Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Knight Who Saved England

I must admit to something ... and that is that English history prior to the English Civil War has never been of great interest to me. That is not to say that I know nothing about it; it is just that it never really fired my imagination, and the history books that I had to read were always rather boring. Interestingly enough I always enjoyed watching Shakespeare's historical plays, mainly because they did something that I feel is very important; they are great STORIES rather than worthy HISTORIES.

When I was sent a copy of Richard Brook's THE KNIGHT WHO SAVED ENGLAND: WILLIAM MARSHAL AND THE FRENCH INVASION, 1217 (Osprey Publishing [2014] ISBN 978 1 84908 550 2) I approached reading it with somewhat mixed thoughts. Firstly I had never heard of William Marshal or the French Invasion of 1217, so it probably wasn't a very important topic to write about. Secondly it was about a period of history that had never really interested me because it was boring. Thirdly my understanding of the warfare of the period was that it was usually two lines of mounted knights charging each other and engaging in melee combat.

I was wrong on all three counts, and having read Richard's book I can thoroughly recommend it.


The book covers the seventy odd years of William Marshal's life (1147 [approximately] to 1219), during which he rose from being the younger son of a poor knight to becoming 1st Earl of Pembroke and the regent for Henry III. He loyally served four Kings of England during his life (Henry II, Richard I, John, and Henry III) and became one of the leading magnates of the kingdom. He was a renowned fighter, and during his period as regent he commanded Henry III's armies against Prince Louis of France and the rebel barons, and despite his age he lead the charge at the decisive Battle of Lincoln.

William was also a statesman who had the sense to know how to achieve lasting results. This is evidenced by the negotiations he conducted at the end of the war with France. In order to secure peace and stability for his young king, William set very generous of the terms to Prince Louis and the rebel barons.

The book is divided into eight chapters:
  1. Angevin Inheritance
  2. Finest Knight
  3. Before the Longbow
  4. King John and the Dauphin
  5. William's War
  6. Lincoln Fair
  7. The Battle of Sandwich and the Treaty of Kingston
  8. Nunc Dimittis
Richard's style of writing is an interesting one in that the book reads like a novel in places whilst at the same time as being full of academic references. Once I started a chapter, I found it difficult to put down until I had read to the end. He also varies his style to suit the topic. Therefore the chapter that deals with the Angevin Inheritance reads like an historical novel whereas the one that covers William's training and career as a knight is more like a traditional military history book.

Incidentally, this latter chapter completely changed my ideas about the type of fighting that took place during this era. For example, I had no idea that the early tournaments were more like modern Formula 1 motor racing (i.e. tournaments were fought by teams of knights that were often trained together to fight together for personal financial reward on a well-known circuit of tournament sites across Europe) than Hollywood's portrayal of chivalric activity at a tourney. Likewise I had little idea that most of the fighting that took place were sieges, raids, or ambushes, and that pitched battles were the very rare exception rather than the rule.

From a wargamers point-of-view this book contains lots of information that can be used on all sorts of levels. There are ideas for campaigns that could be fought either as conventional map games where the battles are fought out on the tabletop, as committee games, or as large-scale Matrix Games. For someone looking for a more typical figure game that they might want to set up at a wargames club or as a demonstration game at a wargames show, the description of the Battle of Lincoln provides lots of potential ideas, with mounted knights charging in line abreast down narrow city streets and local people grabbing anything that they could use as a weapon to join in the fray.

I am very pleased that I was given this book to read ... and I am sure that other readers will also enjoy reading it.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Another batch of eBay purchases

Late yesterday afternoon the Royal Mail delivered my latest batch of eBay purchases. Its arrival lifted my spirits somewhat, and it took all my self-control not to immediately rip the parcel open and write a blog entry about the contents ... but in line with my recent resolution to try to restrict myself to writing one blog entry per day, I resisted the temptation!

The parcel contained quite a few packs of Del Prado pre-painted 25/28mm-scale Napoleonic wargames figures:





These additional figures will enhance my existing collection quite considerably ... and are yet another reason why I really must get them all varnished and based so that I can start using them.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Is that a whimper that I can hear?

I woke up this morning feeling much better. For the first time in what seems like a long time I had a really good night's sleep ... and my permanent headache is now just a dull echo of its former intensity. My other symptoms have also almost gone, and I know that I am coming out of this latest depressive episode.

I think it is safe to say that the black dog is now just whimpering ... and as long as I am careful and take things easy, I should be back to normal very soon.

Please can I thank everyone who has been so supportive over the past few days. It has really helped me to overcome what was a particularly bad period. In retrospect I can see that my decision not to go to SALUTE was probably a good one, as I was already beginning to experience the symptoms in the days running up to it. At the time I just put it down to tiredness ... but there was obviously a deeper underlying cause.

One thing I have learnt over the past few days is that I can survive without having to blog, and that I probably need to ease up on the number of entries that I write. On some days recently I was blogging up to three times per day, which in retrospect sounds a bit obsessive and unnecessary. As a result I am going to take things easy for the next week or so. This will not be too difficult as it is Easter and my wife and I will be taking a bit of a break. We could certainly do with it as all the work clearing and then redecorating and renovating our conservatory seemed to drain both of us.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The black dog is still barking!

I would like to thank everyone for the support they have given me over recent days. It has really helped lift my spirits.

I don't seem to be moving out of this episode of depression as quickly as I had hoped, but I am coping  better now than I was a couple of days ago. I hope to be back to normal very soon ... and when I am I will begin blogging and wargaming again.

The black dog is still barking ... but not as long or as loudly as it was.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

A visit from the black dog

For the last thirty years or so I have been prone to bouts of depression ... or as Churchill used to call it, the black dog.

Mine started when I had a breakdown due to over-work and stress, and after treatment that lasted over a year I was able to return to full-time employment ... but the depressive episodes returned every so often. The big difference was that when they did, I knew what strategies I needed to adopt to get through them.

Over time the black dog has 'visited' me more and more infrequently, and the intensity of the episodes has decreased. Since I retired I have had a few minor episodes. They were all brought on by something stressful that I had to deal with ... such as my father's death. They generally lasted a few days - a week at most - and then they passed and my life returned to normal.

Last night I noticed the first signs that an episode was starting:
  • I developed a headache that did not respond to normal painkillers
  • I had difficulty concentrating on anything for more than a few minutes
  • I felt very tired but could not sleep
  • I had difficulty focusing my eyes and my peripheral vision decreased
  • My physical coordination went to pot and I seemed to become very clumsy
Overnight the symptoms have not improved. I have therefore decided to forgo blogging and any wargame-related activity for a day or so until the black dog leaves. With luck this will not be a long break ... but what I do know is that such a break will help me get back to normal all the quicker.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Why I have not gone to SALUTE this year

I decided this morning that I am not going to go to SALUTE this year.

This might seem a little odd as the show takes place in London (I can actually see the venue – the Excel Centre in Docklands – from the front drive of my house!) and – thanks to my Freedom Pass – it could cost me nothing to get there.

So why am I not going?

Firstly, I don't like the venue ... and from what I can gather, I am not alone in disliking it. (A good friend of mine works in publishing and has to attend the London Book Fair at the Excel Centre ... and he tells me that all the attendees he comes in contact with hate going there.) It is large, impersonal, very crowded (it does not help that all the runners in the London Marathon will also be there to collect their race numbers etc.), and the food and drink that is on sale there is over-priced even by London standards.

Secondly, getting there by public transport is not as easy as it would be getting to other possible venues. The quickest way would be for me to get to the O2 arena on the Greenwich Peninsular and then to take the Emirates Air Line (which is a cable car) across the Thames to the Excel Centre. If I drive to the O2 and park, it will cost me £11.00; if I go by bus, it will cost me nothing but entails two changes of bus route. I would then have to pay to travel on the Air Line. Alternately I could go by Docklands Light Railway from Woolwich. It would involve a bus journey to Woolwich and changing trains once whilst on the DLR. This would cost me nothing, but I know from experience that the journey will be uncomfortable and crowded ... mainly due to the additional numbers of passengers going to the Excel Centre to register for the London Marathon.

Thirdly – and most importantly – there is not a lot happening at the show that I want to see or do. I am not a great fan of the 'moving diorama' games that seem to predominate, and I have no great desire to add more figures to my pile of unpainted lead. I usually spend a lot of my time at SALUTE meeting and talking to old friends ... but I know of at least three of them are not going to the show this year, and this was the deciding factor for me. So instead of going to SALUTE I will be painting my L-shaped built-up areas and sorting out my growing collection of Del Prado pre-painted 25/28mm-scale Napoleonic wargames figures.

That seems to me to be a good way to spend a Saturday morning and afternoon … and it’ll be a lot less stressful as well.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Another foray into eBay proves successful

At 8.30am a parcel containing my latest batch of auction 'wins' on eBay arrive ... and mighty pleased I am to receive them. (The service from the seller was outstanding! Not only did they combine postage without being asked; they also packed the items extremely well and sent them so that they arrived in twenty-four hours.)

The items were more figures to add to my growing collection of Del Prado pre-painted 25/28mm-scale Napoleonic wargames figures. The figures came in packs as sold with the original magazine, and the contents of today's parcel is shown below:




All seventy figures cost me approximately £1.25 each ... which I think is a bargain when one considers the cost of unpainted 25/28mm-scale figures. They will enable me to add several more units to my current armies ... and I still have some more eBay auctions that have yet to mature!

By the time the two hundredth anniversary of the Waterloo campaign comes around in 201, I might just have enough stuff to do something that I have never done before ... and that is to re-fight part or all of the campaign in miniature.

We can but dream.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Zulu Dawn

I have spent part of this afternoon painting my L-shaped built-up areas with PVA in order to seal the wood before I paint them. Whilst I was doing this I decided to play my copy of ZULU DAWN on the portable DVD player that I keep in my toy/wargames room.

This film has a mixed reputation. Compared with ZULU it is worthy rather than exciting, as its depiction of the events of and leading up to the Battle of Isandlwana are reasonably close to the historical truth. ZULU - on the other hand - is a great story whose historical accuracy is somewhat more doubtful. I always enjoy watching ZULU, but more for its entertainment value than its historical veracity.

If put to the vote I doubt that many people would place ZULU DAWN above ZULU. As the newspaperman says in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, 'when the legend becomes fact, print the legend'.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

L-shaped built-up areas: some more progress at last!

After what seems like an age, I have finally managed to get back to my L-shaped built-up areas project. (It is actually almost three weeks ... but it feels like much longer.)

I decided to finish off the buildings I had already begun rather than start any anew. This involved adding roofs and other details before fixing them onto their triangular bases.

They are shown below in pairs.









When placed together they form quite a sizeable built-up area in which it is quite easy to place troops.

The Cat and The Conservatory

In response to Conrad Kinch’s request for a photograph of our cat – who is now the proud owner of a newly refurbished conservatory – her she is:


Her name is Jazz, and she came to live with us some years ago when she decided that she did not want to share the home where she was then living with other cats. She is the fifth cat that has owned us … and is by far the most temperamental. (Some unkind souls might just say that she was mental … but we could not agree with that!).

You will note that I wrote that she ‘ is the fifth cat that has owned us’. Those of you who are cat people will already know what I mean, but for those of you who are not and never have been, here are a few quotes that might explain my comment:
  • 'Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as Gods. Cats have never forgotten this.' – Anonymous
  • 'Dogs believe they are human. Cats believe they are God.' – Anonymous
  • 'In a cat's eye, all things belong to cats.' – English proverb
  • 'As every cat owner knows, nobody owns a cat.' – Ellen Perry Berkeley

As proof that the conservatory is now finished, here are some photographs of it in all its completed glory: