Friday, January 30, 2015

50 years ago today: A memory of Sir Winston Churchill's funeral train

 The 21C151 Battle of Britain class engine Sir Winston Churchill pulls his funeral train through Feltham just a couple of miles from Staines

Fifty years ago today a five year old Legatus was standing by the railway track on a cold grey day in Staines (or Staines-upon-Thames as it has recently been named in a doomed effort to make the place sound more upmarket) waiting for Sir Winston Churchill's funeral train to pass.  

The Legatus' house, until the age of eight, today (right).  The railway line is just at the end of the lane.

We lived on what was then an unmade up lane (as it still is at the far end, at least) overlooking Shortwood Common.  The Common itself was not a place of fond memories.  In January 1963, the coldest month in the Twentieth Century in Britain , I fell into a snowdrift on the common and disappeared completely (I can still remember this incident).  A year later, the girl next door, who was pushing me in my pushchair, left the brake off and I ran down a slope into the pond on the common and hit my head on a concealed rock.  I was in hospital for two weeks with a fractured skull. Worse yet, as I can still remember it very clearly, I was chased by a bull on the common, on the way to school, when I was seven.  I have hated cows ever since.  

The crossing today.  Not changed at all

But fifty years ago the whole family walked down the lane, with everyone else who lived there, to the pedestrian crossing next to the railway line where we waited for the train on its way down from Waterloo.  I remember the tremendous noise and the smoke as it barelled past and  the flash of the chocolate and cream livery of the Pullman cars on their way to Oxfordshire.  I also remember being slightly disappointed at how fast it went by!  Even at the age of five I had some idea who Churchill was and how he had saved Britain from the Nazis (or 'Germans' as we referred to them in those pre-politically correct days).

This photograph shows the train passing through Staines station (where the signals are) just a few hundred yards from where we stood to watch.  The oast house on the left became a community centre and I bought my copy of Ugo Pericoli's Uniforms of Waterloo there in a second hand book sale about ten years later.

The Legatus boards Perseus at Victoria Station in 1992

Coincidentally, some twenty seven years later, I rode in one of the carriages, Perseus, which formed part of Sir Winston Churchill's funeral train, on my honeymoon, when we took the Orient Express to Venice.  At the time I had no idea that I had already seen this carriage, as a small boy, standing by the track back in January 1965.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Reinforcements for In Her Majesty's Name.

The excellent Wargame News and Terrain blog has highlighted the fact that Northstar are selling a random pack of four cultists from the Servants of Ra company for IHMN.  Now while I am determined to stop buying figures in the quantities I have over the last few years I have ordered a pack of four of these so I can reinforce my company.  I can justify this on the basis I have painted all my servants of Ra figures and will paint the reinforcements immediately.  

It will be interesting to see if they do the same for the rank and file of the other companies.  Let's hope so.  The Society of Thule definitely need more Jaegers to be available separately.

As regards the lead and plastic pile I have just put two boxes of Napoleonic plastics on eBay.  I am serious about getting rid of stuff I will never paint!  Much more to go!  Skirmish armies only for me from now on!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Robin Hood at the Shed with Lion Rampant

This week's amazing scenery saw us in the countryside outside Nottingham Castle

Last week saw my latest expedition to the Shed cancelled due to cold weather but the shedizens regrouped for the planned Robin Hood game yesterday.  We had six players portraying forces commanded by Robin Hood, Little John and Ivanhoe (which was me) against the Sheriff, the dastardly Guy of Gisborne and the Bishop of Lincoln (oddly, the Bishop of Lincoln was one of the original founders of my old college, Brasenose!).  We were using the Lion Rampant rules by Daniel Mersey (who kindly gave me my copy as a prize in a competition he ran last year) so each had a force of four units of various sizes depending on the class of troop.  One or two people had played the rules before but most, I think, were first timers.  Still, they seemed easy to pick up, even for me and I would be very happy to play another game with them.  I won't go into great detail about the game itself or its scenario as it will be dealt with much better on the official Shed journal.  I will just put down a few random thoughts instead; not that all my thoughts aren't random anyway.

Ivanhoe and his Crusaders are charged by the dastardly Guy of Gisborne.  It's all about to go horribly wrong!

I hate trying out new rules, even, as in this case, if I have read them before, because my brain just can't translate written rules into gaming tactics.   I have to have played several games before these things become, even vaguely, clear.  As a result, I made a huge tactical error right at the beginning of the game which my opponent (the dastardly Guy of Gisborne), despite never having played the rules before either, recognised and exploited, leaving me without my best unit and indeed, my leader Ivanhoe, within the first couple of moves.  Incidentally, any time I hear the name Ivanhoe the opening of the last movement of Tchaikovsky's fourth symphony comes into my head, as it was used as the theme music of the 1970 BBC series, which I remember well from when I was younger.  

My men at arms did collect two out of the eight amounts of tax money up for grabs but probably should have been fighting instead.  The monks did nothing but walk up and down protecting their nuns

My second major mistake was that it never occurred to me that Little John's forces to my left were allies so I set off with my troops to attack him before realising this, meaning that half my force never got into combat.  Oh dear!  The other shedizens are very patient with me.  It's a bit like inviting someone over to play tennis who understands that you have to get the ball over the net but doesn't know the difference between serving and receiving and what all the lines on the court signify.   

One of the key frustrations we encountered was that the rules, like several others I have played, need a dice activation for a unit to undertake an action in a move but if you fail then your move immediately ends.  So, as I found on three moves in a row, if my crossbowmen couldn't fire then none of my other units got to do anything that go either.  Now it took me some time to work out that it was best, therefore, to move a low activation score unit first and save the higher score unit for a little later in the sequence.  On our side we had three moves where, basically, none of us could do anything.  For the latter part of the game, therefore, Eric modified the rules so that if you failed to activate one of your units you could then and try to do the others rather than your turn ending.  This is, however, something of a fundamental change to a set of rules which is designed to move things along quickly, as the dastardly Guy of Gisborne pointed out.  I suppose a compromise, in battles featuring multiple players, would be that if you fail your first activation then you have a chance to do just one more unit only. The rules are written for two players but Eric used a Bolt Action-style card draw to randomise the individual forces order of activation during each turn (known as the Swedish method, in this context).   

Anyway I liked the rules a lot and now feel energised to paint some suitable forces.  Wars of the Roses would be the logical choice, as I already have the figures, even though this slightly earlier medieval period is appealing because of all the old films my mother introduced me to such as Ivanhoe (1952) The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), The Black Knight (1954) and, of course, Errol Flynn's peerless The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

My forces at the beginning of the battle

On the subject of figures my force was largely supposed to be Crusaders and these were some of Fireforge's plastics which did, I have to say, look splendid.  I have some of their Teutonic knights somewhere.  My force only consisted of thirty figures.  A very achievable amount for an army! Another positive aspect of  these rules!

Anyway, thanks as ever, to the redoubtable Eric and his fellow shedizens who continue to tolerate me and my total ineptness!  The pleasure of playing games on such wonderful scenery reminds me of a caption of a photo in Terence Wise Introduction to Battlegaming which depicted Charles Grant's wargames table: "Every wargamers dream!"  Indeed it is!

The music I played while writing this just had be be Korngold's Oscar winning soundtrack for The Adventures of Robin Hood, in the recording by the Utah Symphony Orchestra under Varujan Kojian.  It was this score which gave me an enduring love for Korngold, at a time when he was very unfashionable.  I remember whistling the main theme while exploring the walled city of Carcassonne when I was about ten, having seen the film on television at my mother's recommendation.  Later, I picked up the Charles Gerhardt Korngold highlights record which contained a suite from the score, before Kojian's much longer version appeared.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

First figure of 2015

Well, I have had thirty posts on the blog without featuring a single newly painted figure but today I have finished just one.  Like my first figure of 2014 it is lady; this time for my Lost World project which I started, shockingly, back in 2013 (I was sure that it was last year!).  I had assembled a band of five intrepid explorers and was thinking that I needed a cinematic style lady to add to the group (Conan Doyle would have been appalled!)

More about her and other Lost World heroines on my Pulp blog

A whole new pulp band is also under way for the early nineteen twenties!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Something for the Weekend: Ulla Lindstrom - First Page 3 Girl

Given all the excitement this week about the demise (allegedly) of the Page 3 girl, I thought that I would post a short feature on the very first one, on my Legatus Wargames Ladies blog.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

First Wargame of 2015: Pirates at the Shed

Spectacular scenery

The splendid Eric the Shed came though again, to get the New Year off to a splendid wargaming start.  This time it was pirates, using a version of Muskets and Tomahawks.  More here on my Swashbuckling blog.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Top 40 Tunes Part 2

So, back for my top twenty iTunes list.

20  Try from the soundtrack to On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) by John Barry.  Barry out Mancinis Mancini in this, his slinkiest piece of "cocktail" music ever, from an otherwise disappointing score.

19 Overture The Globe Playhouse from the suite from Henry V (1944) by William Walton.  This is in my "Films medieval" playlist.  Useful for painting a Lion Rampant force, perhaps.

18 Reel du Forgeron by La Bottines Souriante.  I do have quite a lot of strange Canadian music (I can't think why) and this infectious track by this French Canadian band is like a mixture of Riverdance, big band jazz and Cuban music.

17 Prelude number 6 in D minor from The Well Tempered Clavier Book One by JS Bach. Played by Frederich Gulda on piano, this sums up the genius of Bach in one minute and twenty seconds of perfection.  My Bach playlist has the most number of tracks on it, at 316.

16  The Raid from the soundtrack to The Big Country (1958) by Jerome Moross.  The main theme is well known, of course but this was a hugely influential score taking the Western soundtrack down a more folk-based and American-voiced road than before. Brilliantly melodic.  If I ever painted wild west figures this would be the one to have on in the background.

15 El Agualulco by Conjuntos Tlalixcoyan y Medellin.  My German friend Bettina introduced me to Sones Jarochos, a wacky mixture of African, Spanish and native music from Vera Cruz in Mexico.  Very different from the more well known Mariachi it is played on a form of harp with early versions of guitars.  Perfect when painting Mexicans.

14 L'air des clochettes from Lakmé by Delibes.  I would never have predicted that this vocal showpiece would be my highest ranking piece of classical music and it's not even the much better known flower duet from the same opera. French coloratura soprano Mady Mesplé, in her signature role, nails it.

Actually shot at Chatham Historic Dockyard. Don't get me going on everything historically wrong with this shot!

13 Giza Port from The Soundtrack to The Mummy (1999) by Jerry Goldsmith. This atmospheric track features on my "Egyptian" playlist and is excellent for painting mummies and writing dodgy stories about archaeologists to.

12 Diablo Rojo by Rodrigo y Gabriela  Sophie introduced me to this Mexican acoustic guitar duo as she is an accomplished guitarist herself.

11 Caravan by Gordon Jenkins from Gordon Jenkins featuring Marshall Royal.  This eerie version of the Duke Ellington standard was used in the pilot episode of Mad Men but I had already got it in my collection.

10  Into Miami from the soundtrack to Goldfinger (1964) by John Barry.  This is the first of two tracks on the list that remind me of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, where I stayed a few years ago and which features in the film as this music is played. Sophie and I would listen to it as we got ready to take on the frantic public areas of the hotel in the evenings.

9 Funeral in Berlin from the soundtrack to Funeral in Berlin (1966) by Konrad Elfers.  This is a very catchy tune from the second Michael Caine Harry Palmer spy film.  I used to travel to Berlin a lot and I was always whistling this tune when I was walking around the place as I used to stay in old East Berlin.  I am an inveterate whistler - it drives everyone else mad as it seems to be a habit that has almost died out - probably disappeared along with milkmen.  It took me until late 2010 to source the CD, though.

The view from my room at the Fontainebleau

8 Bogota 1984 from the Soundtrack to The Specialist (1994) by John Barry.  Oddly, this has nothing to do with my trips to Bogota but I started playing it when I stayed in the Fontainebleau Hotel (part of the film was shot there).

Lana Wood in Diamonds are Forever

7 Diamonds are Forever (source instrumental)  from the extended soundtrack of Diamonds are Forever (1971) by John Barry. This is my favourite John Barry Bond soundtrack and this slinky track is another one from my "Cocktail" playlist which is a more anodyne description of the activity that usually accompanies this playlist.

6 Héiroglyphes from the soundtrack to The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle-Blanc-Sec (2010) by Eric Serra.  An excellent soundtrack to listen to for Parisian-set steampunk and Egyptian adventures.

Bourne at Waterloo Station

5  To the Roof from the soundtrack of The Bourne Identity (2002) by John Powell.  This one helps get me through the rush hour crush at Waterloo Station.

4 Romanian Wind from the soundtrack of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows  (2011) by Hans Zimmer.  I have a number of "walking" playlists I listen to when stomping around London.  I now tend to walk rather than catch the Tube and as a result I have lost a stone in weight in the last year. 

3 Pellea de Gallos by Lola Beltran  I can't fathom why I like this song about cock-fighting by Mexico's answer to Edith Piaf so much, but I do.  Possibly it's because Sophie can sing along to it and, indeed, does whenever we are together.

She went to the same school as my son

2 The Medallion Calls from Pirates of the Caribbean the Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) by Klaus Badelt (yes we all know it's really by Hans Zimmer)  I do know that Guy listens to these soundtracks too but so do I, especially when painting pirates and the number of plays is so large that a lot of it must be me.  Certainly my top figure painting background music entry, along with the rest of the album.

1  Its Alright by Me  The Oscar Peterson Trio from Oscar Peterson Plays the Cole Porter Songbook.  I am convinced the man had at least two extra fingers on each hand.  I have 12 separate jazz playlists but this one, jazz instrumental, has 304 tracks in it.  It needs to be split up I think.

Well, all in all something of a surprising list.  I think if I was able to do a top 40 list that eliminated what I listen to on my iPod, which is not the same as I play at home, then it would, as Giles raised, have more classical music on it.  This is the only area where the list doesn't reflect what I listen to at home, I think.  There is quite a lot of film music but then I do listen to a lot of that, especially when painting, given I have playlists which are, essentially, put together for that purpose.  Just missing the top forty were the Soundtracks to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express, The Great Train Robbery and You Only Live Twice.  It's mainly film music until we get to Resphigi's Pina di Roma, Milhaud's Le Boeuf sur le toit, Rachmaninov's Second piano concerto (oh no, I am Mr Classic FM) and Circus by Khachaturian.

Anyway, more details on some of my painting specific playlist on the relevant blogs in due course.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Top 40 tunes Part 1

Its my birthday today and I have just opened my present from my friend A who has managed to get me the rare two disc edition of the soundtrack to The Shadow by Jerry Goldsmith,, so I am putting that on my iTunes forthwith. Yesterday, Guy was synching his new iPod and showed me something that I didn't know you could do, which was rank all the music you have on iTunes by the number of plays.  I thought it might be interesting to have a look at my top forty; not for you but for me.  Also, I am constantly being told that I have strange taste in music (but usually by people who have no taste in music) and so Sophie said she would like to see the list.  The first thing I have to note is that this is a family iTunes account (meaning the children download stuff and I pay for it!).  The Old Bat doesn't listen to music as she is, like her entire family, tone deaf.  So I have to discount all the tunes that have obviously mainly been listened to by Guy and Charlotte.  Their taste in music is execrable and I believe that my greatest failure as a parent is not to have been able to instill a love of proper music into them as my mother did to me.  Guy, at least, does have some orchestral film music on his playlists but all of Charlotte's music consists of groups who can only be found in Kerrang magazine.  Tragic.

I am not sure if the totals include music played on my iPod, Guy thinks they do, and it would explain a lot of the entries on my list.  Anyway, I have 18,633 tracks on iTunes which totals 49 days, 7 hours and 56 minutes of music.  Almost a third of this consists of downloads; the rest being ripped CDs.  I have 200 playlists on my iPod so I can eliminate all Charlotte's dreadful stuff by deselecting her playlists.  The top 40 I have extracted is not really what I would have predicted.  I am also cheating slightly by only including the highest scoring track from an album (do people still call them albums?  Probably not) to avoid tedious duplication. 

So here they are: the first twenty of the forty tracks I play the most.

Sacramento Railroad Museum

40 The Atchison Topeka and the Santa Fe from the soundtrack of The Harvey Girls (1946) sung by Judy Garland.  Thanks to my mother I developed an appreciation for film musicals when I was small.  There is no denying the brilliant orchestration and choral arrangement in this one.  I remember listening to this while going around the Railroad Museum in Sacramento, after having had a meeting with the Governor of California.

39 Our Man Flint from the soundtrack to Our Man Flint (1966) by Jerry Goldsmith. The first of several Jerry Goldsmith composition in my top 40.  It's just so sixties.  Usually played when getting ready for an embassy reception somewhere around the world.  From my "Film sixties" playlist which also includes the soundtracks to Casino Royale, The Italian Job, The Pink Panther, In like Flint and How to Murder your Wife and is, therefore, perfect.

My only painted Andalusians

38 Prelude from the soundtrack of El Cid (1961) by Miklos Rozsa.  I'm thinking of a Saga El Cid force so what better background than this monumental soundtrack in the excellent re-recording of the complete score by The City of Prague Philharmonic.  Part of my "Film Medieval" playlist.

37 Malagueña by Pepe Romero.  Sophie introduced me to this peerless guitarist,  It reminds me of a holiday in the Languedoc in the late sixties or early seventies when I went with my aunt to hear another great flamenco guitarist, Manitas de Plata (who died in November last year), the father and uncle of many of the Gypsy Kings.  I have enjoyed flamenco ever since.

36 Mondraki Bay from the soundtrack to Boy on a Dolphin (1957) by Hugo Friedhofer.  This is the most recently downloaded track in my top forty. One of the first films I saw on colour TV when my uncle got one in the late sixties. Who can forget Sophia Loren as a Greek diving girl?  Slinky.

Miss Keeley undresses for Dutch Playboy in 1987

35  Third movement Symphony number 3 In C Minor by Saint-Saëns. Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Barenboim.  I'm slightly surprised to see this as the highest ranking classical orchestral piece on my iTunes.  Embarrassingly, I first got to know this tune from the pop song If I had Words by Scott Fitzgerald and Yvonne Keeley in 1977.  I had quite a thing for Miss Keeley (really Yvonne Paaij, a Dutch singer) at the time.

34 Marcia Romana from the soundtrack to Ben Hur (1959) by Miklós Rózsa.  This is from my "Roman" playlist and I play it when painting Romans or galleys.

The Governor of California wasn't dressed like this when I met him

33  Riddle of Steel/Riders of Doom from the soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian  (1982) by Basil Poledouris.   From the excellent expanded re-recording by The City of Prague Philharmonic produced a few years ago.  I usually prefer original versions  of film music but this is superior in every way to the original soundtrack recording issue which was made using a cut-down orchestra of just forty players..

32 Comes Love by Stacey Kent from Love is...the Tender Trap.  I go to very few concerts but I did drag myself out to see Miss Kent and her excellent group a few years ago.

31 The Look of Love from the soundtrack of Casino Royale (1967) by Burt Bacharach.  Sung by Dusty Springfield and featuring Herb Albert's double tracked trumpets it's a "Cocktail" playlist favourite.

30 Prelude in G Minor, Op. 23, No. 5 by Sergei Rachmaninov played by Moura Lympany.  Rachmaninov is one of my favourite composers. Although it's an older recording than I usually listen to, Lympany captures the yearningly beautiful central section better than anyone else I have heard.

29 Pièces de Clavecin, Book 2: 6e Ordre No. 5 - Les Baricades Mistérieuses by François Couperin  played by Angela Hewitt.  An extraordinarily calming piece if I'm feeling stressed.  Another piece that was introduced to me by Sophie.  She had it playing one morning while pottering around her kitchen in Vancouver kindly but rather disastrously ("how do you cook sauseges?"  "I can't crack this egg" etc) trying to make me breakfast while dressed in just a little white cotton vest.

28 Aces High March from The Battle of Britain (1969) by Ken Goodwin. One of those rare occasions when a pastiche is superior to the originals.

27 Opening from the soundtrack to Prehistoric Park (2006) by Daniel Pemberton.  From my "Prehistoric" playlist which includes Walking with Dinosaurs and One Million Years BC.  Will be played a lot this year as I try to progress my Lost World project.  Mr Pemberton went to the same school as I did.

26  Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin played by Katia and Marielle Labqèue from Gladrags.  I first came across the sisters with their two piano versions of Gershwin in the eighties and its rather striking cover.  Usually I don't like rearrangements of originals but these are brilliant.

25 La Boquillera by Pedro Laza y Sus Pelayeros.  Infectiously energetic music from Colombia by one of the country's top bands.  Recorded in 1962 it is very good to listen to when wandering around Cartagena.

Tie me up, tie me down

24 Sweet Dreams my LAX by Rachel Stevens from Funky Dory.  I do not habitually listen to any pop music produced after 1985 but make an exception for Miss Stevens.  Her follow up album, Come and Get It is an underrated gem.

23  Tico Tico played by Phil Kelsall on the Wurlitzer organ of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom.  I have no way of defending a playlist of Wurlitzer music performed by the likes of Reginald Dixon (the Rick Wakeman of the fifties) et al.  I just like it.  My Uncle had a large and very expensive organ installed in his house back in the sixties and was always threatening my aunt with devising a way for it to come up out of the floor.  Maybe listening to him play when I was small had something to do with it.

This is the station I walk to

22  Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd.  The highest ranking pop or rock track.  Part of my "Walking to the station" playlist.  It helps that it goes on for so long when faced with the boring walk, yet again.

21  No Moon at All by Andre Previn/Herb Ellis/Shelly Manne/Ray Brown from 4 to Go.  It's easy to forget Mr Preview's jazz background but this 1963 recording has him in his coolest of cool jazz incarnation.  He did an excellent album with Doris Day too, one of the tracks from which, Close your Eyes, nearly made the top forty.

Next time, the top 20.  I bet you can hardly wait.