Saturday, February 18, 2017

Paint Table Saturday: Union Cavalry and a brief look at Chosen Men

It was nice and bright today and, indeed, even as I start this post at quarter to five it is still light and bright.  Spring is coming!  Hopefully the good start I got to my painting year will continue, aided by the better light.  Sadly, given today's conditions, I have now realised that my eyesight is now not up to the standards of painting (low though they were) I had a few years ago.  Even with 3.5 magnification glasses I just can't see very well any more.  I noticed this particularly today when I was trying to paint the black bits on my union cavalry.  I was finding it very difficult to distinguish the dark blue from back.  I now know never to undercoat any figures in black from now on!

Anyway, today I finished all the black bits on the Union cavalry which is the bit I hate the most, especially as they are mainly straps.  This is usually the worse bit of doing figures but I have the prospect of yellow trim on these figures around the jackets, collars and down the trousers.  I just hope I can manage this.  I put off trying in the dying light so put the base coat down on the base instead.   Hopefully I can get some more done tomorrow.

Interestingly I was catching up on reading some wargames magazines over lunch (not, Reading Wargames Magazines over Lunch TM) and their was a piece in Wargames. Soldiers and Strategy, by one Gordon Lawrence, bemoaning the fact that people feel pressured to achieve the sort of paint jobs seen in the magazines, to the extent that they fail to get enough figures painted for a game.  That's me, that is, I thought,  He also ventured that people put too much contrast on the faces of their figures compared with what real faces look like from a distance.  I have been guilty of over contrasting painting in the past and with my union cavalry I am, while still using three shade painting, consciously trying to be less contrasty than in the past.  There were two (really small) pictures of some of Mr Lawrence's troops (admittedly 15mm ones) and I thought: "Those are rubbish".  Not just rubbish like I now achieve but ten year old's first attempt with a cheap nylon brush rubbish.

Here are some Hinchliffe French Imperial Guard I painted with a cheap nylon brush when I was ten.  I would not dream of putting figures like this in a game.  I am unable to paint quickly, partly because my eyes get tired and I can only manage a couple of hours at most, as today, and partly because I now spend an inordinate amount of time squinting at the figure and thinking: "Is that the belt?"  Is it the bottom of the jacket? And such like.  Now, in the same issue, there was piece by Rick Priestley wondering why so many people use 28mm for games as they take ages to paint and need big boards to play one. "Are we wargamers really more interested in modelling than gaming?" asks Mr Priestley, after an interesting discussion of the history of scale creep.  Well, yes, I am actually.  As anyone knows who has played against me in a game knows, I have no tactical sense, no ability to memorise rules and therefore no ability to use rules to my advantage (known as 'gaming'.).

The purpose of my painting is not to get figures on the table quickly, as both Mr Lawrence and Mr Priestley advocate.  It is to research historical uniforms (I bought all those expensive Lord of the Rings production art books for my only fantasy figures too) and paint them to the best of my (declining ability).  That is my hobby.  The wargaming (thanks be to Eric the Shed) is the excuse for painting. I was in a model soldier shop (the much missed Bonaparte's) in Bath some years ago, with an ex girlfriend, when she asked why if I could never finish wargames units I didn't just paint bigger figures for display.  The answer to that, of course, is that the standards of those who paint larger figures is so staggering it is pointless to try to do the same.

I had a quick look at Chosen Men this week, in a vain attempt to see if I could get a feel for the game by reading the rules. The back cover of the book says that the rules depict skirmishes "with each model representing a single brave soldier".  I also had heard it was supposed to principally represent the skirmishes between light troops in the Napoleonic wars.  Ideal for Sharpe style action in deserted villages, I thought,  So I was surprised that figures in a unit have to remain a maximum of one inch apart.  Really?  For a one man equals one man skirmish?  Then, looking at he makeup of the units the British line unit consists of a sergeant, a standard bearer a drummer and seven infantrymen.  Again, a standard bearer and drummer in a small ten man unit?  At first glance it looks like the way the units are organised goes against the aim to depict individual action.  They recommend battles using 250 points and, for example, most of the British units are 45 points each, which could mean 50 figures a side on a suggested board of four feet by four feet.  The book also has rules (there are a lot of rules - this is not a set full of fluff and padding) for column of attack, for example.  In a skirmish game?  I think this is a set which can't make up its mind what it wants to be: proper one to one skirmish or just a small unit representing a bigger force game (like The Men Who Would Be Kings, for example).  I'd be interested in reading some reviews of them.  Interestingly, in the same issue of WSS I read today there was a review of Sharp Practice 2 which may be just the thing (naturally) for Sharpe.  I am resistant to anything by Too Fat Lardies, though, as I can't stand the name (I also thought it was Two Fat Lardies and imagined people like TV chefs the Hairy Bikers, which put me right off).  Unfortunately, the review assumed you knew how the original game worked so didn't offer much clue as to how it was against Chosen Men.

Today's music is, not coincidentally, Sharpe: Over the Hills an d Far Away the 'soundtrack' to the TV series.  In fact I doubt that there is very much of the series music in it and it is a mixture of Dominic Muldowney's soundtrack, John Tams' interpretation of period songs and some jaunty marches.  It's a bit of an odd mixture really and is almost really a folk album than a real soundtrack one.

I listened to it because as I was flicking through the channels looking for some property show for the Old Bat to watch (she can't operate the TV) I caught a bit of Sharpe's Battle and, in particular a striking young actress in a hussar's jacket (the splendid Siri Neal, above).  It's a long time since I have watched any Sharpe and I think some of them I have only watched once so I may dig one out to watch later.

Marie-Louise O'Murphy(1752)

Today's picture is probably my favourite painting of all time: Mary-Louise O'Murphy de Boisfaily by François Boucher (1703-1760).  A picture I fell in love with when I was about eleven (at the same time that I noticed that Carol, Cathy and Heather in my class were really pretty).  She was the fifth daughter of an army officer of Irish extraction, Daniel O'Murphy de Boisfaily.  She was born in Rouen on October 21st 1737. After her father died her mother took her to Paris where the widow traded in second hand clothes whilst finding work for her daughters. Mary-Louise became a dancer at L'Opera and a model. Casanova knew her (she is mentioned in his diaries) and she may have been his mistress, briefly. Casanova certainly introduced her to Boucher who painted this picture of her in 1752 and also had an affair with her (33 year age difference not withstanding). It has been argued that the picture was produced as a direct invitation to Louis XV; demonstrating that she was available to be his mistress. Rather like leaving a photographic postcard of a girl in a phone box outside a Park Lane hotel. There was no issue about presenting a fourteen year old girl as a sexual object in France at the time. The age of consent was, after all, ten during this period and girls could get legally married at twelve.  

Original life sketch of Marie Louise

Louis XV knew a fine piece when he saw it (he liked the painting too) and she quickly became one of his second tier mistresses and stayed so for two years. Louis had an official mistress, of course, Madame de Pompadour, who may have been happy at first for the king to entertain this plump little distraction as she was increasingly exhausted by Louis voracious sexual demands. Mary-Louise bore the king an illegitimate daughter, Agathe Louise de Saint-Antoine (1754-1774), but she tried to oust Madame de Pompadour from top mistress spot and was soon kicked out of the court and married off to Comte de Beaufranchet, who must have been very cheered by this development, as Mary-Louise was still only 17. He didn't get to enjoy her for very long, though, as he was killed at the Battle of Rossbach in 1757, where Frederick the Great smashed a combined Franco-Austrian army. Mary-Louise subsequently had two more husbands, including one who was thirty years younger than her who she married at the age of 61! Although she was imprisoned for a time during the French Revolution she survived The Terror and died in 1814 at the age of 77. The painting now hangs in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich. I was lucky enough to see it displayed in an exhibition in Berlin,some years ago (and purchased a very splendid mouse mat of the picture which is too precious to use). It is a comparatively small picture: about 24" by 29" and was just the sort of sized picture Boucher would turn out for the cabinets of his wealthy gentleman collectors.

Boucher also painted another version of the painting, which is in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, but it doesn't quite have the plump pliancy of the original.  I also saw this one in the Berlin exhibition. 

Boucher (1703-1770) was a prolific artist, producing over 10,000 drawings during his life, and at the time was criticised for churning out paintings for the money. A more telling criticism came from the philosopher Diderot who accused Boucher of "prostituting his own wife" as he had her pose for erotic pictures which he sold to collectors. This led to increasing notoriety and his art was criticised more and more towards the end of his life, as neo-classicism ousted his frothy, Rococo style.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Paint Table Saturday: The Germans are Coming!

Time for another Paint Table Saturday, without a lot of actual painting having gone on.  It was snowing lightly this morning but the Old Bat has me on an exercise programme, mainly so she gets some exercise herself, and made us go for a run.  Well, I say a run but I have been running a bit and walking a bit (like the 95th Rifles) since we started this torture last Saturday.  Today, however, on our fifth outing in eight days, I managed to run non-stop for twenty minutes (something I could not have managed last Saturday) and half ran, half walked on the way back (which I did in eighteen minutes; which shows that my walking is faster than my running).  It is a long, long time since I ran the London Marathon (twice) but there is some muscle memory there at least. I think this all came about when she went over to her parents last week and when she rang her mother didcovered she was playing tennis (outdoors, in February) and when she got there the next day her mother was out for a run...and she is 82!

Anyway, by the time I came back, the light still wasn't good enough to finish shading my ACW Union cavalry but I did paint the base colour faces and jackets on my new Unfeasibly Miniatures Germans.  These are designed for a theoretical German invasion of Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century.  One issue with the range is that they were posited upon a late nineteenth century situation but, with the provision in the range of a Krupp 77mm field gun (first produced in 1906) this date has slipped and the concept of British red coated infantry fighting in 1906 does seem ridiculous.  I know it is a fictional scenario but it would have been better to have gone for an 1890 date, I think.  I may abandon the Krupp that came with my order and set the whole thing in 1890 if I do, indeed ,paint enough figures for a skirmish.  

I actually bought the figures for use in In Her Majesty's Name but the British look so nice that...  One issue seems to be that the figures for this Kickstarter were promised a year ago and have only just started to be sent (and I gather that the British still aren't quite ready).  I didn't mind waiting as it's not as if I haven't got any other figures to paint but some of the other backers were getting very annoyed with the man who runs Unfeasibly, who failed to answer queries on his Kickstarter page and seemed to be coming up with a series of excuses as to why things weren't ready. This is a stupid thing to do as now I am loathe to buy more figures until supply settles down.  The least he could do is a weekly update when he knows people are cross.  It is like waiting for a train that is delayed;it is better to be kept updated regularly, even if the news is bad, rather than not hearing anything.  So I shall see if I buy any more.   The figures themselves are very nice but they do have full kit which means they will take a long time to paint.  I have done a bit on my ACW troops this week, too, so they are still moving along and I aim to finish them by the end of the month. 

Talking of skirmishing, my copies of The Pikeman's Lament and Chosen Men arrived at the end of the week.  I  haven't had a chance to look at them yet but I have enjoyed the other Daniel Mersey rules I have played very much and the size of the forces you need its much closer to what I can achieve, painting wise.  

Some years ago I started painting some Musketeer Miniatures (now Footsore) Great Northern War figures and although I know I am never going to be able to field armies of hundreds, a few dozen is well within my capability.  I have painted a couple of dozen Swedes and eight Russians (my command unit for the latter is above) and the Musketeer.Footsore figures are very easy to paint.  The only issue is that I mixed a paint for the Swedes based on uniforms I saw in the Stockholm Military Museum but Humbrol number 24, which forms the basis of that colour has changed out of all recognition in shade since then.  It is now quite a dark blue (I used it for the jackets of my Germans at the top but it used to be a much lighter mid-blue.  Hopefully, adding some white will give me what I need. 

I also have about 100 painted ECW figures which are the large Renegade (see one of my units, above) and Bicorne ones.  These are completely out of scale with the Warlord plastics which Eric the Shed painted so many of last year but they would work for my own skirmishes.  I am now considering extending my study at the back of the house so I can get a wargames board in here.  These new skirmish games with small boards will be just right for that.   The only thing I am not sure about with The Pikeman's Lament is to what extent pikemen were used in skirmishes.  If you were going to beat up a village in the ECW would you have taken a load of pikemen with you or just dragoons and commanded shot?  Not sure.

As regards Chosen Men, this is about Sharpe, of course, in the Peninsula, which the rules are mainly centered upon. The figures for this that I have seen which look really splendid are the ones Paul Hicks has been doing for Brigade Games (above).  The US/British exchange rate being what it is means I won't be ordering any for a while (shame you can't get them in the UK) but I will eventually (when my mother's estate gets through probate and I can afford them).  Probably all I will have left is enough for a couple of packs of figures after paying inheritance tax, paying off the mortgage and paying the children's flat rentals at university!  I am sure my mother would have approved of me buying these, as she enjoyed Sharpe!

The Chosen Men rules also have a section for Waterloo (if ever there was an antithesis of a skirmish battle..) but I wonder whether I could employ my Dutch 27th jaegers here (the first allied troops engaged in the Waterloo campaign), the only Napoleonic unit I have painted.  The opening of Quatre Bras had a lot of skirmishing.  Something to think about!

Today's music is the wonderful Georg Solti Paris Version of Wagner's Tannhäuser.  Wagner put this new version together in 1861, fifteen years after the opera was first performed in Dresden, for a performance in Paris.  Parisian opera goers demanded a ballet in Act 2 for every opera, which the original didn't have.  This was so gentlemen about town could have dinner first and then roll up to the opera half way through, just in time to watch the ballerinas flashing their legs.  Ballerinas in the French theatre were, at the time, only a step up from prostitutes and then only because they were a bit more expensive (this must be true as Darcey Bussell told it to me at a lunch, once). The ballet in Act 2 enabled the gentlemen to make their choice for their after show entertainment. Wagner stopped all this by putting the ballet in Act 1, to their annoyance.

Salammbô (1921) by Henri Adrien Tanoux

Today's wallpaper distraction is Salammbô by Henri Adrien Tanoux.  Salammbô is the heroine of a novel by Flaubert set after the First Punic War and, amazingly for someone as non-literary as me, I have actually read it.  Tanoux (1865-1923) was a later orientalist painter producing many pictures of sumptuous harem girls at the beginning of the twentieth century when the genre was already becoming unfashionable.  Forgotten for many years, his pictures are becoming collectible again and go for upwards of $75.000.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Rorke's Drift at the Shed

My belated account of last weekend's excellent game at Eric the Shed's is now here.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Paint Table Saturday: Back to the American Civil War

After some time painting Zulus it is back to my American Civil War project today and given a brighter than average day I had a good few hours on my Union Cavalry. I did have a brief moment where I thought I might do some more Zulus instead, when I realised that I am now only 24 figures short of a 24 point force for The Men Who Would Be Kings rules.  During the evenings this week, when it is dark, I will assemble these figure with the aim of getting them done shortly.

But I stuck to my plan and today I have finished the saddles and tack on the Union Cavalry so it is on to the figures themselves now and I managed to get the base coat down on their boots and trousers before the light went. Next week I hope to get their jackets and the shading on the flesh done which will move them along nicely.

One of the things that nearly made me do Zulus instead was the fact that the next thing I had to do was the stripes on their horse blankets but, given a new Winsor & Newton Series 7 brush, they came out OK. I am trying to paint these to wargames standard so I can get a move on but some things can't be cut.  I have decided not to shade the stripes though!

Most of the books I have got describe Union army trousers as sky blue but I have painted mine darker than that (Humbrol 109) as examples I have seen in museums do seem to be darker than what I would call sky blue.  I took this shot in the Military Museum in Copenhagen a couple of years ago, as they have the only complete set of ACW period Federal uniform anywhere.

Today's music is James Horner';s enjoyable score for The Mask of Zorro and his follow up, composed seven years later, for The Legend of Zorro.  It is probably more appropriate for painting Mexicans to but it has some very strong themes and is a a bit different from most of his scores.

Flaming June (1895)

Today's wallpaper is Flaming June by Lord Leighton (1830-1896), one of my favourite paintings.  Lost after 1900, it only reappeared in the early sixties and when it was put up for auction it failed to make its reserve price of £140; so unfashionable were the paintings of the Victorian classicists at the time.  It was bought in the mid sixties for £2000 by a Puerto Rican industrialist and now is usually on display in Puerto Rico.  Currently, it is on a rare visit to Britain and has been installed in Lord Leighton's studio where it was painted and I will be going to see it next week!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Isandlwana at the Shed

Some of my Zulus approach the British

I have written up our Zulu Wars Isandlwana game organised by Eric the Shed on my Zulu Wars blog here.  One of the many good things about this game was that it got me to paint 32 Zulus in January, thereby tripling the number of figures I have painted in 2017 compared with 2016!

In the afternoon we played a Rorke's Drift game and I will look at it shortly.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

2016 Wargames Review

A good start to the year but from then on...

It is time for my wargames review of the year, which is even less thrilling than the last one.  Well, actually it is well past the time for my wargames review of the year but I have been spending all my time painting Zulus and writing bid documents so here it is, nearly at the end of January.  Changing jobs, domestic issues and two long overseas trips really hurt the amount of time I had for the hobby last year and I achieved very little really, despite my good intentions at the beginning of last year.

Figures Painted

70% of the figures I painted in 2016

I thought that last year's score of twenty five figures was bad but this year I only managed a paltry ten.  The year started well with the hydra and the Golden Fleece and tree but apart from a few Neanderthals that was it.  So in total I finished:

3 Jason and the Argonauts
7 Neanderthals

To be fair the Hydra, tree and golden fleece would probably count as more than three figures if I used a points system but I don't, so they didn't.  This is the lowest number of figures I have ever painted in a year.  I did do some painting it is just I didn't finish very many figures.  2017 has got to be better and, in fact, I have already reached 32 figures just in January!

What I have discovered is that, because I paint using 3.5 magnification reading glasses, my eyes get tired after about twenty minutes of painting so I can't sit down and paint for hours at a time like some people do. Also I use enamels, the fumes from which start to get to me after a while.  I did paint all day on Saturday but felt shattered on Sunday, during our big Zulu War games, as a result.

Wargames played 

Thanks to the kind invitations from Eric the Shed I have a number of games this year but less than 2015's ten.  In April we did a Muskets and Tomahawks game which was as enjoyable as ever.  It is a period I really like and mean to paint some units for it at some point.

We also did a big English Civil War Game.  Eric and Mark had managed to paint two large ECW armies in a very short space of time and these looked fantastic.  We used the Pike and Shotte rules.  I have played a number of ECW games before at Guildford Wargames Club and even have a couple of regiments of figures painted.  My forces, however, are the large but splendid Renegade figures by Nick Collier and dwarf the (very nice) Warlord figures.  Still, I hope to get back painting ECW figures again.

Finally, we had a Zulu Wars game using The Men Who Would be Kings, stretching the size of the armies, somewhat, as regards what the rules envisage but they worked remarkably well.

So only three games this year.  I was annoyed that because of work I had to miss Frostgrave (although Eric was not impressed by the rules) and Congo games, though.


Because I have decided to get into the American Civil War I bought a couple of the Renedra plastic buildings and have even built them.  I am looking forward to painting these in the near future.  This year I really have to sort out how to solve the wargames board problem, though.  We have a table tennis table which will work for a game but it is how to dress it. Hmm.



I went to Salute as usual and attended the bloggers meet up again (I'm second from left, above).  I didn't get to Colours but did attend Warfare in November thanks to a lift from Eric the Shed. Next year I will try to get to Colours again, as it really is my favourite of the three shows I visit.  It was good to meet up with George Anderson for the first time at Salute as I love his blog and the fact that he is as grumpy as I am.   It was also a delight to meet the Uber Geek during a visit he made to London late last year and he kindly bought me dinner.  My turn next time!

Lead pile and Kickstarters

Lead pile reduction didn't go so well this year, given I bought quite a few ACW plastics and a few other oddments.  I was still down 39 overall so the pile did decrease. I did buy into the Empire in Peril Kickstarter, though, but the figures haven't arrived yet so they don't go on the total. I also bought some North Star African princesses for Congo and a box of Raging Heroes SF babes (above)

Wargames Rules

I didn't play games using any of the sets of rules I bought in 2015 (7th Voyage, Frostgrave, or Black Ops).  This year I bough The Men Who Would be Kings, played a game and liked them.  I also got Congo, which I will use at some point. I bought Blood Eagle at Salute but haven't really looked at them. I am interested in buying Chosen Men and The Pikemen's Lament as I try to find large skirmish rules and avoid Warlord Games style massive armies. I gather that Sharp Practice is good for the Peninsula but I refuse to buy anything from a company that calls itself Too Fat Lardies.  Gross.

Wargames Blogs and Facebook

This blog celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and I posted on eight of my other wargames blogs as well.  I only managed 49 posts, down on 2015's 78, but it is still a reasonable number. I have added five followers this year but I don't really publicise it on TMP or whatever. It is on 572,000 page views which means I picked up about 120,000 views in 2016 or 10,000 a month, which is surprising (admittedly my girly blog picks up that number a day but then it is full of naked women).  My number one post was the one on Daleks, American Football, SF babes and ACW Infantry with 1l00 views.

My Facebook experiment continues and having deleted 70 'friends' last year, for political ranting and posting tedious recycled material, I have gradually increased to the current 107.  I also deleted some who were posting multiple times a day and flooding my feed in a TMP Tango01 type way.  I do not see the number of Facebook friends as a measure of worth!  I am only interested in those whose pages are primarily about wargaming or who I know in real life.  I do find the various groups I am on (when I realised that they existed) very inspirational and do use it to keep track of manufacturers new releases.

Plans for the next year

Now I have got my Zulus finished I will go back to my plastic ACW project to refight the fictitious Battle of Centerville from Terence Wise's Introduction to Battle Gaming.  No doubt I will get distracted by other things too but ACW is going to be my main thing for this year!  I am actually looking forward to it!

Musical Accompaniment

While writing this post I listened to a recent purchase of the extended 2 disc version of Basil Poledouris' soundtrack to Starship Troopers which will, no doubt, get further outings when I start to paint my Raging Heroes Kurganovas.  I am still keen to get a wargaming on a desert planet game sorted.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Non-wargaming highlights 2017

The Legatus hard at work in Gaborone

Although the end of 2016 is a week behind us I have been working seven days a week to finalise a report and complete a bid document, which I did yesterday, so now I have time for my 'eagerly awaited'' non-wargaming review of the year.  My wargaming highlights will follow in due course.

Best Trip

Bechuanaland.  It's great!

Although I went to Turkey in 2015, I really thought my days of foreign travel were winding down, as the job I began that year really didn't have any foreign travel (I did go to Birmingham, which was a first).  However, I wasn't enjoying the new job at all: too much spreadsheet work, terrible bosses, tedious clients and a concentration on process over outcomes.  The staff turnover rate should have been a giveaway. I discussed what I wanted to work on and they discussed what they wanted me to work on ("we would like you to promote IT services"  Hollow laugh.).  I am too old to be doing something I hate so we agreed to part ways.  Fortunately, someone I had been working with off and on for fifteen years said: "We really need you!  Join us!" so I did. It's also back to working at home again, as I wasn't enjoying the commuting.  The only downside is that the foreign travel is back  It involved just two trips but they were for nearly three weeks each; the longest I had done since 2008.  The first was to South Africa and Botswana and the second was to Sierra Leone and Liberia (to which I might have to return in two weeks time).

The trip to Botswana was really excellent: working with competent, switched on people, staying at a lovely hotel, getting out at the weekend to see some wildlife and meeting the (young) contestants for the Miss Botswana contest who were staying at the same hotel as I was. 

Me:  "And what do you do when you are not wafting around looking lovely in beauty contests?"

Leggy lovely:  "I'm at school!"

Oh dear.

On location in front of the Liberian equivalent of Companies House with my man on the ground, who was a top fellow and seemed to know everyone in the country

Liberia was a very different proposition.  Monrovia, the capital, has a population of one million people of whom only 8,000 have running water and 6,500 have electricity.  As regards ICT connectivity it ranks 197th in the world.  It's the first really third world place I have been to.  Hit by two civil wars and the Ebola crisis they deserve better. The sums of money they need to get significant things done is derisory, really.  

The view from the Liberian Telecoms Authority HQ.  Remembered to take my Malaria tablets!  

They need $15 million to install a fibre optic broadband ring for the capital.  One house in Oxshott sold for more than twice that this year.  Part of the problem is the aid agencies, who all compete with each other, don't co-operate and are more interested in pushing their national agenda than really helping.  I've not worked with them before but not impressed.  They all seemed to be staffed by twenty something ladies with no experience who seemed as adrift as the locals they were supposed to be helping. "Some of the ugliest women I have ever seen.  They can''t get on in their own countries so come out here in desperation!" said my colleague, cruelly saying out loud what I had been thinking.  I was reminded of the saying in the City when I first worked theire in the eighties: "Failed in London, try Hong Kong".   Failed in Washington DC, try Monrovia. perhaps.  

The road goes ever on and on (or, at least, to Monrovia airport)

Fortunately, there is one world class hotel in Liberia and we were staying in it.  It had two good restaurants (one of which was really, really good) and a slinky bar which was usually full of dangerous looking local girls and a few desperate aid agency people using the wi-fi.  In fact the donut (American spellings, of course in Liberia) shop in the hotel was the business hub of the country, as all the aid agency women came into to  it to hijack the wi-fi.

Athletic (my colleague may have found them ugly but they all obviously worked out a lot and looked fit as fornicate) aid agency woman: ""What can I get you in exchange for using your room wi-fi password?

Me: "A cup of tea would be nice!" (I know my worth).

It is rather appalling that these poor ladies have to prostitute themselves in this way for internet access.  I did see one man asking for a kiss (he was French) as a joke (I hope) but I could see the flicker across the lady's face as she wondered whether she actually might have to do this.  Dreadful!

Worst trip

Well, most frustrating really.  Driving up the A1 to Edinburgh, to collect Charlotte's stuff, and not being able to stop at the Shuttleworth Collection, Melton Mowbray, York, Lindisfarne or Hadrian's Wall.  I did see the Angel of the North, though which is, appropriately, rusty.

Biggest upheaval 

Guy enjoys being with slinky TV actress Michelle Keegan while we stay at home and do his packing

Guy going off to university. Guy had a had a rotten year, with a severe back injury (a broken vertebrae) which, essentially. meant he couldn't sit without constant paint.  This had impacted on his studying and having done badly in his A-levels he had to have a year off and do retakes in the summer (while still in severe pain) and go through the last minute clearing process.  He had been offered a place at Plymouth but we weren't too keen as it was, again, hundreds of miles away.  Having done his research and rung up target universities he was offered a place at Oxford Brookes on clearing day - a much better (and closer, thankfully) university than Plymouth.  We were very pleased until he disappeared the day before he had to go to Oxford on a VIP ticket to Southampton boat show and the day before I had to fly to Sierra Leone, leaving the Old Bat and I to do all his packing.  Still, he is enjoying it, has joined the Oxford Union. like I did, and has just found out he has got a first for his first module.  Good boy!

Best day out 

We went to and from to Oxford quite a lot but as Guy is not based in the centre of town (although he is only just over Magdalen Bridge on the Iffley Road) I didn't, frustratingly, get to wander around any of my old haunts.  However, when we picked him up just before Christmas I did and enjoyed visiting my old college.  We have a college Gaudy this year, which take place every seven years after you first started.  They usually try to put you in your old room which can be quite spooky.  I didn't go to the last one and hopefully I am now too old to end up doing disreputable things with old girlfriends after too much college port, as happened on every previous occasion.

My daughter, Charlotte, couldn't get out of bed to join us, needless to say, but it was just as well as, much to my surprise, the butchers' shops in the Covered Market still have very Dickensian displays of hanging meat outside their shops for Christmas.  Charlotte, as a vegetarian, would not have been impressed!  I remember my American girlfriend, B, being appalled by this when she saw it in 1980!

Best Wildlife

As opposed to best dead wildlife (see above) was spotting a badger in the garden.  I have never seen one before and was very excited by it.  Even more exciting than seeing a hippo in Botswana, because at least I have seen those before in a zoo.   The Old Bat was not too amused when it dug a big hole in the  flower bed looking for wasp larvae, though.

Best Book (non-military)

My particular friend, A, bought me this wonderful book on Pulp artist supreme, Norman Saunders.(1907-1989).  Best known, these days, as the painter of the original Mars Attacks trading cards his pulp covers from the thirties, forties and fifties are marvellous; full of two-fisted heroes and scantily clad damsels in peril.  Fortunately, he lived long enough to see himself become a cult favourite and his paintings rocket in value.

Best Film

Lea Seydoux, walks like a Frenchwoman

The only film I saw at the cinema this year was Spectre, which I enjoyed (much more than the dreary Skyfall) partly because it was set in places I knew really well, like Mexico City, Rome and Vauxhall. The car chase in Rome reminded me of a hair raising drive I took, after a reception, with a lady Italian insurance broker in a Lancia through the streets of Rome at two in the morning, where she went the wrong way down a dual carriageway tunnel 'to save time'.

On DVD I tended to buy TV series rather than films and many of the films I did buy I haven't watched yet.  I had great expectations of the Legend of Tarzan but, apart from some reasonably accurate Force Publique uniforms and a very nice Congo river steamer, it was a bit of a disappointment.  It was filmed in the now almost ubiquitous washed out monochrome style that is so common today.  As  result, the steaming jungle came across as cold and dank.  It wasn't helped by the fact that, apart from one or two establishing shots, it wasn't filmed in Africa, either.  Objectively a much worse film but subjectively, for me, much more enjoyable was Gods of Egypt.  Utter nonsense but full of lovely, scantily-clad women, ludicrously over the top set design and bright colours.  I am not interested in this trend in film and TV for 'darker' and 'grittier'.   I want TV and film to be escapist entertainment.  The real world is dark and gritty enough as it is.

Best TV Show

Even the Old Bat watched War and Peace ("Who's that? Who is she? Whose relation is he?" etc.) which I thought was splendidly produced.  Again, I was familiar with some of the locations in Lithuania. the costumes were wonderful and the interiors were stunning. Most shocking thing about it was to see how Greta Scacchi had aged (compared with the suspiciously ageless Gillian Anderson, who returned in the X-Files).   Some years ago Charlotte (then signed up to a modelling agency) was offered the opportunity of playing Greta Scacchi's daughter in a TV series. "One of you will have to be with her at all times on set!" they said.  I volunteered instantly but in the end budget cuts saw the number of Scacchi's character's children cut from three to two and I never had the chance to go and sit adoringly at La Scacchi's feet.

Many of the shows I did enjoy, like Dickensian, Indian Summers, Jekyll and Hyde and Atlantis (which was much improved and should have featured the quest for the Golden Fleece in the third series) were all cancelled.  We saw the scheduled end of the Musketeers (weak third series) and Mr Selfridge (unhistorical but uplifting happy ending).  Biggest discovery was slightly Mills and Boonsy Jacobite rebellion time travel drama Outlander which my friend A introduced me to.   Excellent Scottish locations and a feisty female lead.  I started looking for wargames figures for the period and then saw sense when I thought about plaid and tartan.

I also enjoyed Versailles which improved as the series went on once you worked out which bewigged mustachioed man was which. It has got me thinking about my 1672 figures, which I have somewhere around!  There was a ridiculous clamour in the press about how raunchy it was but only if you are a suppressed Briton; with an MP joining in the kerfuffle (shouldn't you be running the country not worrying about what people watch on TV?)  Once the first episode had been shown the Daily Mail carefully published a screen shot, with timings, of every sex scene (with all the 'naughty' bits blacked out). "First episode sees no less than seven blush-inducing sex scenes" they gasped. They reported that viewers were so shocked they switched off in droves (actually, it did quite well in the ratings).  The French producers were baffled by the UK reaction to the nudity and sex scenes as French audiences hadn't batted an eyelid.. There had been some complaints in France about the show but they centred around some historical inaccuracies and, above all, the fact that it had been filmed in English, not French (sensibly, as it has now been sold to 135 countries).  The DVD boxed set of the first series carries a tous publics rating in France. That is a 'U' certificate, the same as a Disney cartoon, because the French realise that sex isn't disgusting, shameful or something to be hidden from youngsters.  This continued embarrassment about sex may help to explain why the British teenage pregnancy rate is twice that of France.

My favourite guilty pleasure was Hooten and the Lady, which was basically Relic Hunter with the nationalities of the lead characters reversed. What I really liked about it was that, in many cases, it used real locations: Rome, Namibia, Angkor Wat: instead of all the old Alias style redressing Los Angeles tricks.  For the same reason I didn't enjoy Tutankhamun (filmed in South Africa) compared with the superior version of the same story made by the BBC, Egypt (2005), which was shot in Egypt and, indeed, in the Valley of the Kings itself.  I am afraid that I am someone who appreciates, locations, sets and costumes more than writing and acting; which is why I hate the theatre!

Best Music

In January I had my hard drive fail and although I had all my iTunes tracks backed up I lost all my playlists so had to manually repopulate more than 20,000 tracks into several hundred new playlists.  I still haven't quite finished this process so it means I have not synched my iPod with my computer for nearly a year, so I can't listen to new music on my iPod yet.  There have been over 1000 new tracks again this year.

You can never have enough Russian romantic classical music and in 2016 I have added symphonies by Khachaturian,  Grechaninov and  Glazunov. Lots of Verdi and Puccini too; mainly thanks to the CD sale at Freshwater lifeboat charity shop on the Isle of Wight.  There was South American music by Villa-Lobos and Piazolla. Baroque music by Lully was down to Versailles (he appeared in one of the episodes).

Biggest discovery of the year was Melikov's ballet music to Legend of Love; a a Khachaturian style piece of orientalist exotica which I have played  a lot.

As regards contemporary music I added Stuart Mitchell's Seven Wonders Suite and The Musical Zodiac by Debbie Wiseman.  I also downloaded some Michael Nyman concertos.  My young niece studied music at Bristol and then the Royal Northern College of Music.  You need to get a proper job, we said.  You can't make a career from music.  One year out of college and she has been working with Damon Albarn, Michael Bublé, Cameron Mackintosh and...Michael Nyman.

I tend to paint to film soundtracks and this year added: First Men in the Moon, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Black Sails, Star Trek TV soundtracks, Mysterious Island, Ripper Street, King Solomon's Mines (the Richard Chamberlain one as the Stewart Grainger one, famously has no soundtrack score). Thunderbirds are Go, Clash of the Titans (complete edition) The Legend of Tarzan, Game of Thrones series 5. Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear and Gods of Egypt. 

I didn't buy any rock or pop this year as I just don't like very much of it.  I did get another album by Portuguese Fado singer Mariza and have also been enjoying French cabaret music from the twenties and thirties by Lys Gauty.

Best Artistic discovery

Lots of interesting late nineteenth century and early twentieth artists came to my attention this year but foremost among these was German painter Leo Putz (1869-1940) whose luminous nudes have served as wallpaper on my computer quite a lot. 

Best Sporting event

It is very rare indeed that I attend a sporting event but it was good to get to a couple of NFL games at Twickenham and Wembley this year, thanks to my FCO friend who had spare tickets.  I hadn't been to a game since I went to one in Philadelphia in 2009.  That said, I have been enjoying the one hour highlights on Sky rather than all the faffing around you get in live games.  

At least live you have cheerleaders to look at while the American TV stations take commercial breaks.   Here the Los Angeles Rams ladies demonstrate the Svinfylking at Twickenham.  That reminds me, I wonder when The Last Kingdom is coming back?

Food and Drink highlights

Best meal

This was, surprisingly, at the Royal Grand Hotel's excellent Asian restaurant in Monrovia.  Chinese, Thai and Japanese food all cooked by Lebanese people!

Best wine

Well not the best but the most enjoyable was after two weeks of no wine, because I was travelling with  a teetotaller, getting through a couple (well, alright, three) bottles with a nice South African lady by the pool in Gaborone.  Frankly. after two weeks with no wine anything would have been nice!  I was very impressed with the Champteloup Rose d'Anjou I had while watching the Tour de France on TV.  It is everything a Rose d'Anjou should be and almost never is.  Yum!

Best Beer

I have had some strange ones on my travels and I really enjoyed the Badger's Poacher's Ale the Old Bat got me for Christmas but I thunk the one I liked best was the Waterloo ale which turned up, unexpectedly, in Liberia.

Best Breakfast

A clear winner here for the Braid Hills Hotel in Edinburgh.  Just what you need before a ten and a half hour drive!

Goodbye to...

My mother, at the age of 86, after  years of Alzheimer's, the last four of which were in  a home.  We have just heard today that she will be interred in her local churchyard directly opposite the 3rd Earl of Lucan, who gave the order for the Charge of the Light Brigade!.

Wargaming highlights next!