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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.'

Monday, 30 July 2012


... and the Sea.  A title of a book of oddments by Hilaire Belloc, a man forever nostalgic about the loss of the Roman Empire in the West. But also a description of a landscape that I love. Yesterday, I had a trip to a bit of Britain that encapsulates the loss of Christian Rome and hills and the sea - west Wales. On my maternal grandmother's side my family comes from Wales, from Llwyncelyn in Ceredigion. Celtic Welsh speakers who sheltered behind mountains after the fall of late Roman Britain, Christian Britain, to the invading pagan Saxons. Who, of course, went on to become Christians, and the English - creating my homeland of England. Travelling westwards yesterday, from the heart of Mercia, we stopped just before the English-Welsh border for tea, and listened to local, Herefordshire accents - rich, English accents. Within a few miles that had changed; then beyond the hills, Welsh speakers everywhere, and different faces - rounder, heavier set, with a sprinkling of blue eyed, sharp nosed Viking, reminding us that the Viking raiding Kingdom of the Isle of Man wasn't that far away in the Irish Sea. This part of Ceredigion had a feeling of ethnic permanence, and that was pleasing. Because such things are, like the natural ecology of the world, fragile. My grandmother's parents were native Welsh speakers, and she was able to swear profusely in Welsh, but my mother cannot speak a word of the language. Similarly, my late father and mother in law were native Gaelic speakers, but my wife speaks just a handful of words. Fortunately, for me, the other three quarters of my background is English - Derbyshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Durham - so I speak the language of most of my forefathers. But language and culture can be gone in a generation or two. The supporting environment of people can quickly fall away - whether it be the built environment (vernacular architectural styles, which are so noticeable as one drives through the country, fall to 'off the board' standards of cheap mass produced building) or the organic cultural growth of generations (the visual media is quick to destroy that). And peoples are replaced - driven away, or simply elbowed out. And it doesn't have to be by armed invasion, which is clear cut, and can be defended against. There were memories of such defence in Ceredgion too, with a very well preserved pill box catching my eye on a hill overlooking the sea:

In a remote spot, surrounded on three sides by self-sown trees, this pillbox was unadornded with graffiti, undamaged, except for the loss of the wooden firing platforms inside, and had not been used as a urinal. It squatted, half-hidden, looking across sloping fields, watching, waiting, empty.

Sticking to these themes, I finally managed to finish my first two DBA armies. Here are my late Anglo-Saxons/English -shieldwall ready to repulse the invader:

Next step in the project is a dedicated DBA playing area. I've got the MDF, and some green paint, so it won't be long (he said...)

Monday, 23 July 2012

Famous last...

... post. Even as I typed the final words of my last post - over a week ago - I realised that I was tempting fate. Of course, a week and more later, and ... I haven't made any advance at all on my DBA project. Well, not unless peering at Donnington's 'New Era' range of 15mm Dark Ages fellows counts. What is worse, I can't remember how I had intended to organise my two armies - late English and Dane -and the DBA army list only seems to offer mid-Anglo-Saxons and their rivals. Why is this ? Does anyone know? And does anyone have a DBA list for late English ?

Despite the utter failure on the toy soldier front, I have made advances in the Alps (or Pyrenees, or Dolomites, or Tatra mountains, or wherever) on my minute bit of the West Midland plain. Faithful readers will remember that I was inspired by my holiday purchase of Wilhelm Schacht's Rock Gardens & Their Plants (1963). This coincided with holiday purchases of plants like this:

This marvellous plant (a favourite with the High Victorians) joined similar fellows in shallow pots soon after my return from the ancient home of the North Folk. But, of course, one thing led to another. First I bought Jim Jermyn's terrific text, Alpine Plants of Europe; a gardener's guide (2005), which I have been reading over breakfast each morning in the sort of bemused, scarce comprehending way that I first read economics' text books at university. I learnt then that, as Ezra Pound said of his poetry, 'if you don't underrstand the dam' stuff, jist read on' , because, in the end, the general direction becomes clear. Jermyn determined me to find some space for a raised bed, and I turned my eye to my much-hated block paved front 'garden'. I hasten to add that the garden was levelled and (very efficiently) block paved by the house's previous owners. Sadly, the narrow little 1930s terraced street I live in is also overflowing with cars, and our own, increasingly battered, Mondeo, just about squeezes onto the paving. A Mondeo - ha! How many people remember that unspeakable swine Tony Blair wittering on about 'Mondeo Man' in 1997? Well, here's one 'Mondeo Man' who wishes him ill fortune, and a suitably Shakespearean end.

But back to my raised bed:

I dug up one side of the block paved nightmare, cleared out the soggy mess underneath down to the builder's rubble (Alpine heaven!), used the excavated blocks for the dry stone wall, added farmyard manure (3 year old grandson: 'Can I smell?' 'Eeeeeugh, dis-gusting!'), then John Innes no:2 plus sharp sand (see, you can recognise the odd similarity with modelling), plants in, gravel added:

The rear wall is made of odd bits of brick and concrete salvaged from the alleys that run behind the houses, so, all in all, a reasonable cheap attempt. My only worry now is that this bit of space doesn't get much direct sun .... but, let us see.

And, to complete the similarities with wargaming, toy soldiers and modelling, I took delivery of another Alpine book today - Reginald Farrer's Among the Hills (1911).

Was it Miles Kingston who had the column that ran along the lines of, 'there are those people who are enthusiasts, and those that aren't' ?

Sunday, 15 July 2012


... and finishing them. Some projects one has no choice but to finish. I'm thinking of paid employment there - in my case it is currently four projects, and soon to be five, with a combined worth (to my employer) of many hundreds of thousands, sterling. Other projects one has to finish within a reasonable time or other people's work will make your projects redundant - in my case this amounts to five writing projects; one book, one book chapter; and three articles. Still other projects suddenly grab you by the throat and insist ! In this case, it is my realisation that, since I was about six years old I've been a fan of Alpine plants, and now I must have a raised bed of them (the initial work began today).  But wargame projects, aaah, wargame projects. Here is one that I started earlier:

An English shieldwall (wighaga, or bordweallas) ...

collected and painted in 1986, when I began as a schoolmaster and, amongst other things taught lower school history.

That included the foundation of England, and I used these 15mm fellows (possibly by Donnington's) and others like them to illustrate the terrible defeat at Battle, and the heroic, exhausted defence of Senlac Ridge. But I also taught history with better outcomes at the school, using balsa, cocktail stick and paper ships to explain the great English victory over Spain in 1588. I wonder if any of those chaps (now around 38/9 years old) remember?

Anyway, last year I finally decided to have a go at De Bellis Antiquitatis (version 1.1), after thinking about it for a long time. So, more English, and some nasty Danes were bought (Essex, appropriately, this time), started, then left.

But this week, I'll finish them, this project:

Friday, 13 July 2012

I feel your...

... angst. Over on '20mm Gamer', Nick Grant has posted on the agonies of getting German late war vehicle camouflage just right, in his post Panzer IV Tiger. Even the most relaxed war gaming modeller will have had some moments of doubt as they daubed German spots, dashes, stripes or blobs on their tanks and armour. I keep telling myself that I'm not a 'modeller' with a capital 'M', but someone who makes wargaming kit (which I, occasionally, very occasionally, game with), but I still worry. Look at the variety, particularly of colour and depth of colour in these random bits of my 1/76 stuff:

Above are two Frontline Hanomags. Good, basic wargame models in resin.

A pretty hefty, all metal Stug III from SHQ (I think); and below, another Frontline model, a late Pz III with 75mm :

The camouflage shapes on the Pz III were taken from photos of German armour in Norway after VE Day, while, below, this kit built (Fujimi ?) Hetzer sports one of a number of factory applied finishes for Hetzers (largely determined by which Czech factory made them).

The first problem is that, factory finishes apart, much late war German armour was given a basic ochre colour that appears in a remarkable range of yellowness in the colour plates of reference books. To add to that confusion, the red-brown and green was, as we are frequently told, applied in the field. That included application with brushes, rags, and just thrown on, with the paint diluted by the crew, using a variety of thinners, including petrol. Add to all that, wear and tear, fading, mud, dust, and the reasons behind the 20mm gamer's angst are clear and understandable. What is worse, sometimes a finish will somehow, in some magical 'mind's eye' way, just look 'right', but other paint jobs, in a similarly occult fashion, look all 'wrong'.

And it isn't just German armour! Below are a Loyalist light infantryman, and a British comrade. The various authorities in my AWI book collection note the variety of 'scarlet coats' in reality, so, for the Loyalist,  I gave him more of a rusty red 'scarlet' coat, whereas his British chum got bright red. 

I still can't decide which finish convinces me ... Nice figures, though.

Monday, 9 July 2012

I've started...

so I'll finish. And, at last, I've finished the dam' Egyptian Mig 15 bis. The build finished as it progressed, with the 'Hi-Decal' after market set proving to be so incredibly thin that the markings began to disintegrate in the water, and were almost impossible to get onto the Mig in one piece. I decided, given the loss of various bits of the black identity stripes, to forgo the small stencils, and just leave it like this:

Frankly, that was a far from satisfactory build, and it was with some relief that I set out my unfinished War of 1812 British and Canadians in 20mm plastic, and a couple of odd 28mm AWI that need finishing:

I can't wait!

Sunday, 8 July 2012


... and a day with the English. One of the great advantages of being responsible for a small boy (grandson, aged three and a half), is that anything involving old, large, industrial, agricultural or transport machines is firmly on the 'must see' agenda. So, today, we were off to the heart of Northamptonshire, which I once heard was 'a gentleman's county', to see things like this:

A splendid steam lorry. Britain was quite unusual in that steam lorries were much in evidence on our roads until the late 1930s, only really being killed off by the war. The event where this beautiful orange machine was drifting out its oily coal smoke is billed as a steam traction engine show, but other classic pieces of largely British automotive history were on display - tractors, fire engines, breakdown trucks, all that a small boy could wish for. There were plenty of oddments too, including this workmen's hut:

I recently saw an advert for a new build 'shepherd's hut' version of this - it would set one back by £8,000, for the basic model.

One of the things that strikes one about these sort of events, is that they seem to encapsulate the spirit of the enthusiast, the volunteer, and the self-organisers. The late anarchist writer, Colin Ward, built much of his theory around what he saw as the daily anarchism of people, organising things for themselves, without any state intervention. I am probably wrong in this, but these sort of events - organised entirely by volunteers, with all the proceeds going to charity, and giving enthusiasts the chance to show off what they love - seem to encapsulate something about the English (although, I suspect Americans are, in their way, similar). The steam event involved all sorts of voluntary bodies, private traders selling the oddest range of bits and pieces, charities, and the people who restore and exhibit the vehicles. The whole thing took place in a huge, very wet field overlooking some marvellous, rolling Northamptonshire countryside. People seemed happy just to wander around, squelching through the mud, looking at the exhibits. And despite the terrible weather, there were plenty of people who had turned up, almost all (probably over 99%) ethnically English. It wasn't sophisticated, it wasn't 'modern', it wasn't metropolitan. David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and Ed Miliband would never be seen in such a place, neither would their dinner party guests. I doubt if one single English person at the event has any time for any of them, or their ilk. The 'disconnect' couldn't be greater.

I haven't had much modelling time lately, but the disaster that is the Mig 15 nears completion. The current state of play is:

The photos are, sadly, somewhat flattering.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Far flung battle line...

I was off to Londinium today, and will be tomorrow, but I was greatly comforted by Simcoe's Military Journal: a History of the Operations of a Partisan Corps, called The Queen's Rangers, Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J.G. Simcoe, During the War of the American Revolution, which seemed an apposite read a day after the 4th July. As dedicated readers of this blog may remember, I bought this journal in March but was then distracted by the Duke of Tradgardland's reading suggestions re the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Great War. But I was very glad I took Simcoe with me today, and was able to escape into the late 18th Century as all around me peered at i-pads, kindles, i-phones, blackberries and all the other anti-human trash of our present age. Simcoe's journal is both a fascinating account of light infantry actions and a profoundly human memoir. I was interested to read how closely the Queen's Rangers, and other Loyalist corps - such as the British Legion - worked with the 'Yagers' (sic), a formidable co-operation between skilled woodsmen from Europe and Loyal Americans:

Queen's Rangers, horse and foot, and Jaegers are well represented in my own forces, and a small part are shown here...

... along with 17th Dragoons, who also worked with these men.

Of Simcoe's humanity, let me quote from an account of a bloody night attack that included unintended deaths:

'The surprise was complete, and would have been so, had the whole of the enemy's force been present, but, fortunately for them, they had quitted it [Hancock's house] the evening before, leaving a detachment of twenty or thirty men, all of whom were killed. Some very unfortunate circumstances happened here. Among the killed was a friend of Government, then a prisoner with the rebels, old Hancock, the owner of the house, and his brother: Major Simcoe had made particular enquiry, and was informed that he did not live at home, since the rebels had occupied the bridge. The information was partly true; he was not there in the daytime, but unfortunately returned home at night: events like these are the real miseries of war.'

Of these Loyal Americans little is known now in Britain. Of course, English-speaking Canada is, in large part, their memorial, but, it is sad that in Britain there is no memorial to them. I have seen a plaque on a house in Beverley, Yorkshire, that mentions a Loyalist officer refugee, and I think that Simcoe is remembered in one of our Cathedrals, but there is no national memorial. But they are not alone in that...

'Some few of the Rangers were wounded, among whom, Sergeant M'Pherson of the grenadiers died; in every respect he was much to be lamented.' 

Perhaps the Scottish Government might like to remember some of these men. And a small memorial might be an idea in Dublin too. 

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Slabs of plastic...

... that just about sums up the blasted Mig 15 kit I'm still struggling with. The current state of play is:

The fuselage fitted where it touched, and there were plenty of places where it didn't ! So, after much heavy filling, and sanding, particularly to reshape the front fuselage where it meets the intake (it is supposed to be a smooth match, but there was no way the intake could be made to sit close to the fuselage contours without filling and industrial levels of sanding), I was able to add wings and tailplane this evening. Inevitably, there will be wing root filling and sanding. I might, eventually, get some paint on this thing. Eventually.