Sunday, February 22, 2015

My life in travel..

An appropriate location for Oscars night

As regular readers (you poor things) will know I have spent much of the last thirty years flying around the world on business.  I've been to sixty-three countries in that time.  Indeed, the normal greeting I get from people I haven't seen for a time (as happened this week) is "where have you just come back from?" This is because they assume I must have just come back from somewhere.  While initially very exciting (my first business trips were to Rome where I discovered exciting Italian women and the fact that foreign women thought people from Britain were attractively exotic), the experience of travel has palled, especially since September 11th.  A few years ago I had a job which involved me being out the country for about 180 days in a year.  I have been consciously trying to cut down my time away from the UK for some years and last year I managed it: No days out of the country (unless you count Scotland) for the first time in nearly thirty years.

Who wouldn't want to travel to the Pyramids with the lovely Liz Bonnin?

Now this week I was watching a documentary about Egypt's lost cities, fronted, as it were, by the lovely Liz Bonnin (and some man but I don't register men).  While searching for a picture of Liz for one of my appreciated ladies pictures I came across an interview she did for the Independent called My life in travel, which seems to be from a series they have run.  Excellent, I thought, another post I can do without having to have painted any more soldiers  (actually I have done an hour today on some Carolingians and a Pulp company I am working on) and apposite as I am determined to stop flying around the world this year and ,therefore, some reflection would be appropriate.   However, having decided that I really can't take any more flying I have just learned this week that it looks like I will be unable to avoid a trip in April.  Grr!  Anyway memories are much better than the ghastly reality of travel so here I answer the same questions as in the interview with Miss Bonnin.

First holiday memory?

I was on holiday with my parents in Dinard in Brittany in the summer of 1962.  I remember the Tour de France coming to the town and I also remember a helicopter landing on the beach nearby (probably linked).  I can still remember it quite clearly.  It was also the first time I was allowed wine with dinner.  My parents would probably have been locked up these days, for letting me drink wine at the age of two and a half.  I haven't stopped since.

Best holiday? 

The Legatus's sister explores the massive metropolis that is Margaret River, Western Australia

In 1987 I went with my sister to visit our aunt in Perth, Western Australia, to watch the America's Cup (which my aunt was involved in).  We stayed in the city for a time and then drove down to the wine regions of the Margaret River; visiting Sandalford Winery and Leeuwin Estate, amongst others.  We also made a visit to the Cape Mentelle vineyard where they were selling the very first vintage of a wine from their sister winery in New Zealand: A stunning new Sauvignon Blanc called Cloudy Bay.  We stayed in a nineteenth century Australian National Trust house and enjoyed the civilised practice of being able to take wine you had bought in the vineyards into the local restaurants to have with dinner. My sister, aunt and I found the triple bottle boxes you could buy at the vineyards were just the job for dinner!  We came back via a few days in Hong Kong and went to Macau on the hydrofoil  (where the Shanghai scenes for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) were filmed.)  Part of our excursion included a trip across the bridge from Macau to mainland China, at a time when it was very difficult to get into the PRC, but because of my sister's job at a secret organisation we couldn't go, sadly.  Good food, stunning wine, lovely weather and my sister is always amusing company.

 Favourite place in the British Isles? 

The entrance to Newtown Harbour in West Wight (the posh end)

The Isle of Wight of course!  Like Britain in the nineteen fifties but with surprisingly different landscapes across the Island and you are never far from the sea.  Good local beer, several vineyards, Roman villas, excellent crustacea, a tank museum, dinosaur fossils, boats and yachty totty. Splendid!  I was amused to see a Lion Rampant scenario set on the Isle of Wight in the new Miniature Wargames magazine!  This I will have to do!  Honourable mentions to Bath, Oxford, Somerset and Edinburgh.

 What have you learnt from your travels?

Around the World with Baggit - Toronto, I think

Don't take too much stuff!  I can do up to two weeks with hand luggage now.  Hand luggage in the form of Baggit, as my shoulder bag is known (I'm sorry, hand luggage with wheels is for girls).  Waiting at airport baggage carousels, hoping your luggage will appear, adds even more stress to travel than normal so with hand luggage only you can whiz right through.  Except in Los Angeles, when they didn't believe that I could do a week long trip on hand luggage and I had to take everything out to prove it.  

 Ideal travelling companion?

Another fleapit hotel

Well there are several ladies I have enjoyed travelling with, such as my particular friends S, C (C is S's ex girlfriend - yes it is all very complicated) and because they all enjoy their wine and food, like art galleries, speak lots of languages and are a delight to share a bottle of Champagne with in the bath (I do not like hotel rooms with showers as your glass immediately fills with water).  My daughter is good company too, although I don't, of course, share baths with her (well not since she was about one).

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia

I get bored on a beach after about two hours and anything that induces adrenaline is obviously dangerous and therefore to be avoided.  I do make the odd exception for mountain biking.  I have cycled from Banff to Lake Louise in the Rockies, come down Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler on ski trails, gone off road in the French Alps and also cycled in Switzerland, Vancouver, Copenhagen, the Black Forest and in Bogota (fortunately they close a lot of the main roads to traffic on Sundays).  What I most enjoy, however, is to visit the local art gallery or any military themed museums or historic ships I can find.  Also, I do actually like being in hotels and I am quite happy staying in them all day rather than forcing myself out to wander around somewhere ghastly (like Asia).

 Greatest travel luxury? 

Laguna Beach, California

A necessity rather than a luxury.  I can't go anywhere without my iPod (and it's pre-digital forbears) and, hopefully, a playlist of appropriate tunes.  I've listened to The Mummy soundtrack while wandering around the Pyramids at  Giza, Miami Vice in South Beach, Resphigi's The Pines of Rome while walking along the Via Appia Antica, The Third Man in Vienna, Boy on a Dolphin in Athens, From Russia with Love in Istanbul etc.  Oh, and my Ray Bans.  Can't go anywhere without my Ray Bans!  Even if it does mean that the sunniest places then suffer from unprecedented rainfall for as long as I am there.

Holiday reading?

Sometimes a novel linked to my destination (Murder on the Orient Express when I last stayed in the Pera Palace in Istanbul) but more often a historical, military novel of some sort.  The Kindle has revolutionised my reading when away from home, as I don't have to start a new book for every trip, leaving me with dozens of half read ones. 

Where has seduced you?

The Legatus in the Roman Forum in 1986.  Picture taken by Princess I

Probably Rome, in every way imaginable.  It is a very seductive lifestyle (well it was the way I lived it in the eighties and early nineties when I spent months on end there) with splendid hotels, wonderful food and wine, epic Roman ruins, renaissance splendour, and many, many lovely (and friendly) girls.  The traffic is a nightmare, though.  I drove a car once in Rome.  never, ever again!

Better to travel or to arrive?

About to leave on my worst flight ever.  70mph winds in a floatplane over Vancouver Island

My thoughts on flying are well known.  I do not enjoy driving either but I do enjoy travelling by rail.  But, I am never happier than when I unlock the door of my hotel room, can unpack and have a local beer while I plan the rest of my stay.  I try to arrive at a hotel at about five pm.  Just time to get washed and changed and into the bar for a Vodka Martini by six thirty.

 Worst hotel? 

The Hotel Centrum in Łódź in Poland.  Over-bright fluorescent light in the grim hotel reception area, whose idea of a bar was two stools in front of a very small counter where a grumpy looking girl was watching Poland's version of Strictly Come Dancing and completely ignoring any potential customers.  The room itself had had the door kicked in so many times that there were five old bolt mountings on the door with broken safety chains hanging from them. The light in the tiny room was so dingy you couldn't read by it.  Outside, prostitutes got into fights over territory.  One night was more than enough.  Happily it has since been demolished!

Best hotel? 

Art Deco splendour at the Imperial?

Colonial elegance in Hanoi?

Teutonic efficiency in Berlin?

For service, public areas and general ambience the Imperial in Delhi is very hard to beat.  The Metropole in Hanoi is almost perfect and has a number of stunningly good restaurants.  Closer to home, I am always very happy in the Adlon Hotel in Berlin, which has a truly sensational  restaurant, the Lorenz Adlon, which has two Michelin stars.  I had one of the best meals of my life there a few years ago, with my German friend B, even if they did have a bottle of mineral water on the list at £26.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

The Seven Sisters from Seaford Head

Probably the walk from Seaford (where both my aunt and uncle and sister lived) to Eastbourne over Seaford Head and the Seven Sisters, as it offers one of the most iconic views in England.  Much seen on films and TV, the trailer for the forthcoming film Mr Holmes (2015), about an older Sherlock Holmes and starring Sir Ian McKellen, has the characters walking up the hill in the foreground of the picture above.  The beach at the top left was where Kevin Costner landed when returning from the Crusades in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (1991).  On the beaches below the cliffs, photographer Bill Brandt shot most of his famous abstract nudes after World War 2.   Just before the first Gulf War I watched pairs of A10 Thunderbolts doing training passes up the Cuckmere Valley (just visible at the top left) at about seventy-five feet.  It is the only undeveloped river mouth in the south of England and, therefore, much used for geography field trips.  There is a pub called the Golden Galleon, about a mile inland with a wonderful view of the Cuckmere valley which is, however, not what it was.  It used to have a micro brewery there and made a wonderful beer called Saxon Beserker (8.5%!). I also ran over the Seven Sisters doing the Seven Sisters Marathon many years ago.  The biggest off-road marathon in Britain, it was, for many years, the only mixed marathon in the world where the course record was held by a woman (Sarah Rowell, a friend of my sister).  Hills, stiles, mud and, when I ran it, sixty mile an hour winds that caused them to abandon the race just after I finished it.  At one point, going up the first hill of the Seven Sisters I had to lie down and hold on to a gorse bush to stop myself being blown over.  

Best meal abroad?  

Engineered lobster in Washington DC

I do go for over the top five star hotel restaurant food.  I am not one of these people who enjoys eating street food in Asia or anywhere else.  Not just because you will likely end up with dysentery but because I hate eating on the go.  I don't want to stand up and eat.  I want to sit down at  a proper table and take my time.  I do not do fast food of any type.  As I mentioned, the Lorenz Adlon was sensational but I have also had transcendent meals in the Willard Inter-Continental in Washington DC, The Blu restaurant in the Shangri-La in Singapore,  the Hotel Angleterre in Copenhagen and the Five Sails in the Pan Pacific in Vancouver. Although, to be honest, I cannot always separate the enjoyment of the meal from whoever is my companion at the time!

 Dream trip? 

8.15 am in January.  It's cold!

PS Sudan

I have been to Egypt several times but I would really love to go up the Nile on the PS Sudan, one of Thomas Cook's original Nile steamers from the 1920s, which they used for the David Suchet version of Death on the Nile.  Staying at The Winter Palace and Cataract hotels, of course.  Egypt needs to calm down a bit first, however.  Other than that, I would love to go to New Zealand to look at Middle Earth properly.  A bit too far, though, for me now, I think.

Favourite city? 

Tricky one this.  Depends on my mood.  Washington DC, Vancouver, Toronto, Rome, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Vienna?  I'd even put Edinburgh on the list, now.  If I was forced to choose one it would have to be Vancouver, admittedly perhaps, for certain reasons other than just the city itself.

 Where next? 

The Orient Bar at the Pera Palace Hotel

It looks like Istanbul in April.  Only four hours flight, I suppose, and I do know my way around the place, which helps.  I'll probably stay at the Pera Palace again, which is where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express.  

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reducing the lead pile and out to lunch!

Well, my attempt to decrease the lead pile is going quite well, as I have now disposed of around 120 figures on eBay.  It's been goodbye to Copplestone Polar figures and Foundry Bronze Age (more going up tonight) some spare Ancient Greeks and a few duplicates.  Metal Caesarian Roman will be next.  It's actually de-stressing me, even if I haven't made any serious inroads into the lead pile yet.

I've sorted out some more Carolingians to get started on for Lion Rampart and found the rest of my IHMN Scotland Yard company to get to work on, combined with watching the final few episodes of series 2 of Ripper Street.  However, I may be getting distracted by a female dancing figure which I found in a box on the floor, having completely forgotten about her.  

I had an excellent lunch out on Friday after picking up some paint in Games Workshop on Oxford Street which is on my Food and Wine blog, of course.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Now then, now then, what's going on 'ere?

I have at last finished my policemen for my In Her Majesty's Name Scotland Yard Company.  I had been putting them off due to the necessity of having to paint the striped armbands that policemen had to wear on their left arms while on duty.  But by holding my breath and trusting in the Force they came out looking alright (from a distance!).  I need to locate the rest of the company now, as I have already painted Holmes and Watson.

Friday, February 13, 2015

New Warhammer shop in London

On  the way out to a drunken lunch with my ex-personal assistant today I nipped into the Games Workshop store in Oxford Street to pick up some paints.  French chap in there told me that, having moved down from the first floor in the Plaza Shopping centre to the ground floor, they would be moving, in April, to a new shop in Tottenham Court Road.  This will be their number one shop in the UK and will be "impressive".  It will be branded as a Warhammer shop.

I moaned about the rubbish support for The Hobbit and he said that the filmmakers caused problems for GW by changing the look of the troops at the last minute.  So their Thranduil was mounted on a horse, as the original artwork suggested, but then they had him on a stag for the film which was a last minute change which took them by surprise.  I asked if there would be any plastic forces for the Battle of Five Armies and he replied "possibly" but he was French and, therefore, unreliable by definition.

More Carolingians...

I found some more Carolingian figures in the lead pile.  See my Dark Ages blog.  Something to work on this weekend!  Oh, and I have finished four new IHMN figures!  Shock! Pictures soon.   Off to a long lunch with an ex-personal assistant today.  Heh, heh!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Plans for my first Lion Rampant force - Carolingians

Roland blows the olifant

I enjoyed my first game of Lion Rampant at Eric the Shed's the other week so am going to build my first force for the rules: Carolingians.  You can read about it on my Dark Ages blog here.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Wargamers Bloggers Quarterly, Penny Dreadful, reducing the lead pile, my birthplace and even some painting!

The Third issue of Wargamers Bloggers Quarterly is out.  Unlike the bumper second edition it has gone back to the slim proportions of the first issue.  Personally, this one's contents are less interesting to me but this is always going to be a problem with any wargames magazine.  I thought two how to paint/model (essentially) articles was a bit much and anything to do with naval wargaming makes me fall asleep (aviation wargaming too, I am afraid, despite the fact that I love both ships and aircraft).  Sidney Roundwood's WW1 piece had some fantastic photographs though, even though late war isn't my period. Unfortunately one post, at the end really annoyed me.  It was another piece on the variability of scale seen in 28mm figures but was ruined by totally unnecessary use of (uncensored) four letter words. Now I do find the use of four letter words in written pieces (especially) not offensive, really, just a bit...tragic.  It makes anything you write sound like something a thirteen year old schoolboy would do and, I think, takes away from any argument you might be making.  Not that this man's arguments were very compelling.  Why do they measure figures foot to eye, he ranted, saying that was not how they measure people.  No, of course not but model soldiers invariably wear hats so measuring to the eye is sensible when you can't tell where the top of their heads are.  Anyway, do download WBQ, if you haven't already as it is an initiative well worth supporting.

Good CGI London in Penny Dreadful but there is something fundamentally wrong with this picture!  What is it?

I have actually managed some painting this week on some In Her Majesty's Name figures and my four new Servants of Ra figures arrived from North Star too along with a figure to complete my new Pulp company I am working on.   I think my return to IHMN has been provoked by watching Penny Dreadful, which was a birthday present from my friend A.  We are both enjoying it and are watching it accompanied by appropriate Victorian drinks, like Porter and, er, Port (which I'm not really allowed).    It's a nice (perhaps "nice" is not really the right word) Gothic counterpart to Ripper Street and, as ever, I spend rather too much time looking at the sets to see how well they have recreated Victorian London.  It suffers from a surfeit of red bricks again, as it was, like Ripper Street, shot in Ireland not London and, in fact, I am sure some of the buildings used are the same.  Dublin really doesn't look much like London did.  Still, I would happily watch Eva Green doing the ironing, let alone acting all dark and fascinating, despite an English accent that is sometimes a bit more Romford than Mayfair.  Although, it's better than Billie Piper's Belfast accent which makes her totally incomprehensible much of the time. 

I haven't watched the third season of Ripper Street even though it is available on Amazon Prime, which I am a subscriber too.  This is because I don't know how it works but also, unlike young people, I do not want to watch TV programmes on a computer or a "mobile device".  I want to sit in a comfortable chair with a nice glass of wine looking at a big screen, not squinting at some low quality download  (all streaming is rubbish quality) on a tiny screen.  

I am making a real effort to reduce the lead pile at present and so far this year I have got rid of 38 more figures than I have acquired (only about 7,000 to go).  I just put my Foundry Ancient Egyptians on to eBay so that will take another fifty off the total.  That said I did just pick up the Warlord Black powder supplement on the Sudan, Blood on the Nile (which looks tremendous), from Perry miniatures so I could acquire their Col Fred Burnaby figure.  I am tempted to get him painted right away as it will get my Sudan efforts going again.  

Bearsted Hospital (right) the building on the left was scientist Michael Faraday's home

The estimable Mr Bob Cordery  celebrates his birthday today and posted a picture of the hospital where he was born which, coincidentally, I walked past on Friday.  Now, I celebrated (not really the right word) my birthday last month, albeit I am ten years younger than Mr C, so I thought I would show the building where I was born too.  Bearstead Maternity Hospital is just across the green from Hampton Court Palace and in previous incarnations was a yacht club (it backs onto the Thames) and a military hospital during the Great War.  It closed as a hospital in 1969 and is now posh flats.  We used to drive past it when picking up our daughter from school. 

Speaking of whom, I didn't get a whole lot of hobby stuff for my birthday this year but my daughter excelled herself by getting me a copy of The Hobbit Battle of Five Armies Art & Design book direct from Weta Workshop and signed by Alan Lee among others.  What a good girl!  Perhaps I will pay for her pole dancing instructor's course now!

Our road on Tuesday morning

I've got a horrible bug at the moment which has left me almost unable to speak and I didn't enjoy having to trudge through the snow earlier in the week to get to the station because one inch of snow, of course, brought the main road to an almost total standstill.  It took my wife exactly an hour to drive one mile towards getting Guy to school (they turned back in the end because the traffic wasn't moving).  Fortunately, I put my Canadian overshoes on and got to the station in fifteen minutes.  Oh how my Canadian friends laugh at our snow problems.  My friend Sophie is in Toronto at present and tells me they are expecting six to eight inches in the next day.

I got some tidying up done on the workbench this week but free time is going to be in short supply for the next few months.  I hope to have a few painted figures (here's a clue) to show in the next few days.