Wednesday, January 18, 2023

"Firing into the Brown" #25 - Dickens and stuff..

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for the first update of the new year..  at which point it would be rude not to say 'Happy New Year!' to all my reader..
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This years Christmas Dickens... what an absolute delight - automatically one of my top four Dickens novels (along with Copperfield, Nickleby and Expectations). Mr. Pickwick is an independently wealthy gentlemen with a group of close friends who are all members of a private club of which Mr Pickwick is chairman. The club meets to eat, drink and tell stories, and agree that Pickwick and his friends should travel, gathering stories so that they may enjoy them. We then get 57 chapters of delightful adventures, misadventures, 3rd party stories, marriages, debtor prisons, romances, court actions and everything he and his friends get involved with, along with a cast of friends, enemies, hangers on and incidentals...  favourites? Sam Weller and his Dad of course..  stupendous! 9

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As mentioned in the end of year review - not all is dormant on the wargame front as DG and I are taking a leisurely stroll through one of the scenario's in volume 1 of the Rebels and Recoats game series..  Bunker Hill.

We're up to move 4 and I am playing the British (red)..  my first wave of assault troops are ashore and holding their own, but DG is attacking vigorously...

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My first non-fiction of the year has just been completed...  with a deep and abiding interest in the War for the Spanish Succession, I've always wanted to know a little more about Eugene than the bare basics that you tend to pick up as part of the accounts dealing with the better known Marlborough.

I was aware that Marlborough had a huge amount of respect and trust for him, I was aware of his involvement at Blenheim, I was aware that he was widely accepted to be one of the great generals of his age, but know little more than that really..

So when James Falkner comes along with a book on the man, I bought it as soon as it was published (from memory I think I pre-ordered)..  Falkner is a good read, I particularly recommend his other books "Marlborough's War Machine" and "Great and Glorious Days: Marlborough's Battles, 1704-09" plus the two smaller Battleground books on Blenheim and Ramillies.

So how was it? Well, I have to say I was a little disappointed but I'll start with the good

I know a lot more about the man now than I did before, and in particular about his campaigns in the East against the Ottoman Turks. I understand a whole lot more about how big the Austrian Empire was at this point (they included huge tracts of the Balkans and Italy as part of the Empire) but also how fragile they were, there was never enough money to fully fund the campaigns Eugene undertook in Italy and the Balkans.

His armies seemed to trust and like him - despite almost always being in arrears of pay, poorly clothed and fed, he managed to keep his polyglot armies of Austrian and German troops in the field far longer than you would normally expect.

He was undoubtedly a military genius, having that ability to move troops quickly to the enemies weak point before the enemy even knows they have moved.

What you don't get in the book though is a flavour of the actual man, and what he was like, he's almost an enigma and there are few first person accounts of what kind of a man he actually was, but in Falkners favour I think a lot of that is down to the man himself..   from what you read, he was not the outgoing socialite that Marlborough was - I get the distinct impression that this was a man dedicated to his trade, a bit of a loner socially(?), capable but not comfortable at court, happier with his army on campaign, never married (though there were rumours that he had a long term relationship) and died a bachelor with a large library at a good age.

Recommended though - 8/10

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 Laters, as the young people are want to say...

Saturday, December 31, 2022

2022.. a review...

By way of assuring my reader that I really haven't shuffled off this mortal coil ... as we say every year... "here we go again"...๐Ÿ˜

I'm still (still) not really a 'blowing the trumpet', 'review your triumphs', etc etc type of person (I leave that to the business corporate types I used to work with), but like my 'end of the year' review on the sailing blog it is kind of nice to cast my eyes over the year gone, and remind myself of the ups and (this year, mostly) downs.... and besides everyone else is doing the same thing...

So by way of a joining up of the threads, and a bringing to a close of the last year, let's push on...

First, how did I do against my expectations [clicky]?? Note: I never, ever, make 'resolutions', just 'set  expectations', and thus when I inevitably fail to meet them yet again, it is not too demoralising or depressing an event..

1/. Play more games..

    Slight victory... there were five table top games in 2022 (c/w two in 2021, three in 2020, four in 2019, six in 2018, and eight in 2017) which is both atrocious and still a downwards trend; 

.. DG and I are also currently playing the Bunker Hill scenario from the Rebels and Redcoats board game, exchanging moves via Dropbox and email. We last played this in 2005!

    But all in all - green shoots of growth showing, I think...
2/. Blog more

It is very noticeable that the hey day of Blogger has now long gone - other platforms, new year diary syndrome, ennui, can't be bothered, call it what you will but the sheer quantity of blogs is now much less than it was, and I am no different..  blogging takes a fair amount of effort, and sometimes it's just easier to put up a 3 line entry on Farcebook, or Twitter....

Anyhoo,  there were 25 posts  including this one in 2022 (c/w 21posts in 2021, 32 in 2020, 49 in 2019, 35 in 2018, 45 in 2017, 58 in 2016, 69 in 2015, 68 in 2014, 84 in '13, 85, in '12) which is is better but the downward trend is back on again. 

I'm happy with Blogger, I like to write and it suits my ordered mind, but I need creative inputs to prompt posts, and I wasn't feeling it in 2022...

3/. Try to keep up my painting efforts..
    I would say I did "poorly" with this one - as is usual with me, my painting months are beginning and end of the sailing season, there's 100 points worth here which compares with 200 points in 2021 and 253 points in 2020... not even close, not even a sniff of the cigar humidor... a definite fall off in painting efforts in the second half of the year where normally I might expect to pick up after the sailing finishes..  improvement needed!
Date (click to go to post) Item description Period Make Scale Points Value/Total Pts
14/1/22 WWII French rebasing WW2 n/a 15mm 5@2 for 10 Pts
4/3/22 WWII German rebasing WW2 Peter Pig
15mm 37@1 and 14@2 for 65pts
18/3/22 Royal Italien rebased and reflagged
WSS Warrior 15mm 24@1, plus 1 for the flag, for 25pts

Total to date: 100 points (200 from 2021 to beat)

4/. continue reading more non-fiction... 
    If I did nothing else in 2022 I did read (just as well, as I wasn't blogging!)...  thank goodness for books...  
    Half the number I read last year, and the quality was not as good I thought, though there was one of my 10's in the list.. despite it's venerable age (published 1951!), Brickhill takes it this year....
    For this coming year I already have James Holland's book "Brothers in Arms: By Tank to Germany" waiting and ready - this is an operational history of the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry regiment from D-Day to VE Day..  looking forward to it

    Book
    Comments
    Score (out of 10)

    Been waiting to read this one for an age - probably from the first time I saw that it had been published as I am a bit of a Hastings fan boy, and I'm not sure I've read a duff one by him..

    Pedestal was the code name for the operation to send a relief convoy to Malta in 1942, and this history was a bit of an eye opener measured against what I thought I knew already..

    So what did I take away from this??

    First , in 1942 the Royal Navy was nowhere near as accomplished as they were to become in the sphere of anti submarine warfare..  ASDIC was coming on line, but the in depth courses that taught the escort commanders how to tackle the submarine threat were some way in the future - the book is replete with examples of how the ships were just not used in the right way, and how exposed convoys and ships were at this time of the war to submarine attack..  in perhaps the luckiest night for submarines in WW2 an Italian commander sank an oil tanker, and the German U73 sank the aircraft carrier Eagle..

    Second, ground to air (or in this case sea to air) coordination was also in it's infancy - despite having successfully offloaded almost 50 Spitfires to Malta, the lack of coordination between Malta and the convoy resulted in huge gaps in air cover for the convoy..

    Three, British carrier born aircraft of the period were woefully under powered and under spec when compared with the enemies they were expected to take on in the air - the carriers had Hurricanes and Fairey Fulmars/Albacores, when what they needed was Spitfires.. the carriers themselves were wooden decked (little or no armour plating) and lacked the ability to get lots of planes into the air at the same time

    Forth, convoy coordination/communication was also in it's infancy, the Royal Navy put together a convoy comprising fast modern merchant ships (all of them were capable of 16 knots) but once the attacks started going in (by submarine, aircraft, and gunboats) most communication appears to have been by Aldiss light as it was quicker and safer than transmitting in plain English..

    Fifth, as in the Napoleonic wars, the British navy needed destroyers (frigates) by the score - they were the maids of all work; fast, well armed for their size..  the Navy sent a number of cruisers as convoy escort, but they were almost a liability, requiring more protection themselves than the support they provided, ditto the aircraft carriers -  there almost seemed a palpable relief when the point was reached on the convoy when the capital ships could be sent back to Gibraltar

    All in all then a HUGE undertaking, and Hastings does touch on the multitude of views as to whether the action, and the casualties , were justified, but I tend towards his view, and also Churchill's that it was absolutely the right thing to do, and the right time to do it... 

    A warts and all history treating each side to an equal review of their good and bad, tactics, personal performance of the offensive forces..  my overwhelming opinion at the end of it was huge respect for the merchant seamen who got those ships to Malta, and the clear indication that the Navy were ready to learn from the mistakes. Good read..  

    9

    A very readable history of the Battle of France from the start of 'Fall Gelb' ('Case Yellow' - the first part of the assault - ie. "hold in place on the Belgian flank while the Panzers swung through the Ardennes and round the other flank" or as Captain Mainwaring called it, "a typical shabby Nazi trick" ๐Ÿ˜) to the end of 'Fall Rot' ('Case Red' - the breakthrough, defeat, and occupation of France)

    There are no surprises here - the author covers it all (very well), but the editors, book designers and whatever have done him no favours by promising all the snake oil on the cover.. so what we DO have is a clear and concise account of the failings of the French army (operationally, tactically, mentally welded to their fortresses, and the concept of the positional battle, completely unable to react as quickly as they needed to), and we have the Germans, flushed from success in Poland where they have learned hard lessons on the actual field of battle, and with leaders like Guderian, Manstein and Rommel, absolutely overflowing with confidence in the new Panzer arm, trying desperately to persuade the more conservative elements to let them do what was planned, and eventually succeeding.

    An excellent book, the descriptions of the condition of the German tank troops and panzer grenadiers after being awake for days at a time was gripping. 

    Very good but short on "myths".. 
    8
    A Pan 70th Anniversary edition..  and I reckon I must have first read this about 50 years ago..  probably because I had just read his other well known book "Escape or Die" which I had enjoyed enormously and as a result was looking for more of his books..

    Unlike "Chastise" which I read last year, this book is more an operational history of the squadron than an exhaustive look at the Dams raid..  in fact the raid only takes up about a third of the book, as the rest of it covers events after the raid, and how 617 Squadron became a special operations squadron known for their fantastic ability to drop bombs from considerable heights into very small area's (one of the bomb-aimers in 617 had an average of dropping a bomb within 70 yards of a target, which given this was pre-laser is astonishing!)

    The squadron had a very close relationship with Barnes Wallis who is best known as the inventor of the bouncing bomb, but who also designed and invented the Grand Slam and Tall Boy bombs (and also the Wellington bomber, by the by)..  known as 'earthquake bombs' they were massive (10 and 6 tons respectively) designed to bury themselves deep underground, and explode on a delayed fuse causing shock tremors to destroy the target..  

    617 were the specialists in dropping these with pin point accuracy, and focused on the U Boat pens, the rocket sites, and enemy concentration sites (marshaling yards, bridges, viaducts, etc). Brilliant!
    10
    "You are so crooked, Dickie, that if you swallowed a nail, you would shit a corkscrew". (Mountbatten according to a quote ascribed to Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, the former Chief of the Imperial General Staff ๐Ÿ˜ฎ)

    Excellent book, well argued, and yet I still remain in slightly mixed minds about what the real purpose of the raid was ..

    Bishop's narrative (which is brilliant - well worth a read) would have you believe that Mountbatten was a charismatic but vanity driven commander without any innate military skill who was looking for something he could pin first, his colours to, and secondly the colours of the clandestine organisation he led at that time, to.. He was a man desperately in need of a victory and the approbation that came with it.. along the way there are a cast of characters great and good who weren't going to get in the way of this "mission", until in the end the incredibly 5,000 brave boys of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division were thrown on to beaches where 3,367 were killed, wounded or taken prisoner, a casualty rate of 68 percent....

    A catalogue of disasters..
    • Montgomery (to my mind) as one of the early generals in charge of planning eventually washed his hands and sloped his shoulders and went off to the desert without a backward glance, despite clearly having misgivings  
    • the Canadian commanders were so desperate to get their troops into a fight after years of training and no action, they accepted the plan as given them. 
    • The Navy wouldn't commit the capital ships that everyone knew were needed to provide the offensive preparatory barrage (and I don't believe that was a wrong decision given what later transpired) 
    • the cloak of secrecy was such no one would take the chance of getting a spy into Dieppe to actually see what was waiting for them, and if they had they would have seen the depth of preparation the Germans had put in place - not because they were expecting this raid in specific, but as part of their general level of preparedness.. 

    What I remain in mixed minds about is whether the raid really was a preparation for a future D-Day, or whether that was just the justification for the bloodshed that had ensued - that everyone told everyone so many times afterwards that was the prime reason for the raid, that in the end even the men who planned it, believed it..

    I think I am in less mixed mind that whether that was the actual purpose or not, one thing that did come out of it was some very, very valuable lessons were learned, that were acted on later in the war in both Normandy, and Italy/Tunisia.. Sobering.. "go, Canada!"..
    9
5/. Salute, Colours and/or Warfare...
    Didn't make any of them..  Salute in April was cancelled, Colours I think DG was busy elsewhere, and I was on holiday when Warfare was on..
    Did I miss them?? Have to say, 'not really' - there have been some truly excellent thinking men's blogs on the subject of wargame shows, and whether they have a future (thinking this one [clicky] and a retailers view here [clicky]), but what drives my interest and participation in a wargame show is different to others I suspect..  I am not a social gamer, I prefer solo or the good company of DG, I have a minute lead mountain as I paint to order so there is no butterfly to satisfy, mail order is orders of magnitude better than it was in the old days, etcetcetc
    I suspect I will probably never go to Salute again, purely because of the sheer costs of attending; Colours and Warfare are possible if DG is up for it, but I won't go on my own..
6/. Tangmere visit
    ...still to do...  it has re-opened following COVID, but is currently closed for the winter layoff.
7/. Edgehill walk - unlikely but if we don't aim, we don't even shoot... (just call me Confucius the Wargamer....)
    ...I am now retired and have a shed load of time available (apparently), so this one is now move towards the front burner's!
8/. Spend less time on Facebook - it's wasted time, and it's too easy to lose an hour that I could use doing something else
    ...funny how you change your focus when your horizon's close in to the computer/virtual reality - all the events/things I would have been trying to do were not happening, and shifted to virtual..  so Farcebok became a ways and means of keeping in touch rather than trite entertainment..
9/. Lose 3 stone - fed up being a fat bastard...
    Abject fail... ๐Ÿ˜
10/. HMS Victory - been years since I last went ..
    Completed....  grandson and I had a lovely day in Portsmouth's historic dockyard with a visit on board the day that the scaffolding and covers were going on ready for a root and branch refurb...  

...there you go... you may beg to differ, but as it is my blog I can once again report that all (achievable) targets and goals were achieved ...! Hurrah!! 

In summary?? I've got to say that on the personal front 2022 was not the best year, and neither was 2021 or 2020..

Not in any priority at all..... work continued to gobble up increasing amounts of what used to be down time, and a change of work location added an hour to my commute time. BUT, I retired end August so I am very much hoping this is no longer an excuse going forward.

There was also this in July..

Result of a small contretemps with the ground when I came off Gertrude, my electric bike..
..rest easy she came off considerably better than I did.
. ๐Ÿ˜€

...and this in August...

..bye bye 48 hours I'll never get back (where I just slept and took paracetamol's alternately)..
but thankfully, very thankfully, that was about it for me..  "trust in the science", damn right..

...but also a stupidly warm/hot summer that made being in the loft unbearable - and made sitting in my new hammock chair under a tree with a book far more attractive! ๐Ÿ˜

On the hobby front I'll say it was a poor year...  no Salute/Colours/Warfare with DG, a massive dose of wargamers block (pffft.. it happens..) but on the plus side a lot of good books..

...apropos of absolutely nothing (I only have the number as I like to put reviews on the blog), 40 books were read in 2022, compared with 51 in '21, 63  in '20, 55 in '19, 43 in '18, 52 in '17, 54 in '16, and 46 in '15 - despite distractions aplenty I had a hugely enjoyable reading year.. some of them were huge which I think accounts for the downturn in numbers, be interesting to see what effect retirement has on that...

Favourite books this year? Fiction - these were my 'perfect 10's' of the year

Book
Comments
Score (out of 10)
A long time ago this series of books by Arthur Ransome featuring the Swallows and the Amazons kick started a sailing hobby that has lasted the better part of 50 years for me - I would say Ransome has been as influential on me as Featherstone! So in this, the fourth in the series we are introduced for the first time to Dick and Dorothea Callum who will provide an ongoing story line through the books. It is winter in the lake district, snow and ice all over, the lake is freezing, and Dick and Dorothea have been sent to spend the holidays with their mothers old nurse. While there they make friends with the Walker's (the Swallows) and the Blackett's (the Amazons) and despite the lack of boats embark on an "arctic" adventure featuring skates, sledges, storms, feasts...  just brilliant.. 
10
The one that started it all off - a methodical, incisive, practical, checklist on how to (almost) assassinate a world leader. I have read this book a dozen times and it never fails to suck you in, even when you know he is not going to succeed, he really is not the nicest of people (probably a clinically defined psychopath), and his mission is in support of some unpleasant people. It is stunning, what a story...  really must watch the film again soon (the Zinnemann/Fox one, not that pile of sh*te with Bruce Willis in it)
10
Aubrey fans call reading the entire series a circumnavigation, and this is my second circumnavigation and the books continue to be just shy of genius..  seriously if you've never read any, you must - they are unique, the stories gripping, the atmosphere, life, doings of the regency Royal Navy described with pin sharp detail. I love them... deep in legal issues, Aubrey asks for any command until his promised new frigate is ready, and is given command of an old 74, the Worcester, a poor and shoddy example of the British builders art she is falling to pieces..  working her up to readiness she joins the blockade off Toulon but is soon detached for independent service in support of diplomatic overtures to the Turks. Following a brisk engagement Worcester is largely condemned and Aubrey is given command of Surprise with a picked crew as her captain was killed in the same engagement..  there follows a momentous and bloody battle against large Turkish frigate as only O'Brien can describe - stunning...
10
Jack - still in charge of Surprise - is given an urgent mission to intercept a heavy French Frigate that is looking to break into the south Pacific and interrupt the whaling trade - this is the book that was mostly used for the film, and bloody good it is as well, as the Surprises battle with the thought there is a Jonah on board as the French privateer foils them at every turn.. brilliant.. 10
With the very sad news of the death of Hilary Mantel earlier this year I thought it more than time that I finally got round to reading her tour de force novelisation of the life of Thomas Cromwell - probably more popularly known as Henry VIII's "hatchet man" but so much more than that as we find out in this the first of the trilogy...  This book deals with the burgoning birth of the Protestant church, and the quite extraordinary lengths Cromwell had to go through in order to secure and legitimise Henry's divorce from Katherine (of Aragon) and marriage to Anne (Boleyn) - much like the best story tellers, the book is utterly immersive - it really does feel like you are there in the court of Henry VIII with all the favouritism, wealth, treachery, gossip and manoeuvring that would mean - outstanding, extraordinary even, and it's clear that Mantel would have been more than happy to sit down with a glass of wine with Cromwell..  ๐Ÿ˜Š My first 10+ of the year... 10+
Henry is married to the "Boleyn woman" but the cracks are already beginning to show - she's given him a child, but it's a girl (Elizabeth I to be), and Anne is making Henry's life a misery with her demands for preference for the Boleyn family, and the de-legitimisation of Katherine and his other daughter (Mary). The stress and strain on Anne of trying to bring forth another full pregnancy (she has at least one miscarriage), and more importantly a boy, is brought to life with frightening detail until in the end Henry again comes to Cromwell to request his assistance in getting rid of her for whatever legitimate and legal reason he can come up with in order that he can marry Jane Seymour - chosen purely because of her very opposite nature to Anne. Anne's date with the French executioner was almost pre-ordained once Cromwell started to dig up the "facts" - brilliant! 10
...and so we come to the final chapter, quite literally, in this novelisation of the life of Thomas Cromwell. At the end the of the second volume after a lot of hard work gathering and cross-checking evidence, Cromwell had seen Anne Boleyn executed leaving Henry free to marry Jane Seymour, which he does at the start of this third and final book - will Henry finally attain the male successor he is so desperate for? At this point in his life Henry is becoming increasingly unhealthy, a leg injury has developed into an open ulcerous would which affects his ability to exercise, and his usual appetite sees him gaining weight. His marriage to Jane is happy, and Henry soon sees her pregnant and she gives birth to a boy (Edward VII) but she dies following the complicated childbirth, and it is at this point that Cromwell's star finally begins to dim...  his choice for Henry's next bride is Anne of Cleeves. The marriage is a disaster and Henry blames Cromwell - the marriage is annulled, and in the political manoeuvring following it, Cromwell finds himself isolated, and even more so in the light of the fact that Henry has his eye on Catherine Howard, the niece of his greatest enemy at court, Norfolk. Cromwell is arrested, charged, attainted, and then beheaded...  all this against a background of the dissolution of the monastery's, the birth pains of the British Protestantism (Henry yo-yo'd constantly between Catholicism and flavours of Protestantism)...  simply stunning..  my second 10+ of this year 10+
 
..so an absolutely outstanding year for good stories - out of those, it was a no brainer, and the three Mantel books take it..   so sad that it took her death to make me finally pick the books up, but they are utterly and completely brilliant, very long, but I recommend them completely and unequivocally as a gateway to immerse yourself in what it was like to live in the court of Henry VIII in later Tudor England, seen from the first person perspective of Thomas Cromwell... sublime..

The worst lowest scoring book was still better than anything I could write, so I refuse to comment here on it..  authors work long hours, and they don't need someone like me who has never created a book, to 'diss' their efforts..

This year?? Well I intend to keep exactly the same expectations! Fingers crossed...  
  1. play more games
  2. blog more - there I said it..
  3. try to keep up my painting efforts.. 
  4. continue reading more non-fiction... it is the heart and core of the hobby..
  5. Salute, Colours and/or Warfare??
  6. Tangmere visit
  7. Edgehill walk - unlikely but if we don't aim, we don't even shoot... (just call me Confucius the Wargamer....)
  8. Spend less time on Facebook - it's wasted time, and it's too easy to lose an hour that I could use doing something else
  9. losing some weight - fed up being a fat bastard...
So finally, Happy New Year to all my reader - may the dice roll as required, your brushes always keep a sharp tip, the beer be hoppy and bright, and the books all page turners...

Sunday, December 11, 2022

"Firing into the Brown" #24 - Schellenberg, Dickens, Christine and stuff..

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for another update..
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Was tidying up in the 'loft of war' the other day and found some old Military Modelling's that I'd clearly bought in a bring and buy at some long forgotten show - probably as part of my search for the complete run of Tabletop Teasers (often used to pick up bundles of mags, often containing just one issue of Practical Wargamer I needed), but anyway, and by the by, I thought this article was lovely (and also close to the heart, being one of my favourite wargaming periods)..  a fitting example of the work of two of the hobbies, sadly gone, greats...

Clicking on them should embiggen pleasingly..



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That time of the year again, it's Dickens time! Here's the Christmas Dickens timeline to date...

  • 2013 - "David Copperfield" (9/10)
  • 2014 - "Nicholas Nickleby" (exceptional)
  • 2015 - "Oliver Twist" (8/10)
  • 2016 - "The Old Curiosity Shop" (7/10)
  • 2017 - "A Tale of Two Cities" (7/10) and "A Christmas Carol" (9/10)
  • 2018 - "Great Expectations" (10/10)
  • 2019 - "Bleak House" (8/10)
  • 2020 - "Little Dorrit" (retired hurt - no score ๐Ÿ˜)
  • 2021 - "Our Mutual Friend" (8/10)
  • 2022 - "Pickwick Papers" - promising so far!

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Beginning to feel a little like obituary corner... but after the sad news of Wilko's passing, there came the even sadder news of Christine McVie's death... ๐Ÿ˜’

Everyone knows something she's sung in a hugley long and talented career - but for me it was always the stuff she did for Fleetwood Mac, and for me, while everyone else in the 6th Form testosterone swamp was swooning over Stevie Nicks, I always thought she was gorgeous..  ๐Ÿ˜Š

The following is a live recording of her doing "Songbird" with the Mac - no pictures, somewhat fittingly, just her astonishing vocals...  another good one gone... ๐Ÿ˜•

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Laters, as the young people are want to say...

Friday, November 25, 2022

"Firing into the Brown" #23 - Riverine action, Wilko and stuff..

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for another update..
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Lord above, he's only gone and fought a wargame... the first since February in fact, if I am to believe my somewhat archaic filing and labeling system... ๐Ÿ˜

Somewhere up the Chippewa (a northern tributary of the Mississippi river), Confederate army engineers are busy building a shore battery in order to stop any further incursions by the Union navy, who up until that time have had almost free rein to raid and interrupt supplies and trade from the surrounding area desperately required by the Confederacy.

While the engineers are busy with their construction, the Confederates have deployed four armed ships (cotton and tin clads mostly) to provide protection and blockade from any Union counterattack, which is expected at any time, as clearly from the Union perspective the battery cannot be allowed to commission and cause further offensive operations to be delayed or indeed cease.

Time is of the essence as the batteries are not yet completed or equipped, so the Union command scrambles to throw an offensive force together as quickly as possible, in the end comprising a smaller gunboat, a side wheeler, but as fleet command, a powerful monitor. 

The Union forces enter from the top of the table, Confederate forces are already on the table as pictured (above), they are anchored fore and aft so as to sit broadside to the flow of the river (NB. the anchors can be dropped with no impact/delay to their ability to manoeuvre). The batteries under construction can be seen to the right...

Move 1: Union win the initiative and get four actions; Confederates go second and have one..

Piling on steam the Union commander orders the fleet to close the range and concentrate all firing on one ship at a time - with some success the Union ships open fire as one and inflict four hits on the rightmost Confederate casemate gunboat. They use the rest of their initiative to close the range and in the case of the monitor, reload.

The Confederates are up against it - they may have numbers, but that armoured monitor is going to be a tough nut to crack. The Confederate commander orders his ships to open fire, but unlike the Union commander, each ship targets its opposite number - fire from the middle sidewheeler screams across the water towards the monitor only to bounce off like they're throwing melons. Confederate fire is disappointing - the only damage scored (three hits) is on the right most Union ship where a lucky shot also causes engine damage.


Move 2: Confederates Union win the initiative and get three actions; Union go second and have four...

Confederate fire continues to be disappointing, all guns blazing but no hits on any of the Union ships - the Confederate gun boat is piling on the steam in order to get a better and closer angle of attack on the Monitor.

Union fire continues to be effective - fire from one of the Tinclads and the Monitor (who throws box cars!) reduces the rightmost Confederate casemate gunboat to a floating wreck, but their flag still flies. Pausing only to reload the monitors heavy guns the entire fleet continues to close the gap.

It's fairly clear at this point that the Confederates have nothing that can damage the monitor - unless they can get a lucky hit...

Move 3: Union win the initiative and get three actions; Confederates go second and have one..

Union fire is heavy but just for once lacklustre - scoring hits on the gunboat and what was the middle of the three tin clads - none of them causing any special damage - Confederate return fire however is "lucky", they score their first hit on the monitor but have had to throw everything but the kitchen sink to get that.

It is clear to the Confederates that they have lost this engagement unless they can pull something out of the hat in the next turn.

Move 4: Union win the initiative and get four actions; Confederates go second and have three...

End game for the Confederates - the monitor opens fire on the gunboat reducing it to little more than a hulk - they pass their strike test however but being forced to break off scarper for the shallows and escape, hopefully to fight another day but only after a long stay in a Confederate shipyard. The other Confederate hulk is not so lucky and strikes to the enemy. 

Having seen the way the engagement is going the Confederate commander in chief orders the two remaining ships to drop their fore anchors swinging their bows downstream - they pile on steam and escape but not without two last parting shots neither of which does any damage...  sums up the Confederates day really!

Fun little encounter but just goes to show how a monitor can swing the odds (even without the diabolically awful dice the Confederates got!) ๐Ÿ˜

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Pffft.... with the news about Wilko Johnson's death, another good one's gone...  ๐Ÿ˜•

There'll not be another one like him...  but what a presence, and what brilliant tunes...   saw him twice, once way back in the day with Dr. Feelgood, and later (2005) with his own band (they were on with The Hamsters and John Otway which was some line up!), in fact I seem to remember offering to buy him a pint when I found myself standing next to him and the band at the bar in one of the intervals.. . he declined...  ๐Ÿ˜€

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Fresh back from a week on a sunbed in Cyprus where I completed the Hilary Mantel tour de force on the life of Thomas Cromwell - simply stunning - there are no words for how good I thought this was...  read it...   seriously...  READ IT!

...and so we come to the final chapter, quite literally, in this novelisation of the life of Thomas Cromwell. At the end the of the second volume after a lot of hard work gathering and cross-checking evidence, Cromwell had seen Anne Boleyn executed leaving Henry free to marry Jane Seymour, which he does at the start of this third and final book - will Henry finally attain the male successor he is so desperate for? At this point in his life Henry is becoming increasingly unhealthy, a leg injury has developed into an open ulcerous would which affects his ability to exercise, and his usual appetite sees him gaining weight. His marriage to Jane is happy, and Henry soon sees her pregnant and she gives birth to a boy (Edward VII) but she dies following the complicated childbirth, and it is at this point that Cromwell's star finally begins to dim...  his choice for Henry's next bride is Anne of Cleeves. The marriage is a disaster and Henry blames Cromwell - the marriage is annulled, and in the political manoeuvring following it, Cromwell finds himself isolated, and even more so in the light of the fact that Henry has his eye on Catherine Howard, the niece of his greatest enemy at court, Norfolk. Cromwell is arrested, charged, attainted, and then beheaded...  all this against a background of the dissolution of the monastery's, the birth pains of the British Protestantism (Henry yo-yo'd constantly between Catholicism and flavours of Protestantism)...  simply stunning..  my second 10+ of this year 10+

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Laters, as the young people are want to say...

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

"Firing into the Brown" #22 - Canal finale, tactics and stuff..

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for another (all too infrequent) update...
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This is worth an hour of your time if you have an interest in the development of the Royalist infantry tactics in the First English Civil War .. top level certainly, but well written, coherent, and well argued...

“To what extent did Royalist infantry tactics develop during the First Civil War (1642-1646)?” | Laird Matthew Callen - Academia.edu

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With the very sad news of the death of Hilary Mantel earlier this year I thought it more than time that I finally got round to reading her tour de force novelisation of the life of Thomas Cromwell - probably more popularly known as Henry VIII's "hatchet man", but so much more than that as we find out over the course of the three books in the series... more than that it's the first 10+ of the year so worth mentioning here..

This, the first book, deals with the burgeoning British Protestant church, and also the quite extraordinary lengths Cromwell had to go through in order to secure and legitimise Henry's divorce from Katherine (of Aragon) and marriage to Anne (Boleyn) - much like the best story tellers, the book is utterly immersive, unusually, it is told from a first person perspective (you are Cromwell) - it really does feel like you are there in the court of Henry VIII with all the favouritism, wealth, treachery, gossip, danger and social and political manoeuvring that would mean - outstanding, extraordinary even, and it's clear that Mantel would have been more than happy to sit down with a glass of wine with Cromwell..  ๐Ÿ˜Š My first 10+ of the year... 10+
Henry is married to the "Boleyn woman" but the cracks are already beginning to show - she's given him a child, but it's a girl (Elizabeth I to be), and Anne is making Henry's life a misery with her demands for preference for the Boleyn family, and the de-legitimisation of Katherine and his other daughter (Mary). The stress and strain on Anne of trying to bring forth another full pregnancy (she has at least one miscarriage), and more importantly a boy, is brought to life with frightening detail until in the end Henry again comes to Cromwell to request his assistance in getting rid of her for whatever legitimate and legal reason he can come up with in order that he can marry Jane Seymour (chosen purely because of her very opposite nature to Anne by the way). Anne's date with the French executioner was almost pre-ordained once Cromwell started to dig up the "facts" - brilliant! 10

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...and finally, I grabbed an opportunity on Sunday to use the last good weather we have a for a while to leap on Gertrude and complete my documenting of the Portsmouth and Arundel canal (click here [clicky] for previous posts) - it was time to document and trace the basin for the canal - this bit (red circle) which would have been the end point of the canal, and the unloading spot...

There used to be a big department store near the basin called Landport's, named after the area where the canal basin was built - Landport is the historical centre of modern-day Portsmouth and developed just outside the dockyard (the area gets its name from one of the gates that controlled access), and as such would have been the logical place to build the basin...

As we learned previously this end of the canal was sold off to the railway, so the current track route provides the best views of what would have been the old canal in terms of size and direction. Starting at the Fratton end (see map) the following was taken looking back at Fratton bridge (I was halfway between the basin and Fratton) - the width of the canal is clear =>

The terminus is now gone of course, and the area is so developed now that it's hard to get an idea of exactly how big it was - Portsmouth and Southsea Station covers a lot of it, but the basin would have been roughly the area covered by the red circle following - also note the giveaway street names, the canal is gone but not forgotten...


Last two shots... this was south side of the track/canal looking towards the basin... would have been quite a sight when it was full of water and 150-ton sailing barges!


South side of the track looking back to Fratton...

...and that's me done - time to find another little local history project to fill the time!  ๐Ÿ˜„

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 Laters, as the young people are want to say...