Saturday, March 28, 2015

Paint Table Saturday

Today we have some of the Carolingians I have under way for Lion Rampant.  I got the first archers undercoated and started this morning so they join the spearmen and command I have been working on for several weeks.  Dark Ages figures take ages due to the lack of uniform but having a big group like this is is better as you can take one colour and do the tunic of one, the trousers of another and the cloth banding on the calves of a third.  The trick with Dark Ages is to restrict your palette and basically stick to greens, greys and browns with the occasional flash of brighter colour on the command to break it up.  They'll take a good few weeks yet, especially as I have been distracted by a couple of female figures I did some work on yesterday evening.  Behind them is my second set of Lucid Eye Neanderthals for the Lost World project. Another five British for the North West Frontier are moving along too.  I won't have much time to paint again this weekend as Guy has a big rowing race tomorrow (if the weather holds which looks fifty fifty at present).

In the background you can see my recent post about cassoulet on my Food and wine blog.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Some more British for the North West Frontier, workbench plans, ECW, retro dinosaurs, medieavals and some Philip Glass

Well, I finished another four British infantry for the Second Afghan War today.  They are going to look good en masse I think (given my idea of en masse is about twenty figures!).  I have eleven more to do before I get on with some of the Indian figures.  Although I enjoyed painting them, I have some issues with these Artizan figures, which I expand upon in my Sub-Continent blog.

Elsewhere on the workbench, I have some Lucid Eye Neanderthals I want to finish, which I may have a go at over the weekend.  Work also continues on the Carolingians for Lion Rampant, with the first eight archers being based and ready for undercoating.  I am going to see if I can get some more of these at Salute, which is not far off now.  For the first time ever, given the tedious wait I experienced last year, I have pre-ordered a ticket, although I usually get there at about eleven, when there is no queue. I really don't want to significantly add to the lead pile this year so will confine myself to Carolingians and North West Frontier (if they have them).  The only thing I might get, if available, will be some of the new Footsore Franco-Prussian War figures.

Empress Oxford Army pikemen

A couple of pieces on the Wargames News and Terrain site caught my eye this week.  Firstly, Empress Miniatures have released some new figures for their early English Civil War range.  I bought some of the initial release, even though I have a lot of the excellent Renegade figures, because I am more interested in the early years of the war than the New Model Army period. I though the range had died and hadn't realised that Empress had been steadily releasing a lot more packs in this range.  I must dig out the ones I started. The new ones are for the King's Oxford Army of 1643 which were quite effectively uniformed in red or blue with montero caps.  

Antediluvian Megalosaurus

The other interesting post featured a new company to me, Antediluvian Miniatures, who have produced a couple of large (15cm) dinosaur models based on the reconstructions put up under the supervision of Richard Owen at Crystal Palace in 1851.  Of course, these reconstructions are nothing like what we now know Iguanodon and Megalosaurus looked like but as Lost World or centre of the earth type creatures they are very effective and, indeed, rather charming.

I read an enjoyable novel by Greg Bear, a few years ago, called Dinosaur Summer, which is about a world where Professor Challenger and his successors bring dinosaurs back from the Lost World plateau for dinosaur circuses.  Set in the thirties the book features an expedition to take one of the last surviving circus dinosaurs back to the plateau.  What was interesting about it, from this point of view, is that it contemplates the fact that the dinosaurs on the plateau have continued to evolve so do not necessarily all resemble those in the fossil record.  I like the idea of these Antediluvian creatures having evolved from their original therapod ancestors into these lumbering quadrupeds.

It says something for the buzz around Lion Rampant that Crusader Miniatures have come out with some more packs for their 7th Crusade, mid thirteenth century, range in order to provide all the troop types for the rules.  These days I find Crusader's figures a bit too chunky for my tastes but they are certainly easy to paint and I have got quite a few of their Dark Ages figures.

Today's music is from my quite large collection of minimalist music; which consists largely of Glass, Adams (or is he a post-minimalist?), Reich and Nyman. The Legatus is something of a completist and for many years one of my favourite minimalist CDs was Philip Glass' Dancepieces, which featured five pieces from his ballet music In the Upper Room.  This week I was browsing through iTunes, looking for something else, and I found the complete suite so I was able to download the four tracks I was missing from the piece.  It is always rather satisfying to discover extra pieces of a well loved work and this particular piece is powerfully nostalgic.

I discovered this piece when I was living in my first flat, in Wimbledon, so it is forever aurally reminiscent of my girlfriends at the time.  I had moved in to the flat in May and, rather disgracefully, I was running five ladies at the same time during that memorable summer in 1988.  Although one of these, A, the girl in the flat downstairs, who was a nurse, soon cottoned on to the other young ladies coming to stay over, so she soon went off in a huff.  "I don't want to be part of a harem!" she said acidly, after I had cooked her a rather good paella, complete with a lobster on top, and she had drunk most of a bottle of CVNE Imperial Rioja Gran Reserva 1976.  If she had told me this before lunch I could have invited K around instead and she would have been a lot more appreciative.  Two of the other girls knew about the existence of each other and while not happy about it they didn't go off in a huff (reader, I married one of them).  Two of them had known each other at university (they were in the nature of lingering ex-girlfriends) and we had rather 'elastic' relationships, which meant, essentially that we 'went out' with each other if we didn't have anyone else serious on the go.  I think the modern term is 'f*** buddy'.

Anyway, one of these girls (I have written about her before in relation to running in Richmond Park) really liked the Philip Glass piece so it reminds me of her and my decadent summer of juggling (and what lovely juggles she had too).  

Incidentally, what is it with people called Philip (in this case)?  Why on earth can't they all agree on how to spell their name? If I am emailing someone called Philip I always have to double check the spelling and if I haven't got my glasses on all the 'l's and 'i's merge into one, zebra-striped blur anyway.  Are they Phillip, Philipp or even Phillipp.? Sort yourselves out, Phils!  

Friday, March 20, 2015

Paint Table, er, Friday, music for the North West Frontier, an undetectable eclipse and Eric the Shed's Birthday!

Paint Table Saturday, which I haven't contributed to for a very long time is, naturally, on Saturday, but I am posting my paint table on Friday as Saturday is looking horrendously busy.  I did get an hour done this morning, while waiting for the invisible eclipse, on my North West Frontier British and Indians.  Front to back we have the British, the Sikhs and the Corps of Guides.  More on them in the next month or so.

Given I am back to the grinding tedium of painting figures for units (while I retain the enthusiasm) I need some good stirring music (especially as I use Humbrol enamels) to paint by.  So what to use for the 1879 colonial sub-continent?  Well if we go back to 1878 (it takes some time to get tunes from Europe to India - although the phonograph was invented by Edison in 1877 it was some time before the device could reproduce music properly) then the biggest piece we have is Tchaikovsky's fourth symphony.  However, that always reminds me of Ivanhoe as it was used for the theme music for the BBC series in 1970.  It featured Peter Dyneley as Cedric the Saxon who is best known, by me anyway, as the voice of Jeff Tracey from Thunderbirds.  "Five-Four-Three-Two-Wun!" as he memorably intoned at the beginning of each episode of my absolute favourite TV series ever.  Also premiered in that year is another favourite, Dvorak's Wind Serenade which has a rather martial sounding opening.  We also have my favourite Violin Concerto ,by Brahms, which is certainly dramatic enough.

Dropping back to 1877 there are less blockbusters in the classical word (I'm sorry ,I just don't care about Bruckner) but there is a link to an Islamic war with a European power in one popular song from that year.  This is Abdul Abulbul Amir by the Irish songwriter Percy French. The first three verses go like this:

The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold 
And quite unaccustomed to fear, 
But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah, 
Was Abdul Abulbul Amir. 

If you wanted a man to encourage the van, 
Or harass the foe from the rear, 
Storm fort or redoubt, 
you had only to shout For Abdul Abulbul Amir. 

Now the heroes were plenty and well known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar, 
And the bravest of these was a man by the name 
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.

Defence of  Beyazid, June 8th 1877 by Lev Feliksovich Lagorio,  Russian (foreground) troops and Cossacks (roof) repel the Turks (background) 

The song is a satire of the Russo-Turkish War which took place between 1877 and 1878.  Outpost Wargames Services even do a range of 28mm figures (no!) for this obscure conflict which, nevertheless had a large impact on the future of the Balkans and saw Cyprus coming under British control as a reward for Britain supporting the Ottomans against the Russians in the post-war Congress of Berlin.

The names of the heroes of the song will be very familiar to anyone from Britain of my generation, as the song was re-written for a series of  eighties TV adverts for Whitbread beer (starring a young Stephen Fry as Ivan Skavinsky Skavar).  The original song was a huge hit and was performed around the world, so is quite likely to have been sung by British soldiers in India.  Sadly for French, he sold the song for £5 to a music publisher and failed to copyright it, so never made any money from the music sales.

However, while sitting here this morning, waiting for the eclipse (a good title for a novel) doing the tedious black bits on my British (I hate doing the black bits) I was looking at my iTunes playlists and spotted the Elgar one.  Haven't played that for  a long time, I thought, as the garden stayed just as light as it had been earlier.  After the usual Pomp and Circumstance marches and other tunes (I have eight and a half hours of Elgar, I'm surprised to note) on comes the Triumphal March from his oratorio Caractacus.  This, I remembered, was used for the theme of the BBC TV series The Regiment, starring Christopher Cazenove, in the early seventies.  The first series was set in the Boer War and the second in India and the North West Frontier.  Perfect!  Victorian bombast at its best.  Slightly anachronistic, of course (it was composed in 1898 so would be perfect for Studio Miniatures North West Frontier line), but just the job!  A perfectly stirring piece with a particularly strong finale.

Charlotte's shot of the eclipse

The eclipse, in the South East of England was a great disappointment.  It was so murky anyway that I really couldn't tell the difference between eclipse and non-eclipse.  Charlotte, on the roof of the Meteorological Department in Edinburgh, had a better view and sent me some pictures she took.

The Shed in all its glory!

I can't let today pass without noting that Eric the Shed has reached his half century today.  Congratulations!  The existence of his shed has latterly made me (nearly) a wargamer, rather than just someone who vaguely paints model soldiers in  a vague style!  His focus and output is legendary!  He does amazing things with cork bark!  I hope he has a good day!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

North West Frontier: First British officers and some Port

Well, inspired by the recent new releases for Artizan's North West Frontier range I have finished the first figures for my British force.  The officer on the left comes from North Star's delightfully eccentric tea time range.  With his properly extended little finger he makes a nice contrast with the grizzled chap on the right, from the main command pack.  More on them on my Subcontinent blog.

Eric had to postpone his latest Shed Wars this week which meant I could escape and have an illicit free evening, which I did with my friend A.  Wondering what to take her in exchange for dinner (which I ended up cooking - so wondering what to take her in exchange for ingredients would be more accurate) I found a small (50cl) bottle of Tawny Port at the bottom of my wine rack.  We had been discussing Port during our last breakfast and as I'm not really meant to drink that much of it I thought having someone to share it with would be a good idea.   More about this on my food blog, naturally.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A busy week...and a couple of painted figures

Canada House, eh?

Well, it's been a busy week for the Legatus; especially as regards work which involved several receptions, chairing an event for some Canadians and giving a training course to some government people.  Alas, the reception I attended at the newly renovated Canada House on Trafalgar Square meant I could not take up Eric's kind offer to visit his shed on Monday. 

The view from the conference room

Unlike the FCO, who are hounded by the Daily Mail every time they spend money on an embassy or an event, the Canadian diplomatic service realise that promoting a positive image of your country is not best done by economising on everything.

The British Columbia room

Sensibly mobilising lots of private sector sponsorship, they have taken the period interiors and modernised them through the use of modern Canadian art, furniture and some truly splendid Canadian-designed modern rugs.  Many of the rooms have been themed to reflect Canada's provinces and I was given a special tour of them.

Many of my fellow bloggers have been celebrating the life of Terry Pratchett.  Although I met him once and found him charming company I have never been able to get on with his Discworld books.  This is not because of any problem with Sir Terry's writing ability (far from it) but because I have an issue with certain types of fantasy.  This extends to wargames too.  Basically I like my fantasy to be "realistic", if that is not a contradictory term.  It must exist in a conceivably possible universe.  In fact, the more it is like our world the better.  So, despite enjoying all things Middle Earth, things like magic in wargames, and even monsters, make me less inclined to buy into it.   It's all just too silly.

But, of course isn't all fantasy silly?  The Old Bat would think so.  She thinks all fiction is "silly made-up stories" (she only watches factual programmes on TV).  Anything reeking of fantasy provokes snorts of derision. We live in a world where fantasy films have, however, become acceptable, whereas when I was growing up fantasy was low-budget nonsense for children.  Now, of course, with the Lord of the Rings and, especially, Game of Thrones it is acceptable for adults to admit to watching  and (to a lesser extent) reading fantasy.  Game of Thrones has some magic and, of course, dragons but it is possible to imagine a world like that existing.  Sir Terry lost me from the outset with the world on the back of the elephants on the back of the turtle.  Clever.  Funny.  But I couldn't get over this initially ludicrous concept.  A leap from reality too far for me.  I think I am also hampered by my non-literary mind.  When I read a book I see a motion picture in my head so, basically, I only like books which provoke motion pictures.  Books where the words themselves are there to get you to think (rather than just propelling the plot) are beyond me. I also can't relate to books where the author addresses the reader directly (sorry, Jane Austen).  It destroys the magic of the imagined world, oddly.  So my brain is unable to cope with any literary tricks or conceits.  It doesn't work like that!  I am stupid airport book person.  I actually wonder if I have any critical faculty as regards books at all!  Still, many (most) of my (far more literary than I am) friends love Pratchett's work and he is obviously much missed.  Even Playboy had a eulogy to him on their website!

Goodbye to all that

The lead pile was added to this week with a big box of two armies for West Wind's new War & Empire rules.  I bought a Spartacus slave army and a Roman republican army to oppose them.  I was attracted by the very nice 15mm figures in the Kickstarter but when I looked at them in reality I decided that buying them was a  mistake.  Firstly, they are very small "true" 15mm figures which makes them, for me, too small to paint.  Secondly, the basing for the rules means that the figures stand on comparatively large bases - three tiny figures on a 40 x 30mm base, for a warband.  This makes them look like gaming tokens and not a representation of a real army.   I am still unable to get over my irrational hatred of element basing which is why skirmish games are much better for me!  So, it's straight to eBay with this lot and I'll just take the hit on the cost.  No more 15mm for me!

Don't go running!

I've spent a lot of time at my sister's this week as she was out running last weekend, tripped over and broke her wrist.  Not a little crack either; the bone snapped completely in a Smith's fracture (where your hand bends inwards on impact rather than the more usual outwards) and she will need a plate and pins to fix it.  So I had to go over and do her shopping, change some light bulbs and open her orange juice.

The bone is completely displaced

Fortunately for her pain management programme, she has found that the ubiquity of screw-top wine bottles these days has meant that she can open wine one-handed, at least!  Hooray for modern technology!

I intended to have a good few hours painting today but the light was awful.  Nevertheless, I did a a little bit more on some Afghan Wars British.  Artizan have come out with a whole load of new exciting packs, including Afghan regulars,  and I did succumb to the first Corps of Guides figures but I am trying not to get any more until the ones I have got are finished!

I have also been making slow but steady progress on the four figures I need to finish my first Lion Rampant unit of Carolingians.  I did finish this dismounted general this weekend who will see service somewhere in my Lion Rampant force.  It has become obvious that I need to paint more units than just the basic 24 point force to give me some alternates.

Finally, I also finished the first of my North Star pirates: Anne Bonney, needless to say, who was a feisty redhead (something the Legatus has rather a lot of experience of!).

Hopefully, I will get a few more figures finished this week.  I have a couple more pirates, a slave girl, some Neanderthals and some Argonauts well on the way.

She can tickle my ivories any time

Today's music is Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, performed by German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott (very much an Axis of gorgeousness).  With her potent mixture of German legginess and Asian delicacy she reminds me of my acquaintance Kiều Khanh (the German-Vietnamese Miss Vietnam 2011).

The Legatus enjoying cocktails with Miss Vietnam and her friend in Hanoi

Today, Pictures at an Exhibition is mostly heard in the orchestration by Ravel but the piano original is stunning too.  This is a live recording, which I don't usually like, but there was no noise from the audience at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, at all.  This was one of the first classical pieces I can remember hearing.  It was played during a school assembly when I was about eight and I rushed home to my mother to ask about this brilliant piece of music by a man called Mussolini!

There is a wargames link to Pictures at an Exhibition as one of the pieces is called The Hut on Fowl's Legs, which was the dwelling of the legendary Russian witch Baba Yaga.  Eastern Front Studios actually make a version of this scaled for 28mm figures.  Never have I been so tempted by something so utterly useless for any wargames I might contemplate, especially given my views on fantasy.  In fact, the whole thing is really rather Terry Pratchett!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Great lead-pile reduction strategy 2: the Americas

Goodbye, 4th Virginia

Time for another look at, as the old TV commercial (only people who work in TV call them commercials in Britain, everyone else calls them adverts) said, "the fish that John West reject."  Appropriately, we sail across the ocean to the New World and explore the many hundreds of figures we have bought for conflicts in the Americas. This time we will look at them in chronological order.


I was at Salute a few years ago and Gripping Beast were selling a box of  37 "limited edition" Skraelings for Saga.  I am one of those people who is totally unable to resist anything dubbed "limited edition" even though the description is often "a mere puff" (as those familiar with Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Ball Company (1892) will appreciate).  These figures were sculpted by Bill Thornhill of Musketeer Miniatures (now Footsore Miniatures) and are now available from them (so not limited at all, in fact). I have based some and even started them but having spent all day in Canada House I don't have the energy to dig them out to find some to photograph, so here is one I didn't prepare earlier.   Now this is an absolutely ideal example of a set of figures I should sell but, I really, really want to play Saga, even though I think it might be too "gamey" (like a pheasant that's been hung for too long - no, actually, nothing like that at all) for me.  So the Skraelings will remain!


My sole painted conquistador

When I was at school we had to do a school history project over the summer holidays.  What I selected, from a long list, was one on the Conquistadors; in particular, Cortés and Pizarro.  I really went to town on the illustrations but I still didn't win a prize (as I had hoped) due to my terrible handwriting (I missed all my joined up writing classes when I was at junior school as I was off for a month with pneumonia).  So when Foundry came out with their Mark Copplestone-sculpted Eldorado figures I bought the whole lot.  Of course the Incas and Aztecs never really came out, apart from the odd pack.  When other firms like the Assault Group came out with suitable figures I realised that painting all those Aztecs would be a major pain.  So I painted just one figure and they have sat there in my plastic drawer units never since.  Ideal for eBay.  Except they are also ideal for skirmishes and I am minded to pitch them against the Copplestone castings Brazilian Indians as Portuguese.  Just right for Donnybrook!  So they will remain too!  Oh dear!

The French in Canada

When the Copplestone Glory of the Sun figures came out depicting late seventeenth century troops I bought some automatically, without knowing what exactly to do with them.  Having thought about them for a number of years I realised that I still don't know what to do with them but painted one up as a member of the French Régiment de Carignan-Salières who were sent to Quebec in 1675 to protect the settlers from the Iroquois.  Here would be a good subject for skirmishes in the woods, I thought.  Except in reality most of the Iroquois had died of smallpox so there were no battles.  In addition, getting pre-flintlock armed Indians was a problem  so that project will be no more.  I will sell off the other French I have.


The easiest decision here as regards retention.  I have painted enough for pirate games and they have seen action four times (a lot for me!)  In fact, I even did a bit of work on some more this morning.  Mostly Foundry, plus some Black Scorpion for the increasing pirate babes crew.  Lots (well all) of new North Star too.

The French Indian War

Now, I played a game of Muskets and Tomahowks at Eric the Shed's and so I won't be getting rid of the Galloping Major figures I have.  However, I have a lot of the Conquest/Warlord games figures and although I have painted one (above) I think, even though they are superior figures to the GM ones, I will get rid of these as they are too small to match with GM and North Star.  I hate mixing figures of different sizes in my armies!

American War of Independence

I don't think I have that many troops for this left (some part painted militia bought after my visit to Boston - above) but I still have some books.  This is big battle stuff, largely, and the uniforms are a right fiddle.  Anyway, this period has been so comprehensively covered in the blogosphere by Giles Allison that doing anything on it is pointless.

Latin American Wars of Independence

Although I have only finished one figure, I do have a bunch under way on the workbench and Orinoco Miniatures has just released another group of figures, so this will remain.  It means I can do Napoleonic style uniforms without doing Napoleonics!

Mountain Men 

This was another case of buying the whole Foundry release.  I have painted half a dozen and really like the figures but haven't touched them for years.  Still, this would be a good basis for some skirmish games and there are rules in one of the Warhammer Historical Old West supplements, which I have got buried somewhere.  You could also use them for skirmishes with Mexicans on the borders of California.  So these are staying!

Texan War of Independence

Given I have finished a whole unit of Mexicans, and am working on some more, then these are going to stay!  The only issue I have over the Texans is that the initial Boot Hill Miniatures release are a different scale from the Mexicans (annoyingly).  The recent ones are fine and I can use Artizan for the Texan heroes.

American Civil War

Despite some of my first Airfix wargames being ACW I just can't face painting the numbers of figures you need.  Also, I wanted to do First Bull Run but there are several key uniform types you can't get and with the Perry brothers messing about with nonsense like the British invasion of the 1860s it seems unlikely they will ever do them.  So anything ACW will have to go.  Clears a lot of bookshelf space too!

Old West

I have painted precisely one figure for the Old West (this not Sharon Stone figure) but I might have some unpainted ones somewhere too.  This is very much a possible project for the future, especially with all the excellent buildings available these days.

I'm slightly surprised at how many Americas forces I have been collecting and how many I can't bear to part with but getting rid of ACW and AWI will free up some bookshelf space even if it's not going to effect the lead pile that much.  Some of my ACW and AWI figures are painted or part painted so I suspect that may effect their value on eBay as I would never buy painted or part painted figures.  Maybe I will just chuck them out as no-one would buy any of my painted efforts!.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Lead Pile reduction strategy - a small set back, a birthday and an interesting conference invitation.

Well, I have sold some more figures on eBay but today I had two packages through the post containing more figures! Oh dear!  First off was a pack from the new Artizan North West Frontier releases of Corps of Guides figures.  Four figures is not too naughty and I will try to get them based today.  Also included was a free not-Biggles figure who I am sure I can fit into my Pulp project.

The other 21 figures were from a Dark Fable kickstarter and feature more Egyptian harem miniatures.  I'd actually forgotten I had ordered these.  Oh dear, again!  Now I better find some more stuff to sell!

I have a busy week in London next week with Canadian visitors, including two receptions, so have had to turn down, for the second week running, a trip to Eric's Shed.  This was doubly annoying as last week they played the sequel to the Lion Rampant game I participated in a few weeks ago.  I have managed a bit more on the Carolingians this week and have my first North Star pirate nearly ready.  

Eighteen today!

I hope to get some time to paint on Sunday but I need to support Guy in his first eights race tomorrow (he usually races in quads). He is eighteen today which is a bit of a shock.  I remember driving like mad to get to Guildford hospital in time on a sunny morning much like this.  His older sister had needed inducing as she was a week late but we only just got the Old Bat settled down in bed in time for his arrival.  From leaving the house for the hospital to him being born was under an hour!  He is going out for birthday pizza (inevitably) with some of his rowing friends today including his new "special" lady friend, the sensationally fit A.  Perhaps now is not the time to tell her that he won a most beautiful baby competition, as chosen by the local mayor - except he won the girl's category as they thought he was so lovely he must be a girl!  

I attend a lot of conferences to do with my job (I've spoken at over 170 international ones -most of them tedious, although the one in Disneyland in California was an amusing venue ) and this week I'm organising a conference at Canada House.  However, I have just been invited to participate in another rather different conference in the summer.  As some of you know, my interests and collecting are not confined to model soldiers but also to vintage men's magazines (based originally on the large collection I inherited from my father).  A couple of years ago I wrote an article on the competition between Playboy and Penthouse in the seventies for a men's magazine (for which they paid me enough to fund most of my figure purchases for that year).  I had also had another article published in this broad area in another magazine last year.   Now, Cambridge University have asked me to participate in an international academic conference on erotica in the summer.  Makes a change from talking about funding infrastucture, I suppose!

Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Great lead-pile reduction strategy 1 Colonial Period


My "playroom" is full.  It's more than full.  In order to get from one part of the room to another you now have to follow narrow paths on the floor between piles of precariously balanced stuff.  I need to get rid of a lot of stuff, I really do!  Coupled with this was the recognition, at the end of last year, that I had bought enough new figures to keep me occupied for seven years.  Many figures have to go!  Encouraged by the determination of others, such as Scott, I have decided to be ruthless about getting rid of figures I am never going to paint and since the beginning of the year I have got my lead pile down by 372 figures!.  So this is the first in an occasional series looking at the different periods I have figures for and what is going and what is staying.  Today it's one of my favourites: the Colonial period.

I have been collecting figures for this period for over fifteen years and my periods are:  Darkest Africa, Matabele Wars, Zulu Wars, Sudan, North West Frontier, Indian Mutiny and the Sikh Wars.  Time for rationalisation!

Darkest Africa

Some of my Ruga-ruga

These, with Gripping Beast Vikings, were the first metal 28mm figures I bought and I have most of the Foundry figures (except the pygmies - I hate the pygmies).  I have painted reasonable forces of Azande, Belgians, British and Arabs.  I also have unpainted Masai, Somalians and North Star Matabele.  With the new Congo rules from Studio Tomahawk on the horizon I am not going to get rid of these except I think I will lose the Matabele as, like Zulus, they would take ages to paint.  Also, I prefer my African Games to be set in slightly earlier times, I think.

Going: Matabele

Colonial India

I've only painted four Indian Mutiny British but have the rest of the unit well on the way

I had three periods I was collecting forces for:  Sikh Wars, Indian Mutiny and North West frontier.  Although I have only painted a few Indian Mutiny figures I still think that these would be good for some large scale skirmish games so these will stay.  Likewise, the new North West Frontier figures from Artizan.  They have just released another batch of these but I need to finish the ones I have started before I get any more.  So, despite some lovely figures from Studio Miniatures and memories of Flashman and the Mountain of Light these didn't make the cut and I have already sold them

Gone: Sikh Wars

Zulu and Sudan Wars

Some of my Zulu Wars British

I probably shouldn't be doing both and if I was forced to choose it would be Zulu Wars which would go but the Empress Miniatures figures are so nice I can't face getting rid of them.  The Perry Sudan figures will definitely stay as I have actually painted enough that I have even had some games with them.

North Africa

Ever since the days of the Airfix Sahara Fort (which I never owned but always wanted) I have had a hankering to do something with the French Foreign legion.  Artizan's range has been a disappointment as they covered the Legion in detail but then didn't bother with more than a handful of packs of opponents, although the new figures form Unfeasibly Miniatures sold by Black Hat in the UK look wonderful.  I need to work out some skirmish project in the future for these, perhaps using IHMN.

So, a nice clear rationalisation here but other periods will cause much more agony!

Monday, March 02, 2015

Pulp Villainess - Rania Al-Ghais and belly-dancing

Although I am doing some work on my Carolingians I got distracted by this splendid belly-dancer by Brother Vinni.  She brings my completed figures for February to a massive five! 

She may do duty in my nineteenth century In Her Majesty's Name world as Zairah, in her private entertainment capacity to Sir Lawrence Swann.  Really, however, she will be part of my new 1920's Egypt pulp world as Sir Laurence Swann's illegitimate daughter Rania: Dancer, courtesan, assassin, mystic and spy.  More about her back story here.

While painting her I listened, naturally, to belly dancing music, of which I have rather a lot in my iTunes collection.  This is partly because I listen to it when in Turkey (as I am likely to be again in April) and partly because my German friend, B, used to do belly dancing classes (probably still does as she is working in Istanbul at present (conveniently)).  My favourite disc is this one by Ensemble Hüseyin Türkmenler, with bellydancer Nasrah Nefer on the cover.

Gyrating in the Grand Hyatt

I have always enjoyed the belly dancing shows in the Awtar lebanese restaurant, in the Grand Hyatt hotel, Dubai, which is where I grabbed this shot of undulating loveliness.  I have also seen good displays in Istanbul, particularly at the Ciragan Palace hotel.  That said,  less exotically, they used to have a regular belly dancer at the Greek restaurant down the road in Esher!

Dance of the Almeh (1863) by Gérôme

This sort of dancing had been reported upon in the west by nineteenth century travellers and was illustrated in orientalist paintings by artists like Jean-Léon Gérôme (who painted the famous gladiator painting Pollice Verso), Nils Forsberg and  Vincenzo Marinelli.

Belly-dancer by Forsberg

Most of these were exotic fantasies set in the harem and so they depicted dancers wearing rather less than their actual dancing contemporaries would have been seen in.  Forsberg's painting more accurately depicts the dress and the fact that the dances were performed to all female audiences, until the nineteen twenties.

Dance of the Bee in the Harem (detail) (1862) by Marinelli

Vincenzo Marinelli's harem fantasy has his dancers undressed more in the fashion of the Brother Vinni figure.  I am sure, however, that if you had your own harem, as in the Topkapi in Constaninople, you would have had your dancers undress for you so as to appreciate their terpsichorean talents all the more.

Little Egypt - the sensation of the World's Fair in 1893

Actual belly dancing was first seen outside the Middle East and North Africa at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and its shocking gyrations spawned many imitators (and some arrests!).  The performance by 'Little Egypt' (Fahreda Mazar Spyropoulos -a Syrian married to a Chicago-based Greek restaurant owner) at the show The Algerian Dancers of Morocco was rumoured to be so sensational it actually contributed to the financial success of the Fair, due to the crowds she drew.  It is said that Mark Twain, who had a keen interest in technology, made a film of her there and that later he suffered a near-fatal heart attack watching her  perform (he had a keen interest in belly-dancing too).  She was later arrested for performing her dance naked at the stag party of the grandson of PT Barnum. In a strange cultural twist Hollywood started to put belly-dancing in films and Egyptian dancers copied what they saw in Hollywood's version of the dance and incorporated them into their own routines in Egypt.

A very,very fictionalised account of the World's Fair shows was presented in the 1951 film, Little Egypt, starring Rhonda Fleming.  Other than the fact that it is about a notorious belly-dancer (or Hootchy-Kootchy dancer as the Americans called them) at the 1893 World's Fair it bears no resemblance to actual events whatsoever.

Badia Massabni

What we know as belly-dancing today (a translation of the French, danse de ventre - the name given it by Napoleon's troops in Egypt) is a mixture of different folk dances from Turkey, Algeria, Egypt and Syria, melded with western forms. Its development went the opposite route of that other scandalous dance of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Can-can. The Can-can began as a solo dance and evolved into a group dance while belly-dancing began as a group dance and gradually became a solo dance in the nineteen twenties. In the Middle East itself, its heyday began in the nineteen twenties, with the lifting of religious restrictions in Turkey in 1923 and the work of pioneers like Badia Massabni, a Lebanese, who introduced it to the clubs of Cairo in the late nineteen twenties.  It was Massabni who introduced formal choreography and incorporated western ballet and Latin American dance elements.  She also introduced, appropriately for this figure, the concept of the dancer lifting her arms above her head, something not seen in the original folk dances. It's flowering in Cairo stopped in the 1950s when restrictions were introduced to prevent too-revealing costumes and ban floor work (which remained popular in Turkey), which was considered overly lascivious.

Samia Gamal in 1952

From just before this period we have an actual Egyptian belly-dancer, Samia Gamal (born Zeinab Ali Khalil Ibrahim Mahfouz) who was a protege of Massabni and was considered the Egyptian Ginger Rogers.  She visited the US in 1950 and became well known as a result, even marrying an American (briefly).

Rania Bossonis

Dancers like this were never acceptable in Egyptian or Turkish society, even at the time.  Many of the Turkish dancers were actually Roma people. The dancers in Egypt were likely to be Lebanese or Syrian.  Today, the dancers you see in places like Dubai may come from Argentina or India.  Noted modern dancer, Rania Bossonis, is Greek.  I have borrowed her first name for my character but I also knew a fiery Egyptian lady called Rania, who I met at a reception in the British Ambassador's residence in Cairo a few years ago.  We later met up in more relaxed circumstances in Geneva where she did not have to coneern herself so much with Egyptian norms of behaviour for a lady (which she very much was, however).

Dancer with zils

The Turkish and Egyptian styles of belly dance have some stylistic differences (the use of the finger cymbals, zils (also used in Ottoman military bands), is a Turkish practice, for example) but these days it tends to be a mish-mash of various styles and influences.   Rania Al-Ghais, having been schooled in the Egyptian style. would not, therefore, sport zils.

I think I have another two Brother Vinni dancers to work on so may dig another out soon!