Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Another Victorian building, nearly a nasty moment, more lead, the City in miniature and a visit to Eric's Shed!

This is wargames scenery!  Inside The Shed

These days the Legatus technically works from home (I don't miss the commuting at all) but I travel to London about three times a week.  Not having an office there any more, I usually have my meetings in a selection of cafes around town.  Sometimes, though, I have a situation where I will have a meeting at, say, 10.00 and then not another one until 15.00.  So nice places to settle and do some work are useful.  Recently, I have been having meetings at a building between Regent's Park and Oxford Circus, which is pretty much terra incognita for me as I don't usually travel north of Oxford Street in London (which, to me, is where the Midlands starts).  Being between meetings in the area, which seems largely to consist of embassies, I was looking for somewhere to get a nice cup of tea.  I looked down the road and there was the familiar shape of the Langham Hotel.   I had failed to realise it was in the vicinity because I was approaching it from the north, and Regent's Park tube station, not the south as usual.

The Langham is one of my favourite London hotels and the Landau restaurant there does one of the nicest hotel breakfasts in town, such as this example I had there some time ago.  

Another Martini, C?

When I worked in the West End a few years ago the Langham was the closest big hotel to my office and I used to go to their splendid Artesian bar for Martini's with my colleague C, as they do some of the best Martini's in London.  We had a Martini club! 

The Langham Hotel after its opening

Opening in June 1865, with a gala lunch in the presence of the Prince of Wales, the Langham was really the first purpose built Grand Hotel in Europe. It cost £300,000 to build but the original backers went bust and it was sold for less than half that in 1870.  From then on, however, the hotel was a success and guests included Mark Twain, Napoleon III, Antonín Dvořák, Arturo Toscanini, Noel Coward, Emperor Haile Selassie and Wallis Simpson, to name but a few. 

The Langham in 1899

In 1889 Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde met the magazine publisher Joseph Stoddart at the Langham.  As a result they wrote, respectively, the Sign of Four and The Picture of Dorian Gray, for Stoddart's magazine Lippinscott's Monthly.  Indeed, Conan Doyle set part of The Sign of Four in the Langham.

Bomb damage at the Langham in World War 2

The hotel struggled during the depression and in World War 2 was used by the army but was damaged by bombs and had to close.  After the war the BBC, who had declined to buy the property in the thirties and built Broadcasting House across the street instead, started to rent it and bought it outright in 1965.  It housed the BBC record library and also contained recording studios (The Goon Show was recorded there). 

The proposed Norman Foster BBC Radio Centre on the site of The Langham

The BBC applied to get it demolished in 1980 and have it replaced by a hideous glass-faced Norman Foster building to be known as The BBC Radio Centre.  Fortunately, their application was turned down and in 1986 it was bought by the Ladbroke group who owned the Hilton name outside the US.  They spent £100 on refurbishing it, opening it as the Langham Hilton in 1991.  I visited it for lunch a week after its re-opening and stayed there a couple of times with my particular friend SA.  They had a particularly good Vodka bar there and if you ordered a Vodka they didn't have they would offer you a free alternative.  I never caught them out but that was before I started travelling to the Baltic States regularly and developed a much greater knowledge of the stuff.

The Langham today.  Yellow London Stock bricks, of course!

In 1998 it was sold again, to a Hong Kong based group who called themselves The Langham Group and now have a number of properties across the world.  Another £80 million of renovation took place between 2004 and 2009 to bring it up to its now splendid state.  

The Langham in Goldeneye

It has appeared in several films and the exterior stood in for the Hotel Europa in St Petersburg in the James Bond film Goldeneye (1995).

That's how you serve tea!

What I had never done was have tea there so I ventured in and discovered the original Palm Court which really originated the fashion for hotel afternoon teas 140 years ago.  And a splendid tea they still serve, although I confined myself to just a pot of tea, as it was the morning.  They have their own excellent blends and certainly serve it beautifully so I will be using the Palm Court again!

It's a bit frantic at present due to work issues which have been causing me some stress for the past six months.  Without going all TMP "here is my ghastly life" about it I have been working for the last two years on a contract for a large consultancy.  The contract came up for renewal but then was delayed so I kept getting two month extensions.  The firm I worked for (the incumbent) bid and was expected to win the contract again, thereby keeping the Legatus in lead figures.  Much to everyone's surprise, however, they didn't win and so my contract expires on 30th April.  Fortunately, after an interview, the firm that did win has decided to take me on to support them in their new contract, starting May 1st.  Phew!  Nearly a nasty moment!

Anyway, it hasn't stopped me buying figures!  I thought that logging the amount of figures I painted compared with those I bought would shame me into not ordering any more.  This was particularly brought home to me when looking for the Salute figures for my 250,000 visits Salute figure competition.  I went through boxes and boxes of figures looking for them and kept finding figures I didn't even knew I had.  No more figures, I said to myself late Thursday night!

But on Friday I came home to find a parcel from Foundry and another from North Star, however, both of which I had sort of forgotten I had ordered.  Actually, I ordered both quite recently but I am used to North Star orders taking weeks to arrive, not days, so I tend to push them out of my mind  The North Star pack contained the new Lucid Eye Steve Saleh sculpted Neanderthals (which are so nice I have already started work on them) and all the new Artizan North West Frontier Afghans.  The Foundry box had some more Victorians and some Mexican civilians in it.  Oh dear!

I went into Orc's Nest the other day to see if Warlord's new Napoleonic Peninsula British were in (they weren't) and bought a Perry Prussian cannon instead.  Most shocking, however, was the fact that the Orc's Nest lady nodded and almost smiled at me!  I worry about the Orc's Nest lady.  She looks like she wants to smile and laugh but just isn't allowed to.  At home she is probably kept in some fantasy dungeon and fed on gruel. She gazes out through the metal bars in her dank cellar from which she can glimpse a tiny part of the world.  As she sits in misery, she hopes that, perhaps, she might catch a glimpse of a butterfly to raise her crushed spirit.  I think it would make a very good opera, probably by Janáček: The Woman in the Dungeon.  Or a Disney film.  Next time I go in I will ask her her name!

I was giving a presentation to a group of overseas government staff in the Guildhall the other week.  I quite often give talks in their marketing offices, where they have a model of the City of London which is used for planning purposes.  If you want to build a new building in the Square Mile you have to commission Pipers models to make an exact replica to fit the model so City planners can check out sightlines and such.  The original model was all wooden blocks so any one which has a proper architectural model is a comparatively new building.  Some of the models represent buildings which haven't been built yet.   Like all wargamers confronted with such a model, I imagine how you could play a game on it, although the 1/500 scale might be a little challenging.  I have always wondered if the HMS Belfast model is really 1/500 or just the 1/600 Airfix kit.  There is a wargmes link with the model, however.  Pipers, the firm who built the model, were founded by John Piper who created the original 1/100 (15mm) AFV models (originally for vehicle recognition purposes for the British Army).  These are now owned and sold by QRF.  I think he did some work for Airfix too.

But now on to the highlight of last week: A visit to Eric the Shed's shed!  Eric kindly invited me to his shed which is only a few miles up the A3 from where the Legatus lives.  If you go in the other direction you get to Guildford Wargames club.  However, I don't like driving in towards London on it as the exits off can be a bit tricky and there are traffic speed cameras everywhere.  Last year the Legatus got caught by a traffic camera on the way to Games Workshop in Epsom, although the resulting fine didn't, proportionately, add much to the already horrific cost of buying a load of The Hobbit stuff.  I had to attend a naughty boy speeding course in Chessington where, interestingly, most of the other naughty people were older than me (and had been going considerably faster than my 36 mph).  Except for one local yummy mummy who I now sometimes meet up with for Sunday breakfast at Sainsbury's.  So the course wasn't a total bust.  In fact, it  was very good and it would be much better if they gave the course to people who had just passed their test rather than waiting until they transgressed.  Still, it's a nice little earner for the AA, who run the courses.

Inside The Shed

So I decided to take the scenic route to Surbiton and got lost, of course, as Eric lives in Berrylands rather than neighbouring Surbiton, really, so I got confused as I was unfamiliar with the locality.  Berrylands is known by my children as "The  Land of Poo" as there is a big sewage works next to the station.  No poo smells at Eric's, however, just delicious smells from the kitchen where Mrs Shed was cooking spaghetti Bolognese for the gamers,  What a splendid woman!  She led me up the garden path (so to speak) to The Shed!  In fact Eric has many sheds.  Who knows what is in the other ones (maybe the lady from Orc's Nest?) but The Shed itself held shelf after shelf and box after box of wargaming wonders. Some were fairly standard some, like a giant Egyptian pyramid and model pulp steamer in scale for 28mm figures, were not.  

Matt ponders the range of an Ork anti-tank gun.  Note the pulp steamer on the shelf

Anyway we were to play a game of Very British Civil War using Bolt Action rules.  It was actually set locally to the Legatus in the Ripley/Pyrford area.  I bought the first issue of Battlegames in Middle Earth in the newsagents in Ripley and got hooked on Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings as an expensive result.  I won't describe the game (Eric has a much better description of it here) but must just observe what a pleasure it was to play on such a splendid board.  My fellow gamers, Richard and Matt, were very convivial company too and one, like myself, hadn't played Bolt Action before, so I didn't look like a complete idiot (he certainly didn't).

Things were going well for us when the opposition revealed this steam-powered Ork battle wagon (as Matt observed).  A hideous duel between the Ork vehicle and one of our armoured cars ensued for many turns.

I was quite impressed with Bolt Action although the only thing I didn't like about it was the use of counters on the table.  Still, there would be ways around it, I suppose.  We had quite a lot of armoured vehicles, which I gather is not normal  The game was very close and could have gone either way, which is also a sign of good rules I think, but in the end we triumphed (just).  I had already informed Eric that I wished to be on the fascist side as one of my great uncles had been one of Oswald Mosley's bodyguard!  Another one was a leading figure in the communist party which led to entertaining Christmas discussions, according to my mother.  This, I think, leads me to my reservation about VBCW.  I don't believe that the British people in the nineteen thirties would have been stupid enough to actually get into a civil war.  They would, like my great uncles, get into loud arguments but I would like to think that we were too sensible in this country to get into the mess seen in other parts of Europe.  The advantage of having had your civil war three hundred years before, I suppose.  Can't beat nineteen thirties tanks and armoured cars, though!  You also know it's a good game when you don't take enough photographs!

So I must thank Eric (or Giles as he is really called when not running his extraordinary Shed Wars) and his friends for letting a stranger into his house and giving him such an excellent evening.  Eric has even invited me back in the future, so I obviously didn't disgrace myself too much. Two Wargames in four months!  I have now had an offer of one from the proprietor of Boot Hill Miniatures too!  Let's just hope I have some time in the complicated contract handover period over the next few months.  At least my South American trip has been postponed, thank goodness.


  1. How weird - when I was doing my Elfin Safety course a few weeks ago, it was just up the road from the Langham at the De Vere West One.

    The model of London looks fantastic. I can quite see how it would generate thoughts of wargaming potential. I was thinking of that just from the pictures.

    I'm glad you had a good game at Eric's Shed. Getting figures on the table for a bit of fun is what it's all about.

  2. Thanks for interesting reading on the Langham... though I had always thought north of the Watford Gap was consider the Midlands! ;-)
    Good to see you get a game, the Shed looks rather splendid!

  3. Excellent post! The game looks absolutely wonderful!

  4. Glad to hear you're navigating the waters of employment successfully ;)

  5. Excellent read, sat back with a nice mug of tea to take this all in!

  6. Very cool sites and lead. I like that high-protein breakfast too!

  7. Great write up Monsieur Legatus...may I be so bold as to confirm a few things...

    1. Mrs Shed is not normally so accommodating when it comes to food...unfortunately our freezer door had been left open (perils of having teenagers) and all the food was going to go to waste.

    2. Berrylands does indeed have a water treatment facility and on particular days the smell is quite bad BUT I live a good 1/2 mile from the site and more often than not the wind is travelling in the opposite direction.

    3. The other Sheds - in actuial fact the garden has a total of five sheds - one is my big games shed. The others contain in no particular order.

    a) a load of guinea pigs (ghastly things)
    b) bikes
    c) garden equipment
    d) All the other paraphernalia that you would dump in a loft if you had one - we don't as the house is a 1930's art deco styled flat roof property

    Pleased to hear that you enjoyed your vist

    Delighted about your job news and hope to catch up soon...

    Eric the Shed

  8. Ah but Mrs Shed didn't have to cook...she could have just binned everything! Guinea pigs! I have eaten them in South America. They are quite tasty but bony!

    So you don't have Orcs Nest woman in the shed! I have discovered today that she is called Louise!

    A shed for bikes is good!