Thursday, December 01, 2011

Hats, Presidents, Oxford, Greeks and the Orient Express

Panama's new Ambassador (seriously!) to the Court of St James. Fancy a Ferrero-Rocher, love?

I've not been getting very much painting done of late, partly because of the bad light but mainly because of work (I seem to be spending a lot of time with Latin American presidents).  London is awash with visiting heads of state at present and I seem to get regularly dragged in to see them to talk about infrastructure.  One benefit of this was that I met the new Panamanian Ambassaador to London over Champagne before a dinner with their president.  What a very fine advertisement for Panama she is! 

Pirate girl

I thought I might have some time for painting this week time today but I had to contribute to a paper for the World Economic Forum.  I'm also editing my father in law's new book on the NHS as well as doing the company's year end filing.  I did have a couple of hours yesterday so decided to finish this Black Scorpion lady pirate as well as start on my next batch of 15mm Copplestone Fantasy.  Added to this is the fact that the children's taxi requirements now seem to have extended from just Saturday to Sunday as well, recently, and the two hours I managed yesterday was the longest session I have had for some time.

All aboard the Orient Express for Adventure and Romance!

I am spending some time reading Victorian steampunk novels (my new thing) and watching old Agatha Christie films; largely due to my recent trip to Istanbul where I stayed in the Pera palace hotel,which was originally built for Orient Express travellers.  Indeed, Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express in the hotel.

A long time ago!

In fact, on a recent trip to Paris I picked up the latter novel, thinking that it would be a good book to read on a train.  I've not read a Christie before and whilst I suspect that the rather formulaic model might pall after several books I am enjoying this one, rather to my surprise!  A very long time ago a much younger Legatus travelled to Venice on the Venice Simplon Orient Express so imagining the setting is quite easy!  I look very thin here but then I was still running forty miles a week!  Latterly my leg has been painful and I have had to stop my exercise regime on the instructions of my (really rather gorgeous) physio.  Instead I have to spend a lot of time standing on one leg, which is helping the ankle but not my fitness or weight.
Therefore I am having to watch one of my other relaxations at the moment which is drinking wine and listening to music (currently Lars Erik Larssen's tremendous Dagens Stunder) whilst working on one of my girlie blogs (if combining girlies and model soldiers was good enough for Philip O Stearns it is good enough for me) under my other online identity. Too much wine and not enough exercise is not a good idea.

My last bottle was Francis Ford Coppola's wonderful Rubicon which is one of the very best red wines I have had for a long time.  This was the 2004 vintage; when the grapes ripened and were harvested very early in the Napa.  Certainly there are bucket loads of fruit in this but it also has huge length.  The woodiness you would expect from being aged in French barriques is not as evident as you might think as the concentrated ripeness offsets it.  It's a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend with some Petit Verdot in there too.  Prices vary wildly: its going for about $140 a bottle in the US at present.  Tesco (amazingly) have the 2003 for around £63 a bottle if you buy a half case but I picked mine up in the new local wine shop for a comparatively bargain £47.  Wish I'd bought more now!

We're also spending a lot of time looking at potential universities for my daughter, Charlotte, which is also eating into painting time.  The other week I returned to Oxford for the first time in some years to show her around and try to overcome this horrific desire of hers to go to Cambridge.  The fact that the stairs up to Christ Church hall were used in the first Harry Potter film seemed to have a positive effect on her opinion of the place anyway!  By an odd coincidence the hall at my son's school also got down to the last three to appear as the hall in Hogwarts in the first film.

On a more military front I was recently shown around the Royal Geographical Society in London, where a young lady was enticing me to join, (successfully!) and they had put out some items from their archive to look at in their reading room. I always find that personal items that belonged to historical figures are most evocative and a few of these, I found, particularly resonated with me.

Livingstone's hat!

First and foremost were two items I recognised immediately, sat on the large grey boxes they are stored in. Stanley’s pith helmet which  he was wearing when he met Dr Livingstone at Ujiji with its distinctive pugaree. In addition they also had on display Livingstone’s hat which he was wearing when Stanley met him! To be able to get a few inches away from such iconic items without glass intervening was really quite special!

Who could have guessed that these two hats would still be together in 140 years time!

There were two other items with a military connection, amongst the other fascinating artifacts relating to exploration.  Firstly, they had Lord Kitchener’s right glove; the one on his pointing hand in the famous “Your Country Needs You” poster.

Secondly, they had a hand-drawn map of the Hejaz railway by T.E. Lawrence. I was reminded of one of the opening scenes of Lawrence of Arabia when he is working on his maps in Cairo. I saw one of the remaining operational parts of the Hejaz railway, not far from Aqaba (which of course has its own Lawrence associations), when I visited Jordan a few years ago.  I still have a desire to do some Arab revolt skirmishes.  I even have a few of Artizan's figures.

The Hejaz Railway in Jordan

My desire to paint Dark Ages figures seems to have abated somewhat, after I finished the last batch of Normans, so I will put those on the workbench away again.  I still have a lot of figures which are well on the way (especially Zulu War and Indian Mutiny so maybe I can get some done by Christmas).  I'm trying not to go to Argentina in the next few weeks; leaving it to January would be much better.

I picked up the Gripping Beast Saga rules in Orc's Nest in London and have been reading them whilst the others watch X-Factor on Saturday.  They look interesting but there is a lot of tactical play involving the dice and battleboard system that may not interest Guy (or me).  Maybe I should aim to get sufficient figures done to play a game as soon as possible.  I am sure I have enough Vikings but may need to paint some more Saxons. 

There are a few other things I am contemplating buying (but not before Christmas).  Firstly, Crusader miniatures late (c.1250) Crusaders are definitely calling out to me.  Secondly, Foundry have started releasing new Greek myths and legends figures.  I really liked Steve Saleh's Argonaut figures for Foundry and bought all of them but then the promised Greek legends range never materialised.  Now they are not only bringing out new characters but monsters as well.  Now, of course, the Saleh figures were anachronistic in that they had Classical Greek armour and Jason was contemporary with the Bronze Age Trojan War but I don't see why I can't launch a second lot of Argonauts.  I even have a Grand Manner Greek bireme to carry them in.  Even better they are also bringing out a rule set.  Harryhausen type adventures may only just be around the corner!  They have some skeleton warrioirs in the first release but I think that the Wargames Factory plastics might be better; although I hear that they are very delicate. Actually, Foundry have also brought out some Trojan War characters that are obviously inspired by the film Troy. These are also quite tempting although I suspect they will be a lot larger (and they are cruder) than the Perry sculpted Foundry Bronze Age ones!  I was also thinking that the Saga rules might work well for Greek raids on Trojan settlements too.

 I have based a Foundry Hercules figure to be going on with.  I also hope to finish my next batch of Zulu War British soon but more about that on the Zulu War blog in due course, as there is a lot happening in that area at present.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Some 15mm Copplestone Fantasy Figures and some music to paint by

Well, I have now finished seven of Mark Copplestone's new 15mm fantasy figures and very nice they are to paint too.  They are, however, very small and I think they actually take longer to paint than 28mm figures given that I keep making mistakes and then have to try to correct them.  How people paint armies of 15mm figures is beyond me! Maybe five colour shading isn't really necessary on figures this size!

Copplestone Castings have come out with three more sets since I bought the original  three sets but I am going to be be disciplined and not buy them until I have painted the remaining 23 figures -sometime around next June I suspect!

Basically, there are two forces out so far barbarians (and a few barbarianettes) and Northlanders (with beards).  There is also a trio of snow trolls who are about 25mm tall.  I'm not usually a fan of monsters in fantasy wargames but these do look rather good.

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the next figures would include some archers.  Then the idea is to do some fantasy Romans as opponents.  Hopefully these will sell well and he might add to this range.  I notice that he has sold his Glory of the Sun range which means that this fantasy range is the only one he is producing new figures for at present.

I've been reading the new Gripping Beast Saga rules this week and think they might work well for these figures with not very much tweaking.

Anyway I have based and undercoated another eight figures so will work on them in the very little time I have to paint at present.

Finally, I always need the right music to paint figures to and recently picked up the new recording of the complete score for Conan the Barbarian by the City of Prague Symphony Orchestra.  I usually don't like re-recordings and prefer the original soundtrack but this new recording is a marvel and shows the limitations of the original soundtrack, as Basil Poledouris himself acknowledged. 

It is one of the best orchestral film scores ever written, with Poledouris bunging everything from mock Orff, Prokofiev and Vaughan-Williams to medieaval plainchant and Renaissance music into it but making it all sound completely coherent.  It was also very influential in that you can hear parts and effects which have been re-used by other soundtrack composers ever since. Whilst typing this I just noticed one cue that reappears, virtually unaltered,  in Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack for The Mummy.

In addition, I manged to find the hard to get score for Red Sonja by Ennio Morricone on eBay which is not nearly as complex but has some strong themes in it. I had, therefore, to paint one of my figures as Sonja.  Schwarzenegger pronounces it "Sew-nya" in the film whereas in Britain, at least, we would call her "Sonn-nya".  Anyway, for me the name always reminds me of one of my sister's friends who I got very drunk with at my sister's fortieth birthday party some years ago and we both behaved very inappropriately (according to my sister, anyway, it all seemed most appropriate to us).  She had short blonde hair, not red, but she had a formidable, gym-toned body (and a much bigger bust than Brigitte Nielsen) and would have been well able to wield a broadsword I think.  

If I managed to get through both Conan (which also contains a long suite of music from Conan the Destroyer) and Red Sonja there was also James Horner's excellent early score for Krull to move on to. So, all in all I had more than enough appropriate music to play during my painting sessions.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Lord of the Rings Attack Troll

I don't paint a lot of fantasy figures but I do like the Games Workshop Lord of the Rings ones.  Given that they actually do see service in the occasional game I usually have a few at various stages of completion.

I bought this down on the Isle of Wight last summer and based it and undercoated it immediately but it then sat on my workbench for over a year.   It's the first big plastic LotR figure I have done (my other troll was a metal one) and apart from the typical lack of undercutting it was fine to paint.  I have another big figure undercoated, a fell beast, which I may have a go at next as it is gathering dust on my shelf.

Made good progress on the Copplestone 18mm fantasy figures today so may try and get some more done this week. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Norman Milites on foot

I always shock myself when I actually finish a wargames unit, as I very rarely paint a unit at a time, preferring to have a lot of groups of half a dozen very different figures on the go at the same time.  However, here is my first unit of Norman milites on foot.  These Crusader figures are pretty quick to paint because of all the chainmail although I have to say that I didn't give them a lot of attention; just bunged on paint as fast as I could to get them done.  More about my Normans and. indeed my other thoughts on my many ongoing Dark Ages armies will be found on my Dark Ages blog in a few days or so (which probably means a week!).

Had quite a good weekend painting, despite the usual taxi service for the children, with some more done on my Copplestone 15mm figures and a lot of progress on the Lord of the Rings troll, which might even get finished by the end of the week.


I assembled my first sprue of Perry plastic Mahdists whilst watching Strictly Come Dancing last night (that Aliona Vilani was looking particularly sumptuous we thought) with the family (well not with Guy, he was watching Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines on my computer instead). My first impression is that she looks much better without that ridiculous scarlet hair.  No, no!  What I meant to say was that my first impressions of the plastic Mahdists are very positive indeed.  I have a couple of minor reservations but they will have to wait until I have painted some up.

Can't write much more tonight as I have to prepare for a panel discussion I'm on tomorrow with a government minister, so I better try and sound intelligent!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Army Creep

I picked up this month's Wargames Illustrated which, featuring as it does a lot on Vikings and Saxons, is very much up my street.  Other than yet another look at the battle of Maldon using Hail Caesar there was an interesting piece on Gripping Beast's new Saga Dark Ages skirmish rules.  Both these pieces exemplify a slightly worrying trend for me, as a hopeless dabbler in multiple periods, which I can best describe as army creep. 

Saga is described as a skirmish set and yet they were talking about forces of around four to five dozen figures a side.  Now they say that it can be played with less (two dozen figures a side) but the larger figure seemed to be the sort of numbers of miniatures they were contemplating.   Now, to me, a skirmish wargame should be about 10-20 figures a side, not sixty.  The Lord of the Rings Battle Companies games I play with my son gives  good game with less than ten figures a side.  So what is this sixty figures a side nonsense?

It wasn't clear how many figures were deployed on the Hail Caesar Maldon scenario, but looking at the photos it looks like at least 400 figures a side. Also in that issue is a Black Powder Second Afghan War clash which has armies of over 500 for the Afghans and over 175 for the British.  Now of course, Games Workshop no longer supports Battle Companies, no doubt on the basis that forces of ten figures a side aren't going to help shift figures.  When you have manufacturers developing rules then, naturally they are going to want to sell as many figures as possible, but for me moving from 150 figures a side to 400 figures a side just makes building armies impossible. Interestingly, there was also a Greek and Persian game using the new Clash of Empires rules and these had what I would consider much more normal numbers of figures a side (175 ish).

So are we in a period of army creep?  Are these rules only designed for club play where you need multiple players to help field each side?  Oddly, it seems to me, big armies with lots of figures would tend to militate against a game played in an evening at a club.  My experience of the bigger games I have played at Guildford (mainly Colonial, Dark Ages, ECW and Ancients) is that we rarely get to finish a game in the usual three hours we have.  I have always derided the DBA players and their silly little armies of forty figures but are we now heading too far the other way?  Is bigger necessarily better?

Anyway, the more I read the Clash of Empires book, which I picked up recently, the more I like the look of the rules.  I think Guy and I will try them out over half term with some Romans and Celts to see how they go.

As for the Saga rules, they certainly sound interesting but may be too boardgame-like for me.  There is a lot of husbanding and utilising resources, tactics and "tricks" which is not really my thing.  There are a core of boardgamers at Guildford and I suspect they will like these rules but I think they sound like too much hard work for my increasingly age-demented brain.   I do not like studying rules to see where I can gain an advantage.  I don't like boardgames (even Cluedo and such like) or card games or anything that involves having to think too much!   So Saga, I suspect, will not be for me.  I'll probably buy them anyway, though! 

Now of course I am always tempted by interesting new figures and one advert that caught my attention in Wargames Illustrated was for an Italian company Fireforge Games (whose website was launched today) who are planning to release a box of plastic Teutonic knights.  I have always wanted some of these, partly due to the amount of time I used to spend in the Baltic States, and these look excellent.  I looked at the Gripping Beast ones long ago but they suffered from the dreaded Gripping Beast horses (frankly I find the new ones just as horrible).  Excellent artwork (cf Wargames Factory, for example) helps a lot but the images of the planned figures look brilliant with lots of optional heads and what have you to customise the figures.  These will be a definite buy!

I'm not getting much painting done although I am slowly and surely progressing with another small batch of Norman infantry, have nearly finished another couple of Darkest Africa characters and am enjoying painting my 18mm Copplestone Castings fantasy figures.  More of these were released this week but I am going to have to think about what to do with them!

Right, time for a bit of static grass on my Darkest Africa figures!

Monday, October 03, 2011

18mm Conan

I've been struggling with getting any painting done of late but I did manage to finish my first of the new Copplestone Castings 18mm fantasy figures.  I have to say it took as long to paint as a 28mm figure but now I have one done I will aim at doing a few of his Northlanders next.  I'm not sure about a whole force of barbarian types as I tend to think of all the figures in the pack (apart from the two girlies) as Conan but with different clothes on. Maybe if I paint some with different hair colour they could be Cimmerians, I suppose.

I've not done very well at finding any 15mm Hyborian type scenics, much to my surprise.  Oh well.  I'll have a look at Warfare, I suppose.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Colours 2011

Isandlwana at Colours

I had quite a quick trip to Colours today as I had to get Guy to and from rowing this morning.  His coach is one of the British Olympic coaches and said that he has the potential to go a long way in the sport.  Unfortunately, this means he now has to move up to a group that starts at 8.30 rather than 10.30 on Saturday mornings.  Grrr!

Two of the traders I wanted to get things from, Gripping Beast and Grand Manner, weren't there but I picked up a few things on my list.  Some more Mutineer Miniatures, including the Naval Brigade gun crew who are actually destined for my Darkest Africa Zambezi campaign, plus the new generals packs for both sides which aren't on the new website yet.  I also bought a couple of packs to see if I can do some head swaps on them which may be possible with a bit of work.

I picked up a few odd packs of things I fancy painting at present: some more Artizan Carolingians and Andalusians (I'm seriously thinking about El Cid again), a pack of Crusader Norman crossbowmen (which will be fast-tracked) and the Perry plastic Mahdists.  I also got the new Black Powder supplement to see how they handle the Great Northern War.

I also bought a nice Baueda 15mm Viking tent, for my new Copplestone fantasy figures, from Mike Lewis at his Black Hat Miniatures stand.  He asked when I would next be at the club: good question!  I have a sort of outstanding invitation to do a World War 1 game but haven't been for ages. 

Otherwise, I was disappointed at the lack of 15mm fantasy scenery.  I am looking for some Conan the Barbarian type not quite Celtic or Dark Ages stuff; like the old Celtos 28mm scenics which had mammoth bones and such like in them.  I quite fancy a walled village with a tavern in it for some reason.  Hyboria has a weird mix of co-existing periods so a medieval Bree type village alongside Celtic round houses isn't out of the question.  I enjoyed the scenes in the first Simon Scarrow Romans book where a Roman vexilia attacks a German village and this would be perfect for the Copplestone figures. Maybe a more 13th century Scandinavian look might be better.   I was talking to someone who suggested the Mirliton 15mm figures to supply some other armies.  They do Burgundians (Aquilonians) and Crusades period Muslims (Turanians).  Maybe I just need to paint the ones I've got before I get too carried away!

Best thing about the show was the amazing Isandlwana diorama (I hesitate to call it a wargame as it wasn't actually being played).  I will put some more pictures on my Zulu Wars website in a few days.

Tomorrow I have to buy some more football boots for Guy (I wish he'd stop growing) and take Charlotte to and from her play rehearsals so I suspect I won't get much painting done!

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Little tiny people have arrived!

Well you can't fault Mr Copplestone on his service.  My new 18mm fantasy figures arrived just two and a half days after I ordered them.

The first thing I noticed was that they are really, really tiny.  I was sort of expecting them to be small Airfix size but they are, as my daughter said, "reallly widgey!"  This makes the level of detail, particularly on the faces, even more amazing.  If more 15mm figures were like this I might buy them!  Best thing about them is the anatomy: in proportion heads -amazing!

The Northlander warriors are basically his Foundry Ancient Germans and nothing wrong with that. The male barbarians are all basically Conan and the female ones actually have pretty faces!

I have based them on 12mm card squares (two thirds of the height of the figures) as I am going to use the Song of Blades and Heroes rules which I just downloaded.  Apparently you can play a game with 4 -20 figures: ideal. This is because I want to do small skirmishes (I always thought that people who do skirmish wargaming in 15mm are a bit silly!) rather than Hordes of the Things type big battles.  Anyway, I have played the firearms equivalent of the rules, Flying Lead, and liked them a lot.

The suggested battle area is a two foot by two foot square so I can use my Citadel battle boards.  It's Colours this weekend so I am thinking about looking for some Conan type scenic features. I'm now having to go on Saturday, which I have never done before, as my daughter has a school play rehearsal on Sunday.

Painting them is going to  be a major challenge (which is really why I bought them) and I will probably need a new brush before I do any detailed work.  I will start with this group of a half dozen and see how it goes!

It's madness really!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Oh no! 18mm Fantasy!

Work in progress today

I notice that this blog has just reached 50 followers (thank you to you all) so felt that I ought to post something as I have been very poor at updating of late. 

I have been doing rather better on the painting and recently finished a Darkest Africa lady,  a gladiatrix and a Carolingian knight.  More progress isn't immediately apparent because I am working on four big (for me anyway) groups of figures at the same time.  Firstly, I have a group of 12 BEF Miniatures (they have just been bought by Warlord Games which bodes well, I think) 1940 British.  These will eventually be for skirmishes in Norway and France (I'm currently reading the excellent book Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by Julian Thompson which is full of scenario ideas).  They are just started: skin shaded but only basic colour on uniform and helmets.

My second, group is 16 Muitineer Miniatures Indian Mutiny British.  I just repainted the officers coats in scarlet so they look smarter than their troops.  These are slighly further along: skin and jackets shaded, rifle, trousers and haversack basic colour done.

Thirdly, a group of 11 Norman infantry. Basic skin colour done but some shaded sleeves and trousers.

My final big group is 17 Zulu Wars 24th Foot.  These are well on the way with just rifle shading, haversack shading, helmet staining and bases to do.

I've got some more odd figures lurking around, mainly some Spartans and a few Darkest Africa characters.  Oh, and for some reason I started my Lord of the Rings attack troll which I bought, assembled and undercoated in Cowes last summer.  Its been sitting like that on my desk ever since and every time I turn my speakers on or off I knock it over so I decided to get it done. It's quite nice working on such a big figure for a change.

Copplestone 15mm Northlanders.  Very reminiscent of his Ancient Germans for Foundry

Given all this why on earth have I just ordered three packs of Mark Copplestone's 15mm fantasy range then (well, alright, 18mm)?  The truth is I will buy almost anything Mr Copplestone produces as they are so nice to paint.  I have only ever toyed with 15mm: some Peter Pig Romans and Germans and some of their WW1 figures.  Recently I bought a few Black Hat Miniatures French Marlburian figures but although I started them I never finished them.  My real issue with 15mm has always been their lousy anatomy rather than their size.  Copplestone's new barbarians look great, however. Will I paint them?  Maybe.  When I was much younger I read all the Conan the Barbarian novels so it is a fantasy world that resonates somewhat.  Their opponents are going to be fantasy Romans which is not so Conan-like unless they are the ancient Acherons or, possibly, the Zamorans,  Maybe if the line is a success we will see some more races.  One thing is for sure, I will need some new brushes; my last two, as sometimes happens with the Winsor and Newton Series 7 sables, were not entirely satisfactory.

I want one of these!

I will go to Colours at Newbury racecourse this Sunday mainly because I am after some Gripping Beast plastic Saxons to pitch against my Normans.  I'm not sure if Grand Manner will be there (they usually are but will be at Warfare if not) but they have some awesome new Sudan paddle boats which look a must buy!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back from Cowes...twice

Charlotte with astronaut and Space Shuttle pilot Ken Ham

Well, I have just returned from two vists to Cowes. During the first visit I had a particularly relaxing middle portion with my son, Guy, as my daughter and wife had to return to London for a week so Charlotte could attend a NASA space course at Imperial College.  Much to my amazement Charlotte is turning into a scientist and is doing a terrifying collection of A levels from September: Maths, Further Maths, Chemistry, Physics and Biology.  She got 300 marks out of 300 for her Physics GCSE! It makes my head spin just to think about it.  This is all very strange for someone who comes from a family of writers and journalists who were always rather suspicious of boffins.

Fortunately Guy (who is whatever the opposite of a boffin is) is interested in history and we managed a few historically themed excursions whilst in Cowes without the girls. 

Inside Brading Roman Villa

There are a couple of good Roman villas on the Isle of Wight and Brading now has a splendid new building to protect it after the original 1901 tin shed was condemned by the Isle of Wight council. There were fears that the splendid mosaics would have to be reburied if the money couldn't be raised for a new building.  Fortunately, the Times came to the rescue with an appeal and the new building shows of this impressive villa most effectively.  Brading has the advantage of being close to Adgestone vineyard as well! 

The villa that fascinates me, however, is one that was reburied after excavation and which is now in what is Robin Hill Adventure Park.  My interest is because of this splendid painting of it at the site and I am determined to build a model based on it for some Romano-British vs Saxon games.  I've made model buildings before, reasonably successfully, but the only issue will be where to get some nice Roman style tiled roof sheets as I don't fancy cutting straws into hundreds of tiny pieces to do it!

Down at Fort Victoria we accidentally came across a pirate day which featured this motley crew of re-enacators.  I was intrigued by the fellow who walked around with a bottle and glass on a tray throughout the skirmish! 

Big model of the Queen Mary in Southampton

Guy and I decided to have a quick day trip over to Southampton to visit the Maritime Museum which had an interesting Titanic exhibition on.  Guy and I had bought the Revell  model of the Queen Mary in Pit Stop in Cowes (which basically sells die -ast model cars but also has some old 54mm Napolenic figures for sale) to work on during our stay and they had a fabulous 1/48th scale (!) model of it in the museum which gave us the opportunity to take some reference photos.

The Legatus with an even bigger model of the Queen Mary in Long Beach

I have always been interested in ocean liners and had lunch on the Queen Mary a couple of years ago.  Progress on the model is going slowly but surely but I am now faced with the dreaded issue for all ship models: painting the waterline!

Short Sandringham at Solent Sky

Whilst looking up the opening times of the Maritime Museum we came across a museum that I didn't know existed: Solent Sky which tells the pivotal role of the avaition companies (more than twenty aircraft manufaturers) in the Solent area between the wars.  In quite a small space they managed to cram in a Spitfire, a Supermarine Schneider Trophy plane, a Gypsy Moth, a Sea Vixen and, most impressive of all a Sandringham (the civilian version of the Short Sunderland) flying boat.  If there is one thing I like more than ocean liners its flying boats and this is the only complete one on display in Europe.  You can go inside it as well although, personally, I wouldn't have fancied flying in one.  My experiences in sea planes in Canada have not been happy ones!

As regards figures I took too many down with me, as usual, but have made great progress on some Zulu War British and some 1940 and Indian Mutiny British too.  Sadly, I didn't actually finish any figures this time but the 1879 ones are well on the way now.

I am trying to read some of my pile of unread hardback novels as they take up far too much shelf space which I really need for other things (well, figures).  Whilst down in Cowes I got through the two latest Simon Scarrow Roman novels, The Gladiator and  The Legionary, both of which were better than some of his recent efforts in this series I thought.  I also read Saul David's Zulu Hart which I thoroughly enjoyed (despite the hero being rather too clever as regards the mistakes the British were making at Isandlwana) and look forward to reading the next one which, as it is set in Afghanistan, is very much mirroring John Wilcox's first two Simon Fonthill books as to setting.  I also enjoyed David's (does anyone else remember him from the BBC's Time Commanders) history of the Zulu war but one person who didn't was Ian Knight who never misses a chance to attack David's book.  Notably David doesn't cite any of Knight's books about the Zulu war in his historical sources section of Zulu Hart.  He did however put some in the bibliography of his non-fiction work Zulu so Knight's comments must have really annoyed him.  Historians, eh?  I have now moved on to Patrick Mercer's Dust and Steel which is about the Indian Mutiny and is keeping me focussed on bringing my Mutineer Miniatures figures along as well.

My second trip down was to watch the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes powerboat start although it's no longer the huge international event it was in the seventies and eighties.  Health and Safety now forbid the boats actually starting in the Solent anymore so they don't get up to full power until after they have reached the open sea.

Some of my nephew's Space Marines

My wife's sister's family joined us for a few days and their eleven year old, Philippe has just started painting Warhammer 40K.  I was pretty impressed by what he has done so far; particularly as he has devised his own, very effective, colour scheme for his Space Marines.

For the next month or so I hope to finish my next batch of Zulu War British, some more Indian Mutiny, the 1940 BEF and some more Normans.  Added to this I have some more plastic hoplites and Darkest Africa characters floating about.  I am also trying to finish off a few odd characters off, like this Foundry Argonauts girl (so she must be Atalanta).  How she would ever pick this tree trunk spear I do not know!  Maybe she is looking after it for Hercules.  I am tempted to do some more Argonauts, especially given the new Wargames Factory skeleton warriors.  Maybe Hercules next!

I have cleared most of the figures off the workbench, now and don't feel quite so swamped but I am starting to notice the poorer light in the evenings again.  Part of the reason I got less figure painting done in Cowes was because it was so dark and our house there is north facing (whereas my study at home is south facing).

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


I just had a comment along the lines that a statement I made about painting some figures in Humbrol enamel must be a joke.  Well, it's not!  I first started painting figures in Humbrol enamel in 1970 and see no reason to change now. The picture above is of my workbench and, as you can see, most of my paints are Humbrol enamels.  The few acrylics I have are largely metallics from Games Workshop and Vallejo.

Apart from the fact that I have hundreds of tins of enamel (often half a dozen reserve tins of my favourite colours so I don't run out at a critical point) I just never switched to acrylics as I don't like them.  I was talking to an acrylics fan only this week and he was saying "but how do you find your paint shades?"  I wasn't sure what he was talking about but, it seems, some people who use acrylics don't mix their own shades but use another pure colour out of the jar for shading a particular colour.  I was always a painter (I had a place at art school but went to University instead) so am very happy mixing colours as I studied it at school.  I like enamels because they are slow drying and, once you have a colour just right it is easy to make it go further with a bit more white spirit.  Now I am sure that you can do the same with acrylics but I find they dry on the palette very quickly (I know you can mix stufff in to delay this). 

However, the main reason I don't use acrylics is that they are far too bright.  I paint mainly historical figures from ancients to the nineteenth century, with the weighting very much on the earlier part of the period.  This was a time before chemical dyes when fabric was coloured by a number of natural means.  I remember seeing some examples of wool coloured with natural dyes at an exhibition at Fishbourne Roman Palace and they were very muted indeed. I find the muddy sort of, for example, aircraft colours that Humbrol produce ideal for my purposes.  Whilst the Games Workshop paints may be fine for Warhammer the only fantasy figures I paint are for The Lord of the Rings where I follow the muted colours of the films rather than the brighter GW interpretation.

So I have no intention to move over to acrylics and will stick to my enamels!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Update to Dark Ages Blog

Shock, I have actually painted some figures (well, three) and posted them on my Dark Ages blog here.  I have also changed the name of the blog from Dark Ages Warhammer Ancient Battles Armies to Dark Ages Wargames Armies, given that I am now looking at some other sets of rules; having recently bought Clash of Empires and Hail Caesar.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Thinking about new rules...

Despite not posting much lately I have been able to get some more painting done of late.  The Argentinean office is up and running and staffed (entirely with attractive young ladies, we have to admit) and a last minute project (in Kursk!) has been dealt with.  Fortunately, I haven't had to travel to any of these far flung places and, anyway, my colleague has been stuck in Buenos Aires now for over three weeks because of the Chilean volcano. 

I haven't quite taken a rest from  Darkest Africa as I finished a unit of Zulus which had been hanging around for far too long and have nearly finished a cannon and crew for my Zambezi campaign.  It's that time of year when I have to start thinking about what figures to take down to Cowes for the summer.  This year my wife and daughter have to go back to London for a week as Charlotte, who wants to be a rocket scientist (literally), has got on a space course run by Imperial College and NASA.  The opportunity to develop experiments for the International Space Station working with real astronauts is too much to pass up, despite it being right in the middle of our holiday.  This means that Guy and I have five days when we can run riot and do all the things we aren't usually allowed to do (like drinking rum and having cooked breakfasts at Eegons cafe).  So, hopefully I will have more time to paint for a few days anyway.  I will probably take down some more Darkest Africa Arabs to do so will not do any more of them for a month.  We got the work finished on the front of the house in Cowes (a whole lot of tiles fell off the winter before last and we had terrible problems with the council about the type of tiles and sort of mortar we were allowed to use to replace them as it is a listed building) so it should be brighter without the scaffolding we had last year.

Recently I bought the Hail Caesar rules and have heard good things about them.  Likewise, I have been looking through Black Powder as well.  Basically I bought both sets for the pictures but, at the back of my mind, I was thinking about moving away from Warhammer Historical which, certainly for Ancients, I have been unhappy with.  Now, given that I enjoy painting more than gaming I want rules that make my figures look good and my principal problem with WAB is that (at least under the first edition) ranks are important which makes my Romans look wrong; I want them in two long ranks not a square block.  From this point of view alone Hail Caesar looks better. 

My biggest problem with most rule sets is that they require element basing.  I hate element basing; I like my soldiers to be based as individuals so that is a big advantage of the new Warlord Games sets. I can't stand it when I am playing someone at Guildford and they have all their figures on bases of six and can't remove individual casulaties so have to use dice to record casualties.  Totally irrational, I know, but that's the way it is! 

I was also interested in the write up (well, actually, really what they used to call an advertising feature) of Clash of Empires in this month's Wargames Illustrated as they sound quite good too.  Maybe I'll see if they have them next time I am in Orc's Nest.
Now the problem with both Hail Caesar and Black Powder is that they contemplate big armies of big units which isn't ideal for someone who only gets six figures painted a week at best.  Nevertheless, I was inspired by the Greek Hoplite battle in Hail Caesar and so have started a few more Immortal plastic figures. There is much to admire in these figures (shield detail, spears, proportions) but there are also some significant things I don't like about them (the way the sword scabbards fit (or don't) and, particularly, the handling of the pteruges which are depicted as long trapezoids in shape rather than as oblong strips) but en masse I suspect they will be fine. 

Other than Ancient Greeks I sat down and painted some more Perry Napoleonic Dutch (27th Jaegers). The only Napoleonic rules I have are the old Charles Grant ones that first appeared in Military Modelling in the seventies. These suggest 48 man units!  Black Powder split foot units into Standard (24 to 30 figures), Large (36-40), Small (12-16) and Tiny (5-6).  They give suggestions for unit sizes with "standard" equating to between 24 and 30 figures.  Still large-ish but not out of the question.  The problem is that if I look at the battle I am contemplating for my Napoleonic figures (Quatre Bras) then if you take the "standard" unit as the battalion you have numbers ranging from just over 400 to over 1000 men.  Given the broad banding of the unit sizes and the fact that "standard" units are what you are supposed to have most of then you get a problem with the French, most of whose battalions would fall under the "small" definition but they obviously controlled two or three battalions as one regimental unit.  This is important for things like forming column where, under the rules, a unit must be the same depth (or more) as it is wide.  Questions arise like: if I have three small battalions from one regiment can I use their total complement to form one column or does each battalion (which could be only 12 figures) have to be a column of 3 by 4?  If the answer is to have regimental, rather than battalion sized units then most of the French would become "large" units, again conflicting with the fact that most units should be "standard" sized.

All this was provoked by my Dutch Belgian Jaegers who, at nearly 800 men were one of the biggest units at Quatre Bras.  However, If I make them a small "large unit" (36 figures: 6 companies of 6) then they are far too close in size to, say, the Coldstream Guards at 1,050 who would be only 10% more figures (at 40 figures) but were actually 20% larger as a unit. If I decide to make the jaegers a "standard unit" they should be at the top end of that (30 figures) but then they don't rank up as neatly as 24 figures (6 companies of 4) which would then be on the bottom of the "standard" as opposed to the top end.  This all may seem boringly irrelevant but it makes a big difference as to how many I paint as can be seen from what I have done so far.  At six figure companies I have only finished two and a bit companies whereas with four figure companies I have nearly finished four companies.   Maybe the 30 figure unit is best....

Oh well, my next figures are still en route from Perry Miniatures so I have time to think about it yet, I suppose.  Maybe I should take some Perry plastic French down to Cowes instead.  I had lunch with one of my European lady friends last week and B is the only woman I have met who can discuss wargaming sensibly (she comes from a German military family).  Her view was that anyone wanting to wargame seriously should really only play Napoleonics as everything else is just "not Napoleonic".  Rather in the way that at Lloyd's of London insurance is referred to as "Marine" and "Non-Marine".  Basically, marine is what it is about but they have to grudgingly acknowledge that other stuff too.  I sort of have some sympathy for this view but my army building is basically based on what is the smallest army I can get away with; which is certainly not Napoleonics (but does explain why I like Spartans!). When she discovered that the Perries were now producing Prussians she couldn't understand my problem.  "But, of course, all is clear and you should just paint Prussians!"   She actually tried to get me to go to Orc's Nest to buy some Perry plastics but I resisted and had another Grappa instead

Oh well, a busy weekend (with Charlotte and Guy variously running, dancing, shooting and rowing) with not much chance to paint, unfortunately, but I hope to move my Darkest Africa cannon on a bit at least and maybe finish a couple more Spartans.