success story of Africa with low corruption, good government and a strong economy.  However it's economy is built almost exclusively on diamond mining and really the country is funded directly by De Beers who have the mining concessions there.

The capital, Gaborone has a lot of modern buildings, excellent roads and a feeling of prosperity about it although the country is starting to suffer as a result of the drought and the recession has hit diamond sales.  Ten per cent of the two million population live in the capital and it is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world with much of the centre of it being taken up by the Kalahari desert.

You can't fly direct from the UK so I flew to Johannesburg (over ten hours) for an overnight stop and a meeting and then the short hop back to Gaborone.  It was my first trip on an A380 Airbus and I think it was noticeably quieter in the cabin but I did worry about the number of people on board.   I was supposed to get an aisle seat but I ended up in the middle which is no fun on an overnight flight.  Fortunately, I had time to decompress at the other end.

The trip up from Johannesburg was short and the airport at Gaborone is bright and modern (unlike Johannesburg which was old fashioned and dingy).

St Louis beer in the pool bar

On my way from the airport I passed the St Louis brewery and, as I like to support the local brewing industry, I drank quite a lot of it, although, I have to confess, it wasn't very exciting and I found that the Namibian equivalent was much better.

Namibia's Windhoek lager

The South African beer was even better and I tried a few but felt I should be supporting the other countries more.  Service in the hotel varied from indifference to genuinely friendly and helpful although we noticed things improved when they discovered we weren't South African, which nearly all the white people in the hotel were.  I did see one or two unpleasant old style Afrikaans examples of behaviour towards the staff (calling someone 'boy' is never going to sound respectful) which took me back to the days of Spitting Image's classic song "I've never met a nice South African" which I would then happily whistle whenever I saw something unpleasant.

Still, I met a nice South African lady in my last few days, when my colleague had departed for Namibia.  He doesn't drink alcohol and talks about politics (something I have no interest in whatsoever) all the time, so after two weeks with him I was glad to replace him with a friendly blonde and bottles of South African wine (even if I had to drink girls' wine). Two weeks without wine was making me twitchy.  Beer is a soft drink.

The office

My hotel was very nice indeed, with gardens and a pool with a nice outdoor covered bar which served as our office for most of the visit.  The temperature was cold in the mornings (7 degrees) but rose to 22 or 23 by the afternoon.  Perfect for working outside!

I didn't swim in the pool but it was unheated and two American girls who tried it immediately shot out of the water like Orcas chasing a seal.

Still, I made friends with Pool Bar Cat who did quite well on scraps from people's tables.  He was a very polite cat and would just sit at your feet and look hopeful rather than jumping up on your table like next door's cat, Harry, has a habit of doing.  Amusingly, he was a grey version of Harry; he looked like a black and white photograph of him!

Talking of feline; after we had been there a day or two the environment was considerably enlivened by the arrival of a dozen tall, skinny women who were, it turned out, the finalists for the Miss Botswana competition.  Annoyingly this was due to take place the day after I had to leave otherwise I would have gone.  One of the girls even had a free ticket for me!  They were all, very, very young!

The ladies tottered about on their five inch heels wearing skin tight trousers (African ladies -goodness me!) attending a number of promotional events but they had breakfast and dinner in the hotel.  I saw one at breakfast having a meal of a glass of water and five olives!  They all looked friendly enough in press shots but in reality, although they all 'ate' together they seemed very aware that they were all competitors and did not seem the best of friends.

The view from my room

.I had a nice room which had a lovely view of the main part of the hotel but was in a quiet annex.  This was just as well as the walk from my room to the hotel was about the limit of my exercise for over two and half weeks.

Two and a half weeks of hotel food started to take their toll and I put on half a stone.  The issue, primarily was a cooked breakfast buffet.  I justified this because on most days we were too busy to have lunch.

Breakfast was very good indeed with rye bread toast available, delicious eggs, first class bacon and good sausages (meat in Botswana is excellent).

Added to this was the fact that they had good tea, proper milk and those two key indicators of world civilisation HP sauce and Colman's mustard.  These two enhanced breakfast nearly as much as the Miss Botswana contestants!

In the second week I was good and had porridge instead, though (except for the last day when I had everything and added a steak as well!).  The pool bar food tended to be quite high calorie but I did have one or two wraps with salad on the rare lunchtimes I was in the hotel.  There was an a la carte restaurant in the hotel but it was expensive and had terrible reviews on Trip Advisor.  It also didn't have any windows, unlike the main restaurant, so I didn't bother with that.  The problem was that the food in the evenings was a buffet too, which is never  a good thing.  They had Indian chefs so the curry bar was particularly splendid.

One evening, while walking from my room to the restaurant a whole load of monkeys appeared outside my room.  There were date plalms in the grounds and they come after the dates, it seems.   I was, for some reason, absolutely delighted by this!

At the weekend we got out to see some animals in the bush. The landscape here is really more Zulu Wars than Congo but I had Michael Small's soundtrack to Mountains of the Moon on my iPod which is perfect African explorer music.  However, the submerged hippo was a nice Congo moment and made me think about my diet too as I was reminded of my brother in law, who is derided by the Old Bat's (genetically skinny) family as he is even heavier than me (well, the wrong side of 25 stone which is a lot more than me!)

Actually,  I have eaten that!

 Now usually my view of animals is that the only good one is a cooked one but I enjoyed seeing some of the creatures and it got me thinking that I need to paint some of the African animals I have for Congo, as the game actually requires some creatures.

Unfortunately, quite a lot of the African animals in 28mm are a bit cartoon-like (Foundry Lions) and very few are as nice as the old Copplestone rhinos and elephants,  No one seems to make nice zebra ,which is a shame as I would love to paint a herd of zebra.

North Star do some warthogs (along with quite a lot of other African animals) so I will certainly have to get a couple, given I saw some!  I have a giraffe, some elephants some gorillas, some lions and some African cattle, somewhere.

So Botswana was a very nice country to visit and I may have to go back there again next month or after Christmas when it will be rather warmer!

Botswana used to known as Bechuanaland which was British protectorate, administered from Mafeking, until Botswana's independence in 1966.  It was one of three High Commission Territories, along with Basutoland (now Lesotho) and Swaziland.  The local inhabitants resisted incursion by the Boers and the British South African Company.  The story of the first President, who married, controversially at the time, a white woman is told in the new film A United Kingdom which had its premier last week.  The current president is his son and was born in Chertsey, Surrey (as was my daughter!)

From a wargaming piont of view the local  Bechuana (now known as the Tswana) provided a force of their warriors to fight with the British against the Matabele, their traditional enemy.  They had very distinctive H-shaped shields and employed throwing spears extensively.  I may have to try and convert a few once I work out how to model their distinctive cloaks.

The next post looks at the Africa country I visited last month, Liberia, a very different experience indeed. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Spaceships by Tim White

I've just got back from Botswana after an eighteen and half hour journey, more on which later in the week.  Too tired to do anything today but while surfing the internet this afternoon my eye was caught by a click bait article on the Star Wars sequel novel Splinter of the Minds Eye by Alan Dan Foster. This was written as the story of a possible low budget Star Wars sequel before George Lucas realised he had a major hit on his hands.  Foster, because he did a lot of film novelisations, was regarded as a hack writer by the 'proper' science fiction community but I enjoyed several of his books when I was. admittedly, a teenager.

Monument (1974)

I used to read almost exclusively science fiction from about the age of eight, much of it more advanced reading age wise than my age at the time and there is no doubt it helped me in my English lessons at school, despite the derision it was held in by teachers (especially by the time I reached senior school and the books' reading age started to dip below where I was supposed to be).  I grew out of science fiction by the time I was about seventeen, when I discovered how to explore a much more exotic fantasy world; girls. 

Yes, it's that Gary Chalk, of wargames scenery and Battlecars fame, mentioned as a contributing artist!

Anyway, then as now, I have always had  a primarily visual, rather than a literary, sensibility (much to my sister's despair) and the mid seventies saw a burgeoning of UK science fiction book cover artists. At about the same time, New English Library launched Science Fiction Monthly (1974-1976) a broadsheet loose leaf magazine which featured novel cover art in big poster sized reproductions.  It was through this that I became familiar with many of the artists of the time like Chris Foss, Bruce Pennington and Tim White.  Although Foss (who, amusingly, did the illustrations for The Joy of Sex) was the master of the massive floating bricks style of spaceships I found White's work much more atmospheric.  He really did create whole worlds in his paintings.

Stopwatch (1975)

White was born in 1952 and he studied at Medway College of Art. In 1972 he started working at a number of advertising studios while doing fantasy and SF illustrations in his spare time.  In 1974 he got his first book cover illustration commission, for an Arthur C Clarke novel and became a freelance illustrator shortly afterwards.  His pictures from this period were very accomplished, given he was still only in his early twenties.

Icerigger (1975)

Back to Alan Dean Foster and it was his cover for that author's Icerigger which really was the definitive science fiction cover for me at the time.  It really stood out on WH Smith's bookshelves and it was probably the first book I bought on the basis of the cover alone.  Unlike Foss, although he was, of course, an able illustrator of the human form (especially beardy men and hirsute women) whose SF pictures rarely included human figures, White often depicted people in his paintings which gave them a human scale.

The Legend of GX 118 (1974)

All of these pictures appeared in Science Fiction Monthly and I think I had most of them up on my wall at some point. They really are some of my favourite SF illustrations of spaceships ever.

Wandering Worlds (1975)

I've always toyed with the idea of some sort of science fiction wargaming, especially as I read lots of SF and hardly any fantasy fiction but while I have played Warhammer and Lord of the Rings I have never played a SF game, although I have bought some Warhammer 40000 figures in the past but just didn't like the figures very much.  It was the Spacemarines flared trousers that put me off, primarily.  Still, maybe one day!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Tour de France Food and Wine Stages 3 and 4: Memories of delicious things

A much delayed post on some Tour de France linked food and wine on my food and drink blog here.  I am travelling with a teetotaller and now haven't had any wine for a week!   Feeling twitchy.
 The hotel is full of fashion models, for a big show in town but they only seem to drink water and not eat at all.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Off to Africa for a couple of weeks...

No posts from me for a bit as I am off to Botswana for two and a half weeks. Never been there before (or South Africa, where I have a meeting on the way out) but I gather, as Africa goes, it isn't too bad.  Still, an eleven hour flight on one of those double decker Airbuses then another hour back to Botswana after a change at Johannesburg.

I'll probably want to paint Darkest AFrica figures when I get back!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Paint table Sunday: Cavepeople and Mexicans

I got on with my cavegirls a bit today and you can read about them, my favourite dinosaur book and an interesting experience with a schoolfriend as a result of looking at it.  All on my cavegirl wargaming  blog.

I have also shaded the skin and jackets of my Mexicans and done the shading on the trousers of half of those I have under way too.  More arrived this week though so they will need basing, except I have a more than two week overseas trip starting on Saturday.  Just when I was getting back into painting too!