I have been putting together a big bid (bid leader, so I am co-ordinating two firms and six staff - oh dear, I am sounding like that 'friend' on Facebook who always posts things about what he is doing at work, which are totally incomprehensible because they are to do with IT)) for a project in Africa (which we aren't going to win but which we need to be seen to be bidding on) so haven't had any time to paint or, indeed, go to Eric's Shed for a wargame, despite his kind invitations. My bit's done now and it just needs to be assembled for couriering off on Monday, Last week, I had a morning meeting in London, followed by a meeting in the late afternoon. Given I had a couple of wargames magazines in my bag I thought I would pootle over to the National Galllery cafe to have some lunch.
Now regular readers (are there any others? - I can't imagine so) will know that I regularly have lunch in the National Cafe when I am between meetings or even just after one, when I can't be bothered to go home to the Old Bat without a couple of glasses of wine to desensitize me to the endless monologues about her latest project. This time she has taken against the rockery "It's so fifties!" she says.
"It's called mid-century, now, and it's very trendy," I claim, to no avail, as she swings the pickaxe (she loves smashing things up). So out go all the rocks and in will go a pond with a fountain. Except, the rocks weigh so much I can't get them around to the front of the house (we would need some Stonehenge style rollers) let alone lift them into the car, so they sit, isolated and forlon like crashed meteorites, in the mud. The dump now weighs your rubble, anyway, and charges you for it. £4 a rock, it would be. She has dug a big hole for the pond, which 'she' bought on eBay (using my account). "We can pick it up as its not far!" she says. It's in Winchester. It's sixty miles! I tell her. Each way. Four gallons of petrol. She has no idea where Winchester is.
Last week she bought a floating plastic lily pad solar powered fountain in Chessington Garden Centre (where Eric the Shed gets a lot of his cork bark and aquarium 'jungle' plants) and she put it in another of her ponds, temporarily. These are all round. She doesn't like irregular shaped ones.. It emits a desultory spray if it has been in the sun for a few minutes and then stops to recharge. "That doesn't squirt very far!" said my daughter (I refrained from making a comment about an actress and a bishop). Both the Old Bat and my daughter love it though; sitting next to it in rapt expectation, waiting for another intermittent squirt like an unreliable version of the Old Faithful geyser.
"It's much more naff than a rockery!" I claim. Dark frown slowly appears. I back away. So what she needs now is a bigger fountain, she reasons. More eBay bidding (on my account of course) and now we have to go to Primrose Hill to pick up, an admittedly charming, little (but metal - 'two of you will be able to lift it', says the man, cheerfully) fountain which cost 14 times what the pond did.. Well its not that little. It's two feet high. Now she worries the pond she has bought will be too small. "Maybe I need a bigger pond!" No wonder I need a drink in the National Cafe.
But, horrors, they have renovated the National Cafe in the six weeks since I was last there. Now, as the Old Bat would confirm, I hate change, especially of things I like. It's the same when you buy some food and it says 'new improved recipe' on it. You know it's not improved, it won't taste better and they are just saving money by using cheaper ingredients. So what have they done to my favourite cafe? I think that the technical architectural term is 'ponced up'. This isn't a sprucing up, this is a complete rebuild inside. Now it looks more like a restaurant and less like a cafe. They have put in screens which break the room up and make it seem smaller. I got there at 12.00 when, in the past, it would already have been nearly full of ladies who lunch. Not that day. It was almost deserted. Stop 'improving' things! Needless to say, the prices had been 'improved' too, no doubt to pay for it all. It was like when I started College and found my termly food and accommodation expenses were half what my friend Jeremy's were, as he went to Magdalen and they had just spent millions of pounds on shoring up their tower, so decided to make the students pay for it.
Oh well, the only thing to do was order some (more expensive) wine and hope the food hadn't got worse. I don't drink white wine at home as if I do I drink the whole bottle in one go, so switched to red and drink about a quarter as much as I used to. Just as I was about to order a glass, however, I was sent an email which said that my three o'clock meeting had been cancelled. So I ordered a bottle of Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi at the rather usurious price of £26.50. It was organic, I later discovered. I never buy organic wine, not because it is a rip off (which it is) but because do you really think that Italians will be honest about how organic it actually is? Or do they just call it organic, take the EU subsidy and spray it with DDT when it's dark. Their definition of what is organic is much less strict than ours, or course. Still, it was actually rather good. You may think I am being unfair on the Italians but I worked with them for eight years!
Anyway, time for a very good Minestrone with toasted fregola, which are toasted Sardinian pasta shapes (although they would probably call them fregula). In fact, of course, my eight years working with the Italians means that I know that 'they' should be called fregole. One fregola, many fregole. Sigh. So,on to the first issue of the 'new' Miniature Wargames which was the March issue. The first thing that caught my eye was a review of Victrix's new plastic Iberians and Numidians. Who would have thought, many years ago when I first bought some of A&A's Carthaginians, that you would ever be able to get these in plastic? Amazing, really. As ever there was no mention of the key thing I am looking for in a review of historical figures which is: are they historically accurate?
Musketeeer/Footsore Saxon Gedriht
Still not very many people had turned up in the cafe. The main article I wanted to read was by the redoubtable George Anderson and provided some scenarios for Dux Britanniarum, which I don't have (at least I think I don't - I found a copy of Sharp Practice the other day and I was sure I didn't own that!) but scenarios are always useful and he has an engaging writing style. This is also my favourite Dark Ages period, although I have only painted one unit for it so far. As I looked for a picture of it to post I discovered I had, actually, also painted ten figures from a second unit (above). This might be a good 'unit to finish' project if I can work out where the other figures are. Thirty figures, in this new world of skirmish wargaming is getting on for an army! I didn't find much else of interest in that issue so it was on to the next magazine.
First off I had Galician bavette with Datterino tomatoes and gremolata. This really was quite superb although at £22 quite pricey for what was a cafe. This was last week, though, and I am now boycotting Spanish products, over their sabre rattling over Gibraltar, in solidarity with my neighbour down the road who hails from there. No more chorizo or Rioja for me! Take that Diego!
There was even less of interest in this one apart from the Indian Mutiny rules and the Salute show insert (I have now bought my ticket!). Slightly oddly, in the fantasy facts section, was a review of a figure by Black Pyramid of the Scandalous Lady Worsley. A 'Victorian lady', said the review. 'I'm not quite sure what makes Lady W scandalous' said the reviewer. Oh dear. Sighs at another display of complete ignorance from Treadhead's comic.
Seymour Fleming (1758-1818 therefore not a Victorian lady at all) was the heiress daughter of an Irish baronet and married Sir Richard Worsley of Appuldurcombe House on the Isle of Wight. To cut a very long and torrid story short she and her husband were ill suited and she took a string of lovers (as many as 27 she admitted, over a seven year period). One of these was one of her husband's best friends and fellow local South Hampshire Militia officer George Bisset. She ran off with him (abandoning her four month old baby by Bisset) and her husband then sued Bisset for £20,000 (in 1782!) for 'conversation' (which is adultery with a fellow officer). During the case, Lady Worsley admitted the numerous lovers but said that her husband had 'displayed' her naked to Bisset, which encouraged the affair which made it, by implication, his own fault. Sir Richard won the case but was only awarded one shilling in damages, due to this revelation, Bisset left Lady Worsley when her husband refused to divorce her so he couldn't marry her. Relying instead on donations by grateful and 'friendly' gentlemen she had to flee for Paris to escape debts with her French lover. Trapped by the French revolution she was probably imprisoned during The Terror. She returned to England in 1797. Her husband died in 1805 and she inherited £70.000 (about £8 million at today's values). A month later the 47 year old Lady Worsley married her 26 year old lover, moving to France after the armistice of 1814. She died there four years later. The Black Pyramid figure is based on a painting of her, in the uniform of her husband's militia unit, by Sir Joshua Reynolds and now hangs in Harewood House. It says everything about the character of this independent, unconventional, sensuous woman who was, indeed, scandalous.
She was portrayed by Game of Throne's star Natalie Dormer in a BBC film in 2015, who recreated the pose of the Reynolds painting for a publicity still. Shaun Evans (young Endeavour Morse) gave a creepily brilliant portrayal of Sir Richard Worsley although Dormer, while certainly looking the part, was not quite up to it (except in the sex scenes, which she handled enthusiastically).
The shell of Appuldurcombe House today
I have visited Sir Richard Worsley's Appuldurcombe House on the Isle of Wight, of course, although now it is a picturesque shell. A Dornier 217 dropped a mine very close to the house, then being used as a barracks, in 1943, which blew a hole in the roof. It wasn't repaired and gradually the house fell into disrepair and the interiors and roof were removed and sold. Recently, several rooms have been re-glazed and restored. When I last went there, coincidentally, a group of re-enactors were demonstrating late eighteenth century uniforms, drill and weaponry from the time of Sir Richard and Lady Worsley.
Hopefully, on Saturday, without a last minute panic on the bid, I might actually get some painting done!