Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The chances of anything coming from Mars...

While not exactly being a million to one, did seem increasingly remote as it has been almost a year since I joined this Kickstarter (entirely the fault of Michael Awdry, I should say),  This may seem like a curious project for me but I spent the first twenty years of my life pretty much only reading and watching science fiction and so, actually, it is merely a return to my cultural roots.  Anyway, a nice big box turned up yesterday with more alien goodies to come.  It does add another 40 figures to the pile, however!  More on the Martians when I have time to look at them properly, as I am fighting off another potential South American trip in as little as three weeks time, if I can't get out of it.

I really am trying not to get any more figures at the moment but I am very tempted by these new North Star 1672 civilians.  Utterly gorgeous!  Thoughts of pirates and Donnybrook spring to mind.

Last week I had two games at Eric the Shed's in a game-packed evening that saw us start with another Very British Civil War game.  I won't say much about it as it was a play test for a game that Eric is running in the near future.  It was a very balanced scenario as it literally went down to the last dice roll (my side lost - ending a run of victories in the shed).  This was primarily because I didn't spot a unit of the enemy lurking in the latest addition to his town: a garage.  They promptly erupted from inside and destroyed a whole unit of mine in one go.  Added to that my armoured car broke down on it's first move.  Given all that, it is amazing that I kept going as long as I did!

It's a jungle out there

We had time for another game and such is the capaciousness of the shed, that Eric had already set up a jungle which must have had aquarium owners in Chessington blubbing into their fish tanks as they wondered where on earth all the plastic plants to add interest to their piscine environments had gone.  This was a game based around the film Predator and had just five figures involved. 

It's quiet!  Too quiet!

Two of us had two humans each and one of us was the predator who had the advantage of hidden movement.  These were Eric's own rules and worked brilliantly as a game which generated real tension in a struggle that was, again, resolved on the last throw of the dice.  As we moved up the jungle board different landscape and hazards where revealed on the grid-based board.  This would also work for things like dinosaur hunting.

Ola - a good frock (I'm sure she is)

Looking forward I don't see much painting getting done for a while as I have been asked to co-author a book for the World Bank which is going to take much of my time.   There are also, potentially, two trips to South America in the next two months too.  We have also seen the return of Strictly Come Dancing which puts paid to Saturday and Sunday nights as we watch Aliona Vilani, Ola Jordan, Iveta Lukosiuta and Kristina Rihanoff undulate around the dance floor.  Ola's frock this week was an engineering marvel!  We also like Pixie Lott who we (literally) ran into once at The May Fair Hotel a couple of years ago. She had splendidly toned legs then so what a couple of months of dance training does to them will be well worth following.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Yacht's Up, doc?

Sadly, almost no painting this last weekend as I got a couple of unexpected tickets to Southampton Boat Show; somewhere Guy has always wanted to go.  So off we go to Southampton, for about the tenth time this year.  Fortunately, my father-in-law told us a good place to park as it was packed.  He couldn't come on Saturday which was just as well, from Guy's point of view, as he would have had to go on lots of sailing boats and those were not what he was interested in at all!

This one had a sliding roof but almost no forward visibility from the cockpit.  Left hand down a bit.

Strapping on our poshest watches we talked our way onto a number of cabin cruisers (as they don't seem to call them these days - in fact the term is down there with Dormobile in its dingy sixties association) by flannelling the horde of rent a blondes the yacht firms had employed.  Starting at the 50' type and working up we found most of them rather claustrophobic and badly designed.  

£1 million buys nothing these days.  Tragically, I spent most of the time looking at their galleys as on father-in-law's various (sailing) boats my main role was cooking (except when it came to things like picking up buoys with a boat hook when someone disposable was required to hang over the bow).  This effort had four rings, an oven and a microwave!  Cosseted people!  I cooked coq au vin for eight including Field Marshal Sir John Stanier, two colonels and a High Court judge on two gas rings, on the boat in Greece back in the nineties.  Interestingly, these motor boats' cookers aren't on gimbals, so no cooking en route.  As some of them did fifty knots I suppose that is because you are never very far from the nearest waterfront bistro.

This one had much better visibility and overall we definitely decided that Sunseekers were the best make (and they had the friendliest girls) so Guy has allocated his lottery winnings.  Another £5 this week!

Eventually we found the perfect boat.  The new Sunseeker 86.  Nice galley!  Good visibility!  A proper bar! Unfortunately they've only built one and that has sold so we couldn't buy it.  We'd better save a bit more though as it costs about £6,000 to fill the tank with diesel.  £3,599,000 plus VAT.

A rather younger Guy surveys St Tropez for the ideal mooring for his yacht

Guy decided that it was just too big for two people to sail on their own but, fortunately, there were cozy crew quarters for four women from the Baltic under the tender garage at the stern.  Guy would want to take the boat crashing around the sea, however, thus necessitating a captain and crewmen to handle mooring lines and what have you.  I, however, would just park it in St Tropez and employ a crew  of girlies in swimsuits to make me lobster salad and bring me chilled Condrieu.  I could design their little uniforms myself!

Condrieu, sir or would you like me to file some pirates for you?

Probably something along the lines of the outfits worn by the pool waitresses in the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, where I stayed with S for a few days some years ago.  I have never been back on account of the fact that I was the oldest person in the hotel.  All the staff seemed to be twenty something and the guests thirty something.  I don't like being the oldest person anywhere!

Inside there was easily room to spread out and assemble a box of Victrix Republican Legionaries (which is what I am doing at present) and still have space for lunch without having to clear everything away  ("Ieva, you can stick the arms on.  I hate sticking the arms on!").  You also have a nice pop-up TV for watching Pompeii on (actually, don't bother.  It's rubbish and had the worst Roman uniforms since, well, Up Pompeii and at least that had Julie Ege in it!).

This is not a gratuitous shot of Miss Ege, of course,  There is a wargaming link in that her Penthouse Pet of the Month pictorial (May 1967) was shot by Philip O Stearns, a co-founder of The Sealed Knot and the photographer for my favourite wargames book, er, The War Game.

Oddly, although the boat guarding girlies were nothing but charming, the actual salesman seemed to have been recruited from defunct Rover car garages.  They had no idea of nautical chic but dressed in ill fitting brown suits (never trust a man who wears a brown suit, as my father once said) and wore ties that looked like the wrappers of Eastern European chocolate bars.  I remember once proudly buying such a chocolate bar in Riga, as it bore the same name as my then secretary (the one who got pregnant, who I mentioned in a previous post).  When I gave it to her (the chocolate bar, I hasten to add) back in the office she inspected it critically, looked at me evenly and said "I don't get on with nuts".

That was on the same trip where I went from Helsinki to Tallinn on this Princess 52.  As you can see by the glowering sky, the weather deteriorated and what followed was four hours of the roughest sea I have ever experienced.  It is slightly disconcerting to look around the Gulf of Finland and not see any other vessels in sight at all.  Although the Legatus does not get sea sick some of our companions were not doing too well, so sadly I had to forego the lovely caviar topped canapes made by our hostess and her incredibly leggy daughter, who was the Estonian ladies High Jump Champion.  She and I knocked back quite a lot of Champagne, though!  Faithless man that I am, I abandoned her in Tallinn for a local opera singer who had been on a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London (and what splendid lungs she had).  I think, deep down I blamed high jumping girl for the rough weather, probably reasoning in my Pommery befuddled way, that she was some sort of Baltic sea sprite who had conjured up the storm because no-one ate her canapes.  Pathetic fallacy, I seem to remember it's called.

Best to stay in harbour, I think.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Afghans completed, Cairo 1921 and another visit to the Shed!

Well, I finished 11 Afghans this morning which means I have painted the entire (initial, I hope) 28 figure Artizan Designs release.   Given I use The Sword and the Flame for Colonial wargames, which uses 20 man units, I am going to need a lot more.

Here is their fearless leader, Bungdit Din, inevitably.   I haven't given the standard bearer a flag yet as my research on Afghan tribes' flags has been particularly fruitless other than they may have been green and triangular,  I did see something on one of the boards about a firm producing suitable flags towards the end of the year (although I can't remember who) so can wait a bit longer.

Another one-off from the paint table is this Egyptian girly assassin by Dark Fable Miniatures.  She will see service in Ancient Egypt as well as Victorian London and possibly 1920s Egypt too.  I was invited over to Eric the Shed's again last week and had a look at his splendid Egyptian temple and other scenery he is collecting for a 1920's Egyptian pulp game.

I have been painting a few figures with the thought of an Egypt in the twenties game for some years.  My principal protagonists are the infamous Croissant sisters, French archaeologists from Lyon.

From left to right we have:

The second oldest sister, the team's artist and responsible for cataloguing their finds. A keen cyclist and rather distant from her other sisters as she was sent away from home to a Swiss finishing school when she was fifteen, after being found in a compromising position (one of many she is expert in) with her older friend Coralie in the family house near Lyon.  Posed for some artistic postcards in Paris just before the Great War.  These cards were considered key in keeping the morale up of several front line French regiments at Verdun. Collects erotica. Likes girls.  Has been scouring Cairo looking for a Circassian dancing girl to add to her "collection".

The second youngest sister and the only one to have been married. Her Belgian husband was murdered by renegade Schutztruppen in German East Africa and she led a group of her own Askaris to wreak revenge on the Germans during the Great War. A crack shot, she favours a Sharps rifle for sniping and a Holland and Holland Nitro Express for close up work. Smokes cigars. Borderline psychotic

The oldest and most serious of the sisters. She is the historian and writer of the team and despairs of the romantic escapades of her younger siblings. She writes long and appalled letters home to dear Maman in Lyon reporting her sisters' shocking behaviour. Completely unaware that her dear Maman had been discovered by her father in a waterfront bar in Shanghai where she provided the customers with more than just drinks.

Although she is the youngest of the sisters she raises the money for the girl's digs (usually from impressionable older men), obtains firmans (permissions to dig) and generally runs things. She has lived and excavated in America and enjoys driving sports cars (useful in fast getaways from shocked wives who have discovered her with their husbands).

The middle sister. Has no interest in history or archaeology but is a daredevil pilot. Likes the tango, absinthe and seaplanes.  Is in a steady relationship with her Schneider trophy plane's industrialist sponsor and his wife. Is rather closer to her sister Varsité than is socially acceptable. 

On the male side we have from left to right:

Elton Mowbray
American railroad tycoon and joint backer of the Croissant sister's forthcoming expedition up the Nile.

Brendan O'Connell
Charming former French Foreign Legion officer with a penchant for lady Egyptologists.

Harry Harrington-Hawkes

Ace Great War pilot who specialised in downing Zeppelins and is an expert on photo reconnaissance.  Very keen on getting to know Velocité much better.  Last seen trying to surreptitiously photograph her undercarriage.

Max Kalba

Egyptian (or Turkish or Lebanese) expert on ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Seems to have some sort of a mysterious map.  Suspiciously seems to also speak fluent German.

Sean Sweeney

Kalba's hired muscle.  He and O'Connell, despite their shared Celtic heritage, do not get on.

I have many other characters from my erotic story The Croissant Sisters and other characters, just for the game, ready to take their part in the story.  My recent purchase of the Renedra mud-brick house might start me out on some scenery.

Anyway, no Egyptian follies at the Shed but my first game of Muskets and Tomahawks which was hugely enjoyable.  There is no point me talking about the detail of the game because Eric has done that on his own blog.  As ever, the scenery was superb and Eric gave me some time talking about some of his scenic secrets.  His ability to make splendid scenery is awe inspiring.  The game was a raid by three groups of Indians (sorry, First Nations Aboriginals) on a settlement.  It occurred to me that the scenario would also work perfectly for a pirates or an Indian Mutiny game too.

The best thing was the relatively small number of figures needed.  My force was just 25 figures.   I lost three figures during the game which was a sort of treasure hunt.  I have a big load of Conquest figures somewhere and some Galloping Major ones although I don't feel that they are compatible.

Here, on the left, is a Galloping Major figure and on the right my only painted Conquest one.  They are quite different scales unfortunately.  I am wondering whether the North Star figures might go better with Galloping Major's.  Something else to think about!  I am very grateful to Eric for an excellent game.  I think that is my fourth game this year!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Paint Table Saturday

Well, the end is in sight for the Artizan Afghan tribesmen, with just 3 left to finish out of the original release of 28 figures.  I am also hoping to move along the Sikhs.  Artizan have just announced a set of kneeling Sikhs and some Highlanders in trews (tartan, oh joy!) so I will be ordering those soon too.

Also on the table are six of my latest arrivals; the Victrix Early Republican Romans,  I will undercoat them and get the base colours down this week.  They are splendid!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Hooray for Captain Spaulding, the African explorer!

"I've been looking for a girl like you - not you, but a girl like you"

The first two figures for September are two oddments that have been sitting around on the workbench.  I always have a number of these on the go  if I need a break from painting units; Afghans, in this case - although the end is now in sight on these.  

The Captain Geoffrey T (for Edgar) Spaulding figure (from the Marx Brothers Animal Crackers, of course) is a Copplestone Castings figure.  The film contains one of my favourite Groucho Marx lines: "We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed. But we're going back in a couple of months!"

Working out a colour scheme from a black and white film is a challenge and, at one point, I actually contemplated painting him in monochrome but that would have limited his use!  I wasn't sure whether to paint a band on the cigar so had to consult the only person I know who (occasionally) smokes cigars, my particular friend Sophie.  She informed me that removing the band can tear the leaf so she leaves it on although some think that leaving the band in place on an expensive cigar is showing off.  Picture reference of Groucho Mark, however, shows that he invariably removed the bands of his cigars.  So close, but no band.

The lady of the night is one of Tim Prow's Foundry figures and she will lurk around Victorian London.  I have a number of these to paint so really ought to get a gas lamp or two!  She is wearing a side-laced corset, although I have to say that it is not historically accurate as these only had lacing on one side, not both as sculpted here.

Captain Spaulding dates from 1930 so is more likely to appear in my long-contemplated 1920's Egypt project.  Eric the Shed has got me thinking about this again.  I am going over to the Shed again today, this time for a game of Muskets and Tomahawks, which will be too much for my poor brain. no doubt!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Paint Table Saturday

The first Paint Table Saturday in September sees more progress on the next batch of Afghans and also a start on the North West Frontier Sikhs.  The latter are going to be quite quick to paint, I think, so I will try to get some more done on them tomorrow.  I'm used to painting Sikhs from Darkest Africa!

A few oddments in the background: Spartans, Neanderthals, Captain Scarlet and Mexican cavalry.  I've also got three one-off figures I hope to finish tomorrow to open September's painting account.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Eight for August

I have now added he grass which I had forgotten when I took these pictures!

So, in the end I did just get eight figures completed for August, even if I did have to finish them at midnight on Sunday 31st!  First off were another seven Afghans.  I now have just ten to do,  This batch includes some with swords and they all have their arms held as if they should be carrying shields which, interestingly, the Studio Miniatures figures have.  Did Artizan just forget to include shields?  I've just ordered a pack of Studio Miniatures Afghans to see how they compare in size.  The Sikh Wars figures I have are slim, more anatomically correct, Perry Miniatures in style but the Afghans look chunkier.  We'll see.

Lastly, I finished one of those non-unit figures that lurk around on the workbench for months.  A Black Scorpion pirate girl for my all female crew.  Anne Bonny from the new North Star range is also now well underway and I have undercoated Blackbeard's crew.  Next up will be the North West Frontier British, who I have now started, plus some more odd figures which are close to completion but I couldn't quite get done by the end of the month.

I couldn't finish them as I spent the weekend down in Cowes for the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes powerboat race.  I have been watching this since I was about eight, although it is a shadow of its former self with only just over a dozen competitors this year.  I remember the whole width of the Solent being taken up with a mass start in the seventies and eighties but this year the whole field could fit into the Royal Yacht Squadron haven.  Although it was nice to see the original Dry Martini, which won in 1974, competing again.

While walking along the front my son, Guy, said that there was a Lancaster about to fly over.  It wasn't a Lancaster, however, but a B17!  I've never seen one at all, I don't think, let alone one flying!  It was en route to the Bournemouth air show. It was the Sally-B which is based at Duxford, somewhere I really need to visit.   I only had time to grab a quick shot as it thundered overhead!  Impressive!  I always wanted to build the Airfix kit when I was younger but had never saved enough pocket money to be able to afford it!  Thanks to Airfix (or rather Roy Cross) I always think that they should be silver though!

Osborne Court

Just along from our house in Cowes is Osborne Court, a large Art Deco apartment building, constructed in 1938.  My father-in-law told me that it was paid for by the German government with the idea that it could serve as the German army headquarters when Britain was invaded.  I couldn't find this mentioned anywhere else but he is usually reliable on history and has been visiting Cowes since the mid-thirties himself.  An intriguing thought, anyway!

We haven't had a musical interlude here for a bit but there is a musical link to Cowes and Osborne Court in particular.  I am currently listening to a CD of music by the largely forgotten British composer Albert William Ketèlbey (1875-1959).  You might not think that you know any of the composer's work but the first few bars of In a Persian Garden should be very familiar.

Rookstone, the house of Albert Ketèlbey, Egypt Hill, Cowes

Ironically, Ketèlbey was tremendously famous in his day and was heralded as Britain's greatest living composer in 1929, as his work was performed more than any other British composer that year.  He is also believed to have been Britain's first millionaire composer.  Yet by the time of his death in 1959 he was almost forgotten; his melodic, programme music becoming very unfashionable.  Now he is rehabilitated somewhat, with compositions such as In a Monastery Garden, In a Persian Market and Bells Across the Meadows being performed regularly and receiving airtime on radio.  In fact, the latter composition was actually banned from radio broadcast (the first recording banned by the BBC!) during WW2 in case people thought that the bell chimes in the piece were the warning for a German invasion!

Born in Birmingham, the son of an engineer, he began piano lessons at the age of eight and started his formal studies at the age of eleven at the School of Music of the Birmingham and Midland Institute.  At the age of eleven he performed his own piano sonata in Worcester Town hall and greatly impressed Sir Edward Elgar, who was in the audience. At thirteen he won the Queen Victoria scholarship to London's Trinity College of Music, beating one Gustav Holst into second place. At Trinity he won numerous prizes and became a very young professor there; affecting a tail coat to make himself look older.  His first major compositions followed at the age of eighteen and by the age of twenty his Piano Concerto in G Minor won the Tallis Gold Medal for Counterpoint.

He met his first wife, Charlotte Siegenberg, while acting as musical director of the Vaudeville Theatre, where he started work at the age of 22.  For over forty five years his compostions made him "The King of Light Music" and in 1926 sales of the sheet music for In a Monastery Garden, the composition that made him a household name in 1915, passed one million copies.  He composed a lot for the pre-sound cinema and was also involved in the early days of gramophone recording.  His wife died of pneumonia in 1947 and he moved out of London to the south coast to recover from a nervous breakdown. There he met  and eventually married Mabel Pritchett, then the manageress of a hotel he was staying in and who had initially refused his request to have a piano installed in his room. They moved to the Isle of Wight, which was where Pritchett's family came from, in 1948, initially living in Bembridge. The following year the couple moved to Cowes and Rookstone, a bungalow on Egypt Hill, where he continued to compose, although his music had faded from popularity after World War 2.  He wrote one piece, in 1952, named after a place on the Isle of Wight, On Brading Down (which is just above a splendid Roman villa and well worth a visit if you are on the Island), but it wasn't published and is now lost.

Osborne Court, Cowes 1958

In 1959 he moved to Osborne Court on the Parade at Cowes but died there on December 1st the same year.  While Osborne Court is still there today and, hopefully. listed, given it's prime seafront position and the alarming rate of development in Cowes (a pub had gone from the high street, I noticed this summer, to be replaced by yet more luxury apartments), we don't know how secure its future is.

Osborne Court today

Last summer I was walking up Egypt Hill in Cowes and noticed that Rookstone, the bungalow he moved to in 1949, had been demolished and replaced with a rather horrible (and expensive looking) modern monstrosity (not that Rookstone had any architectural merit but that's not the point).  There were several letters of protest to the Isle of Wight County Press at the time but to no avail.  Fortunately, I had captured it in the photo in this post a few years ago.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Feeling scenic in Edinburgh

Edinburgh from the Botanical Gardens

Well, I am just back from a few days in Edinburgh and feeling rather scenic.  You can't fail to feel scenic in Edinburgh as it really is the most attractive of Britain's larger cities with almost every street in the centre of the city offering views of characterful buildings, hills or the water.  Really, we went up to have a look at Charlotte's flat which she is living in for this year.  After twenty minutes work in the hallway outside we actually cleared a path so that we could get into her room.  Another twenty minutes saw her flat packed shelves assembled so she had somewhere to put the years worth of Kerrang magazines which were all over the floor.

Everybody loves a flexible girl

Anyway, that evening we attended an Edinburgh Festival Fringe event.  My heart would normally sink  at the words "Edinburgh Fringe" as it inevitably reminds me of pretentious "drama" types from university.  Indeed, there were a fair few street theatre types indulging in the sort of behaviour which would, in the past, have had them locked up for being an annoying loony.  However, the Old Bat had arranged tickets for an acrobatic/gymnastic/circus performing show called Circa.  In this a bunch of the most flexible Australians in the world did impossible (and dangerous) things with their bodies.  I have seen Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas and these people were better.  Most impressive!

Imagine you can travel back in time...

Having done most of the major tourist attractions on previous visits the chosen attraction for the next day, the Botanical Gardens, was not exactly filling me with enthusiasm either.  I think one of the biggest wastes of time and money in the domestic environment is gardening and Gardeners' World's Monty Don is the most annoying man on television.   However, the Royal Botanic garden was a marvellous place with 12 glass houses full of exotic environments.  My favourite. of course, was the pre-historic looking area which was full of plants from New Zealand, largely, in an evocation of dinosaur foliage.

Camellia Sinensis

Even more exciting (tragic, I know) was seeing, given my earlier post, this tea plant!  An Assam bush, to be precise!  I can't think that I have ever seen a tea plant growing before!  The tea I had in Edinburgh was uniformly excellent and it made me wonder whether the water had something to do with it.  We live in a hard water area whereas the water in Edinburgh is softer.

Outside one of the glasshouses was a small raised bed of Alpines (as gardeners call them) and this, to me looked like a splendid basis for a rocky wargames board.  I think the imminent completion of my Afghans has got me thinking about some appropriate scenery.  Perhaps its just that many other bloggers are working on exciting scenery projects at present and I, as usual, am not.  This is just the sort of thing I would have wanted to get my Airfix US Marines onto when I was small. Perhaps I liked it because it reminded me of our rockery at home!

Well, thinking about some pirate games I ordered this box of plastic palm trees and they look like they will be useful.  I read once about a man who made scenic items using CDs as bases and wondered if I might try something like that with these plus some other "plants".  I am a bit worried about them looking too regular but it may be worth trying a few bases out.

While in Edinburgh I was very impressed with the Games Workshop store's Goblin Town diorama in the window.  This really captures the 3D nature of the terrain in the film but I shudder to think how many sets of decking they had to use for it!  The chap in the shop said they had a really impressive Goblin Town layout in Warhammer World now.  More pictures here.

I've been away much of the last ten days so really need to catch up on everyone's blogs!