Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Face-to-face gaming returns?

The prospect of face-to-face gaming hoved* into view the other day, when the eldest announced he had bought a train ticket to come darn sarf for a few days. Will see if he can fit it in. We should be reasonably safe from contamination as he is frequently tested at work (at a virus testing centre!) and the weather is set fair for Friday so maybe a game outside is possible.

I may also get a solo game in this afternoon as I’m enjoying a day off, using up the last of 2020’s leave allocation before I lose it.

The first task this afternoon though is to finalise details, and place the order for the war room/office/yoga studio/teenage hangout den.

To add to the positive feeling at Schloß Nundanket, the pool re-opened this week so I’m slowly getting up to speed with swimming again and cycling. I bought some porridge at the caff, but as you’re not allowed to eat it there I stopped off at a little beach on the Thames.

The water looks tempting, and not as cold as I expected. But still too early in the year!

* does this word get used in any other context? It seems a bit like ‘wend’ as in ‘I shall wend my way’, wend being the present tense form of went, before we adopted ‘go’.

Sunday, 28 March 2021


No gaming this week, or even painting. I've had plenty of time but not the motivation. I have been doing my homework though. In a previous book haul I bought the second edition of Duffy's The Army of Frederick the Great. After abandoning books on the Duke of Monmouth and Captain Morgan, at least temporarily, I started the Duffy book. It was a blessed relief after the other two. Some well-written history. Proper history. The second edition is markedly different from the first, so it is well worth having even if you have read the first. Duffy revises some of his earlier views on the performance of Prussian light troops for example. I think the second edition was influenced by further research he did using Austrian sourced, which showed things from the opposition's perspective.

I also picked up a couple of cheap books from Paul Meekins on-line bookshop. (Excellent service by the way).

I had a book with excerpts of Frederick's writings in the 90s, but I think that may have fallen victim to  someone else's domestic travails.

I got Cooke's book on Yorkshire in the Civil War a couple of years ago. That was excellent, so I'm really looking forward to this one. This is still in a cellophane wrapper.

I've also been doing homework in the language field. I have been grappling with the Finnish language on and off for over 17 years. Progress has been limited mainly by my own laziness. I've been doing fortnightly lessons locally for years now, and over the past year these have moved from the classroom to on-line. The problem is, being a bit of a lazy beaver, I don't do any work on it between lessons and two weeks is just long enough to forget 90% of anything new.

That is until now. A few weeks ago the other half for some reason was having a go at Swedish on a phone app. Swedish was her second language and she was functionally fluent growing up, about 40% of her home town's residents having Swedish as their first language. Over the years, non-use has meant her skill has drifted away but she still comprehends a lot, although Swedish accents can be a bit harder for her to follow. Anyway, she was working on the app at a very basic level and looking over her shoulder I could see the correct answer to one of those 'pick the right word from below' type questions before she could. You see there are a lot of basic words that are very similar to English. English often has multiple words meaning more or less the same thing, drawn from different languages. You sometimes find in such cases, the short, simple synonyms, and especially slightly 'archaic' or northern dialect words, are similar to words in Swedish.  Thus 'clothed' is 'klädd'. Chuffed with myself, I signed up and started doing it myself. And then I started doing Finnish, from scratch. Doing both has filled up all those moments when I don't really have time to do much else, or when I'd be scrolling through TV channels in search of anything remotely watchable.

What's been useful is cementing all the basic stuff in Finnish, as well as exercising the brain picking up a new language. If I'd been more pragmatic I'd have selected a language that would be more 'useful'. Something more widely spoken, but what the heck. Life is short. Despite still being at a basic level on the app, I've found the extra practice every day has sharpened that part of my brain that deals with language, so I've been noticeably more switched on during the on-line lessons.

There's been some humour in the app lessons. For example, grammatically correct nonsense. You'll note from the following though that the app has some rather irritating graphics, sounds and, erm, 'Californian positivity'. Awesome!

Something (printable) to say when you tread on a Lego brick.

A comment of the origin of the Ashes no doubt.

Absolutely no idea about this one, unless it's translated from Cockney rhyming slang.

Those Swedes love a disco. Hallelujah!

Monday, 22 March 2021

Recent Walks

I haven't done any walking blog posts for a while. I have had a couple of longish walks with the Mem recently but we haven't been anywhere different for a while. I do have another river walk up my sleeve though so watch this space if you haven't had enough of suburban, southwest London fluvial perambulations.

This from a recent midweek walk in Richmond Park.

These reeds are easily over 2 metres high. By Peg's Pond in the Isabella Plantation, a delight of mixed habitats and plants from around the world.

Peg's Pond again, with some of the residents. Often you can see Mandarin ducks among the more common Mallards, Coots and Moorhens and whatever those black and white ducks are called.

Signs of Spring. Still in the Isabella Plantation. My wife did tell me what these white flowers are called. Naturally I forgot.

I was struck by how the sunlight had made the bark on this tree look golden-red.

The next few are from an earlier walk, also blessed by clear skies.
Formerly All Saints Church, Petersham, this tower is now part of a private home. It is huge! Talk about prime real estate. It comes complete with its own indoor pool and tower overlooking Richmond Park. Apparently Pavarotti recorded here in 1976. Other users of the church include the Greek Orthodox community. Possibly before they had their own church in north Kingston a few miles away.

The daffs are out. This is in the grounds of Pembroke Lodge, again in Richmond Park.  The grounds of Pembroke Lodge have some of the best views of the Thames valley.

View from Pembroke Lodge. Apologies for it being out of focus. Ham House is the stately pile in the middle distance. Windsor Castle is on the ridge in the background. You'd need very keen eyesight or a telescope to spot it though. The Thames runs behind Ham House at a slight angle. Upstream is towards the top left.

A walk last Saturday took us through the streets to Wimbledon Common, along the bank of the Beverley Brook, into Richmond Park, and then back home.

Heron spotted on the Beverley Brook during a walk at the weekend. That's  to say we were having a walk. The heron wasn't, for all I know. There is a project underway to breakdown the false banks of the stream, and to inhibit its flow to encourage the build up of gravel and hence plants and fauna. It's beginning to pay dividends.

Dorich House Museum, part of the University of Kingston. Located on Kingston Hill by the edge of Richmond Park

Last of all, a few shots from a couple of weeks ago. Through the Park to Richmond Hill and back.

The Secret Garden in reverse. From Terrace Gardens on  Richmond Hill.

The building formerly known as the Star and Garter Home. Another piece of prime real estate, the Star and Garter was the home for old soldiers built after WWI by the Haig Fund. It stands close to a gate into Richmond Park and on a steep ridge overlooking the Thames valley (off to the right). Now sold off and converted to appartments, the cheapest of which costs £2m.

The Petersham Hotel, close to the Star and Garter. It surprisingly doesn't warrant a mention on the Wiki page for Petersham.

View down to Petersham Meadows

Ham House again.

Something of interest to Virginians. The map on this is plaque has been inverted  120 degrees clockwise - note arrow in the top right.

Looking like a Vauban era wall (complete with gun ports in the casemate), this is the lower face of the Star and Garter. Above this wall is a garden terrace and the main building off to the left.

Mollwitz Again - this time with the rules

I had another run through of the Twilight of the Soldier Kings rules tonight. My first whilst actually in possession of the rules. If that sounds bizarre, if you are thinking "how did he manage without the rules", then I refer you to my previous post on the subject when I played a solo game on the strength of what I learned from the videos Hwicce (aka Nick Dorrell the author) posted on You Tube. See YouTube link also on the previous post on Mollwitz.

Reading the scenario for Mollwitz given in the back of the rules, I noticed that the space allowed was c 90cm by 90cm. Enough space for me to set-up the game on Sunday night and still have enough room on the dining room table to work comfortably today!

This time round I took on board some of the nuances of the rules which I hadn't picked up from the videos (although they were there!). Namely Improved Movement ("IM") for the Prussians and Rapid Fire ("RF") for the Prussians. IM allows for some advantages in formation changes and in making extra moves. RF permits the Prussian player to insist the opponent retake one of the D6 rolls if he thinks there is a chance of a worse result for the opponent. E.G. In the morale test when under fire, the unit taking the test rolls two D6. The pass score is 8. Various modifiers are applied. If say the testing unit rolls a 5 and a 3 the Prussians could make the defender retake the 5, given there's a good chance of it resulting in a lower score. These two mechanisms are excellent ways of representing the superiority of Prussian infantry without giving them the traditional overall higher troop rating.

* another innovation which I think represents the Prussian doctrine very well is the use in the rules of Bayonet Tactics or "BT". BT are used by the Prussian infantry in the latter part of the Silesian Wars and the army part of the SYW (roughly 1744-mid-1757). This rule represents Frederick's belief at the time that the moral force of lines of silent, Prussian infantry marching mechanically toward them would be enough to see off any opponent. Fritz was keen to avoid getting bogged down in fruitless firefights, and no doubt save some money on powder and lead at the same time. The rules means that Prussian infantry cannot voluntarily stop and fire until they have made a failed close combat attack. This is a fantastic innovation in my opinion, and stops the bluecoats from becoming invincible. 

When playing the Prussian side I made 'the Austrian' me re-roll several times and on only one occasion did it backfire. In this one case it meant the Austrians passed the test - I was gambling on them getting a score low enough that would make them rout rather than simply suffer a loss.

The other thing I applied in this game that I forgot last time was the Wing Morale Test, when a Wing loses fifty per cent of its units. Then when fifty percent of an army's wings go (in this game there were 3 each, left, right and centre), it has to take an army morale test. 

So how did the game play out? The Prussians advanced on the right and centre, whilst their left were slightly refused. The Austrian left wing charged in as soon as possible. Unlike in the real battle the Prussian cavalry proved stubborn. The opposing horse got bogged down for a long time, as first one side, then the other would pass morale tests. The Prussian left was also a stand off although the Austrians got the upper hand. They tried without success to turn their second line cavalry onto the Prussian infantry but with the lack of space the manoeuvre was too tricky. Meanwhile the bluecoats advanced to firing range, saw off one small unit of hussars then started to shred the whitecoated infantry opposite. Outnumbered and outshot, the Austrians lost three out of their five foot units and failed the subsequent Wing Morale Test. So that was two out of three wings gone**, and with both Neipperg and Römer out of the picture, the Queen of Hungary's army dissolved into the darkening April gloom.

**The Prussian right wing cavalry wing went at about the same time as the Austrian cavalry.

The only snap I took. End of the game shortly before the Prussian Right Wing failed its morale test and the Austrians failed their army morale. Round bases indicate 'morale failures'.

The game took me just over an hour to complete, so pretty much in line with the last attempt. Even allowing for the fact an opposed game would take longer, this is still a fast play game. I will work up to something more ambitious next time.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

I guess you had to be there

Liverpool Dave’s post about buses has just provoked a memory that makes me smile. The FA Cup fifth round in 1989 saw my team (4th division Grimsby Town) away at cup-holders Wimbledon. This prompted such an exodus from Fishopolis that all manner of wheeled transport was pressed into service including vehicles chartered from GCT. 

I remember standing on the dangerously overcrowded mud bank that passed for the away end at Plough Lane, when a GCT double-decker was spotted with its usual bus route still displayed. ‘3C - North Sea Lane’. Naturally this led to people questioning the driver's sense of direction, reminders to return company assets at the end of the shift, and speculation that there were some bewildered old dears wondering why it was taking so long to get from 'Top Town' to Cleethorpes Sea Front.

By the way, this was the time of the first craze for inflatables at football matches in England. Someone at the local rag sourced a supply of blow-up trout which they marketed as 'Harry the Haddock' and sold thousands. Which just goes to show what the average person in Grimsby didn't know about fish.

Below you can see the travelling horde, ecstatic at the sight of one familiar bus in That London.

Spot the blogger. 

As a further aside, in another flashback (a Proustian moment I believe the cognoscenti call them) I took delivery of a replacement panel for a kitchen unit. I was in the retail unit where this came from last year, picking up something or other. This is on a retail park built not many feet away from the site of the above picture. Wandering around the aisles I felt a shiver run down my spine. A feeling of ‘I know this place’. A spooky moment. It may have just been a breeze and a touch of lightheadedness due to not having had enough breakfast. I prefer to think of it as the long dormant echoes of events played out years before, triggered into vibrancy by the presence of a receptive soul. The spot where the late Keith Alexander headed the Mariners into the lead. I believe it’s time for my meds.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Building "shedquarters"

Ever in tune with the Zeitgeist, we at Schloss Nundanket are looking at having a garden studio-cum-office-cum-warroom.  Currently we're looking at a couple of different companies, one which makes them out of Siberian Spruce and another which uses Redwood. The latter also offers them in Cedar at a premium of about 50% on the base price, which puts the cost beyond what we're prepared to pay, unless there is a convincing economic argument to persuade us otherwise.

The plan is to have whatever is built fully insulated (walls, floor, roof). 

Does anyone out there who has experience of such matters for any tips or pitfalls to look out for when engaging on such a venture? I'm aware of restrictions on height and distance that you must be from boundaries of the property. The roof is likely to be flat (or rather slightly pitched).

I'm slightly concerned about the amount of natural light that the space will get, with the structure facing northwards. One option is pretty much fully glazed across the front, and the other is about 2/3 glazed. 

Obviously electrikery will have to be dealt with. We'd need cabling back to the mains, so a lot of trench digging will be involved.

Ideally I'd like a 'green' roof but the quotes I've seen for sedum roofs as optional extras look extortionate. I appreciate there could be issues around the additional weight on the structure, so dealing with that might account for some of the cost.

How did you get on with your own garden war-room? Is there anything that you'd wished you'd known before and anything that you would have done differently?

Any comments and suggestions will be much appreciated.

Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Reading matters

Of my recent haul of six books, I've now finished two. The Twilight of the Soldier Kings rules were the first. I found a few things I missed and a few things I didn't know about (or hadn't picked up from the videos). More of this the next time I play a game with them.

Latterly I've been reading the John Barratt book on the 1646 campaigns on the borderlands of England and Wales. This was a good book overall. Be warned though, if you are just interested in it for the immediate run up to and fighting of the Battle of Stow, this part only covers a quarter of the main text. The rest of it covers the attempt to take Chester from late 1645 to its eventual fall, and wider campaigns in the West Midlands and Marches. One of the 8 chapters is dedicated to the capture of Hereford alone: in 1645. So you're well into the book before 1646 comes along. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, and found it very informative and well documented in Barratt's usual style, but why do publishers find it difficult to give books an accurate subtitle? Even adjusting it to 'the end of the Civil War in the Welsh Marches from the fall of Chester to the Battle of Stow.' 

Reading the Afterword, I was struck by how many of the leading characters died in the same year. And no I don't mean they were killed or mortally wounded in the Battle of Stow. 

Jacob Lord Astley (R) died at home in 1652

Thomas Leveson (R) died in exile in 1652

Sir Charles Lucas (R) captured at the siege of Colchester in the Second Civil War, 1648 and shot

Barnaby Scudamore (R) 'did not compound until 1651' and, you guessed it, died the following year.

Sir Thomas Tyldesley (R) involved in the rising of 1651 and died 4 months short of 1652, being killed at the action at Wigan on 25 August. A very bad Bank Holiday. Looking for Wigan Pier no doubt.

Sir William Vaughan (R) killed in Ireland in 1649.

Henry Washington (R) managed to avoid the curse, dying in 1664.

Sir Michael Woodhouse (R) 'may have died in 1651'. I'm having that, as he therefore, may have died in 1652.

Sir William Brereton (P) also avoided the curse, dying in 1661. Lest you think that was just winner's luck, fate took some revenge. He was buried in Croydon.

John Birch (P) died in 1691.

Thomas Morgan (P) died in 1679.

Yes, I know it was the Royalists who died in 1652, and as they were the losers you expect that they might have had more trouble adapting and surviving in the new regime. But given that most of these seem to have died in peacetime, you have to wonder. How's that for the makings of a conspiracy theory?

I can't make my mind up what to read next. The Duffy is the most tempting, even though I've read the first edition quite a few times. The Henry Morgan book is the most different to my normal reading material, so might be 'refreshing'. The Saxon Army book is brief and I've already dipped into it. Maybe jump straight to the narrative section, I'm not massively interested in the regimental evolution. The Monmouth book will have to wait and I hope this talk on Wednesday does not put me off the book.

Note that Ralphus has posted a Zoom link in the comments so you don't have to be signed up to Fakebook.

Ta-da for now!


Back already. This is rapidly turning into a whinge. A middle-aged rant in fact. Apologies for that. Switch off now if you don’t like this sort of thing.

I started the book about Morgan, but soon got disillusioned for the reasons given in the comments below. Then I followed Tradgardmastare’s suggestion (not your fault old boy, not your fault). I picked up the book about the Saxon army in the mid-eighteenth century. So far I’m part way through the Silesian Wars section of the narrative.

This book looks like it hasn’t been edited. I don’t mean that it’s got several typos, or badly phrased sentences. Initially it looked like a poor translation. I have no idea whether it was written in Italian then translated into English, by a person who doesn’t have the required standard or by a machine, or whether the author wrote it straight into English. Either way I would suggest it is the publisher’s responsibility to edit it. I would be delighted if I could write Italian, or any other language, to this standard, but I would be gobsmacked if someone published it.

It’s not just errors in English grammar though. There are often paragraphs that have two completely different themes in them. Some contain a narrative that is jumbled up chronologically, like one of those drama series that keeps jumping backwards and forwards in time.

In parts it reads like a collection of notes that haven’t been sorted yet and the balance is all wrong. E.G. lots of information about a column’s order of march and how it marched backwards and forwards between different cities within Saxony, then next to nothing about the business end when the column got to Bohemia. Before we know it the Saxons are at Prague. Now this might reflect the over-abundance of sources for one phase, and the lack of sources for another. Surely an alert editor might point this out and suggest a revision or two here and adding a comment about lack of information.

This isn’t meant to be a proper review. Just a whinge from an unimpressed reader. I’m glad I bought it for a heavily discounted price because I would be hugely disappointed if I’d paid the publisher’s price. It’s a shame because there’s a lot of useful information in it, and it was a delight to see the author’s passion come through in the preface.

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Twilight of the Soldier Kings / Cabin Fever

The rule book arrived very promptly on Tuesday (I only ordered it Sunday night). Unsurprisingly, there is a lot more in it than I picked up from the videos. And I did make some mistakes in my trial game on Sunday. For a start I forgot to do the Wing Morale test which might have meant that my arbitrarily calling time might not have been needed. I might say some more on the rule nuances that give more of a flavour of Frederician warfare.

I'm conscious that I have a few rulesets I've been meaning to try. Tigers at Minsk for one (I know, I know Jon, but it's not been a year yet since I said I'd try them). Also Neil Thomas' WWII rules from Wargaming - An Introduction. And last but not least monsieur le comte de Foy's updated Prinz Eugen rules.

I also had a bit of a 'Mrs Smoker'* moment at the weekend and ordered some discounted books from Naval & Military Press that might have fitted into the category of books I'd borrow from the small local library but wouldn't normally buy. But like Mrs Smoker and her piston engine purchase, I bought them because they were a bargain. And it's lockdown and the libraries are still closed.

* Middle-aged wargamer makes Monty Python reference.

Sticking with the 18th century I bought Vol I of Between Scylla and Charybdis by Marco Pagan. I don't know why I didn't think to get Vol II while I was at it. I had a quick look through it. Nothing has immediately made me think "I must do the Saxon army of the 1740s" so I think there won't me an order going to Heroics and Ros just yet.

Then back to the 17th century for bios of Henry Morgan and the Duke of Monmouth. Now the Monmouth Rebellion has been an itch I have resisted scratching ever since I first read Marlborough as Military Commander back in the 1970s. It wouldn't be too difficult to 're-convert' those War of the League of Augsburg troopers with a quick paint job, I have plenty of pikemen and 'clubmen' so I'm part way there....

Then there is the Last Army: The Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold and the End of the Civil War in the Welsh Marches 1646, another of those regional specific offerings from Helion. The Morgan book should at least be different from what I normally read, but it comes with the biggest risk of inspiring a new project. 

Finally, I'm waiting for the delivery of the Army of Frederick the Great by Christopher Duffy (the recent imprint by Helion). My original copy is the equivalent of the shabby Old Fritz in his later years. Still wearing the old stained coat from his glory years. The dust jacket has tears in it, the spine is coming off and there is the odd paint stain (I know, sacrilege) and the thing smells damp from when I had to store my books in a wet garage. I read the second edition before, and I seem to remember some significant revisions Duffy made to his opinions on the Prussian light troops. If I get 43 years out of this copy like I have with the last, it will be money well spent.

God knows when I will read all this stuff. The Stow book will be read fairly soon no doubt, and I won't struggle to open up Fritz's Army. What I need is two weeks off somewhere warm with someone happy to sit around but be available for walks when I want company.