Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Sobering thoughts at the Tower of London and Wargame Bloggers Quarterly

The Legatus was in the City yesterday, getting a long overdue haircut from the lovely Tracy.  It had been raining for most of the time during my meeting and lunch with Peruvian contractors but as I came out of the hairdressers at the base of the NatWest Tower (yes, I know it's not called that any more but it's the same with Debenhams in Staines which I still think of as Kennards, although it hasn't been called that for forty years) the sun came out.  Tracy had asked if I had been to the Tower of London to see the ceramic poppy display commemorating the centenary of the Great War.  I had not, so set off there before the light faded.  As I wandered down Eastcheap it was apparent that a veritable pilgrimage was in progress.  Lots of non-City types were heading east as well, in a road not known for its pedestrian traffic.  I had expected some tourists there but not the crowd around the whole perimeter of the Tower.

For all those who play the game of war the visual impact of all those poppies, each representing a person, was a solemn reminder that all the miniature people we move around our toy battlefields are there to mark, in many cases, the existence of real people who lived and died in the past.  Now the Legatus is not a deep thinker and as long as he has access to cold wine, hot food and warm women is pretty much happy but this brilliant display says more about the impact on Britain of the War than any book or documentary can.  The latter have, by their very nature, to look at wider issues of politics and strategy on the whole and, apart from some notable exceptions looking at the lives of soldiers, miss what this display conveys so well: That war is about individual people dying, violently and often in great numbers

Now I am not a pacifist and neither am I an isolationist - some threats to civilisation do need people to make a stand - a military stand (whether the Great War was one of these is a matter of debate) but it would be a good thing if sabre-rattling politicians could be made to spend fifteen minutes at this site (yes, Mr Putin) and think, for once.  Great Britain's losses in the Great War amounted to about 2% of the population or one in fifty people and this in a country which was not, unlike France (4%) in the combat zone.

Now last week I was invited to Eric the Shed's again for another game of Warmaster as our Imperial forces took the field against massed orcs and goblins again, in a larger game than last time.  I even remembered some of the rules and deployed some rudimentary tactics.  I have, like many historical wargamers, slightly looked down on fantasy wargames because my interest in recreating conflicts of the past stems from an interest in history, not gaming.  However, in retrospect, there is an argument that fantasy wargaming, which does not turn brutal conflict of the past into a recreational pursuit, is, perhaps, more ethically defensible than historical wargaming.  No real goblins, orcs, dwarves, men of Rohan or Empire handgunners were slaughtered to provide a setting for a game.  As my new lady friend, A, ventured (deliberately provocatively - she is a provocative woman) recently, isn't wargaming like playing a game about rape?  Can any acts of violence, defensibly, form the basis for a game?  Is the personal violation of rape any different from having your body violated by a musket ball?  There have been attempts in the past to protest against wargames.  The show that is now called Colours and takes place (sadly, not this year) at Newbury racecourse used to be called Armageddon and, as such was picketed by, amongst others, Greenham Common Peace protestors (and one of my ex-girlfriends became a Greenham Common woman so I know something of their mindset), forcing a name change to its less offensive current title.

I am uneasy about playing wargames set in the recent past but there are other games that unsettle me too.  When Wargames Soldiers and Strategy re-launched, a few years ago, it carried an article about a game concerning the assassination of Caligula.  I rarely get incensed enough by anything I read in the press to write to the editor (I did once when The Daily Mirror wrote a sneeringly disparaging article about an ex-girlfriend) but this nearly did it.  The scenario was about a small group of assassins breaking into the palace to kill the emperor.  This made me queasy enough, even if Caligula was a certifiable loon, but the author, Mark Backhouse, offered the following variant: "A second group of assassins start in the Palace complex at the same time with the objective of killing Caligula's wife Caesonia and daughter Drusilla".  I'm sorry, this isn't a wargame in my opinion it's trivialising the murder of women and children.  Nasty!

Now, of course, I am not going to suddenly stop painting my World War 1 British infantry and switch to Warhammer but just pausing to think to reflect on the personal consequences of wars of the past is not a bad thing and Paul Cummins Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, to give the Tower installation its proper name, has certainly succeeded in this.

Anyway, on a much lighter note the second edition of the superb Wargame Bloggers Quarterly is out today and you can download it here.  Even more exciting, it contains a piece by the Legatus on Poulet Marengo (I may not be very good at wargaming but I can cook!) the dish cobbled up, or so the story goes, for Napoleon after the Battle of Marengo in 1800.  I was pleased to see a piece by Scott too on his stunning Lord of the Rings Durin's Causeway board and am looking forward to the Sudan feature.  This really is a great initiative and if you haven't downloaded it yet then do so!

Today's music is a seasonal favourite: Sibelius' 3rd Symphony, in the (excellent) version by the Scottish National Orchestra under Sir Alexander Gibson.  For a number of reasons it reminds me of the sort of "crispy autumnal day" (as my former girlfriend SA used to call them) we have had today.  Autumn has been most peculiar in the South East of England this year; it was twenty two degrees on Friday when the monthly average for October is twelve.  Today, however we had our first cold, bright autumnal day.  SA used to live near Richmond Park and on autumnal days like this we used to go running there, as it was this time of the year that our previous friendship became rather more intimate.  I had bought this CD at about the same time so first played it in her flat after the good 12km whizz around the park's perimeter. We would come back feeling flushed with autumnal well-being, warmed by the exercise and the pale sun with the scent of leaves and dead ferns in our nostrils.  Just time for a horizontal warm-down before a lunch of spaghetti alla puttanesca!  Coincidentally, the story behind the creation of this dish is not dissimilar to that of Poulet Marengo in that it is a found ingredients dish created, it is said, in the nineteen fifties by Italian chef Sandro Petti who had to knock together a dish for some customers late one night when he was short of ingredients other than tomatoes, olives and capers.  The Legatus first had it in Rome cooked by our princess lady friend with, as is typical in the region, the addition of anchovies.  So I think I will cook it tonight as the autumnal weather and the Sibelius reminds me of the dish (not to mention SA and her thirty three inch inside leg measurement!).


  1. Thanks for the shout out Legatus! Your article is a cracker sir. Glad you liked the rest of WBQ too.

  2. Definitely a thought provoking blog post. Will be doing a post on my own blog here shortly regarding this very subject. I will give my short opinion here. As a U.S. Service member...I believe all the games I play are played from a viewpoint of history vs making light of the fact that young men and women died.

    I personally have lost friends in combat, I've lost some to suicide due to that bitch of a disease - PTSD. I strive in all my games to remember the sacrifices they made. In a way, my gaming is to honor them. And in a way, it's therapeutic for myself. Does that make sense?


    1. Yes, a fine rationale. In such matters as in much of English law, intent is key!

  3. Great post Sir.
    Indeed incredibly thought provoking to see that immense swathe of poppies, and what they represent...
    I'll admit I sometimes ponder the appropriateness of the game we play, and I tend to twitch a bit at the idea of gaming anything more recent than WWII...
    Fantasy indeed, gets you 'off the hook', and Warmaster is a great little game, which I enjoyed playing in the tournie scene back in the UK, back in the day...

    I did spy that recipe in the WBQ and did ponder who may have submitted it - well done Sir, I may have to give it a whirl :)

    Thanks for the mention, I am rather pleased at how the Causeway came out in the end :)

  4. Re: WBQ - I had skimmed the mag quickly at work and missed your attribution!

  5. Legatus - an excellent thought provoking post.. I had cause to visit the Tower and see the poppies on Sunday shortly after visiting the Imperial War Museum WWI exhibition... What moved me most was the sheer number of people who have gone to see the display... reports of 4 million people paying their respects in their own way...that's almost 6.5% of the current UK population... astonishing, and very warming to realise how much people DO care....

  6. The poppies installation is thought provoking as is the rest of your post.

  7. Fair point about the Caligula scenario too

  8. Interesting insight into your cuisine ;)

    PS How are those Romans doing
    I might get some for Xmas

    1. Haven't done any painting for a few weeks. Hope to do some this weekend.

  9. Glad to know I'm not the only one who still calls it Kennards.