Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Non-wargaming highlights of 2017

Reconnecting with my old College friend K after 20 years was the best thing about 2017

Many of you (well, one or two) may have been thinking that you have escaped the dreaded Legatus reviews of the year, as it is now the end of February (although I started this post in January).  I have been working on a report for the government which has taken all of my time for months, even with five other people working on it too. It's still not quite done but it is on the way enough now that I can pause (and the light is too bad to paint, again) for a thrilling non-wargaming round-up..  My (rather sparse) wargaming highlights will follow later (probably about May).

Best Foreign Trip 

I had thought that I had got away with having no foreign trips this year but then two came up on successive weeks.  Firstly, I had to go back to Botswana for a long delayed follow up to my trip of 2016.  This may well engender more trips this year, as we attempt to help the future president sort some stuff out. They had ponced up the Avani Hotel in Gaborone which meant it had lost some of its faux colonial charm and there were no Miss Botswana contestants this time, although the restaurant waitresses were as lovely and efficient as ever.

Free wine in the Hotel Zaza

I got back from Botswana and just had time to run the washing machine before setting off for Houston on my way to El Salvador. This would have been a long journey, undertaken in one go, so I decided to stop off at the relentlessly trendy Hotel Zaza for a night, to recover my equilibrium.  I was joined by my particular friend Sophie which, as a result, made this my best trip of the year.  I hadn't seen her since 2013 and she seemed very pleased to see me, as was I her. The people at Hotel Zaza were so appalled by my travel schedule  that they kept supplying free glasses of wine.

Best UK Trip

This has to be the trip I made back to Oxford in June.  One of the many peculiarities about Oxford University (and a few others in Britain) is that every seven years after you start there you get invited back to a formal dinner called a Gaudy (from the 13th century song known as Gaudeamus Igitur - Let us rejoice, therefore), which your college pays for.  If you have ever watched Inspector Morse (where my college was known as Lonsdale College) or Lord Peter Wimsey you will know that these are usually occasions for much port-fuelled drunkenness, academic scandal, illicit affairs and murder. 

My first Gaudy in 1986.  Oh what cozy fun you could have in front of a college gas fire.  Health and Safety has now seen them all removed,  meaning you can' t cook your lady toast for breakfast the next morning, either.  Spoilsports!

Now I think I have attended every Gaudy except one and that was the one seven years ago (I was abroad, I think), so I haven't been back to one for fourteen years.  Invariably I go with my friend Bill who lives just three miles away and was best man at my wedding (twenty five years since the Day of Doom in July 2017).  Bill doesn't have much to do with College (as you always call it and with a capital 'C') as he is a Champagne socialist (the worst kind) who sort of feels guilty for attending Oxford.  Also attending the first three were my ex-girlfriends and V.  Like all of us, they were very fond of port and the abiding memory of previous gaudies was waking up the next day with splitting headaches and trudging to Brown's to fill up on the most absorbent food possible.  Oddly, I never went to Brown's when I was at College (the one in Oxford was the first one, I think) despite the alluring prospect of waitresses in short skirts (no other women wore short skirts in 1979) and fishnet tights.   This was because there was always a queue and then, as now, the Legatus does not queue for restaurants or pretty much anywhere else unless he is going through security.  This is why I always arrive at Salute an hour after the doors open!  One of my girlfriends at St Hugh's did dress up in a black miniskirt and fishnet tights (this was when I learned that to make fishnet tights look good you have to wear them over a pair of normal tights) when she cooked me spaghetti Bolognese (their signature dish at the time) once, to provide an alternate Brown's experience.

However, my friend Bill was due to start a ludicrous bike ride from Caen to Cannes (via Mont Ventoux!) on the Saturday morning so couldn't attend.  This was very disappointing, as a gaudy is definitely something which is easier to attend if you go with someone.  My ex-girlfriend J hadn't attended since 1993.  I would just have to go on my own.  As a sort of training I attended the College summer party in London  but not a single person from my year attended.  There were some people from the two years above but I never got to know them, really.  In my first year I was in a very intense relationship with one of my fellow lawyers (the one who liked Scotch Woodcock) and when we weren't in the law library we were...doing other things.  In the second year my attention was focussed on the Oxford Union (my son has been on the committee since October, which is something of an honour) and so I never really got to know that many people in my College very well.  As my friend pointed out once, apart from three men the only other people in College I kept in touch with were ex-girlfriends.  This can, of course, be the source of some delicacy (or even a little excitement in a couple of cases) when meeting again years later.

Then, some weeks later, I was contacted out of the blue by another old College girlfriend K, who was the best friend of my first red-headed girlfriend, C, (maybe I need a diagram for all this).  C always thought I was having an affair with K (which I wasn't - well not at the time) and, indeed the Old Bat didn't like me going to see K for dinner when we lived in Chelsea and K lived in Battersea.  and I never did have a fling (well, not really - maybe a flinglet.  Or three.) but although she was one of my very best friends, I hadn't seen her for twenty years.  Now the mother of three strapping boys she said she was not going to the gaudy as she was a small, grey, middle aged Jewish housewife and everyone else would be very grand.  However, we met up in London shortly afterwards and it was like there had been no intervening twenty years at all. She didn't seem to have changed appreciably in the interim and was very fit looking indeed.  Anyway, almost immediately after we met up, K said that she had changed her mind ad had applied to go to the gaudy after all.  She couldn't get a room in College so would be staying in a bed and breakfast miles out in Cowley. 

Having had a horrible drive via the M25 which took two and a half hours instead of an hour and fifteen minutes I turned up and picked up my room key.  They try and put you in your old room, if they can and this happened to me once but it is quite spooky and that room from my first year had some bad memories of C and our Hindenburg like disintegrating relationship (like when she poured a kettle of boiling water on my leg during an argument, leaving a scar that I would have for twenty years).  They did, however, put me in the same staircase, in the converted eighteenth century houses at the unfashionable end of College known as the Arab Quarter, for its dark, arched access and generally seedy atmosphere.   I went up to look at the door to my old room on the top floor and was appalled by the presence of carpet instead of red lino on the floors.  The old wooden stairs were still there though, which we used to jump down three at a time to the annoyance of the other inhabitants of the staircase. 

In my day, the bathrooms of my male only staircase were in the unheated basement and my room was on the top floor necessitating long, tedious descents to the freezing facilities but I saw, as I approached my guest room for the night, that there was a modern  bathroom.   There was no bath of course, the lovely one on Heberden staircase, which and I would inhabit in candle lit luxury during the evenings after a tutorial, having been replaced by a utilitarian shower, sadly.  The real shock was the rather lovely room I had been assigned.  It had a huge double bed and a sofa and a strange keyboard thing.  I've stayed in much worse hotel rooms (especially in the Baltic States and Poland).

"This is lovely!" said K, bouncing on the bed like her eighteen year old previous self, rather than her fifty-six year old present one.  She immediately cancelled her bed and breakfast and decided to bunk in with me; thus solving the worrying problem of how she was going to negotiate the cobbles in Radcliffe Square in her high heels.  Good job my friend Bill was preparing to cycle across France as he would have been appalled by such disreputable behaviour; he is a very moral person and and I am...less so.  We got changed together and K immediately proved her worth as she could still tie a bow tie; something that always stressed me out and used to take me endless attempts.  She always tied my bow tie for College events and exams in the past. I struggle with shoelaces and never undo mine but jam my feet into already tied shoes with a shoehorn so I don't have to retie them.  It often takes me four or five attempts to deal with my normal tie, too.  I am not good at hand to eye co-ordination, hence my inability to make wargames scenery, play ball games or do DIY.  K managed my bow tie  in about eight seconds despite me doing my best to distract her as she stood there in her stockings (the fact that she still wears these being another nice nostalgic moment).  

We went to chapel before the pre-dinner reception, which is something I never did when I was there (except at Christmas) but K was in the choir.  We sat there and tried to identify the people sitting opposite.  'He hasn't changed.' 'He has really aged'.  'Who is she?' etc.  People on either side helpfully identified those we didn't know.  It was a hot day and warm in the chapel and half way through K kicked off her high heels, took her stockings off, rolled them up into a ball and gave them to me to put in my pocket, somewhat to the surprise of the lady sitting next to her (a chemist, I think).  The drinks reception took place in the small quad known as the deer park; an ironic reference to Magdalen College which has a real deer park.  The small patch of grass there used to be inhabited by the college tortoise but I have no idea what happened to him.  Eight out of twelve lawyers from my year attended, surprisingly, and it was nice to see my old friend A who now lives in Hong Kong.  Fortunately and not surprisingly, my ex girlfriend was not there, as ever, as that would have been really difficult. Neither were my other four ex-girlfriends from College, fortunately.  would have soon seen them off anyway. 

The old benches had given way to chairs in Hall and none of those sitting against the wall risked the old technique of climbing over the table to get to their seats. The food was very good although the red wine with dinner was not really up to College standards, I have to say.  It did get hotter and hotter inside and was the usual torture for the men while many of the women got away with floaty dresses and remained cool.  Fortunately we all escaped into the quad while they re-laid the table for dessert.

I think it says something about modern times that a (much, much better) red wine was also offered with dessert and the Port was hardly touched.  In fact it didn't even circulate as far as me as two women sitting further down the table didn't pass it on.  They would have been sconced (made to drink a quart of beer in one go while standing on the table and apologising in Latin) in my time.  I suspect not so many people drink port these days. 

Eventually getting to bed much earlier than in previous gaudies, K asked me when the last time was we had shared a bed. The Principe di Savoia hotel in Milan in 1988, I replied.  Before I met the Old Bat of course.  I think, anyway.  Maybe not. At least we woke up the next day without port induced headaches and could have a nice walk in the Botanical Gardens again. The next gaudy isn't until 2024 (a science fiction sounding date) by which time I will be dead. 

Best encounter with very large piece of military hardware.

Sailing around the USS George W Bush in the Solent.  Many years ago we sailed around the USS Dwight D Eisenhower, anchored in the same spot.  With the 'Ike' my father in law sailed behind it and dipped his white ensign, which means that technically any naval ship has to respond.  We were all amazed and impressed by the fact that the US Navy crew dipped their ensign (which was bigger than our yacht) in reply.  

Best Book (non-military)

I bought a lot of books in the second half of 2017 and I got quite a lot from the Folio Society, including their splendid Ian Fleming James Bond edition (four published so far).  Mostly I got art books, though, including ones on Boucher, Renoir, Klimt and one of my favourites, Anders Zorn.  Although I sorted out my large art books I have now run out of space for them, hence my current wargames magazines cull. 

In addition, I bought the remaining three books I was missing from the Don Lawrence Trigan Empire edition.  The only comic strip I ever read, from Look & Learn magazine, a Dutch publisher put this luxurious and limited (500 copies) edition together ten years ago but at about £70 for each of the 12 volumes it has taken me some time to collect them all.  If I had lots of money and didn't have to pay £17,000 a year for my children's university accommodation (grrr!) I would commission a series of figures based on the illustrations for The Trigan Empire.

I have not done so well on reading books with just words, except Victorian erotica, which my friend Angela keeps recommending to me (she is an erotic sort of woman).  I read The Lost World again, which is one of the few books I can read over and over.  I started it again when I took delivery of my Antediluvian Allosaurus.

My favourite book which I bought in 2017, though, has to be The Libertine, which is 500 pages of eighteenth century illustrations coupled with racy literature from the time. It won an award as best hard backed trade book at the New York Book Show and is one of the most beautiful books I own.  You could stick four legs on it and call it a coffee table, though.  I still haven't quite worked out where to put it, however.

Best Film

I went to see two films at the cinema this year: Star Wars: Rogue One and Blade Runner 2.  I didn't enjoy either very much and wouldn't watch them again on DVD.  The world is depressing enough at present without watching more depressing stuff.  I did buy quite a few films on DVD but haven't watched any of them yet.  I did start to watch The Lost City of Z (I bought the book some years ago in Borders in Washington DC), for some South American Lost World inspiration but Brad Pitt was hopelessly miscast and could never act anyway.  He seemed to be putting all of his effort into maintaining his English accent and sleepwalking through the rest. I gave up half way through,as it was so widescreen and was filmed in such a way that all the action seemed to be taking place in a tiny area in the centre of the screen. I couldn't see what was going on, basically.  I need a bigger TV!  I nearly bought one on Black Friday in John Lewis in Edinburgh but the Old Bat is very anti.  We need a new cooker basically, first, she maintains (Charlotte dropped a very heavy saucepan on the ceramic top).  The Old Bat is a depressingly practical person.

Best TV Show 

I very much enjoyed the second series of Versailles, which was better than the first and actually contained a battle scene in one episode (I still haven't found my 1672 figures, though) as well as a rather splendid naked pregnant lady, which you don't get on TV that often (not even on the horrifically fascinating Naked Attraction).    Having discovered that I had Eurosport, I watched the live coverage of the three big cycling tours, which took nine weeks of evening viewing, so there wasn't a lot of time for the many boxed sets (not box sets! Grrr!) I bought.  The Old Bat and I both enjoyed the soapy The Halcyon, set in a big London hotel at the beginning of World War 2 but ITV cancelled it.  I quite enjoyed the production design of Genius, about Einstein, the second season of The Last Kingdom but wasn't so convinced by Jamestown. I did enjoy the second series of bodice ripping Forty Five rebellion DVD boxed set Outlander. 

A deliciously young and fresh Polly Walker in Poirot

My biggest discovery was in buying the complete set of Poirot at Sainsbury's.  I was aware of it, of course and had even watched the Death on the Nile feature length episode but I hadn't seen any of the others.  What a revelation!  It must have cost a fortune.  Fantastic interiors, wonderful cars, motor yachts, foreign locations, car racing at Brooklands (just up the road from here) lovely actresses in thirties clothes, vintage planes (even a seaplane in one episode and a Dragon Rapide), liners (filmed on board the Queen Mary)  and the best TV series title sequence ever made!.  

Best Music

Actual CDs!

Film and TV music

Lots of iTunes purchases this year and even a few actual CDs.  Soundtracks included: Star Wars: The Last Jedi Star Wars: Rogue One  (which was really quite a good pastiche of the John Williams style by Michael Giacchino (a last minute replacement for the otherwise engaged and overrated Alexandre Desplat)), Harry Potter: the Prisoner of AzkabanThe Mummy (the Tom Cruise one), The Mummy: The Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,  the extended version of Starship Troopers, The Right Stuff, the extended version of The Rocketeer, Jurassic Park 1, 2 and 3 extended versions and Alexander.  Classic scores included Max Steiner's The Adventures of Don Juan and The Charge of the Light BrigadeSalome, the extended version of The Wind and the Lion (even though I haven't see the film) and the The Man who Would be King (which I still haven't seen either),.TV music included Agent Carter, Inspector Morse and Tutankhamun


Big band music from Ted Heath and Ivy Benson, a disc of German dance band music from the 192os an Edith Piaf compilation, several albums by Canadian singer Sophie Milman and Turn up the Quiet by Diana Krall

Pop and Folk

Mike Oldfield's rather disappointing Return to Ommadawn, Vittrad from Swedish folk band Garmana, Two Steps from Hell's Unleashed, Rick Wakeman's Piano Portraits and Seven Wonders of the World, some Steeleye Span, Sky 4, Illumination by The Medieaval Baebes, Wilde Roses by two of the Baebes, and Encore! by Barachois (a French Canadian folk group I saw live in Prince Edward Island once).

World Music

A couple of albums (do they still call them albums) from oud player Simon Shaheen and Qantara. and several more albums of belly dancing music,


Lots of opera this year. Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, Tristan und IsoldeThe Valkyrie and Siegfried , Rameau's Hippolyte Et Aricie and Les Indes Galantes. Also Minkus' Don Quixote, Richard Strauss' Don Quixote and Sinfonia Domestica, Mozart The Symphonies, Stravinsky chamber suites, Forkladd Gud by Larsson, Neilsen's 4th Symphony, some Brahm's, D'Indy's Symphony on a French Mountain Song and quite a lot of piano and organ music by various composers, including a great suite of music from Star Wars played on the organ, which wins the prize of the most played of my 2017 acquisitions..  More contemporary stuff included Australian saxophonist Amy Dickson's Philip Glass CD, John Adams Harmonielehre, Elizabeth Hainen's, Home solo works for harp and Claire Jones' latest harp disc.

 Best Artistic Discovery

Reclining nude on day bed (1900)

I have discovered lots of minor orientalist painters this year as well as many new painters active in the first part of the twentieth century.  Of these,  I really liked Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931), who was known as 'the master of swish' for the active way he used paint to produce sensuous pictures of women.

Best Exhibition

I went to a number of excellent exhibitions this year with my various 'art mistresses'.  The Lord Leighton one was superb, bringing together nearly all the the paintings depicted in a famous photograph of his studio, taken the week after his death, back to his studio for the first time since.  I also enjoyed the Modigliani exhibition which had around twenty of the thirty or so nudes for which he is most famous in the same room.  Overall, though. it had to be the Alma-Tadema exhibition (also held at Leighton House) which was the biggest exhibition of his work for a hundred years and included many of my favourites as well as an excellent film show on how his paintings have influenced the depiction of the ancient world in the cinema,.

 Best meal 

This was, perhaps surprisingly, at the Monarch restaurant in the Hotel Zaza in Houston, despite severe jet lag. When asking for steak in the US you usually have to accept some overcooked lump with the same consistency as a hockey puck.  I like my steak so blue that is is still moving about.  In a restaurant in Las Vegas once I actually had to sign a disclaimer to the effect that if I was ill afterwards I couldn't sue them.  The chef at the Monarch, however, pulled off the best fillet steak I have ever had in the Americas.  It was meltingly soft, red in the middle but still hot (the real trick with blue meat). It being Texas it was also huge too.  Lovely garlic mash and Madeira and mushroom sauce as well Delicious crab cake to start too!

Best wine 

I don't drink a lot of white wine these days, as my doctors (a lovely new Iraqi doctor at the medical practice this year) don't like it but, because of a stage of the Giro d'Italia, I tried Peccorino for the first time and it was particularly nice.

Best Beer

I have had to cut down on beer too but enjoyed the York Brewery triple pack my sister bought me back from a weekend in York.

Best Breakfast

I haven't had any really outstanding breakfasts this year. but the most unexpectedly good one was in the Plaza Premium Lounge at Terminal 2, waiting for my flight to Houston.  The curse of most restaurant breakfasts in the UK are poor quality catering sausages but the ones in the breakfast buffet in the lounge were outstanding.

Best new cheese

I got some of the Isle of Wight Cheese Company's imaginatively named Isle of Wight soft in Comes.  It  is like a a cross between Brie and Camembert except it has the advantage of not putting my money into the French economy. Very nice with cornichons. Alright, for these you have to buy French, I admit.

Best new food discovery

When I was out in El Salvador someone told me that there was somewhere in London that sold spreadable chorizo.  What genius, I thought.  It is like topless swimsuits or magnums of claret.  It turns out it hails from Majorca and is not exactly cheap but for a World Health Organisation taunting snack is perfect.

Most unexpected postal delivery

A big box of stuff from the New York Bakery Company (actually based in Rotherham) when I mentioned on their Facebook page that I couldn't find their wholemeal bagels (due to 'production difficulties').  Bagels, a mug, a pen and Tesco vouchers.  Top customer service, chaps!

Most unexpectedly complicated thing

Having, for the first time, to work out how to operate a lock on the Thames to enable my father in law to get his river launch into the boatyard for winter storage.  My father in law, who was ninety last week, is a very clever man and depressingly able with his hands,  He was a heart surgeon and was number two on Britain's first heart transplant.  He is also an engineer who built a portable kidney machine and restores cars and boats.  He finds my inability to do practical things quite baffling. It took me twenty minutes to work out how to operate the lock, despite the presence of (not very clear, I thought) instructions on the machines.

Second most unexpectedly complicated thing and best improvement to my study

My desk chair had broken earlier in the year which meant that I could only sit in it by leaning forward awkwardly, which meant the blood to my feet got cut off.  Eventually, I went to John Lewis for a new one, where the nice lady said that the chair came in four parts and was easy to assemble.  What a lie!  It took me well over an hour but has transformed my sitting (and therefore blogging and painting) experience!

The even less anticipated wargames review next!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Paint Table Saturday: Olympics, Dark Ages Kickstarter, Elephants, Wargods of Olympus and Zulus

Having finished my elephants last week, the next parts of the Victrix models to complete are the howdahs.  These will also need quivers for the javelins attaching and shields.  I haven't tried using Little Big Men transfers on domed shields before.  It is not going to be easy, I suspect!

I have started the base coat on the Zulus and put together another two to make a unit of 12 for The Men Who Would be King rules. I assembled these in front of the TV and looking at them, as I paint them, I should have done them in good light at my desk, as some of the arms don't look right.  Hopefully, this will not be too apparent when the shields are on.  Although it is a lovely, bright morning I'm not going to get much done today as it is my father-in-law's 90th birthday party.

Let's hope they don't all say 'Hoo! Hah!" before they charge into unrealistic man to man combat with swords.  The lady needs a few kebabs, I think

I have started some of the Wargods of Olympus figures and have found a Foundry Argonaut I am going to try to finish at the same time.  I am looking forward to the new BBC Troy drama, although political correctness has struck again, with a black Achilles. The costumes, as ever, have seen a costume designer go mad, once more, and ignore any historical evidence..  We know what Bronze Age (no iron spears either!) Mediterranean people wore; there  are plenty of paintings and pictures on pottery.  Stop making it look like an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess.

I have always enjoyed watching the Winter Olympics more than the summer games, although I was disappointed in the choice of (stops typing to look up how to spell it) PyeongChang as host city.  Deep down, part of me thinks that the winter Olympics should be held in Europe (or North America at a pinch) not some weird place in Asia. It looks wrong and feels wrong.  However, having said that, the scenery in Korea (apart from a tragic lack of snow) is, in fact, not too bad. The drone Olympic rings at the opening ceremony were the second most impressive thing I have seen on TV this year after the  Falcon Heavy synchronised booster landing.   Beijing, where the 2022 games will be held is just wrong. I have been to Beijing and it just doesn't have that authentic alpine/nordic feel about it, just as there wasn't in Sochi.  Also, when are we going to have a winter Olympics in somewhere that doesn't need artificial snow?  It's a shame Oslo withdrew their bid, as that would have been perfect.

Being involved in infrastructure finance I occasionally get called in to provide some advice on Olympics: Beijing, and Vancouver spring to mind.  A few years ago, the Norwegians asked me in to help on a Winter Olympics bid for Tromso for 2014.  It never went anywhere but at least I did go up there for a bit, saw the Northern lights,  had a beer from the world's most northerly brewery, ate some whale (not by choice - we went to a wine bar and everything on the menus seemed to be unavailable except whale.  Suspicious that.  I also did not buy a sealskin tie)  and got given a 'games that never was' badge!  It's like my Toronto 2008 Olympic mountain biking venue tee shirt!

The BBC coverage in the first week unfortunately, seemed to be fixated on the tedious freestyle skiing and snowboarding events, which were introduced into the Winter Olympics to give Americans something to win.  They really are dull (apart from the pinball-like cross racing, where they knock each other over all the time), despite all the ghastly American style whooping and hollering, yet the BBC (they have ruined Ski Sunday by including all this millennial rubbish too). is showing hours of it.  This is  all because the Olympic authorities are desperate to try to get Americans to be even vaguely interested in the Winter Olympics, as they need their TV revenue.  I can't help think, too, that sports which require judges marks fly in the face of the citius, altius, fortius motto of the games.  Its not faster, higher, stronger and more twiddly.  Sorry, Torvill and Dean.  I enjoy watching ski-jumping but it should just be about how far you go not how elegant you look in flight. 

The other thing the coverage is stuffed with is curling, as we (or, rather, the Scots) have done quite well at this in the recent past but to say the pace is glacial is an understatement.  It was only worth watching when the luminous Anastasia Bryzgalova was on.  Anastasia competes under the Olympic flag, in this games, for the 'Russian athletes who haven't yet been caught taking drugs' team. Everyone is still calling them the Russian team though.  I see a Japanese has been caught taking a banned substance which is embarrassing for the hosts of the next summer Olympics,  No doubt someone will provide him with a tantō sword so that he does the right thing.  If not the Koreans will happily do it for him, I am sure.  I have been to Korea a number of times and they just hate the Japanese.  Maybe they spiked his drink.

I always stayed in the Westin Chosun in Seoul, as it had an Irish pub in the basement where you could get a Guinness for £10 and a pizza for £30.  It was worth it so that you didn't have to eat Korean food,which is quite the most disgusting cuisine I have ever encountered in 70 countries.  I once went to the food hall of the department store next door to the hotel and everything there looked and smelled like it had died at sea and been washed ashore three weeks later.  You couldn't even tell if it was animal, vegetable or fish.  Rancid, is the word for most Korean food, Don't even get me on Bosintang (dog soup), which you can really smell on those Koreans who eat it.

I need to unwrap it this weekend!

I had a big box from Grand Manner this week, as I ordered some African buildings to beat their annoying deadline (since passed) after which they will only sell ready painted items at twice the price of what they sold the bare resin for.  The shop is closed for everything at present.  I do like their stuff but I enjoy painting it, so, price apart, I don't want it painted by someone else in weird acrylic paint.  This is because I am a painter not a gamer! 

After banging on about how I can't paint 18mm any more, I bought into the War and Empire Dark Ages Kickstarter.  Has my new magic optivisor thingy given me ideas above my paint station?  It's all about the Battle of Hastings,of course. Although they have ludicrously big weapons they are lovely figures.  We shall see (literally) whether I can actually paint them!

Finally, after major Shed refurbishments, I am hoping I can get over to Eric the Shed's for an actual wargame next month.  I haven't played a game since our epic Zulu war games last January.  I always feel slightly embarrassed turning up with real wargamers as I can never remember the rules but that is largely because my limited brain capacity is full of other rubbish, like the workings of Export Credit Agencies at present and the El Salvador national infrastructure plan..  There is a trip to Nigeria lurking about at work at the moment but it has been postponed twice so I hope it goes away!

Les Filles d'Atlas

Today's wallpaper is this splendid painting by the French painter Paul Alexandre Alfred Le Roy (1860-1942).  Brought up in Russia, Le Roy moved to Paris when he was seventeen.  Like many orientalist painters of the time, he travelled to North Africa and Turkey and collected items for use in his paintings.  The title of the painting has two meanings, in that these huntresses are depicted in the Atlas mountains, which Le Roy painted on many occasions but they are also supposed to represent some of the Pleiades, the seven daughters of the titan Atlas, who were eventually transformed into stars by Zeus, to keep their father company as he supported the heavens on his shoulders.  He has depicted them in locally inspired North African tribal cloth rather than the more usual classical approach.

Today's music also has a North African aspect to it, in that it is Michael Nyman's The Upside Down Violin which features musicians from the Moroccan group Orquesta Andaluzi de Tetouan.  This appeared on his CD Michael Nyman Live in 1992.  I have over 12 hours worth of Nyman on my iTunes and my favourites include The Draughtsman's Contract, Water Dances and, especially, the propulsive MGV.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Paint Table Saturday: Painting progress and some Kickstarters

Good progress on the Carthaginian war elephants this week and the elephants are now, well on the way to being  finished. They need to be varnished and metal work done but it is cold and damp here today, unfortunately. The next jobs are the howdahs and crew.  The Little Big Men transfers look very good but do not precisely fit the model so some touching up was required.  I found then extremely fiddly One of the small one popped out of my fingers as I was bending it to remove the plastic coating and disappeared completely, lost somewhere in the clutter of my desk.  I am not looking forward to putting the very tiny transfers on the howdahs.  This weekend's job is to get those moved along.  

I have put bases on the Zulus and undercoated them (although somehow I have lost a shield bearing arm but I think I can fix that from the bits box).  I have also based a couple of the Wargods of Olympus figures (see below).  I am now also starting the tedious black bits on the 1864 Danish infantry.  Slowly but surely!  Any way this is what is going to see some attention this weekend.

I seem to have bought rather a lot of art books lately and desperately need shelf space which is currently being taken up by a lot of old wargames magazines.  In addition I have a pile of wargames magazines on the floor.  I have decided to be brutal and get rid of them.  I don't read them again, anyway and usually only find one or two articles in them worth keeping but as they do feature in my occasional Reading Wargames Magazines over Lunch (TM) posts, I won't stop buying them.  Instead, I am going through them and removing any articles I might want to read again and scanning them.  I can then file them in the relevant section of my computer and it makes it much more likely that I will refer to them in the future, as I will know exactly where they are.  So the first one I scanned last night was a Sudan scenario from this month's Miniature Wargames.

Back in 2014, I bought into the Crocodile Games Wargods of Olympus game Kickstarter.  Not because I was interested in the game but because I was interested in the figures for my Jason and the Argonauts project.  There were huge delays on this and I contacted them again recently and they told me they had my parcel all ready to go but they needed my address confirming. Well, they said they had sent me an e-mail asking for it but they hadn't. Anyway a massive box of stuff arrived yesterday and it looks very good.  A huge impact on the lead pile, though!

The figures come on slotta bases, which I hate so I will saw off most of the tab and will mount them on my favourite steel washers from Hurst in Cowes.  The gods and goddesses are a head taller than the rank and file figures, appropriately, and I will start with some of these I think.  In fact the goddess Artemis (above) and the god Dionysus seems as good a place to start as any.

Ewoks, anyone?

I have bought into a number of other Kickstarters and, on the whole, have found them a good experience.  A couple I regretted, like 18mm Forged in Battle ancients (although I like the look of their new Dark Ages Kickstarter) and Mars Attacks (I still have them all somewhere) but usually I find them a good way to pick up new ranges.  Sometimes I change my mind before the Kickstarter ends and cancel, as I did with The Drowned Earth (I really liked the miniatures but reckoned the scenery would cost a fortune).  This week I cancelled another Kickstarter, Freya's Wrath by Bad Squiddo games.  Now I should really want lady Vikings and I have the Foundry ones plus some other odd figures I picked up for a planned Frostgrave Force.  I decided that Frostgrave probably isn't for me, despite buying some figures, as the magic element seemed to make it far too complicated for me to understand and Eric the Shed didn't think much of it when he tried it.  The rules we play at the Shed are usually excellent so I trust his judgement on this. The real issue I had with the Freya's Wrath figures was that I decided that I didn't like the sculpts.   These are squat ladies and suffer from, not only big head syndrome, but also old style Gripping Beast fat calf syndrome (like their Early Imperial Romans).  Life is too short (especially for me) to paint average figures. Now, to be fair, you can't always tell proportions from photos, as the camera often distorts figures but I can always look at them, once they are out, at one of the shows. Instead I put my money into the new John Carter range (something I have wanted since I was about ten).

On Thursday I also pledged for Dark Fable's bunny girls Kickstarter.  I have no idea what these will be used for but they are sculpted by Brother Vinni and he does the best 28mm women on the planet. I have bought most of Dark Fable's Egyptian harem girls and even painted some, so I know these will be excellent and they were fully funded in a couple of days.  Fortunately, I have just the right reference book for the figures: Osprey's  Playboy Bunny Girls in Urban America 1960-1988

Well, no, of course, but I do have this in my extensive Playboy library so that will help with research, enormously.  I did once have a notion to do a (perhaps) Black Ops style fight in the sort of nightclub you used to get in Alias, using the excellent Sally 4th Terra-Block bar.  Now I could build a miniature Playboy club! Hmm. 

Winterhalter - Florinda (1852)

Talking of scantily clad ladies, today's wallpaper is Florinda by Queen Victoria's favourite painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-1873).  I saw this painting in Osborne House on the Isle of Wight this summer and it featured in the most recent episode of BBC4's enjoyable series Art, Passion and Power: the Story of the Royal Collection.  At the time, this would have been something of a daring painting for a woman to purchase and a rather surprising birthday present, as it was, from Queen Victoria to Prince Albert. It must have been a favourite of both as they had it hanging over their adjoining desks in the Queen's Sitting Room in Osborne House, where it remains to this day.  In her diaries, Victoria bemoaned the fact that it couldn't be a secret gift (perhaps she was conscious of its  perceived raciness as a gift from the monarch) as it had to appear in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition that year.  Likewise it looked like Winterhalter hadn't expected it to sell quite so quickly as he had to rapidly paint a copy (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York) for the Paris Salon the following year.

Bernardo Blanco -King Rodrigo before his defeat by the Moors at the battle of Guadalete in 711 (1871)

The subject is based on an old Spanish/Portuguese/Arab story.  Florinda was the daughter (or wife, depending on the version of the story) of Count Julian governor of Cueta for the Visigothic King Rodrigo in the 8th century.    Illustrated in Winterhalter's painting is one version, where King Rodrigo (just visible in the bushes at the far left) spies on Florinda and her lady companions as they prepare to bathe in the River Tajo, near Toledo castle. Instantly falling in lust (not surprisingly given, Winterhalter's lustrous treatment of flesh) Kind Rodrigo either seduced her and she became his lover or he abducted and raped her ('falls violently in love' as the Royal Collection euphemistically calls it).  Some versions of the story have Florinda as the seducer, however. Whatever, her father/husband Julian is none too pleased so colludes with the leader of the Ummayad Caliphate, Musa Ibn Nusayr, then running riot in North Africa, to invade Spain and kick out King Rodrigo and the Visigoths. This of course they did, leading to the death of King Rodrigo at the battle of Guadalete, centuries of Moorish conquest, flamenco music, a heroic crusade to oust the Moors, a Hollywood epic feature film with a wonderful soundtrack by Miklós Rózsa and a Warhammer Ancient Battles supplement.  That's a lot of stuff caused by one naked woman. In some versions of the legend, despite the rocky start to their relationship, Florinda, distraught at the death of her lover Rodrigo, commits suicide by jumping into the river where she was first spied upon by the King.  Her spirit, embarrassed at the terrible fate she had caused to befall Spain, would haunt the area ever after, especially if you have consumed too much Manchego and La Mancha wine, no doubt.

Winterhalter - Leonilla, Princess Sayn Wittgenstein (1843)

It was a popular story in the mid-nineteenth century (less so now) and indeed Queen Victoria, with Albert, had attended the world premier of the opera by Swiss composer Sigismond Thalberg, Florinda, ou Les Maures en Espagne, the year before she bought the painting, so was well aware of the legend.  The bodies in Winterhalter's painting would have been professional models but many of the faces were that of Leonilla, Princess of Sayn Wittgenstein, as Queen Victoria noted in her diaries. The Russian Princess Wittgenstein had been painted by Winterhalter in Paris in 1843 in a remarkably sensuous, for the time, odalisque style, portrait. She was famous for her intellect and her beauty and in 1860, when she was in her mid-forties, Queen Victoria noted that she was 'still very handsome'.  Born the year after the battle of Waterloo, she died in 1918, at the age of a hundred and one.

Thalberg's opera, Florinda has never been recorded and these days he is best known as a pianist who was a bitter rival to Liszt and who produced a number of piano arrangements of other composer's opera music.  So to keep the theme I am listening to the monumental soundtrack of El Cid, by Miklós Rózsa, in the truly excellent re-recording of the complete score (all 150 minutes of it) by The City of Prague Philharmonic.