Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 non-wargaming highlights

No, it's not Mars!  I took this picture of a red moon in Cowes, July 2013

Given how little wargaming activity there has been this year I thought I would start off with a repeat of my non-wargaming highlights from last year.  Not an exact repeat, of course; that would be pointless.   Having "non-wargaming" highlights sounds like I define myself by wargaming highlights which, of course, I don't.  I'm reminded of the existence of the Non-Marine Association at Lloyd's of London, set up at a time when pretty much everything that Lloyd's insured was marine, but still defining itself by what it isn't rather than what it is.

Last year I recorded what music I was listening to when I wrote the post and this year it is Prokofiev Symphonies: 1 and 7 in particular (see below).

Biggest upheaval

Picking up a few bits for her room on her first day

Getting Charlotte packed off to university for the first time, to start her five year masters in astrophysics.  Even though she never got up at the weekend until 1.00pm and spent most of her time locked in her room watching Sherlock I still missed her.   Thank goodness for Skype!   Fortunately, she is really enjoying it, unlike some of her friends who have found adjusting to university life difficult.  She has discovered a number of life enhancing things since she has been there: bhangra dancing, Pot Noodles and Dr Who.  University certainly broadens the mind.

Best day out

My "little boy" Guy on the streets of the City

The whole family took part in the Ride Lonodon bike event.  It was unfeasibly enjoyable to be able to safely cycle around roads that you normally only go down by bus or taxi, particularly in the City where I worked for so many years.

Best Book

My book buying has been out of control again and I have had to shovel crate loads up into the loft to make way on the shelves for the new purchases.  Things have, however, been changed significantly by the purchase of a Kindle Fire HD.  This was, I admit, largely because of the advocacy of Steve the Wargamer.  Since I bought it for a trip to South America in May I haven't bought any novels except in electronic form,  This not only saves money (I used to buy favourite authors in hardback and then not read them for years so I might as well have waited for the paperback), but also weight when flying and, best of all, bookshelf space.  Probably my best book this year is a comparatively recent one.  I went round the British Museum exhibition Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art with an ex-girlfriend, J (of Chinese rather than Japanese extraction), and she sent me the accompanying book as a thank you.  I have a few books on Japanese erotic art (I was commissioned to do some drawings in Shunga style a few years ago by a friend) but this whopping great book is unlikely to ever be bettered.  Nearly 600 pages long, beautifully reproduced illustrations and even including some fold out pages.  Rubbery!

Best Film 

I am pretty sure that the only film I saw in the cinema this year was The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey so it wins the prize by default.  Actually, I did enjoy it a lot and didn't have any problems with what some critics called a slow start.  It's really one film split into three so I felt that the scene setting was not disproportionate.  When you are immersing yourself in another world such as this a lot of the pleasure for me comes in the visual representation of that world, not just plot, character and pacing as opposed to stories set in contemporary times (I very rarely watch films with a contemporary setting).

Best TV show 

I've been enjoying a diverse number of TV shows on DVD this year including Arrow, NikitaSherlock (thanks to my daughter), Mad Men season 5, Game of Thrones season 2, The Crimson Petal and the White, and most of the ITV Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes.  It's rare for me to watch TV live but, only slightly time shifted by the Tivo box, I have been watching Ripper Street series 2, Atlantis (dreadful but I will watch anything the kissable Jemima Rooper is in) and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (really dreadful).  Absolutely the best new series, however, has to be Masters of Sex with stunning performances by Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan.  Just superb.

Best Musical Discovery

Over 1400 tracks on iTunes this year but quite a lot seem to be downloads by my daughter who has just discovered the sort of music featured in Kerrang Magazine every week (better than One Direction, anyway).  In addition she has taken up bhangra dancing at Edinburgh so there are loads of downloads of strange Indian music too.

I listen to a lot of film soundtracks and have been picking up some extended versions of ones I already had such as: Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines by Ron Goodwin, Casino Royale (the sixties one) by Burt Bacharach, Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass, High Road to China by John Barry and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea by Paul Smith. Given I have been to South America four times this year then it's not surprising that I have bought a lot of Latin music too including quite a bit of Colombian music such as Pedro Laza.  I did buy some CDs too and was pleased with my Vaughan Williams discovery of The Solent and the Sibelius rarities CD.  The best purchase was made  only last week, however, as, after a thirty year search I got my favourite performances of Prokofiev's 1st and 7th Symphonies on CD.  I had these 1960's recordings by Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and the Moscow Radio Symphony recording on LP which I bought in 1980 when I was at Oxford.  I lost the record of the 1st and 7th when a girlfriend ran off with it when she went back to America and then it took me two years to get the recordings replaced.  I had to buy two records and import them from France, as the original record was out of production and they had changed the order of the symphonies on the records.  Although I have had an acceptable version of the 1st Symphony on CD for some time I couldn't get a good version of the 7th, the original version of which, as recorded by Rozhdestvensky, has a quite different (and superior) ending to that which most conductors use.  An impecunious Prokofiev had to tack on an upbeat ending to win a prize from the Soviet authorities but he preferred his original ending, as do I. Last week one of those Amazon recommendations popped up and there was the version I had lost so many years ago on CD.  Very happy!

Best foreign trip 

Can't think why I enjoyed this trip so much!

An interesting selection of cities this year: Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Bogota  (four times), Medellin (twice), Barranquilla, Cartagena, Panama City,  Poznan and Copenhagen.  Plus three trips to Edinburgh.  Too much flying anyway!  The visits were longer on the whole, however.  About eight weeks out the country, this year.  Most enjoyable was my two week visit to Colombia and Panama in July.  An airshow, the Panama Canal, excellent rum, hot sunshine, Miss Barranquilla and my particular friend Sophie on top form.  Perfecto!

Best Hotel Room

The over the top suite I had at the Hotel Zaza in Houston in July.  Shame I was there only one night!

Best Encounter with a Fashion Designer

Charlotte with Alice Temperley:  You've no idea how much this is going to cost you!

I went to a trendy opening party at Alice Temperley's new shop in Mayfair.  I was accompanied by Charlotte whose little black dress seemed to go down well with the plethora of leggy fashionistas wafting about  the place (obviously recognising a kindred spirit) enabling me to chat with the splendid Miss Temperley who invited Charlotte to a private sale later in the month.  "But daddy I will need clothes for Edinburgh!"  Jeans, that's what students wear not tiny little sparkly frocks.. Expensive.

Best Artistic Experience

The least risque picture in the exhibition!

The aforementioned Shunga exhibition at the British museum.  It is very dubious to go to such an exhibition on your own, of course, so having the lovely J with me was a particular pleasure.  I hadn't seen her for ten years, as she went to work in Docklands, which is so far east it's somewhere near the beginning of the Silk Road.

Best Exhibition

Why the Spaniards went to Colombia

This has to be the Gold Museum in Bogota which manages to turn what could be quite tedious ( a lot of gold - not that interesting, per se, as I'm not a girl) into a fascinating history of pre-Hispanic Colombia.  World class.  You can also see a good deal of the exhibits in London at the British Museum at present.  So you can pop in there after looking at all the pictures of Japanese people having sex.

Best Vodka Martini 

A clear win by the bar in the Hotel Angleterre in Copenhagen for a really large, ice cold effort in a retro coupe.  Shplendid!

Best Wine 

I didn't get a photo of the bottle but it was the Vega Sicilia I had at this lunch with the President of Panama.  Never had one before.  Yummy!

Best New Beer 

I had a number of interesting ones this year and Sainsbury's should be congratulated for their regional beer competition but the award has to go to Brovaria's honey beer which I had during a trip to Poznan in Poland.

Best Meal 

Lobster bisque

After a disappointing set of overseas dining experiences in 2012 this year I had some much better ones.  The winner was a stunning lunch in the Marchal restaurant of the Hotel Angleterre in Copenhagen.  Sadly, I was without my usual international dining companion, Sophie, but the food was so good I almost didn't miss her. Almost.

Turbot with cucumber and mushroom bouillon

Fillet steak with sweetbreads

All washed down with three very expensive glasses of Comte Lafond Sancerre.  Copenhagen has some of the best restaurants in the world at present, for some odd reason, with a lot of concentration on locally sourced produce.   Head chef Ronny Emborg won a Michelin star at his previous restaurant before being head hunted by the Angleterre.  Another star can't be far off for Marchal. 

Biggest food regret

That I didn't buy a haggis and brie sandwich when I went to see the Falkirk wheel.

Best Breakfast

Well, there is no doubt which was the biggest and that was the terrifying Steakfast  at the breakfast nirvana that is Eegon's of Cowes.  This consists of two sausages, two rashers of bacon, two fried eggs, two slices of black pudding, an eight ounce steak, mushrooms, tomatoes, onion rings and a huge portion of saute potatoes. It was the latter that did for the Legatus. I soon polished off all the protein and vegetable accompaniment but those saute potatoes defeated me! Even with the help of my daughter (whose suggestion it was to try it) on the toast and potatoes there was still a lot left at the end.   The amazing thing is, is that they actually do an even bigger cooked breakfast but so far only two people have finished it!  Not the highest quality but good value at £8.50 including tea.

The banana is for Charlotte.  She doesn't do 8.30am

The best one was probably the one I had in the Caledonian Waldorf Astoria in Edinburgh.  Top quality ingredients (most English breakfasts in the UK are let down by poor quality sausages) and the added attraction of haggis. Rather more than £8.50, though.

 Best wildlife

I only included a best wildlife category last year because I was very taken with the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo so didn't expect to have an entry for this year.  That was before we went to see the alpaca farm on the Isle of Wight and had been informed that a baby alpaca had been born twenty minutes before.  Cute!  I wonder what they taste like?

 Best Discovery 

Well maybe oddest. I've never bothered to Google myself because I have quite a common name but Sophie (who doesn't have anything better to do as she retired at the age of thirty) searched my name on Google images and I had four pictures in the top 21.  Weird.

 Worst discovery 

She looks very Renaissance!

Finding out quite how much it cost to turn my daughter's hair into a birds nest for her 18th birthday party.  I did actually say: "I could buy the Warlord Games Rorke's Drift set for that!"

So, that's it for 2013 and it's wargaming highlights next but I haven't even started on that post yet!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Paint Table Saturday

Sofie, on her paint blog, has just asked people to post what they have on the painting table at present.  I have actually managed a couple of hours worth of painting today but won't get much more done as the parents in law are coming round for tea.

My painting area is very small; just the place where my keyboard usually goes in front of my computer monitor.  The advantage of it is the south facing floor to ceiling glass windows. On the left are a selection of steampunk figures I am working on together with the paints I am using for them.  On the right are some Orinoco Miniatures British Legion, more steampunk, Amazons for Jason and the Argonauts and my new Mirkwood Rangers.  My paint rack is buried under a pile of other bits including some steampunk vehicles.  I have two lamps with daylight bulbs but can't paint shading unless I have good natural daylight.  

Today I have been working on some Warriors of Erebor to go with my recently completed King Thror.  The light is tricky today as although it has been sunny the light is coming straight at me horizontally and casting deep shadows which is making it difficult to see detail on black undercoated figures.

I'm also working on the Irene Adler figure from the Empire of the Dead Requiem range at the moment as well.

My room is a tip as we have had to move a load of furniture into it to make way for the Christmas fairy forest.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas stuff!

I am always surprised when I get anything wargames related for Christmas but the friends and relations did very well this year!

My daughter, Charlotte, not only got me a pork pie but the Games Workshop Mirkwood Rangers as well, which are the first figures I have got from The Desolation of Smaug.  I put them together while watching the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special last night.  I had to watch it though, as some of the parts are very delicate and need carefully cutting from the sprue, so no getting distracted by Aliona Vilani in motion.  She was partnered with the singer Matt Goss, this year, who went to the same school as me!


Just as the film was made in 3D (I'm going to a 2D screening though as I can't stand 3D in the cinema) so these figures are defiantly 3D as well, with most figures being made up of two pieces (often a front and back) which enables their characteristic flowing robes to be modelled in a most impressive style.  The detail is amazing but I doubt whether my painting will be able to do them justice!  They'll need some filling first, though.

My sister bought me a book on the fiftieth anniversary of Dr Who, which Charlotte promptly stole - she has just discovered Dr Who and is working her way through the new series.  I want to point her in the direction of some of the Tom Baker shows but suspect she will laugh at the special effects.  She also bought me All the King's Men by Saul David which I hadn't even spotted before.  I enjoyed his books on the Zulu War and the Indian Mutiny so am looking forward to this one.

My parents in law not only bought me four boxes of Lifeboat tea but a book on Stealth Warfare.  It's always good to get a book that looks interesting but you wouldn't necessarily get yourself.

Quick! Pull the plug out!

My most unexpected wargames present, however, was given to me by my particular friend S who gave me the wrapped parcel when I was in Colombia.  I did struggle getting it home, given I had hand luggage only, and had to take it on the plane in a separate carrier bag.  I had no idea what it was but when I opened it it was something I had been trying to get for ages.  I had bid twice on eBay and lost out and must have mentioned this fact to S who tucked it away in her memory.  S managed to get one and so I now am the proud possessor of the poseable, limited edition (number 1 of 5000) vinyl Talos for my Jason and the Argonauts project!  And he doesn't need painting.! Excellent!  So, he's not quite big enough to pick up the Argo but he is big enough for a game.

The main road from Cobham to where I live

As for Christmas itself we had our dinner at home on Christmas Eve, for the second year running.   This year the last minute shop for dinner was precipitated by the fact that my sister in law had a power cut, thanks to the storm we were hit with the night of the 23rd, so she didn't know if she would be able to cook Christmas lunch as planned.  In fact she got her power restored at midnight on Christmas Eve but with the children getting up late and her cooking being appalling anyway we happily missed it (pork pie for lunch instead!) and just turned up at teatime, thus limiting out exposure to the troll family and their inevitable snivelling ailments. Fortunately, we live on a hill, as the two towns either side of us were both flooded when the River Mole burst its banks and there were lots of trees down on the road on Christmas Eve.

So, the inevitable annual review next...

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Christmas!

Well, not really, as I can't stand Christmas, although it is nice to have Charlotte back from Edinburgh.  She spent all day yesterday erecting the usual fairy forest in the living room.

Anyway, I have gone uncharacteristically festive and painted, over the last two days, this Father Christmas Viking which the splendid chaps at Wargames Foundry included with all seasonal orders this year.

Thanks to everyone who has read and, in particular, commented on my ramblings this year.  Full wargaming and non-wargaming reviews of the year will come later.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A glimmer of hope for Ripper Street

Several newspapers reported yesterday that the BBC was looking for a partner to fund a third series and is in talks with LoveFilm.

Let's hope this is true and that the resultant budget cuts won't ruin it  It remains a continued inspiration for my slow but sure progress on my various steampunk figures.  I based and undercoated another few figures today. Hopefully I can do a bit at the weekend but it's looking like I will not have much time again. 

Games Workshop prices and The Hobbit

Scott had an excellent rant yesterday about the prices of Games Workshop's new figures from The Hobbit.  The premium they are paying in New Zealand (I reckon £48 a box instead of £25 in the UK) is frightening.  Middle Earth citizens should get a discount it seems to me!

I was in Games Workshop's Oxford Street store yesterday buying some Erebor Dwarves, which is going to be my new Hobbit force (having already painted some Grim Hammers).  I usually try to get in and out without engaging with the staff, if possible, but it was a slow afternoon (not surprisingly given the prices) and I was pounced upon before I had got six feet inside.  "What's your name?" asks the troll.  "Why do you need to know?" I reply, in the increasing manner of British people who do not like any unnecessary information about themselves being known by Evil Organisations such as the government, Yahoo or Games Workshop.   "I like to know the name of our regular custormers," says the Troll.   Now why does this annoy me?  After all when I go into the Tapas Bar in Leadenhall market or Latium restaurant (coincidentally, just  up the road from GW's Oxford Street store) I like being greeted by name as a regular customer.  The answer, I think, is because the interest is entirely fake and you know the staff have been trained to be as ingratiating as possible.  What they may believe to be a welcoming environment actually creates a creepy and, frankly, un-British feel in the shops.

Anyway, while they disappeared downstairs to get the dwarves, as they weren't on the shelves, I had time to rant on about the lack of Hobbit articles in White Dwarf (again).  "But we do this month," says troll proffering the new White Dwarf.  No, you have twenty pages of advertisements for new products.  There is no gaming content.  Still I bought it for the painting guides (I really am going to have to get those Mirkwood Rangers).  Then I got the Desolation of Smaug supplement and a new razor saw and left having spent £59 when I had intended to spend £20 and still only had ten miniatures!  

One interesting development that I hadn't really taken in. with the new releases. is that several of the new individual figures, such as Legolas Greenleaf, are plastic kits.  Not Finecast, just plastic.  Does this mean that they have realised Finecast has its limitations? The price, of course, at £15, was at Finecast level.

Now, nothing is going to happen as regards GW prices as it is a publicly listed company.  The Legatus was in the senior management team of a large plc a few years ago and it was a complete eyeopener to attend board meetings.  It became clear that most of the board members had no idea what the company was really about.  All they were interested in was driving up share value.  Everything was about "keeping the City happy".  Announcing that year on year prices are going up will make the City very happy.  Cutting prices will not.  But would cutting prices mean more sales?  That's a risk and British plcs do not take risks, as I know from my current job.  French, German, Spanish, American and Dutch firms take risks,  British ones don't.  It's become an issue within government and is a cause of great frustration to ministers trying to promote UK companies abroad.  The usual comment is something like: Senior director "Yes, I can see the opportunities for our firm here but the board won't go for it.  Too risky."  So don't expect lower prices, ever!

As long as the product is good I'll keep buying GW's Tolkein figures.  I'm not interested in substitutes because I want my figures to look like those in the films.  I am concerned, though, that The Hobbit figures have been poor sellers and that we may not get figures for the Battle of Five Armies which is all I really wanted from the range all along.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Back from Cartagena!

Pirate capital of the Caribbean!

I've returned from what will be my last trip abroad this year, thank goodness.  Although, to be fair, if you have to go somewhere on business then the historic Caribbean city of Cartagena is not a bad destination.  As you can't fly direct to Cartagena, and it takes three flights from the UK to get there, I decided to stay in Houston for 36 hours to decompress and meet up with my particular friend S who was coming in from Florida, where her sister lives.

Houston was not at its usual sunny self and in fact it was pouring with (quite cold) rain ("just like f****** Vancouver" as S observed in her trenchant manner).  Nothing to do therefore but eat drink and, er, relax.  The restaurant at the Hotel Zaza does a very good vodka Martini indeed and as the flight over hadn't been at all bumpy (for a change) the Legatus was feeling in quite a good mood and was able to drink it in a relaxed manner rather than swigging it down in a single stress-fuelled gulp.

The old floatplane terminal in Vancouver before they moved it to build the new convention centre

I have, in the past, used Vodka Martinis to recover from particularly bad flights.  The first time this happened was in 2003 when I had to fly from Vancouver to Victoria.  I had not arranged the transport so was appalled to find that we had been booked on a seaplane.  I had done this trip before but had travelled to the main Vancouver International Airport to fly to Victoria on a proper aeroplane, not something that looked like it came from a pulp film.  It was too late to change tickets so my fellow traveller, Tim, also from England, and I climbed into the plane on a very wet and windy afternoon. And I mean climbed.  You had to stand on the float and launch yourself through the hatch (it was not a door) and hope you didn't drop anything into the water below.  On board, the captain happily told us to expect severe turbulence for the whole flight.  They never admit to "severe turbulence"!  They always say "some" or "mild".  So, the Legatus was already feeling stressed even before the terrifying process of taking off from water.

I took this shot on the flight of doom itself

The captain was not wrong.  As we flew over the islands on the way to Victoria (which would have been interesting on a calmer day) we were bouncing around like mad.  All the Canadians were calmly reading the paper while Tim and I grabbed hold of the seat in front with every lurch of the plane.  I was calculating how far we would have to swim to reach dry land if we crashed amongst the islands.  After twenty-five terrifying minutes we landed in Victoria Harbour.  The only thing worse than taking off in a float plane is landing in a float plane, especially when the waves are up.

Our plane in Victoria Harbour

By the time our meeting had finished the weather was even worse and the flags were sticking straight our from the poles.  Tim and I agreed we really didn't fancy flying back in weather like that.  I remembered there were ferries from Nanaimo down the coast so we popped into a travel agent only to find that they had been cancelled due to bad weather.  These aren't Isle of Wight style floating tea trays either these were proper cross-channel style jobs.  And it was too rough to operate them?  The flight back was even worse than the flight there and we later found out that the winds had been at eighty miles an hour.  We crashed (I wouldn't call it a landing) back into the sea in Vancouver at about four in the afternoon.  Safely back on land Tim turned to me and said "Martini?" (he was a very sensible chap) and we went straight to the bar at the Pan Pacific Hotel.  Aftershocks of trembling fear were cured by two parts Stolichnaya, one part Bombay Sapphire, one part Dry Martini Vermouth and three drops of Angostura Bitters.  Three times.

The food at the Hotel Zaza is not quite as good as they think it is but I had a steak that wasn't too incinerated and S had a quail which looked alarmingly like it was making a break for it from the plate.  Either that or training for the quail Olympic swimming event.  It reminded me horribly of a cartoon strip from Time Out many years ago where Christmas turkeys came to life.  Turkeys are alive of course (although not for much longer)  but these were oven ready ones come to life.  Not that I'm a Time Out reader, I should add, as I'm not a communist, cannabis smoking, tequila drinker from the less salubrious parts of north London.  Incidentally, I noticed that turkey in the US is about a third the price per pound it is over here.  Rip off Britain, again.

Hector, Kiki and Zaza

I spent some time trying to explain to S that staying in the Hotel Zaza  always reminded me of the children's TV show Hector's House.  Given it was French, originally, I thought S might have seen it on TV in Montreal (where she was brought up).  However, she pointed out that she was not even born when it was first broadcast in the UK.  I had a girlfriend at college, C, who (rightly) thought I was two-timing her with her own best friend, K.  K, C  thought, was exactly like Kiki the frog from Hector's House due to her annoying and persistant twittering (not in it's modern sense of course).  She did have a point about her constant talking but she didn't look like a frog; she looked rather nice, in a Rachel Weisz sort of way,  Anyway, things came to a head one afternoon when she discovered I had taken K to the posh restaurant Les Quat' Saisons in Summertown, which had recently been set up by Raymond Blanc.  She marched over to K's room and I followed anxiously.  There was a lot of shouting, some pretty ripe language (mainly from C who was from Birmingham and was rather earthier that the more refined K, who was from Ealing).  It was all pretty noisy but harmless until C accused K of being like Kiki the frog.  Oh dear.  K assumed that C was saying she looked like a frog, not that she spoke very, quickly, constantly and waved her hands about a lot when she did so.  K grabbed C's long red hair, C responded the same way and they were soon wrestling on the floor scratching, pulling and swearing at each other.  It's the only time I have witnessed an actual catfight.  It was most diverting.  In the end I poured a glass of water over them and they calmed down.  Oddly, I didn't seem to be that much in trouble.  C's complaint was with the predatory K leading me on (which she did).  C's main issue was that K wore skintight jeans whenever she saw me.  Her jeans were, indeed, the tightest I had ever seen on anyone (she had fantastic legs) but as she wore skintight jeans most of the time (she had a fantastic posterior too) the argument that they were specifically to lead me on didn't really hold water.  Anyway they soon calmed down and after university I discovered that they had had a fling with each other.  Maybe the wrestling awakened something.  Anyway, it was soon time to leave the Zaza and set off for Bogota.

Who wouldn't want to be interviewed by this fine young lady?

Having picked up a couple of plastic bottles of wine at Houston Airport duty free it was then another five hour flight to Bogota.  I stayed in the Bogota Hilton again, which was a quite different hotel from the other people on the trip which was very useful as I managed to keep S below the radar.  I was interviewed by the local equivalent of the Financial Times by a very fetching lady journalist indeed and ended up getting my picture in said newspaper, much to the annoyance of some of the other people on the trip. Heh, heh!

So then it was off to Cartagena, a World Heritage site and still containing an impressive walled city.  We stayed just outside of the walled city which cut the hotel price from about £300 a night to about £100.  It was very close to the conference centre which was the venue of the convention I was going to, which meant that if said conference got a bit boring (I'm just not interested in green issues I'm afraid) I could slope back to the hotel for a "relax" with S.  in fact the convention centre is built on the site where Cartagena's founder, Pedro de Heredia, first landed in 1533.

Sadly, I only had enough spare time for one dinner in the old town and a brief walk around the walls early (6.30am) one morning before it got too hot. It was up to 32 degrees by the afternoon.  S amused herself by finding an emerald shop!  In fact there are quite a lot of posh shops in the old town.  She bought an ethnic looking bag.  And some shoes, inevitably.  And a dress.  And some more gold.  More embarrassingly she bought me a very expensive Swiss watch as a twentieth anniversary present.   I had thought we had met in Montreal in 1994 but she reminded me that we had met in London in November 1993.  I was supposed to meet her boss with my boss for dinner at Clarke's restaurant in Kensington.  A good place to take non-fussy but indecisive diners as they had no options on the menu; just one thing for each course.  Anyway, both the bosses pulled out so I had to have dinner with S on my own and we hit it off immediately.  Note that in the list above I didn't mention her buying any emeralds.  That was because that was my return present.  Gulp.  Is she worth it?  Of course she is!

The main gate to the walled city

Cartagena has been the subject of numerous sieges and Sir Francis Drake captured and sacked it in 1586.   As a result of this, and raids by pirates, the Spaniards spent a fortune on the, eventually, 11 km of walls around the city.  In fact so expensive were the defences (trillions of dollars in today's money) that Charles II of Spain, when looking at the cost said that for that price he ought to be able to see the defences from Madrid!  Cartagena is the only walled city in South America (Quebec, another city the Legatus had visited) is the only walled city in North America.  Attacks by the British on the city in 1740 and 1741 were part of the War of Jenkin's Ear which will be familiar to anyone who looks at The Miniatures Page, as some members seem fixated by it (or at least, its name).

The defences today are still very impressive and amazingly complete.  On the whole you can't drive into the old town unless you are in a taxi and they often close the gates to them too in the evening.  It's all very Pirates of the Caribbean!

This, of course, means that it is a delight to walk about in, although given the heat and humidty this is really only pleasant very early in the morning.  I had trouble taking pictures at some times in the day because as soon as I switched the camera on, the lens emerged only to steam up immediately.

The lens steams up again

Anyway, I was there for a conference which was like any other conference I had been to except it had dozens and dozens of models in very short dresses decorating it.  One of the Colombians on one of the stands told me that all the exhibitors get letters from Colombia's top modelling agencies about four months in advance asking them if they have chosen their girls yet.

Nearly every stand had one or two models attached to it and they weren't just there to look nice (although most of them were).  I saw several explaining in great technical detail the highlights of a new mountain road project.  This is a typical shot of the trade stands area.  You can see some of the distractions around. The lady whose impressive legs decorate the bottom left corner of the picture was a product of the potent racial mix of European, African and native Indian that you get along the Caribbean coast of Colombia (Cartagena was the main gateway for African slaves brought in by the Spanish).  I wish I hand managed to get a picture of her as she was a world class stunner by any standards.

 The girl on the Swiss stand

One of the mountain road experts.  I do enjoy a good tunnel

It did mean that there was always something to look at during the boring bits.  Now, being with a lot of people from the UK government I had to pretend to be horrified at this politically incorrect use of young women for decorative purposes.  I didn't mean it, of course, I found the whole thing quite delightful!  The Colombians didn't have an issue with it.  The very senior Colombia lady chairing the conference (and how often would that happen in Britain and they have a lady transport minister) kept encouraging the delegates to have their picture taken with Miss Colombia on one of the stands.  Even though I could have added her to my collection of overseas beauty queens I didn't, of course, as the UK government people wouldn't have approved.  I found myself actually trying not to look at the girls, although that was partially because if they caught your eye they would slink over and give you an interesting leaflet on industrial tyres, concrete, diggers or some such.

Now what do you want?

Anyway, the Legatus was more than happy with his team, who did an excellent job in looking after him.  They weren't models (they weren't exactly ugly either) but they were very efficient and quite delightful!

Colombia is perfectly safe

The President visited on the last day so that upped the security considerably, although you always see a lot of people in uniforms in Colombia.  This little team was guarding the main entrance to the conference.

S attracts men like flies to a honeypot as usual

On my last night in Cartagena I got invited to a party which wasn't part of my official programme so S took advantage of this by attaching herself, as it was on the roof of a very trendy boutique hotel.  The two women looking after the invitations at the venue were equally tall and leggy as the girls in the conference and there was some muttering from S about nineteen sixties-style Latin neanderthal attitudes to women.  This of course despite the fact that her dress wasn't exactly knee length either.

The party had a local band, lethal cocktails and some of the most elegant looking nibbles I had seen.  Given it was all lit up with trendy lighting and on the rooftops it was all rather like being in a Bacardi advert, however.  S seemed to enjoy it though, especially as she could show off her Spanish.  The Legatus, increasingly, however, can't hear other people speak when there is music playing, though. Thirty years of personal stereos have done for my hearing so I just tend to wander around looking lost (or looking for the next cocktail).

Nice lounge

Getting back from Colombia was a strain, as usual.  We had to catch the 22.25 flight from Cartagena on Friday night to Bogota.  This was then delayed and we didn't get to our hotel in Bogota until 1.00am. We then had to get up at 5.00am for an early morning flight to Houston.  The plane to Houston was then, really annoyingly, delayed so we could have had more time asleep.  Grr!  Never mind the Avianca lounge at EL Dorado is very nice and was deserted so I could get some tea, or, at least, some hot water for the Lifeboat teabags I took with me.  You can't get proper tea in Colombia and the Legatus is allergic to coffee.

Nice headboard

We got to Houston about lunchtime but it being Saturday there was, inevitably, a wedding reception on tat the hotel.  The Hotel Zaza seems to be hugely popular for wedding receptions but it does mean that the place fills with strapping Texan blondes with lots of teeth (so it's not all bad).  Five of them jumped into the lift with me at one point and they were all as tall or taller than me in their heels, which given I am 6'1" means, heels or not, they were positively Amazonian.  The clash of conflicting perfumes created a sickly fug in the "elevator" which even the ladies realised was potent and apologised for.  It was like being at an air freshener convention.  I think that subtle floral scents are not quite the thing in Texas. Because of the wedding I didn't get my usual upgrade and we had to cope with a small (i.e. normal sized) bed.  This was redeemed by the extraordinary headboard which S took such a liking too she enquired where she could get one.

We managed to get to the art museum the next day, as it is just across the road, and they had this fine hoplite helmet there, which is unusual in that it includes a representation of ears on it (Jenkins ears, perhaps?).

On checking in I discovered that my flight home had been cancelled for no discernible reason, which meant I had to leave four hours later than I had planned which meant sitting around at the airport.   S left, therefore, three hours before me which left me to sit in the KLM lounge (I have one of those useful lounge passes) and have a few (well, four) bottles of St Arnold Amber Ale, a very fine Texan beer.

So, that's it for travels this year.  I don't have anything planned until, maybe, back to Colombia in April but there are also trips to Panama and Peru floating about which may happen before then.  Frankly, I'm very happy not to have to do any more flights for a bit as I've done nearly fifty this year and they're all horrible!