Saturday, January 07, 2017

Non-wargaming highlights 2016

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!


  1. I lost my own mother to Alzheimer's. You will miss her every day. It's the little things. You might sneeze or cough and realize that it sounded like on of your Mother's. Odd. They never really leave you.

    1. I dare not say it to my sister but increasingly she is starting to look like her when she pulls some expression!

  2. A fabulous read and a highlight of he year in its own right. It looks like Guy is fast becoming a chip off the old block.

    1. Needs to score a Vogue cover model in his first year though...

  3. A very entertaining round-up of the year - as always. As someone who appreciates locations in films and TV, I'm surprised "Indian Summers" made your highlights list as it so obviously wasn't filmed in India! It did have a few other attractions (NOT Julie Walters).

    1. True but at least it was appropriately tropical. In Hooten many parts of South Africa (where it was filmed) stood in for, e.g.:the the Amazon but convincingly so. It wasn't shot in Hertfordshire.

  4. As usual, a very interesting, informative, and entertaining blog entry. I always look forward to your postings, and wish that there were more of them!

    All the best,


    1. Thank you. Less at present as I am actually painting some figures (Zulus)!

  5. You have the ability that the best comedy script writers have of being able to mix the comic and the sad all in one post... excellent... here's to a happy 2017...

  6. My deepest condolences for the loss of your mother.

    1. Thank you, although such is the nature of Alzheimer's that we felt we lost her years ago.

  7. An entertaining read, as always, LH. Here's to a productive 2017 with lots of soldier painting. Happy New Year.


    1. Thanks. Enjoying painting the Zulus so far, Due a bit of time off in the next two weeks so hope to be able to field 3 or even 4 units of 24.

  8. An excellent read as always Legatus. Condolences as well for family who have passed away. Looking forward to more of your tales and travels in 2017.

    1. Thank you. Hopefully, not too many travels next year!

    2. I second that. I spent most of 2016 travelling between Asia and Central America for work. Now really enjoying some quiet weeks at home.

  9. Your Mom was a looker! Nineteen fifties?

    1. Yes. 1954 or thereabouts I think. She worked at a top London women's magazine. My aunt said that when she left for work every morning the neighbours would peer out the windows to see what she was wearing.

  10. An excellent read, I look forward to more in 2017. My condolences on the loss of your mother.

  11. Interesting (and amusing) as always. Sorry for the loss of your mother (though my grandfather has Alzheimer's and really it feels like he died several years ago, so I know how you feel there...).

    Keep it up and good luck for 2017.


  12. Like Bob, I always enjoy your postings and wish there were more.

    I also have a sudden urge to see Specter again...

  13. good to see the old family butchers market stall in Ox is still going , I was always adept with a cleaver must be in the genes LOL