Sunday, December 19, 2010

Some catching up...

Who needs turkey?

Well, I am back from my final trip of the year and I didn't get eaten by a lion, catch malaria, pick up a tummy bug or get carjacked.  More on my trip on my Darkest Africa blog here.  It's not been too bad on the travelling front this year; only nine countries (USA, Colombia, Mexico, Canada, UAE, Switzerland, Lithuania, Zambia and Turkey for the record) but next year may be worse again.

I actually got some figures finished this month!


Unfortunately, having been away for nearly two weeks (including last weekend down at my friend's house in Bath) my wife now has an appallingly long list of jobs for me to do so if I so much as pick up a paintbrush I get shouted at by the evil old harridan.  I am managing to sneak in some painting when she is out of the house but that isn't giving me much time.  I am trying to finish off some part finished figures at present but the trouble is I keep preparing more!  I have now finished my batch of Zulu War British and am very tempted to fast track some more which I started some time ago.  I will try to be good, however, and move on to another small group which are well on the way instead.  Which group, is a the crucial question!

It was good to get down to Aquae Sulis again.  My friends are great cooks (they import all their fruit and vegetables direct from Italy by courier!) and have a wonderful, real cellar.  We had some nice Dom Ruinart 1996 Rose, some good claret (Gruard Larose), a fine Barolo and bottles and bottles of other stuff fom the cellar (I think the four of us drank eight bottles with dinner on Saturday!).  One blast from the past was Coteaux du Tricastin which used to be a favourite from Sainsbury's years ago.  I used to drink it with a former girlfriend V in the early eighties.  It was a very nostalgic bottle, especially as my hostess in Bath (she later married one of my best friends) was my girlfriend  immediately before V.  All very complicated.  Not the wine; that was as rustic as ever!

One disappointment is that Bonapartes, the model soldier shop, which was literally a hundred feet from their house, has closed.  It sold mostly 54mm and up figures but they also had a very good second hand military books section and I usually managed to pick up something there.  It has moved to Westbury and can be found here.  Somewhere I have got a 90mm Roman legionary I bought there a few years ago but I never get around to starting it as I always feel I should be painting 28mm figures.

From this... this.

Also, the very large Games Workshop in Bath (the biggest I have ever been other than HQ in Nottingham) has now been replaced by a normal sized shop.  This is a shame as they often had things in there that the smaller shops didn't.  I resisted the urge to buy something on the basis that I have hundreds of GW figures to paint.  When I got back I started to assemble some more Rohan riders which I aim to paint at the same time as my new plastic Normans as they will share a lot of colours.  Something for Christmas time I think. I also finished off an Orc tracker which had been sitting on my desk for far too long.  No idea where the other two from the pack are, though!  Talking of Normans I finished another metal Crusader figure this week as well so at least there is some progress on the painting front.

On the plane to Zambia (a ten and a half hour flight) I started the third Clive Cussler novel about detective Isaac Bell.  Clive Cussler is one of my guilty pleasures and I can still re-read his early novels: especially Raise the Titanic, Deep Six, Vixen 03 and, probably my favourite, Night Probe.  After this his novels seemed to deteriorate and become more hackneyed, formulaic, stodgy and just juvenile (there were even the odd raunchy sex scenes in the early books but now they seem to be aimed at 12 year olds).  Part of the problem was that he seemed to be writing with one eye on a film option so they became full of completely unbelievable, Roger Moore-period James Bond-type action sequences.  Adaption of his books has not been a happy affair and I can't think that anyone else would bother now.  Like many successful US authors he has now become a franchise churning out multiple volumes in different series "with" other authors.  The quality of these depends, of course, on the actual author.  His colloborator on the Isaac Bell books, Justin Scott, writes at a level or so above some of the other writers attached to his series and they are now very much the most enjoyable of his current output.  I think the interesting period they are set in (early twentieth century pre-Great War) helps and the novel I read on the plane, The Spy, features the pre-war dreadnought race. 

I am still reading multiple books and started the the first Garry Douglas Killworth book about the Crimean War, The Devil's Own, (which I bought on ebay as they are out of print) on the flight back.  It really is Sharpe in the Crimea and I whilst I found it a bit stodgy at first it is now rattling along nicely. 

I also finished some Darkest Africa British, which I started years ago, inspired by a recent Wargames Illustrated article by Gary Chalk.  I also have a batch of British askaris, which I might now fast track, to go with these.

This week looks quiet on the work front so I may get some more done this week.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Blood of Honour by James Holland

One of the problems with travelling a lot is that I often end up with multiple books on the go at a time.  There is no point in packing a half finished book so I inevitably start a new one on a trip.  Inevitably, I tend to finish it half way through and then move on to one I've bought at the airport.  So when I get back I have yet another half finished book.

Currently I have five novels on the go and the gap between starting and finishing can be so large I often have to go back and re-read parts of them!

At present I am trying to finish Blood of Honour by James Holland, the third novel about Sergeant Jack Tanner of the fictional Yorks Rangers.  This is not to suggest it is a struggle.  Far from it, but, rather like my "in progress" section on the workbench I am determined to tie up a few loose ends.  I enjoyed the first novel in the series, The Odin Mission, with its unusual setting of the Norwegian campaign. It was, as others have said, very much a Second World War Sharpe, with a small band making a trek through enemy controlled territory. The second novel, Darkest Hour, set during the French campaign which led to the evacuation from Dunkirk, was not nearly as successful.  Rambling, muddled and with characters that float in and out for no discernable reason it also suffered from what looked like a horribly rushed ending.  It may well have been rushed as, about the same time that The Odin Mission appeared we also got Michael Asher's The Last Commando, a similar, although bloodier and grittier, attampt at a WW2 Sharpe.  Whilst the second book in that series is scheduled to appear in a couple of weeks Holland has since produced two more novels in his World War 2 series. 

His third book, Blood of Honour, is set during the Crete campaign, about which, other than the island was captured by German paratroops I knew nothing. As you would expect from a World War 2 historian the "big picture" stuff is handled well and informatively without it holding up the action.  Others have said that the characterisation in the novels is a bit weak but I wasn't expecting Sebastien Faulks, to be honest.  For me what I wanted was some inspirational battle scenes that could be turned into a wargame.  In this, Blood of Honour succedes much better than the previous two books.  There are assaults on a town, ambushes and battles through vinyards; all good stuff.  One of the reviewers on Amazon said that Holland conveyed no sense of place and that the action could have happened anywhere.  I have to disagree with this as I think that he gets the feeling of being on a Mediterranean island in the summer very well.  His fourth book featuring Jack Tanner is due out next summer.  I'll certainly be picking it up when it comes out

My second hand Eighth Army

Meanwhile, I picked up a batch of undercoated Eighth Army, LRDG and commando figures via someone at Guildford. They need rebasing and undercoating in white before I can work on them but now I'm thinking of getting German paratroops to oppose them rather than Afrika Korps,  So maybe I should add my half dozen part-painted Eighth Army figures to my finish before Christmas pile


I went to Warfare briefly on Sunday. My main reason for attending was to visit Mutineer Miniatures but, although they were listed on the programme there was no sign of them and the organisers hadn't a clue about them. Maybe they only attended on Saturday.

I was amazingly restrained; buying a few loose (!) Foundry elf nymphs, some Musketeer Miniatures Saxon slingers and their "not Jack Sparrow" from the Gripping Beast stand for my daughter (who has shown some interest in a Legends of the High Seas game). Disappointingly, Warlord Games didn't have any of the new Paul Hicks sculpted Crimean War figures and didn't sound very excited about them when I asked.  I have heard that their are big plans for the range and I hope so because the figures I am working on at present are superb. 

I did look at the Great War Miniatures Crimean figures for the first time and they aren't quite as gnomic in real life as the photographs might indicate.  What was obvious, though, was that they are by different sculptors so some, to me, are better than others (just like their Great War range).  At a push I could team them with the Warlord ones in seperate units so all is not lost.  I also recently ordered an Osprey on the British army in the Crimea but their main Men-at-Arms ones on the conflict seem to be out of print.  Certainly they are selling for silly prices on eBay (circa £45) and with book sellers at Warfare.

I also got a box of the new Norman cavalry from Conquest Games which I have started to review on my Dark Ages blog.  I think I will be getting a lot of these.

I looked at a lot of tempting stuff, such as Empress Miniatures new Boers, but realised that I have so many figures I really don't need any more yet; not when my desk is covered in half-finished miniatures!

Next up: more Normans, Zulus, 1879 British and Indian Mutiny.  Oh, and I need to do another artillery piece.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Back from the desert...

There is nothing like a nice light starter

So, I've been back from Abu Dhabi (and one or two other places in the Middle East) for ten dys or so, and while it is not one of my favourite destinations it was nice to be able to sit outside and have dinner at an Italian restaurant in November! I don't go to the Middle East that much and am not that inspired by the UAE because of the lack of history about the place. Of the places I have been in the region I prefer Jordan and Oman and am indifferent about Qatar (which is still nicer than Dubai, however). So much for that being my last trip of the year as I have just booked my next flight today to somewhere rather more exotic...

Speaking of exotic I know that Matt likes to see the people I have to put up with on my trips so here is the lovely S in Aqaba!

I've been wondering what figures to try to finish next after my Beja cavalry (see the Sudan Blog) and I've got a few Zulu War British half done so will have a go at them next. I am pleased to see the new Empress Miniatures Boers which will also be good for the First Boer War. My first ever game of the Sword and the Flame was a First Boer War game and I have been keen to have another go at this.

Even though I really don't need any more figures I think I will go to Warfare this weekend just in case I spot something interesting. Actually. there is one thing on my list and that is some Mutineer Miniatures Gurkhas. I was in the City just after I got back from the Middle East and the British Legion had deployed, to sell poppies, a whole load of servicemen (and women I bought my poppy from a very fetching lady sailor (I don't think they are wrens anymore). They were all in uniform and were doing very well in attracting people to buy poppies. In Leadenhall Market they had the band of the Gurkhas playing which made for an unusual accompaniment to tapas!

My Norman army so far

Basically, I only get to paint on Sundays at present and if I do go to Warfare I won't get much done this weekend so my annual painting total looks like it will be well down. Next after the Zulu War British will be some Norman cavalry which are also well on the way. I have been painting a few Crusader Normans this year and have some more lined up. They are really quite quick and easy to paint. Then it's Indian Mutiny British and Mexicans. Hopefully, I will also be able to fit in some work on my Crimea British; especially as much of the uniform colours are similar to the Zulu War period troops.

I recently picked up the new Airfix Model World magazine for Guy but it had a couple of interesting articles inside I enjoyed as well. One was a very good piece on weathering a WW1 tank and the other was on how to paint the Airfix Saturn V kit. I have had one of these up in the loft for years and Guy keeps asking me to build it for him but I remember from when I built one in the early seventies that painting it was a nightmare, so this article should be useful. All in all I was quite impressed with it and will definitely pick up the second one. It seems to have a good distribution and I have seen it in Sainsburys as well as Smiths.

I'm very envious of all the painting everyone esle seems to be getting done!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Even more thoughts on the Crimea...

I am rapidly talking myself into this one, unfortunately. In the very little time I have had this week I have started to paint my eight Warlord Games figures. The Paul Hicks sculpts are very detailed in the Perry style, rather than the chunky Foundry style, which means the details are rather fine but already I am enjoying painting them.

I have now started to order some of the Gary Douglas Kilworth novels off eBay to keep me in the mood and have bought a few reference books. In fact I seem to have bought four books this week. An overall history, Crimea, by Trevor Royle which I managed to get for £4.99 instead of £14.99. Secondly, I picked up the Osprey Essential History as a quick primer. Another book The Thin Red Line, which is based on eyewitness accounts, by Julian Spilsbury has some nice colour illustrations. The Battle of the Alma by Ian Fletcher and Natalia Ishchenko covers the first major battle of the War and has some useful maps.

Finally, while sorting out the books on my shelves to find space for this new Crimea collection, I discovered I had already bought a book on the Crimea in the Isle of Wight in August so I must have been thinking about the period longer than I remember! This was the out of print Uniforms and Weapons of the Crimean War by Robert Wilkinson-Latham which has some great illustrations. I bought this in a funny little second hand bookshop in St Helens on the Isle of Wight which, nevertheless, has a great military history section. In fact, the basis of the whole bookshop business was a huge private colection of military books that the current owner purchased.

Just to give you an idea this photo is of just one of around three sections of military books they have.  I always find half a dozen or so books there when I visit, although it is by no mean a cheap bookshop. Expect to pay antiquarian prices for some of the older volumes. I have paid £60 or £70 pounds for nineteenth century accounts of the Sudan Wars.

Further good news from Warlord Games today with the announcement of a splendid mounted officer by Paul Hicks.

Off to Abu Dhabi for a week tomorrow so won't get any painting done this week. I am really hoping that this will be my final overseas trip this year but you never know...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thoughts on the Crimea...

Laura in Bogota. Very much the acceptable face of government!

Well, I have just returned from a ten day trip to the Americas (Mexico City, Bogota and Houston) and accompanying me for much of the way (apart from the lovely Laura) was To Do or Die by Patrick Mercer.

Now I have never bothered with novels about the Crimean War (notably Garry Douglas Kilworth's books about "Fancy Jack" Crossman) as I never found it a very inspiring war (if there can be such a thing). My view has always been, informed by period photographs, that it was a very grim affair (as if any war isn't) fought in horrible conditions in a dull, treeless landscape. Perhaps it is the recollection of Roger Fenton's The Valley of the Shadow of Death taken on the battlefield of Balaclava.

The Valley of the Shadow of Death by Roger Fenton

I bought Mercer's book at the airport as I calculated that the novel I had packed wouldn't last me the five flights I had to make (correctly). The real reason I bought it was that he has written a sequel set during the Indian Mutiny, a period and theatre I am interested in and I felt I had to read the first book as a matter of course. The problem with it is that it is a very good novel indeed and so am now, not surprisingly, contemplating getting some Crimean War figures. In fact it is worse than that as I have actually ordered a pack from Warlod Games of their new range sculpted by Paul Hicks, whose Zulu War British for Empress are so characterful.

Warlord's elegant British line figures

Now, of course Great War Miniatures have just started a range as well and, in fact, have far more troop types out already. The problem is is that GWM seem to have missed the fact that 28mm figures are increasingly tending towards better proprtioned anatomy. As a result, given big bearskins and big beards some of their figures are somewhat gnomic.

Great War Miniatures Guardsmen gnomes

Warlord are claiming on their website that Hicks will create a full range of French, Russians and British (when will he have the time?) and I am more prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt as their other ranges so far have been admirably heading towards completeness.

95th Regiment troops 1855

Mercer's book features as its hero an officer of the grenadier company of the 95th Regiment and, as a former army officer commanding operational British troops he has a good eye for striking images and a good ear for the troops' badinage. It also gives a great idea of the fog of war in that the combatants have absolutely no idea of what they are doing most of the time. This is probably the key to my approach to wargaming it (if indeed I ever do) as having (eventually) enjoyed the Flying Lead rules then something using a small number of figures in a big skirmish at company level may be the answer. Possibly, even a 1 to 1 ratio.

95th Regiment 1855

Oddly, the book, which generally has such narrative drive that I finished it on one 10 hour flight, does slow a bit in the middle (he has to find a way to break the action to allow the hero to return to the Crimea for the final battles) and this begs the question as to why he didn't turn his story into two novels. Nevertheless, it is one of the best novels of nineteenth century warfare I have read for a long time.

95th Regiment

Another part of my interest in the period may stem from the Black Powder rulebook which includes a scenario loosely based on the Battle of the Alma. However, the fact of the matter is that the Crimean War contained a very few set-piece battles and little in the way of extended skirmishing (cf the Peninsula, for example) and for Britain it was, in reality, more of a naval war.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mexican Lancers in a very big landscape

Mexico City 1837

I was having dinner in the British Ambassador's residence in Mexico City earlier this week (as you do) and was very struck by this magnificent painting of Mexico City in 1837. Mexico City is now around 28 million people so to see what it looks like less than 200 years ago is rather thought provoking. At home I have a painting of my great great great grandmother, aged about 12, painted in the same year. I remember my grandmother telling me about how she met her when she was young which gives me a rather spooky direct connection to the time when both this picture and my great great great grandmother's portrait were painted.

The painting in situ in the Ambassador's residence

The picture, entitled, accurately if rather unimaginatively, Mexico City 1837, was painted by an English artist Daniel Thomas Egerton. Mexico city can be seen on the left and beyond is Lake Texcoco, which surrounded the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. It has now been completely filled in. In the background is the Sierra Nevada mountain range and the snow-capped peak of the Popcatépetl volcano. It was unusually clear in Mexico City this week and you could actually see the mountains surrounding the city. Yesterday I flew over Popcatépetl on my way to Bogota.

The mountains from the top of the HSBC tower this week

Daniel Thomas Egerton, first exhibited in London in 1824. He arrived in Mexico some time before 1834 and traveled through Mexico and the United States later publishing a set of 12 lithographs of views of Mexico when he returned to London in 1840, where his wife had remained. He returned to Mexico in 1840 with a lady called Agnes Edwards with whom he lived, rather controversially. In April 1842, as the couple were walking their dog, they were attacked by bandits and murdered.

Although the painting, as a whole, is splendid Egerton was obviously more comfortable with landscape than figures but I liked these Mexican lancers in the foreground, very familiar for anyone who has watched The Alamo, and it has got me keen to paint some more of my Boothill Miniatures Mexicans when I get back. Hopefully. they will produce some of these lancers in due course.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Boats,Tanks, Girls, Wine and Forts

Charlotte at the helm!

I haven't updated this blog for some time as I have been in Canada and then had an unexpected extra holiday on the Isle of Wight on top of the three weeks we had around Cowes Week. We didn't do any racing at Cowes Week this year but did have some cracking sails in the boat. We actually managed to get all the sails up (which is a big job) and give it a bit of a run. Charlotte helmed mostly and wouldn't give anyone else a go.

1:1 scale Comet kits

Guy and I made our annual trip to the Isle of Wight military museum where they are still making slow but steady progress on their troop of Comet tanks. They had a new tank in the moving tank display too, a Centurion AVRE. This one was a first Gulf War veteran.

Centurion AVRE

They seemed to have spent a bit more on the museum and are trying harder. Guy and I enjoyed the air rifle shooting range and we managed to find a gun shop in Newport where I managed to get some pellets and some targets for my recently repaired Lincoln Jeffries Air rifle. This belonged to my grandfather and dates from about 1910. Guy and I have happily blasted away in the garden with it; when my wife is out, of course.

I watched the start of the Cowes Torquay Cowes powerboat race (a long time ago I competed in the Round the Island powerboat race) and watched the children sail at the RYS Swallows & Amazons week in Newtown creek. I read the Arthur Ransome books when I was young and then one of my classmates at junior school was cast in one of the lead roles in the film, which was made in about 1972. Wierdly I was chatting to a lady at one of the RYS barbecues the other week and one of her schoolfriends had been cast in one of the other parts! Charlotte, picked up the seamanship prize from the RYS and a special prize for learning semaphore in about two days and giving instructions out with flags all week. Sir Robin Knox-Johnson is a friend of my father in law and he told her how impressed he was with her signalling, which made her week!

Not so much happening on the painting front as apart from being away I have been working flat out on my new business which has been very stressful. Never mind, we have just won our first contract, beating PwC, Deloitte and Ernst & Young. Lots of trips to South America will now follow!

I enjoyed my Sudan wargame this week and am now working on the final four camel mounted Beja I need for the El Teb and Tamai orders of battle. I have also started to base a few more Beja so think I will work on those for the next few weeks.

My lovely companion and I after more than five hours drinking Niagara wine in the library bar of the Royal York Hotel, Toronto. I look ropey, she still looks gorgeous in her leather suit!

My Canadian trip was very enjoyable as I met up with a few old girlfriends (including some of those whom my wife doesn't like me meeting up with!) and catching up on Canadian wine. I also had a fascinating visit to Fort York with my particular friend Sophie (although it cost me £85 in lingerie as compensation) which I will write more on soon.

I'm off to Istanbul this week so don't expect to get much painted for a while.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Dunkirk Directive by Donald Richmond

I've been back from Cowes a couple of weeks now but I've been too busy catching up on work to do any painting. I didn't do as well as I had hoped on the painting in the mornings on account of the fact that I took my bike over to the Isle of Wight this year and was wearing myself out so much that I didn't wake up in the morning until gone eight! Never mind, I lost over half a stone and am now the lightest I have been for over five years. Also, Cowes Week was busier than I had expected with more sailing than I had planned for.

Never mind, I got on with some Beja, some Zulus and moved my first Indian Mutiny unit along quite a bit. More on these when I have finished them.

I took quite a bit of reading with me but didn't do very well on that either. I took along the second James Holland WW2 novel, Darkest Hour, to read but struggled a bit with it. Its set in 1940 France just before Dunkirk and almost felt like two books. It didn't flow as well as the first one, The Odin Mission, which was set in Norway. The latter, very much a Sharpe for the Twentieth Century had a real narrative drive to it which is rather lacking in the rather episodic second book. I gather the third novel, Blood of Honour, set in Crete in 1941 is much better. I only finished it on the train last week on account of the fact that I picked up a much better World War 2 novel in the Freshwater lifeboat fund raising stall in Freshwater Bay (which is where I get the sand I use for my figures from-it's just the right level of coarseness).

Once I opened The Dunkirk Deception by Donald Richmond I completely abondoned the Holland novel. Sadly now out of print, it tells the story of a German plan to destroy the Supermarine factory in Southhampton using captured British Matilda tanks landed secretly on the South Coast. It was exceptionally well written and although containing a host of characters these all contributed logically to the story, unlike the Holland book where they pop up and then disappear again for no reason. One bonus was that it was set in an area I know very well; from Newhaven along the South Coast through Brighton, Chichester and Southampton. At one point I was travelling back to London for a meeting and passing through the suburbs of Southhampton which was being mentioned in the page I was reading as I passed through it! Although the concept behind the book seems hugely unlikely the author manages to make the whole thing quite plausible. A truly excellent read.

I am in Toronto at the moment and then back to Cowes for the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes anniversary race over the bank holiday so I doubt very much painting will be done until September!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Artillery piece of the month and workbench

Artillery piece for June is the Perry Miniatures Wars of the Roses cannon I bought for Guy's mini Bosworth project but never got time to paint. This is the first artillery I have painted for my Wars of the Roses army except, as mine is the Earl of Oxford's and I have painted it as Richard's Royal artillery then technically it is for another force.

These guns had barrels constructed from welded iron staves held together with hoops. They were breech loaders with separate chambers that could be pre-charged. Two of the figures in this set are depicted with these chambers. The breech chambers were held in place by a wooden wedge but the power of the gun was lessened by the gases escaping through gaps between the breech and the barrel. The stave constructed barrels were also not strong enough for the new more powerful corned gunpowder (where the constituents were mixed with water, dried and formed into granules) either.

My next Wars of the Roses figures will be some of the plastics which I have assembled but I need to get some more half finished figures out the way first.

Looking at my half way through the year painting totals I have not done too badly; having painted 98 figures compared with 213 for the whole of 2009. I am hoping to do much better in the second half of the year and shortly we will be off to Cowes where I always get a good batch done (largely as there is no television there). I am now starting to think about what to take with me to paint and I am thinking that it is time to paint some more Sudan figures again. Maybe I should be really brave and just take my Gordon Highlanders. Other possibilities are Zulu War British and maybe some WW2. I'll probably have changed my mind again by the time I leave! In the meantime I am going to try to get another unit finished and my Indian Mutiny figures are looking to be a high probablilty. This is mainly because Mutineer Miniatures have come out with another load of great new figures, including a splendid mutineers command elephant.

Looking at what I thought I would be painting and what I actually did had its usual disconnect!

This section includes armies I thought I might paint and did:

Darkest Africa Force publique 21
Carthaginians 14
Zulus 6
Elizabethan sea dogs 4
Lord of the Rings 3
Great Northern War 2
Normans 2
Gladiators 1
Schleswig War 1

These are armies I thought I might paint some figures for but didn't: =

Darkest Africa Masai
WW1 Germans
Louis XIV

Figures I had no plans to paint but did, included:

Wars of the Roses 11
Indian Mutiny 8
Spartans 8
Zulu War British 5
Darkest Africa Baluchis 4
Pirates 2
Pulp 1
Vikings 1
8th army
Trojan War 1
Mexicans 1

OK, no plans going forward other than to try and finish some more units...

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Not exactly ExCel

Valhalla, run by the Farnborough Wargames Society, is one of those smaller shows that fill the calendar between the behemoths of the likes of Salute and Colours. I've not been before but today I was at something of a loose end. Having spent the last however many Sundays revising English and History with Guy I found that this Sunday, Father's Day, I was on my own. My wife was at work, Charlotte was doing her Duke of Edinburgh hike and Guy is in the French Alps mountain biking with the school. I could have spent the day painting but I did quite a bit yesterday (more of which later) and didn't feel like doing a whole day's worth. I was supposed to go and collect a bike at some point from my sister in law down in the Meon Valley and realised that if I took the A31 route I wouldn't be very far from Farnborough. Decision made.
This is not a part of Surrey I am familiar with. It is very much Army country although I also drove past the famous Farnborough airfield which reminded me of a funny story my sister told me about the air show which I can't repeat as it is contrary to the Official Secrets Act!

The show was held in Elles Hall, which is now part of a large sports and community complex. The hall was named in honour of Brigadier General Sir Hugh Elles, the first commander of the Tank Corps. It was a rambling old building and I'm glad they provided a map as games and trade stands were tucked away in all sorts of odd corners. It was a very small show with 20 or so traders and a dozen or so games. It reminded me of the only other small show I sometimes go to; To the Redoubt in Eastbourne. I had a chat with Mike, at Black Hat Miniatures, and vowed to get down to the club and play a game as he was the person that recruited me. Maybe another Sudan game with Keith would be an idea.

Speaking of which, I had a look at the Redoubt stand and they had a painted model of their Sudan camel borne artillery piece and I have to say it looked pretty good. Having seen their ECW stuff I am always under the impression that their figures are huge (their ECW figures dwarf Renegade's) but most of them looked OK. I thought that their French Indian War figures would go with Galloping Major's ones and their Trojans looked a reasonable size too.

My first Mexican (actually, her name was Alicia but that is another story)

I also got some more of the Boothill Miniatures Mexicans. Whilst the Alamo would be a silly project I have really enjoyed painting the one Mexican which I did yesterday and have already got a few more well on the way. This time I got some Presidial troopers, foot and mounted, because I read a book about mountain men last summer and there seemed to be quite a few cases of mountain men coming down from the mountains (naturally!) into California and having run ins with the local troops. These presidial troops would have been just the sort in the local garrisons that would have been in California at the time.

I also picked up some more of the Newline Designs Mycenaean figures for my Trojan project. Also on the Newline stand were a bunch of packs from a firm I hadn't heard of called Pontoonier Miniatures, who are based in the Eastern US. Looking them up, they have a rather elusive reeputation (no website, for example). Their figures were lovely, however, British colonial infantry and Burmese from what turned out to be the 3rd Anglo-Burmese War of 1885-1887.

The figures turned out to have been sculpted by Paul Hicks and there are a few (not very good) photos of the range here:
They look like they may be easier to get from now on through Newline, however.

A multi use building from Frontline

Finally, I found myself at the stand of another firm I didn't know, Frontline Wargaming, who had some lovely buildings and other resin scenic pieces. I picked up a thatched bungalow which would work for Darkest Africa and India and an adobe type flat roofed building which would work, at a pinch, for Mexican Texas or California, the Pirate Caribbean, the Sudan, Arab Africa and maybe India also. In addition, I got a couple of explorers tents and baggage. I recently rewatched Mountains of the Moon and they would be perfect for the attack on Burton and Speke's camp by Somali tribesmen. Maybe I should do a scenic piece of the month as well as an artillery piece!
So I bought more than I intended but hopefully I will have a bit more time at the weekends going forward.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Huge relief...

St John's

Things have been very tense over the last ten days at the Villa Hedlius as my son, Guy, has been doing his common entrance exams and we have been waiting to hear about his result. We have been helping him with his revision for the last month and so I have had very little time for painting. Him passing these exams was by no means a foregone conclusion, as he is quite dyslexic (my daughter sensitively calls him "Yug"). He needed to get 55% in his core subjects of English, Maths and Science and an average of 55% in the others. We got the results today and despite failing French he managed to get enough on the others (including an A for physics: shock!) to get his place at St John's, Leatherhead.

Where I used to work

St John's alumni include the architect Richard Rogers (who kindly got his studio to make a scale model of the Lloyd's building, where I met my wife, for our wedding cake) and Anthony Hope, the author of the Prisoner of Zenda.

Serious uniforms in Ruritania

From a military point of view the most interesting old boy is Lieutenant Geoffrey Harold Woolley, who was the first Territorial officer to win the VC. He was a member of the Queen Victoria Rifles and his unit was posted to Ypres where on his first day at the front a hand grenade was thrown into his trench. Woolley calmly picked it up and threw it out saving six or seven men.

Woolley on Hill 60

On the night of April 20th-21st 1915 the Germans launched an attack on the trench held by the QVR. Soon all his superiors had been killed leaving him in command of the forces on Hill 60. He was ordered to withdraw but refused, saying he would only pull back if properly relieved. Waves of German troops attacked the position but Woolley stood on the trench parapet in full view of the enemy throwing bombs at them and encouraging his men to hold on. When eventually they were relieved their unit had been reduced from 150 to 20 men. Woolley was promote to captain two days later. He survived the war, served in North Africa during WW2 as a chaplain and died in 1968. His brother, who also went to St John's, was the famous archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley who excavated the Sumerian city of Ur.

Leonard Woolley (right) with TE Lawrence in Carchemish where they were excavating between 1911 and 1914

Now of course, I have all the expense of getting Guy's uniform and sports stuff so that will cut my wargaming purchases a bit this summer !

Sunday, June 06, 2010

On the Workbench..

Black Scorpion pirate girl

After a rather disastrous May, when I only completed four figures, I have already had a much better first week in June getting nine figures finished this week. Apart from my Baluchis and my Elizabethan cannon

I also finished another Black Scorpion lady pirate and a Trojan War figure. The Black Scorpion figures are bigger than my Foundry ones but their girlie pirates are just irresistible! Next up I have some very Pirates of the Caribbean marines and skeleton pirates to do.

Ajax by Wargames Foundry

The Trojan is a Foundry Ajax figure and, like many of that range, is based on the illustrations in Peter Connolly's The Ancient Greece of Odysseus. Although this is a children's book, the pictures inside are wonderful; alternating between telling the tale of the siege of Troy and the Odyssey and sections on costume, warriors buildings etc.

Ajax from the Connolly book

I first got to know the story of Troy from a book about Greek heroes by Roger Lancelyn Green, which had evocative pictures of warriors fighting outside the walls of Troy. The Greeks wearing turquoises and blues the Trojans in red. The problem of differentiating armies for this conflict remains so I am considering, for my Trojans, giving them earth colours such as terracotta, red browns and ochres etc. A book I had as a boy on archaeology, by CW Ceram, introduced me to Heinrich Schliemann and the historic background of the legends.

The best hats in cinema history: Helen of Troy (1957)

Next, I remember seeing the film Helen of Troy (1957) at my uncle's house in about 1972. He had a colour TV a long time before we did (I think it cost £400!). The impact of the colourful Mediterranean backdrops, girls in very short pepla and thousands of extras attacking Troy with siege towers imprinted it in my memory and for weeks afterwards my Airfix Romans became Greeks as they tried to get into my Lego Troy. I even made a Lego Wooden Horse!

I'll be your dog! Brigitte Bardot in Helen of Troy

Watching it today, it seems, appropriately, rather wooden but contained some good battle scenes and a very young Brigitte Bardot as a slave girl. Actually, I have stopped being a fan of Brigitte Bardot since I lost my Ray Bans. We had anchored in the bay outside her house just round the corner from St Tropez and suddenly her dogs started barking. Unfortunately I was just climbing into our dinghy and the cacophony (she has a lot of dogs) made me jump causing me to lose my sunglasses into the sea.

I even enjoyed the 3 hour American TV version of Helen of Troy (2003) with the luminous Sienna Guillory.

Sienna Guillory as Helen

Wolfgang Petersen's Troy (2004) wasn't as bad as everyone said (well, apart from Brad Pitt and granted they completely changed the story...) and I liked their take on the wooden horse. Part of Troy was filmed in Malta and I had to spend some time  there a few years ago, working with the Finance Minister. My favourite restaurant was also Brad Pitt's, when he was filming there, and this had the distinct advantage of attracting lots of young women to the place.

Frankly, if its got Mediterranean scenery, galleys, girls in Greek frocks, chariots, big walls and a wooden horse I'll watch it!

Foundry archers

Some time ago I painted some Foundry archers for the Trojan war but lost interest given the limited figures in their range. Recently, however, we have had the Newline Designs Mycenaean range and they fit perfectly with the Foundry Trojans. I picked up a pack at Salute so may add them to the never ending list soon.

Currently in the active section of my workbench I have Perry Wars of the Roses cannon and crew, Foundry Masai, Empress miniatures Zulus and British, Galloping Major French Militia, Musketeer Russian GNW, Foundry Trojans and Crusader Miniatures Normans. I'm hoping to have a good go at them this month now we have finished revising with Guy for his common entrance exams.