Monday, May 30, 2016

Two disappointing TV programmes and one piece of good news...

Sabine Schmitz wearing enough leather for a part in The Musketeers

I watched two rather disappointing TV programmes over the last few days.  One I was expecting to be bad the other not so.  

I was not surprised that Top Gear was no good. The BBC fielded a man on the news, yesterday, who said it still had the fantastic photography (which it did) and that was a big part of the show. It was an impressive part of the show but not as big a part of the show as the deluded BBC thought (or hoped). 

 The Old Bat always watched Top Gear, even though she has no interest in cars whatsoever but she said she was "bored" after twenty minutes. The reviews have been pretty poor and in keeping, basically, the same ingredients the BBC has shown that the show really was about the three former presenters and not the format itself.  It would have been braver to try something really different and avoid invidious comparisons but they didn't; obviously too worried about their overseas sales to change anything. 

I can't agree with those (and there seem to be quite a few) who liked Matt LeBlanc. I couldn't understand a word he said - especially when he was on location. Although we all know a lot of old Top Gear was scripted it never sounded scripted whereas every word of this obviously was.  Like many actors, LeBlanc flounders without a script but even with a script his presentation was dead. We definitely needed more Sabine Schmitz, though; she was wasted in the first episode. She has ten times more personality than LeBlanc 

Watching Top Gear is giving me a migraine

I actually used to quite like Chris Evans in his Don't Forget Your Toothbrush days but his strangled attempt at forcing his rather naturally high voice down an octave into a Clarkson impression was most odd and the most uncomfortable thing about an uncomfortable viewing experience.   The whole show also seemed wearingly frantic, as if that alone might make it exciting, with Evans striding around the studio like an orangutan that has escaped from its enclosure at the zoo.  The celebrity guest stars were rather low rent.  Gordon Ramsay (who I detest) and some American I had never heard of.  In discussing it with one of my friends this mornings she thought those who become guests of the new show should join a list of traitors to Top Gear, like Quislings.  Like new nude free Playboy I will give it one more chance but I suspect, like NF Playboy, I will abandon it.

I've always enjoyed The Musketeers, even if the costumes suffered from the usual 'need to reflect the character rather than be historically accurate' syndrome. Today's costumiers just love leather (it's all the Lord of the Rings fault).  This weekend's episode actually opened with a battle scene which I should have loved.  It had a pike block! Spaniards in morions! Muskets with rests!  Cannons behind earthworks!

Back to CGI Paris, mes amis!

The trouble was, the director had no idea how to shoot a battle scene so you were always aware of all the empty space behind the extras.  Closer framing or even a little CGI would have helped it from looking quite so...Sharpeish.  Still, you are unlikely to get many tasset wearing pikemen on prime time TV otherwise.   I found the episode a bit flat and they have done the people trapped in a monastery story before (and the shooting a barrel of gunpowder stunt) but this time there was an added stupid teenage boy too and cute children.  Ugh!.  Never mind they are back in Paris next week.

There were also not nearly enough enticing ladies of the court in bodices or floaty lingerie. Charlotte Salt from Series Two is much missed by the Legatus.  Her scene in a window in Series 2 providing a particularly effective paean to the erotic power of the back of the thighs.  This is the last series of The Musketeers and we hope the other remaining episodes don't show the spark has gone out of the programme with the departure of creator Adrian Hodges.

"What lovely chandeliers!"
"How kind, your Majesty!"

Never mind, Versailles starts on Wednesday and there are plenty of underdressed ladies of the court in that.  Rather too many for the Daily Mail, and one of our MPs (who really should be worrying about more important things), who were getting in a right old tizz in March because of all the racy scenes.  Typically, the French were only concerned about historical inaccuracies and the fact it was made in English despite being a French production.  Despite the Daily Mail banging on about the "most explicit sex scenes to be seen on the BBC" the French DVD of the series has the equivalent of a 'U' cert, demonstrating that France is far more grown up than Britain is.

Look!  Serves ten!

One thing that has cheered me up this week, regarding the TV, is the news that the annoying Hemsley sisters' nutritionally dubious cooking programme has been moved from Monday to Friday nights because of plummeting ratings.  TV executives believe that Friday is a graveyard slot for programmes because everyone is out on Friday night (well, they are; looking for biodynamic dinner in Islington).  In addition, real cooks and nutritionists are pointing out that the Hemsleys have no training in cooking or nutrition and that their fixation on dropping some types of food from your diet (basically anything that tastes nice) leaves you not getting enough nutrients.   I am sure that it was their deluded espousal of a spinach infested "full monty" cooked breakfast that put paid to their reputations more than anything else.  No second series for you I think!  Spralise that, twittering twiglets!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Something for the Weekend: Saucy figures from Greenwood & Ball

An old Mayfair article on Cliff Sanderson sculpted ladies in 54mm and 80mm on my Legatus' Wargames Ladies blog.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Neanderthals completed!

I have finished the last three of the seven, Steve Saleh sculpted, Lucid Eye Savage Core Neanderthals and very enjoyable to paint they were too.  Although I am looking forward to Saleh's Savage Core rules these will find themselves in action (one day) on my Lost World plateau in South America in 1912 probably using IHMN.  I actually have another duplicate pack somewhere so I might try and do a few weapon swaps.  I wish he did some Neanderthal women warriors!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Paint Table Saturday and what's coming up...

Getting there

I actually took time off today from working on my latest paper to do a bit of painting on my Neanderthals (mainly because the Old Bat was out for the day!).  I think it's about two months since I did any painting (also Neanderthals) but I did a bit more on the second batch today.  Even though they are taking longer to paint than the Sistine Chapel they are actually not far off now and I may do a bit more tomorrow.  This will complete the seven Lucid Eye Neanderthals and although I said last time that it looked like news of the promised Savage Core rules had gone a bit quiet this is not the case.  At Salute I picked up the Atlanteans and the last of the Amazons but next will be the Jaguar tribe, I think.  I have been worried about picking up a paintbrush as I didn't want to see how bad my eyesight had got but the recent laser surgery I had does seem to have helped.  It's not what it was a year or so ago but I can definitely paint again, even if not to my previous standard.  This is quite exciting and has had me thinking about what to do next.

What I should really be working on is Argonauts, for a possible Shed Wars campaign later this year so I am going to dig some figures out for that.  I have just found some Foundry Harpies and will base these tomorrow.  I will paint them like the ones in the Harryhausen Jason and the Argonauts I think.  The Foundry figures come in two types, ones with bird like legs and ones with human legs but I don't think I am going to worry about this.  One of them has a bush that would put a seventies Penthouse Pet to shame!

I've been selling some plastic figures I am never going to paint on eBay, such as Gripping Beast's stumpy gnome Vikings and Victrix's hideously complex British Napoleonic infantry.  A lot of metals will follow when I can sort them out.  So I shouldn't be looking at any more but a number of things have (inevitably) caught my eye.  First up, because I have already ordered two packs, are Perry Miniatures Afghans.  These will probably be smaller than the Artizan ones I painted but hopefully not too much smaller because variety is certainly needed for these.   I also have four Studio Miniatures figures somewhere as well, so I will do a comparison picture when they arrive.  The imminent arrival of The Men Who Would be Kings is driving this, of course.

Not on sale yet but very interesting to me are the forthcoming Victrix Early Imperial Romans.  The Warlord ones are uselessly small and I have got rid of all mine but these will work with my Foundry Germans and Renegade (and others) Ancient Britons.  Although it appears they will all be in Lorica Segmentata (ruling out the invasion of Britain, annoyingly) I will be able to use them for Boudica's rebellion.  Very excited by these.  The good news is that they will have pila and sword options (I always have my Romans with pila rather than waving swords about).  They look a bit too 'active' for me but we shall see.

A range I have managed to resist (so far) is Firelock Games lovely new pirates.  Seeking $15,000 on Kickstarter they raised $200,000 more than that!  I am happy to wait for when they are on sale, though as I'm not short of pirates to paint.  The real attraction for me is that they are 17th century figures with musketeers equipped with a collar of bandoliers; just right for Henry Morgan's time.  Nearly all the other pirate ranges are for the early eighteenth century.  Now my Panama project can proceed and I can recreate this Angus McBride picture.  The range will include ships and rules, called Blood and Plunder, too.  Excellent.

This, I want!

I haven't thought much about the Lord of the Rings for some years, given the disappointing support from Games Workshop for The Hobbit.  Now, however, they have formed a special Middle Earth division (well four people) within Forge World and are promising to reintroduce out of production figures, source books and scenery.  Even better, they have some new figures underway, including these wonderful Iron Hills dwarves (below).  These and other things like a plastic Lake-town House kit demonstrate that, contrary to rumours last year, Games Workshop have renewed their licence from New Line.

I recently watched a really annoying YouTube video by someone (I won't give his name) who attended the recent GW event at which all these things were revealed.  I can't find a link to it now but this fellow blathered on for nearly an hour to impart five minutes worth of information.  Seeing people talk to camera on YouTube videos just demonstrates why TV presenters earn big money.  Everyone thinks they can do it and almost no-one can.  This chap spoke much to fast, slurped coffee throughout his piece (you can tell he isn't civilised enough to drink tea) and even broke off to look at his mobile phone when it pinged.  A shame, because the information was quite interesting. In fact he was nearly as bad as biodynamic twiglets Hemsley + Hemsley (I am glad their woeful on screen performance has received bad reviews), an advert for whose spiraliser now keeps popping up on my screen!  One thing Mr Annoying YouTube said was that the pack of 12 Iron Hills Dwarves would be a very reasonable £40.  Sorry, matey, that isn't a reasonable price to me!  I'll still get them though. What Games Workshop don't seem to be able to work out is that I will only buy one box at £40 but if they were £20 I would but three or four.  They will be resin not plastic though.

Photo finish

Another good episode of Rick Stein's Long Weekends last night with him visiting Bologna.  He cooked far too much fish again (Bologna is not really a fishy city) but there was lots of pasta and Parmigiano to compensate, although how he found people who cooked ragu Bolognese with tuna I don't know. .It's almost worthy of Hemsley + Hemsley.  Indeed a good helping or three of pasta (the  sausage ragu recipe looked well worth trying) would not only be good for the twiglet sisters but also for the podium girls at the Giro d'Italia, which is taking place at present.  Here they are crossing the finishing line and looking forward to a nice bowl of lettuce.  During Milan Fashion Week some years ago I was invited to the birthday party of a Brazilian model at a trendy Milanese restaurant (Savini, I think).  There were lots of other models there and they were literally eating plates of lettuce.  Tragic.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Reading Wargames Magazines over lunch...and English Civil War at the Shed

The view from the conference venue

I had something of a frantic day yesterday.  I had to be at Kennington Oval early in the morning for a conference.  Now, this is a historic sporting venue and the place where the Ashes legend was born.  However, I have no interest in cricket whatsoever which is tedious to watch and, rather incongruously,  dangerous to play. I had to play it at school once and got hit by a cricket ball (on account of having no hand to eye co-ordination whatsoever) so passed on it thereafter in favour of athletics, which I was quite good at.  On Wednedsay afternoon games period all the sporty teachers and pupils were involved in cricket matches while the athletics people could sit in the long jump pit and watch the girls at the school next door playing netball.

The Royal Excahnge

Anyway, I had to leave Kennington (not a part of London I would visit voluntarily) and head to the City for a quick meeting in the Royal Exchange.  This is when I discovered how hot it had become during the morning. A late breakfast at the Grand Cafe set me up for getting back to the Oval but then I had a call from someone who wanted to meet me in West End, so I set off on the Central Line (the hottest Underground line in London) and felt resentful towards all the under-dressed ladies.  As I was early, I got off at Chancery Lane to go into the large WH Smiths newsagents. to get the May Wargames Illustrated.  I quite often get wargames magazines here as it is one of the bigger Smiths.  However, there were no sign of any wargames magazines. Instead, several of the usual magazine shelves were now selling those useless 'bookazines' which are books for people who are too stupid to be able to read anything without pictures or articles no longer than 3 pages. 

Forum Smiths

So back on the tube to go to Tottenham Court Road station (normally I would have walked two stations but it was far too hot). I got lost coming out of the station as it has all changed because of the imminent new Crossrail line station so had to walk even further in the sweltering heat. Just as I reached Oxford Street my phone went again and my contact asked whethe it would be alright to meet at 4.30 at Embankment instead.  Grrr!  I booked a very much needed haircut (as anyone who met me at Salute will testify) back in the City and headed off to another branch of WH Smiths in the Forum shopping centre on Oxford Street.  Here I managed to get WI and also Wargames Soldiers and Strategy.  But, then I found out that the Smiths there is closing down in June.  In fact it looks like the whole place is closing, as nearly all the shops were empty.  Games Workshop moved some months ago. So this is bad news as finding places to get wargames magazines is getting more and more difficult.

So, I now had a couple of hours to kill, I was wilting in the heat and desperate for a cold drink.  Fortunately, I was only about two hundred yards from my favourite Italian restaurant in London, Latium.  Slightly worryingly, I didn't recognise any of the people there and it had been redecorated.  I hadn't been there for over a year.  It turns out that the owner is the same but they have a new chef, Stefano Motta, who had actually been a sous Chef at Latium 12 years ago.  More recently he ran the restaurant at Vinopolis. So after ordering a large bottle of mineral water I sat down in the lovely air conditioning to have a look at my two magazines.  I was looking forward to this issue because it features the new The Men who would be King rules by Danial Mersea and other colonial articles.  These rules come out in August and, having enjoyed his Lion Rampant rules I will certainly be getting these,  Interestingly, there is a whole chapter in the new book on how you can use the rules to play solo.  Other Victorian Colonial articles featured The Second Opium Wars, 1853 NW Frontier action and uniforms of the period.  I was also interested to see a piece on the new Sharp Practice rules which I have heard good things about but have never played.  If I ever did Napoleonics it would be with these rules.

One thing which was nice to see, from a nostalgic point of view, was a full page Foundry advertisement for Darkest Africa figures, no doubt anticipating the new Congo rules which are due out shortly. In fact I have read that Foundry are planning starter sets to go with the game.  Along with Gripping Beast Vikings, Foundry Darkest Africa were the first metal figures I painted seriously, back in 1999 when I started painting wargames figures again.  I think I have nearly all the Darkest Africa figures except the pygmies.  I hate pygmies.  They're like Hobbits in Lord of the Rings. Unlike most of my armies, I have actually painted enough figures to field an explorers force, a British force, a Belgian force, an Arab force and Azande tribesmen so I will be able to do something with Congo from the beginning or, if playing solo, it sounds like The Men who would be King will work too. Fortunately my Nigeria trip was postponed but it now looks like I will have to go to Liberia in June.  Honestly, no one goes to Liberia!

Crema Di Piselli, Cetriolo, Pesto Al Basilico, Uovo Di Anatra in Camicia E Pecorino 

Time for my first course, which was pea soup with poached duck egg and even though I was driving in the evening I had a small glass of Pinot Grigio with it, which was more than diluted by the two bottles of Ferrarelle mineral water I got through. I always drank Ferrarelle when in Rome,which is far superior to San Pellegrino and is one of the few genuine naturally sparkling mineral waters in the world.  My Roman lady friends always claimed it was a diuretic, due to its particular mineral content.  Or, at least, that was the excuse that they gave when I had to keep watch in the Roman Forum one summer afternoon when the two princesses I had just had lunch with had to relieve themselves of several bottles worth (plus a lot of Gavi di Gavi).  In fact, I didn't really need to keep watch as it was August, over a hundred degrees and there was no one about anyway.  Also I suspect they didn't care if anyone caught them or not and they were just showing off!  A distance contest across the sand was not what I was expecting from two such elegantly dressed ladies.

Tagliatelle con ragu di agnello, Ricotta salata Siciliana e Timo

Princess I and Princess MF would no doubt have been very dismissive of my having pasta for a main course and I told me that on her first tip to England, as a student, she was served pasta at a friend's house and didn't eat much as she was expecting a proper main course to be served afterwards.  However, having had a large breakfast in the City I decided to just have the tagliatelle with lamb and Ricotta.

I've got two thirds of a unit of Byzantine archers already!

Wargames Soldiers and Strategy features the Normans in their May issue.  I have painted some Normans and there was a good article on the Normans in Sicily (appropriately, as that was where Princess MF came from).  This was designed for Lion Rampant so I wouldn't need to paint many more Normans and then could just add some Byzantines and Sicilian Muslim forces.  All quite achievable, I think.

Anyway, I thought about small Dark Ages forces on the way home after my haircut ("this is a men's hair dressers", said Tracey, my hairdresser, before taking two and a half inches off my hair) and my meeting on Polish railways at the Royal Society of Arts near Embankment. I didn't have much time at home (no time for dinner so I could justify the big breakfast and lunch out to myself) before setting off for my second trip to the Shed this year.  Now Eric the Shed and Mark, another regular shedizen had started English Civil War armies at Christmas.  Amazingly, they had each painted around five hundred figures since then and last night saw most (not all!) of them getting their first outing. I painted 25 figures last year and I would have to go back to about the middle of 2010 to get a total of 500. So they painted the same number of figures in four months as I painted in five and a half years!  I really must be doing something wrong!   The full length board looked spectacular with the armies arrayed between two villages.

The King, the King!

I won't do a blow by blow description of the game as Eric the Shed will be doing that soon although he will do well to recall the action because the board was so big I had no idea what was going on further down the board. We had six players and three commands on each side.  I was on the right flank of the Royalist side with Mark, whose beautiful army we were using, taking the role of Charles I in the centre.

Some of Eric's Parliamentarians

Nearly all the figures were the Warlords plastics which really is, I think, very much their best range. I started my ECW forces with the then new Renegade figures but these are so big compared with the Warlord ones they really wouldn't work together, although the Perry figures would as would the Empress ones, I think.  I sort of don't know what to do about ECW now.  I have only three painted units; two infantry and one of cuirassiers, and realistically I cannot paint a huge army like this but I love the period and the uniforms. If I was starting now I would go with the Warlord range although I do have some Empress figures. I am quite tempted to get some Warlord plastics and do something I have always wanted to do and build a small New Model Army force, although I prefer my pikemen to hold vertical pikes.  Something to think about.

My own game fell into three distinct parts.  On the far right my two units of commanded shot traded volleys with Eric's two units of shot and one of dragoons.  Although I eventually lost one of my units they battered and held up my opponents.

 The Royalist cavalry crash into Cromwell's Ironsides

In the centre I launched a massive cavalry charge only to have Cromwell's very tough Ironsides counter charge. Both sides took a battering but my cavalry were forced to retreat and took no further part in the battle.  Fortunately, with my foot and artillery popping away at the Ironsides, Cromwell was unable to rally them for the rest of the game.

 Over on the right My two foot units stood firm for much of the game and just held on in place long enough for losses elsewhere on the table to see Parliament defeated.  We used the Pike and Shotte rules which I haven't used before and although they gave a fluid and quick game I didn't feel that they had the period feel of the 1644 rules, which is what we used at Guildford, along with Warhammer ECW, which is a direct descendant of 1644.

Having had a rather trying day I struggled even more than usual with the rules and couldn't for the life of me work out what the different counters all meant so I am grateful, as ever, to Eric's patience.  It was really helpful of him to have produced little cards for each unit with their statistics on. So, it was a really enjoyable game but at a time when I am trying to get rid of figures it does mean I have to make some decisions about ECW.  At Guildford most people had Redoubt figures which the Renegade ones matched well with but I think I will put my remaining unpainted Renegade figures on eBay and get some of the Empress ones, perhaps.

Thanks, as ever, to Eric for a fabulous game.

Monday, May 02, 2016

My bedroom - 35 years ago!

My study, at the end of last year

As some as you may recall, my study has been an indescribable mess for months.  This is due to having to move everything over one side of the room while the plumbers looked for leaks under the floor (there weren't any it was the other end of the house and is now dealt with).  Anyway, everything was piled up in the middle of the floor and I couldn't get at anything but I couldn't face starting to tidy it.  Last week I saw a TV programme called The Hoarders Next Door  about people who lived in total chaos, with stuff covering every single surface.  This picture shows about a quarter of the pile that had built up in the middle of the room.  It was literally over six feet high.  Somewhere under there is a rug and somewhere behind there is the view over the garden.  I suddenly realised that my room looked like those of  the awful people on TV and they needed a psychiatrist to deal with them!  

I had to do something and I needed help!.  The Old Bat decided that today was the day to start tidying!  Now the Old Bat has many failings: not knowing left from right; total inability to navigate the car to anywhere (even if we have been going there every week for twenty years); total lack of interest in art, fiction (of any sort), cinema or music; thinking anyone who drinks alcohol is mentally ill and evil; hatred of eating fish, beef (because of the mad cow disease (er...)), onions, garlic, eggs, chorizo (what? The World Health Organisation food of the Gods!) and corned beef; cooking meat until it has the same texture as vulcanised rubber 'to kill the germs'; thinking eating out is a total waste of money; no understanding of history (I recently discovered that she had never heard of the English Civil War or the Wars of the Roses); an inability to remember anything that happened more than a week ago; taste in TV confined to the X-Factor, Britain's got Talent, Strictly or any programme featuring interior design or the Royal family); believing that women who have children shouldn't work; voting UKIP (and BNP once - she does not like foreigners); inability to use any form of IT, smartphone or even operate the TV etc etc.  Anyway, despite all these strange aspects of her personality there is one thing she is really good at: cleaning!  She loves to scrub!  She once asked me for a Robert Dyas voucher for Christmas so she could get some Draino (really!).  So she put dust sheets down in the lounge and we took everything out, she scrubbed, wiped and hoovered and we re-stacked it.  It took eight hours.  I also got rid of a whole lot of rubbish and identified a lot of stuff to go on eBay. One more hard day should make my room a bit easier to navigate around.  I feel better!

My bedroom 35 years ago

One of the things she suggested was going through the 12 boxes of old photographs I had and getting rid of duplicates etc.  This was a good idea as most of the photos I took were of buildings and landscapes and were quite repetitive.  There were also an awful lot of my various girlfriends from the seventies and eighties which provoked comments such as "she wasn't attractive", "she was very short", "she obviously dyed her hair",  "that wasn't even fashionable at the time", "my sister knew her and she was weird" etc, etc.  Fortunately, all the 'interesting' Polaroids are stored elsewhere.  But there were some pictures I kept and, of course, the pictures which were really uninteresting at the time (like pictures of my relations) are now fascinating and the ones I thought interesting (like 72 almost identical shots of Bodiam Castle) are now very boring.  One of the pictures I found was this one, of my bedroom at my mother's house thirty five years ago.  One thing it shows is that I was very tidy and organised (but also had a lot less stuff).

 It is interesting (for me, not for you) to look at all the details in this picture I had forgotten about.  In the corner are a lot of my drawings and paintings (a lot of Samurai), illustrations I did for various magazines, my college photo and some photos of my then girlfriend (these of course changed quite often during this period) 

Below these is my record collection (pre-CD) and my Dual 504 turntable (everyone had a Dual 504) and my Mission 500 speakers (everyone had those too).  The orange carpet is very seventies.

On the shelves you can just see a couple of my model soldiers.  Both are French Napoleonic, (all I painted then) but one is 54mm and one is 75mm.  Both were bought, I think, in a shop called Under Two Flags in St Christopher's Place off Oxford Street. Sadly it closed about eight or nine years ago.  My mother bought me a metal 25mm Carthaginian war elephant in there for my birthday once, which was the first non- Napoleonic metal figure I ever had.  So, I have just managed to get some figures into the post at the last minute!