Sunday, November 29, 2009

James May's Toy Fair

Some very old Meccano. Guy is trying to build a Spitfire from it at the moment. It's just as fiddly as I remember but maybe that's the point.

I took Guy along to this Toy Fair linked to James May's BBC series on Saturday, as we have both been enjoying the TV programmes looking at the history of great toys from his (and indeed my) youth. Well, not exactly. I was always first and foremost a Lego person with Airfix a close second. However I never had Scalextric or Hornby. I was only an intermittent Plasticene person; mainly making dinosaurs or cetacea. I had Meccano but never really took to it.

Anyway we pitched up to Camden Council's rather dingy HQ on Saturday. The average age of the children there was rather younger than I expected being in the 7-8 range rather than 12 like Guy. Each of the key featured toys had there own stand although there was a surprising lack of stuff for sale: possibly something to do with the outlook of the People's Republic of Camden.

James May (in the tasteful jumper) and the Hornby layout.

Guy does have Hornby and enjoyed the rail layout. He was very taken with the Hornby Orient Express set which was a hefty £350. Guy tried it on from the start with an argument along the lines of "as you and mummy went on the Orient Express for your honeymoon she wouldn't be cross if we bought this". Hmm! Bad luck Guy!

Guy wonders where his Aston Martin is. Spun off, probably.

Guy spent quite a lot of time at the Scalextric track racing an Aston Martin; which is his favourite car despite it being as common as muck around here. It's partly to do with James Bond I suppose but then my brother in law has one so Guy gets lots of rides around the Hampshire countryside in his DB7.

L to R: Mike Costin, Keith Duckworth and Uncle Wally with the Ford Cosworth engine which my uncle commissioned while head of Ford PR.

The other aspect, I suppose, is that my uncle, Walter Hayes (my mother's brother) was Chairman of Aston Martin and commissioned the DB7 as his first action on being asked to take over the firm by Ford. He once told me that lots of people asked him at the time if he could get them an Aston at cost price. He replied of course. Cost price would be about 15% more than list price!

We had seen them setting up the world's longest Scalextric track at Brooklands, not far from where I live, which is where our local Tesco is (and there is also a very good car and aircraft museum- Hawker used to have their factor there) for the James May's Toy Story TV programme on Scalextric.

Things from the Lego House

Guy made some Plasticene flowers (not very well I was relieved to see) decided he didn't want to make an Airfix Spitfire ("I can do that at home") but enjoyed talking to the designer of the Lego house (4.5 million bricks!). This had been built at Denbies Vineyard, which is not far away from us in Dorking and we drove past it a couple of times. Talking to the Lego lady she said that when she first started designing Lego objects to go into the house she designed them on paper. Gradually, however she didn't need the designs and could design in her head as she built. This is something, sadly, disappearing from the best toy in the world given that nearly everything they sell is, as far as imagination goes, now no different from an Airfix kit. You just build it from a plan. I built everything from Lego and had to make up my own designs. I used to build whole fleets of battleships and refight Jutland on my carpet or hover tanks from The Trigan Empire my favourite comic strip from Look & Learn magazine.

James May wandered around the stands most of the day and participated in a very enjoyable question and answer session. He seems to genuinely believe that youngsters in Britain have lost their ability to construct things and that doing things with our hands uses a part of our brains that we use less and less in a screen focussed world. Certainly, I saw the effect his programme on Airfix had on Modelzone in High Holborn the week after. The place was packed at lunchtime, unusually, and you couldn't get a model of a Spitfire from any manufacturer!

Arthur and his excellent book.

On the Airfix stand Guy did succeed in getting me to sign him up to the Airfix club where we got a rather splendid Fleet Air Arm trio of kits which were exclusive to the club. I was also delighted to meet Arthur Ward, the author of The Boys Book of Airfix, which I really enjoyed reading recently. I bought an Airfix desk calendar for my office and some rather splendid Airfix box art drinks coasters!

Barbora, whose accent was such that she could have successfully signed me up for anything!

One stand there was for a website called Toy Collector which has its aim as nothing less than creating a Wikipedia for every toy ever made. Ambitious if nothing else. I probably spent far too long talking to the fetching Toy Collector lady, Barbora!

Guy and his hero

Guy's day was made when James May signed his book for him. Given that the queue of people wanting to get their books signed was huge it was very nice of him to let Guy pose for a picture like this. Most people had to snatch one whilst he was signing. Guy, however, being an assertive sort of boy, explained that he went to the same school that James May's brother is a music teacher at. This, as Guy had realised, went down very well with Mr May! Guy loves Top Gear of course but also enjoys James May's other science/enginnering TV shows as well, and hasn't put his book down since!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Warfare at Reading

Big Blenheim

Warfare is the third show I go to after Salute and Colours. Sited in a rather cramped leisure centre in an unattractive corner of Reading (are there any other kinds?), I tend to use it as a quick in and out shopping expedition rather than one for taking in the demonstration games and enjoying the ambience.

Nonetheless, there was one jaw-dropping demonstration game on today; a 28mm Blenheim by organisers, Wargames Association of Reading's Matt Slade. Despite the popularity of Marlborough at Guildford I have never got into the period (despite buying those first Peter Laing 15mm figures in the seventies) but this almost converted me. Stunning!

Lego Star Wars!

My son, Guy's, favourite was the Lego Star wars game. Having spent a fortune on eBay over the years acquiring rare and out of production sets and figures for him (Cloud City I remember costing me about the same as two of those Games Workshop army packs you can get) I reckon the value of the figures on the table was huge! I mean, I collect vintage Playboys and they are bad enough but nothing compared to Star Wars Lego. I have seen individual figures go for £40 each!

Shopping wise I hadn't meant to get much but of course...

I got some more Crusader Numidian cavalry and some of the new Oscans for Zama, some more Perry Beja, some Black Scorpion pirate girls (engagingly not very historically accurate). I also got some more Artizan pulp Sky Pirates, for which I have just bought a 1/48th Junkers JU 52 to transport them in.

28mm gorgeousness from Paul Hicks

I chatted with the chap at the Empress miniatures stand about what they have got coming outs soon: some more irregular cavalry and I had a look at the new artillery pieces which were superb. The Newcastle Mounted Rifles are coming soon, which is amazing considering that there were only 36 of them mustered! You will be able to fight 1:1 engagements with them! I bought some of the new Natal Carbineers, some more British Infantry and the new command pack which includes Col. Pulleine. The latter are some of the nicest figures I have seen for ages; really up there with the Perries top stuff and Paul Hicks should be congratulated for getting so much Victorian character into something so small. Even more impressive were the reins on the horses which are all moulded without that slab of metal between them that most (nearly all) figures have. This involves some clever in-mould manipulation and just demonstrates, I think, the lengths that Empress are going to to produce the ultimate figures for the period. I also picked up a trio of their new Bell tents, ideal for Isandlwana.

I also had a chat with Brian Sweeney at Mutineer Miniatures whose figures (by Mike Owen) are also some of the nicest I have seen for ages (mine arrived this week). Again, they have got more packs coming out in the next few weeks. He was also very helpful in pointing me in the right direction for some initial help on painting as none of my books have any information on this period at all. He is promising painting guides up on his website soon.

Guy's Iraqi T 55

Finally, Guy, who has being playing D-Day on the living room floor for months has decided he wants to do modern warfare for a bit. Fortunately, I had lots of modern plastics in the loft. He got 86% in a maths exam at school this week. Miracle! The new £35 an hour tutor is obviously working! So I got him one of those nice ready-made die-cast tanks that you can get nowadays. He chose a T55 as he had a ride in one over the summer holidays at the Isle of Wight Military Museum. A few years ago we had a Lord Mayor of London (I travel on their overseas business missions a fair bit in my role as Chairman of a government infrastructure group), Michael Savoury, who collected tanks. Real ones, not models. The Lord Mayor and I were having lunch with the Czech Ambassador in the Czech Embassy and he asked him if he could get a suspension wheel for his Czech built T55 as his had broken! He got it as well!

Guy, left, enoys the ride (six times more expensive per minute than the maths tutor!)

All in all I spent more than I meant to, considering we had time constraints today, but have already based a lot of the new figures. I have varnished the Carthaginian veterans today so just need to do the metal work, shields and spears. Then Zulu War British... Probably.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Crimean War? Surely not?

Great War Miniatures have announced today that they are starting a range for the Crimean War and so I have now started to think about whether I might get some of these figures, of course. I like GWM Great War figures without actually thinking they are (as was their intention) the ne plus ultra of World War One in 28mm. They have two sculptors and this is, I find, very apparent in matters of size and proportion. Some of the figures, such as the Early War British are lovely (although not as nice as the Musketeer Miniatures ones) but some, such as the Early War French I don't like as much. In addition they all tend to suffer from a rather old-fashioned "big head syndrome". I don't know whether the Crimean figures will have similar issues but the one they have put up on the Miniatures Page looks more than acceptable.

Anyway, in 28mm there doesn't seem to be much competition which begs the question whether anyone is really interested in the period. For me it has never been a period that appealed that much. Odd, given that it features a British Army in all its Victorian (and inappropriate) splendour. Partly, perhaps, it is too close in time to Waterloo and given a choice of two periods with redcoats and traditional cavalry I'd be more likely to go for the Napoleonic option. For a more modern war the American Civil War offers a more engaging choice with many and varied sized engagements and terrain. Basically my mental image of the Crimea is of (only a handful of) battles fought on freezing cold treeless, featureless terrain and rather too much siegework for an enjoyable wargaming period. The ultimate decision will be made, I suspect, by the figures themselves but these aren't due until 2010. If these are really spectacular (as they have the potential to be) then I may look at the period anew. Perhaps buying the Garry Douglas Kilworth novels might be a good (or bad) idea, especially given that, after the Crimea, his hero Jack Crossman ends up involved in the Indian Mutiny.

Something of a gamble for GWM I would have thought...

Paint some buy more

French Militiaman

I'm so delighted with the number of figures I have painted in the last two weeks that I have just gone and ordered a load more. None of this "Pledge" nonsense for me!

The Galloping Major French Indian War figures have now arrived (very quickly, I should add) and they are much better in reality than the pictures on the website indicate. They are, as Giles has said, larger than the Conquest figures but that is probably all to the good as it means I will be able to supplement the range with Redoubt figures/accessories if necessary. I don't think they will be particularly quick to paint, though. I may paint the French Militia at the same time as the Carthaginians as they have a similar palette utilising natural cloth colours and leather.

I have ordered some more Belgian Askari and a mountain gun for my Force Publique so I can get it large enough to field at Guildford one evening.

I have also ordered some A&A Miniatures Carthaginian veterans (also sculpted by Mark Sims) to boost the Crusader figures I am painting at present. This will give a bit more variety in the units as there are only four poses at present but the addition of the A&A figures will give eight which will look a bit better. A&A's postal service is appalling: it can take six weeks for figures to arrive so I am not holding my breath!

Finally, the Mutineer Miniatures Indian mutiny figures by Mike Owen are just available to buy so I have ordered a pack of each.

After all this, however, I am finding that I have hardly any time to paint. My daughter and son seem to dominate the computer (which is in my study) for homework during the week so I only get a few minutes a day it seems. Never mind, yesterday I based the FIW figures and some Great War Miniatures WW1 Scots I bought in Ian Allan's shop near Waterloo station. I also bought a book there called The German Army at Cambrai by Jack Sheldon which I have not seen before. It contains a photograph of one of the lorry mounted anti-aircraft guns the Germans used at Cambrai although no one makes one to my knowledge. My World War 1 Mark IV tank is so nearly finished I may fast track it over the next few weeks, especially now that I have some transfers from Brigade Games for it.

My next overseas trip is on the horizon for three weeks time but its only a couple of days at the UN in Geneva so isn't going to be too disruptive.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

First painted Mutineer figure

Painted by Piers Brand. Can't wait!

Canadian poppy

For some reason I am usually in Canada at this time and tend to end up with the Canadian version of the remembrance poppy (although you can buy them in Canada House in Trafalgar Square. This year, however, I have a British poppy.

As in the UK, Canadian poppies were produced by disabled veterans but the demand is such (16-18 million a year) that they are now produced by a commercial company on behalf of the Royal Canadian Legion. In Canada, of course, Remembrance Day is a public holiday and that is when the main remembrance services take place (not on the nearest Sunday as in the UK).

Sunday, November 08, 2009

An army in two weeks!

Force Publique for Darkest Africa

OK, it's not much of an army but given a few added askaris (which I've already painted) it's probably a viable force under Chris Peers' Darkest Africa rules for taking on my Azande in the next week or so (we'll probably have to wait until after Guy's exams the week after next).
Forty-eight figures from start to finish in 15 days which must be a record for me. I will write about the Force Publique in more detail over at my Darkest Africa blog in the next week.
Now it's on to the Carthaginians!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Back at work...

Well I struggled into trendy North Soho today to show my face in the office just in case they all thought I had died. Fortunately, everyone seems genuinely concerned for my welfare and the girls are rushing to make my tea whenever I need it! My former PA is taking me to lunch and my new PA starts next week, which is great as I haven't had any help for about eight weeks now. In reality my "new" PA is my old PA from my previous job but I have persuaded her to come and work for me again. She will make my life a lot easier! Now it's back to trying to set up our operation in Canada; which should keep me occupied for the next 12 months or so.

First painted Ranger from the Galloping Major site

Talking of Canada, I am getting increasingly tempted by the Galloping Major French Indian War range. Already they have French Militia and Mohawks and now they have previews of Hurons and Rangers up on their website. Given that I am also looking forward to the new Indian Mutiny Range from Mutineer I shouldn't really start another period but my recent burst of activity on my Force Publique figures (36 completed so far since last Sunday week) has got me energised into painting again.

Very much our favourite general at the Hampton School multi-award winning wargames team! We won three trophies in a row at the Model Engineering Exhibition in the mid-seventies and they wouldn't let us compete any more!

"Mass, not driblets!" as Heinz Guderian once said and perhaps my tactic of only painting six figures at a time has prevented me from doing more. I am very down on my aim of doing six figures a week this year so for the next few months I will try to work on some bigger units.

Next up will be a unit of 20 Carthaginian veterans for Zama. I have based and undercoated the Crusader figures and started by painting the flesh on one figure last night (even though I haven't quite finished the Belgians yet). Not quite as straightforward as I had hoped as getting the flesh colour in around greaves and helmet is a lot trickier than on the Force Publique figures but they have a lot of armour (chainmail, helmets and greaves) so there is less cloth to paint. After I have done those (which should take about three weekends, I guess) I am going to move on to the Zulu War British I have started. I probably have about 40 figures to paint so suspect that will take me up to Christmas. I have quite a lot of leave left so will try to get some time off between Christmas and New Year. Next up, after the Zulu Wars British, will be a unit of Ligurians for Zama from Gripping Beast.
I'm sure that this is all hopelessly over-optimistic but who knows?

I have just noticed that Games Workshop are issuing two of their flat Realm of Battle game tiles in a pack for just over £50. Annoyingly, they are just the standard ones from the full set with irritating skull pits and what have you but I can see myself getting some more of these. I have finished one of these tiles now and have some others well on the way. It looks like their promise to come out with river tiles etc. is going to come to nothing. Just too expensive for the current economic environment I suspect.

Right. I need to book a flight to Geneva!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Not the kit I went for...

I decided that I needed to get out over the weekend and after a short, experimental visit to Waitrose on Saturday, where I acquired an anaesthetic bottle of Peter Lehman Barossa Tempranillo, I went to Kingston with my little boy yesterday.

I had to take my daughter to a school play rehersal in Kew so she could be a munchkin all day. This is a somewhat curious piece of casting given that she is nearly 5'8" tall; but they are short of competent dancers it seems. Anyway, rather than drag all the way back home and then back to Kew to collect my daughter Guy and I decided to go back only as far as Kingston to have lunch and visit Games Workshop and Modelzone. We had watched James May's Toy Stories about Airfix Kits on TV last week and had got it into our heads to get a 1/48th Spitfire. Now my usual style would be to get the big 1/24 scale one but given I have had the engine of the Hurricane on my shelf for years without progressing it and have the Stuka in the loft we decided to be rational and go for a smaller one. Unfortunately, I managed to pull my stitches which strated to bleed and we had to beat a rapid retreat back to the car and left Modelzone without said aircraft (probably just as well).
However, before this I happened on a model kit I did buy. Blow me they had a 1/350 scale model of the Jeremiah O'Brien; the Liberty ship I visited in San Franciso last month. Well, I had to get that! About 280 pieces and 15" long. I haven't made a model ship since...well I can't actually remember. It may be a model of HMS Suffolk I built 15 years ago. I used to enjoy Airfix ships more than aircraft when I was younger although all that getting the two halfs of the hull aligned was a nightmare! Fortunately, the Trumpeter model has a one piece hull which is, cleverly, the below the waterline section so you can build it as a full hull or waterline model. I remember that the Airfix Graf Spee was like this but that involved some very dicey hull cutting. This is a much more elegant design solution!

Interestingly, Modelzone also had another 1/350 model of a ship I saw on my travels last month: the USS New Jersey. This is moored opposite the Philadelphia waterfront in Camden New Jersey. I didn't get a chance to go on board this visit but hopefully will do next year.

Force Publique as at Saturday evening

On the Darkest Africa front, progress is steady on the Force Publique army. I'm hoping to have the first batch finished today. I was due to go back to work today but they have told me to stay at home another couple of days.
I have to sit still more it seems so am pondering on what dreadful film to watch this afternoon. I am torn between Carry on up the Jungle with Valerie Leon in a fur bikini and Ray Harryhausen's swansong Clash of the Titans. Decisions, decisions.