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'A gaping silken dragon,/Puffed by the wind, suffices us for God./We, not the City, are the Empire's soul:/A rotten tree lives only in its rind.'

Saturday, 30 June 2012

A small find...

... well, two, actually.

As well as toy soldier painting, walking, church hunting, pillbox ferreting etc, I also browsed a book shop or two on my holiday. Burnham Market boasts a very good second-hand bookshop that, a few years ago, provided me with a nice little cache of books about the American Revolution. They dated from around the US bicentenary, and I suspect a now deceased enthusiast had them in his library; who knows, he may have been a wargamer and used Airfix's still rather fine AWI sets - remember the wounded man being helped by his comrades, and the barrel carrier ? This time, I picked through the shelves, looking for the odd, the unusual, the unjustly forgotten, and came across this very slim volume, instantly recognisable as wartime standard production:

Published in May 1944 by George Harrap & Co. Ltd., it is Poems from the Desert; verses by members of the Eighth Army, and was, I thought, a snip, at £3. Especially when I turned a few pages in and saw:

Yes, Monty's mark, in all probability a month before the invasion of (western) Europe. Montgomery has a particular status here in Warwickshire, due to his connection with the now disbanded county regiment (the old 6th Foot). In fact, the departmental secretary at my place of work boasted a grandfather who was Montgomery's batman in the 1930s. Montgomery was, of course, far from being a retiring sort of fellow, was quick to steal other's thunder, and made some very bad mistakes, as well as some good calls. But, then. I wasn't there, and am just a scribbler.

My second find was this:

Originally published in 1960, and in English in 1963, it is the work of Herr Doktor Wilhelm Schacht, erstwhile gardener to Tsar Boris of Bulgaria, and the book is full of references to the gardening work of men with marvellous names - Kerner von Marilaun am Innsbruck, Herr Doktor A. Hruska; and Herr Doktor Rosenstingl-Gmunden. These botanists are surely the creatures of an 18th Century Imagi-nation.

Friday, 29 June 2012

What I did...

on holiday. Of course.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that I painted some little metal chaps:

These are some Perry AWI British 17th Dragoons, who will join forces with the mounted Loyalists of the British Legion, once they've received a coat of matt varnish and some flock for the bases. 

The building, also painted this holiday, is from Hovels' Northern Europe range.

But I also wandered from the painting table to the small towns and villages, the salt marsh, coastal paths, and  the sea. Norfolk is marvellously provided with very old churches, dating from the Anglo-Saxon period, when those pagans became Christian (it was said, in some cases, because of the free shirts that came with baptism...). Of course, Britain, under the Romans had been Christian, but their built remains are fewer, and often take the form of brick work embedded in later buildings. The Anglo-Saxons' stone churches, however, still stand in surprisingly large numbers. In East Anglia, and particularly Norfolk, the use of flints for buildings necessitated round towers:

This is the tower of St. Mary's, Burnham Deepdale, and it is around 1,000 years old. Inside, there is a large stone font, from the early Norman period, used to baptise Anglo-Saxon babies, who lie outside now, in the church yard, and who will continue to add to the bones of Norfolk for a while yet.

The church also boasts windows made of ancient glass. Above, fragments brought together in the 'moon window'; the eponymous moon staring wryly down at the passing of years and people.

Being on England's east coast, Norfolk is also well provided with relics from a nearer period. Since I first visited the area in 1984/5, the sea has taken much in the way of pillboxes and other concrete and brick defence works, but here is one of my favourite bits of 1940: 

An Allan Williams turret still in situ on sea defences near Cley-next-the-Sea, which straggles across the low escarpment in the distance. I have written about this turret elsewhere, as I am quite taken by its mushroom like being among the grasses.

And, all across the area the rain had done wonders for the ox-eye daisies, the dog roses and the poppies that festooned the roadsides and the hedges, while fields of barley ran beneath the sea wind in this corner of England:

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Happy day...

... it's my holidays! I shall be away for a week, on holiday, in one of my favourite parts of England, my homeland. I have been holidaying in the area for nearly three decades, it is where this great Englishman grew up:

It is a land of great beauty, with high skies and long coasts, inlets, birds, salt marsh, pubs and churches:

I will leave you with a few stanzas from a notable contemporary Norfolk poet, and master of Anglo-Saxon poetry and prose, Kevin Crossley-Holland:

The blue hour ends, this world
floats on a great stillness.

I only guess where marsh
finishes and sky begins,

each grows out of the other.
In the creek a slip

of water gleams [...]

I'll be there this time tomorrow, god willing.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Cold War subject...

... and Cold War plastic. I began the Mig15 kit bash this evening, and it certainly is going to be a kit bash and some more. It is now very clear that I have a genuine bit of Cold War (and I mean 'classic' Cold War, not all that 1980s, SS20, Cruise Missile, Protect & Survive, dancing, prancing Greenham Cold War) kit on my hands. Starting with the cockpit tub, I added the resin ejector seat:

Let me digress for a moment ... the tin is, perhaps, of greater interest than the cockpit tub. The tin now contains bits of white metal off-cuts, some of which will go to weight the nose of the Mig, but, once, oh, once, the tin held the most divine of all pipe tobacco. I speak, sirs, of Peterson of Dublin's UNIVERSITY FLAKE. But, alas, the smoke is too perfect, too satisfying, so I avoid it now, as it weighs the game of pipe smoker's Russian roulette a little too heavily in favour of the demon,
 Nick O'Tine.

Back to the kit. Even in this photograph, it is clear that the cockpit tub is a heavy duty affair, but look at the 'detail' on the fuselage:

It looks like a steam punk's fantasy of a late Victorian boiler. I have resisted checking Mig 15 photographs in detail, as I would be very surprised if the panels match anything that existed in real life. I don't intend to totally remove all these bumps and lumps and then rescribe, but I will sand down a great deal. But this is not all. Below is the interior of the fuselage - a formless thing, with no location lugs for anything:


Sunday, 17 June 2012

Soviet classic...

... Rolls Royce engine. Uh? Just what did the UK government think it was up to? 'RR Nene, yes, of course, tovarish, and have some other products of our war winning aero-engine manufacturers while you are at it'. Oh well, it's all old hat now, ancient history. Odd, it was so  much part of our lives for what seem like aeons. But, it 'is one with Ninevah and Tyre!'.

Anyway, to see off flat fever (see previous posts), I've opted for an aircraft build. This has been sitting in my kit pile for six years, a Mig 15:

It's to be a basic kit bash, plus a little extra in the shape of a new resin ejector seat, and some after market decals.

The kit is a 'Kopro' kit (not sure if the company is still about), with raised panel lines and noticeable rivets, so it will be interesting to see how it goes together.

The after market decals are related to the theme of this magazine from November 2006 (is it still around?  I haven't seen it in the newsagents recently):

An interesting, well illustrated issue, with the Royal Navy and the French Navy still amounting to something. Carriers galore, aircraft and some more, ships aplenty. Yet the UK was a good deal less well off as a nation then than it is now. But there we go:

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Ninevah and Tyre!

Yes, the old boy knew a thing or two, and ex-footballers nothwithstanding, there was a great deal more to his poetry than many give him credit for. But, that was a time when they could see what was shaping up for the century of horrors to come. Arnold did something similar with 'Dover Beach', and the squinty old Marxist nonsense (think Sartre) hardly proved to be a decent replacement.

On the soil front - ten bags of manure shifted into a trench, runner beans added. Around 70 leeks planted out, plus three rows of carrots. It still rains.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Poor photographs...

... middling flats. I finished the British infantry for the War of 1812, this time with more accentuated highlighting. Still far from 'right', but, they'll do. But, my photographic skills are also less than A1, so the images don't really show the little flat fellows in all their (middling) glory:

The images above and below show the British ( a regiment with buff facings) posed against a Charles Grant style house.

The photograph below shows Canadians and British wending their way through the forests of Upper Canada to defend the freedoms of the King's subjects against Yankee Doodle:

Actually, I wonder if 'Yankee Doodle' was still called that by 1812, or did the foe have another nickname?

That's almost all my flats for the moment (apart from the Panzertruppen), and I feel in need of a complete change. Watch this space.

Friday, 15 June 2012

la lutta continua...

... our dim politicians struggle to think of what on earth they could do next, bankers struggle to keep the rest of us on our knees, Merkel struggles to be a bureaucratic Karl der Grosse, M. Hollande struggles with his mini-harem (or they with him - good job the top Frenchies have got their priorities right), and the Greeks just struggle. And I struggle to crack this flat painting malarkey:

Some work in progress. In the foreground, three members of the Panzerwaffe c.1940. I've had these since 1984, but they needed repainting because I had originally done them with camo overalls, despite their early war floppy berets (!!). The difficulty, of course, is painting black on these flats. Just the basecoat at the moment, but the only way forward that I can see is exaggerated highlighting. I think this just might be the general answer, and the War of 1812 British in the background have had the block colours highlighted much more than I would do with round figures. If you click on the image to enlarge it, the highlighting is a bit more apparent, but I may well have to be even more heavy handed.

But away from the struggles of high politics and flat painting, sanity can still be found in my Hobbit hole:

A brief bit of early morning sun warming my tiny greenhouse, where I smoked a pipe of London Mixture, and drank coffee. 
'Time grows young in a garden'.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A pick up...

... game. At last, the sound of rolling dice! Last summer, I was much taken by Bob Cordery's gridded wargame rules for Frontier and Modern games, based on the work of one of the great pathfinders, Joe Morschauser. I was also spurred on by Ross Mac's play testing, using ACW in 15mm, and Russian Civil War figures. So, I invested in more of the same, and produced a small tin box full of murderous Bolsheviks, and massacring Whites:

And, tonight, I had a spare hour or so, and an opponent, to get the little fellows out of their biscuit tin barracks. Here are the Whites:

First moves saw heavy play by the artillery on both sides as the infantry moved up to a meeting engagement:

The first close combat between the pointy-headed Bolsheviks, and the flat-capped Whites saw the Reds destroyed, which was in keeping with the early stages of the game. 

But, a sudden change in fortunes (the Whites feared some occult happening, while the Bolsheviks just took it as the hand of history) put the Whites under pressure. In quick succession, they lost three stands of infantry and the machine gun stand, leaving a ragged front under heavy Red artillery fire...

But worse was to come. An off-target Red artillery salvo hit the White command stand, and even Our Saviour couldn't save them...

The final straw was a highly symbolic dice throw by the White commander (me!). Heavily affected by this message, I called it a day.

A quick, enjoyable game - thanks Bob, and Joe.

And on another happy note, look what I found in the shed:

My long lost beer mats of London pubs for the Jolly Fun Wargames rules! Click on the image to remind yourself of England's glory - its pubs and history (with a little help from the odd Scot and Hanoverian).

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


....brrrm, brrrm, brrrrrrrrrrm....
See the right hand panel and click on the fascist redhead in leather.

This redhead:

Monday, 11 June 2012

the fag end of one's life...

A rambling post; well, even more rambling than usual. If I were a Jacobean, or a late Elizabethan, I might take the strange weather as a sign of things being wrong 'in the state of Denmark' (although they don't have the Euro!), or, indeed, closer to home. Today's work involved another trip to the Great Wen, or, as I increasingly think of it, Londinium. That city stills stands as an embodiment of huge supra-national forces - just as it did (though of a far more Provincial nature) under Rome, and it probably has as much in common with its hinterland - now, England, then, Britannia - as ever. So, I always come to it as a rustic, of sorts. But, today was a pleasant visit. I had time to take a coffee in Marylebone, and, savour, as always, its particular railway architecture, while enjoying the 18th Century undertow of drinking coffee in London. I was early, too, for my meeting in the Strand, so had time to wander in the rain under the plane trees, past Lincoln's Inn (home of many a high Victorian amateur adventurer and sleuth; in fiction, at least), the Old Bailey (always looking like a more ominous Balliol, Oxford), then into Fleet Street. The heavy rain running in the gutters was a reminder that the River Fleet still lies somewhere underneath, buried in culverts. Perhaps one day it will run above ground again, in a more optimistic version of Jefferies' After London. In the near distance was the Gherkin, but shrouded in low clouds, as if a Blake-like God was warning of further financial disaster to come. The meeting was a meeting, but afterwards I had time to have my haircut, by a pleasant, but remarkably nervous, razor wielding North African, in Marylebone Station. It is a gentleman's barbers, in which the barber does not bother the customer with his views on football, rugby, golf, or anything else, and, as such, recommended.

Although it rained today, yesterday saw a day of sunshine, enough to enable some work on my sad allotment plot to take place, and enough to encourage a cactus that I have had for about 12 years to finally flower:

This fellow has squatted in his pot for a dozen years, slowly, slowly growing, and, now - a crown! There is a  link with toy soldiers and models here - patience. The sun also shone on my hedge-in-being. Two years ago I was, due to new neighbours, in a position to grub up an old, very woody, very wide, 12 foot high privet hedge. In its place, I am growing an apple, rose, and holly hedge, interlaced with all sorts of flowers. At the moment, poppies reign:

My grandfather, who, amazingly, survived the Great War on the Western Front as an infantryman (in The King's, the old 8th Foot - bold defenders of Canada in 1775 and 1812, among many other things), said of our use of Poppies as the flower of remembrance, 'Poppies. I never saw poppies, just bloody mud'. 

I am an amateur enthusiast for the late 18th Century in the West, as, I know, are many old school wargamers. One of the things that attracts me to our ancestors then is the sense that they are becoming like us, that the early modern period was fading, and that the Middle Ages was almost gone. Late last week, my wife and I went to Compton Verney, a jewel in Warwickshire's richly endowed cultural crown. Not only are the house itself, and its restored landscaped grounds works of art, but it is the site of an increasingly important art gallery. The current exhibitions are of English impressionists and the landscape paintings of Thomas Gainsborough. And here he is, aged around 28 in 1755; a self-portrait in pencil: 

Gainsborough, of course, is best known for his society portraits, which I am not a particular fan of. So, I was pleased to find that neither was he! Instead, he longed to find 'a sweet, small village' where he could 'live out the fag end of my life'. As I said, they became like us in this period. 

Finally, a shameless bit of self-advertisement: I am the guest speaker on BBC Radio 4's Making History programme which is broadcast tomorrow, Tuesday, 12th June at 3:00pm, later to be available on i-player (I will add a link on the right - if it sounds ok!).

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Preparing for an anniversary

In just over a week it will be 200 years since the USA declared war on Canada, and Britain, trying, once more, to force Canadians into the USA. But the Canadians - British, French and Native - yet again fought off their more numerous, aggressive and self-righteous neighbours, just as they had in 1775-6. The War of 1812 is unjustly neglected, and it boasts many interesting features, not least the role that US born Canadians played in defending their new homeland against the invaders, and the fighting spirit of French Canadians under the British flag. For the US, it was meant to be (as for many over-confident jingoists of all nations and all periods of history) merely a stroll in the woods. But that was far from the case.

Enough of the history, here are the toys:

These are the first flat figures I have painted since 1985, and it wasn't easy. In fact, it is a case of 'must try harder'. They are Berliner Zinnfiguren Peninsular War chaps painted as Lower Canada Select Embodied Militia, hence the dark blue trousers. Then, as now (in fact, definitely as now in the UK), the government thought that it could scrimp on support services, even when fighting a war. Plus ca change...

Thinking about why I found these chaps hard to paint, I realised that the fine detail is so fine that it quickly becomes obscured by even very thin layers of paint, making the detail hard to identify towards the end of the process. Further, that magic of the wash just doesn't work as it does on the fully round figure. Some people certainly know how to do these figures, see, for example, Corporal Trim, but I have much to learn.

Finally, after a smokeless week, I was pleased to find that the post lady had delivered a new smoke this morning. Aaaaaah.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Flat Oberfeldwebel von Stanley...

... or something like that. While bashing my skull on the joists in the loft this evening, I found some more of my flats from long ago. These were a Christmas present from a German student (an expert in Grecian red figure vases, an ardent Bonapartist, and the son of two Prussians) in 1984. My interests were decidedly modern in those days, and the erstwhile Prussian humoured me with these chaps:
Firstly, rubbing it in for the French, or, perhaps, rallying the forces of anti-Bolshevism, or, if these high ones were from Vienna, staging a raid on the pastry shop.

While, on the Eastern Front, Blue Division flats read the Spanish language version of Signal, and phone mum.

While their mates throw shells at the Anti-Christ.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Per l'onore d'Italia

Well, it's been a week to remember on the monarchical front, a remarkable week in terms of weather in Mercia (rain, rain, and a bit more rain, accompanied by March-like temperatures), and a damn'd week in personal terms. And it is still only Wednesday! However, I did, finally, finish the ANR Me Bf109 G-10, so here it is, with the other 1/72 ANR aircraft it has joined on the shelf:

This very late mark Me Bf109 is finished as a 2nd Squadron, 1st Fighter Group aircraft, based at Lonate Pozzolo in April 1945. While, below:

A Macchi  C.205 in the summer of 1944, based, I think, at Vicenza (it's some time since I made the Macchi, and I'm not too sure of the references). Then, a Me Bf109 G-6:

Flown by S.M. Cavagliano, 1st Squadron, 2nd Fighter Group, Aviano, November 1944.
Finally, the only (operational) offensive capability of the ANR:

Two views of a late mark S79, from 1st Torpedo bomber group, late 1944, operating from Ghedi.

After the withdrawal of the last of the Luftwaffe's day fighters from Italy, in September 1944, the ANR fighters were the only air defence for Northern Italy. Small in numbers, seriously, and increasingly short of aviation fuel, and with poor training, the ANR pilots attempted to exact some return for the heavy bombing of Italian cities, and also made efforts to intercept Allied bombers on their way to and from raids on Germany. 

Enough of this aero stuff! I have made a little headway on my 1812 Canadians - the flats, that is. More generally, I have finally come to realise that, assuming (and that is a very big assumption) that I get some time to myself, I can only, realistically, war game in one way:

So, the above is my current bedtime reading!

Sunday, 3 June 2012


Echoing her coronation day, it has rained all day in most of the United Kingdom, but Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh were not deterred. And neither were the crowds along the banks of the Thames. There can be little doubt that Queen Elizabeth is a force for unity among the (majority) of the British.

2012 - 'things ain't wot they used to be' in 1952. Some good, but too many babies thrown out with the bath water in the last 60 years. But, still, today: