Saturday, 23 July 2011

The portable wargame: To 'pin' or not to 'pin' ... that is the question ... and here is another possible answer!

My earlier blog entry of today has produced two excellent responses from Dr Vesuvius and Ross Mac.

Dr Vesuvius pointed out the following: '... most of the impact of a recoil result in DBx games is due to the effect of breaking up the enemy's battle line, with the double effect of giving an overlap supporting bonus on any combats with adjacent units AND breaking up the solid block of troops that can be moved with a single PIP.

Since neither of these apply to TPW
(N.B. The Portable Wargame), depending on how far you see units recoiling/withdrawing I'm not sure how much of an impact a recoil result would be.

Also, would it perhaps be more appropriate for some periods/theatres of war than others

I found this comment very pertinent, and it gave me some pause for thought. Luckily, Ross Mac had already proposed a solution along the following lines: 'I was going to propose that a pinned unit that receives a 2nd pin result be forced back instead of collecting additional pins. Thus the first hit pins, if there is additional fire or if the player is unable to unpin the unit then the next pin result results in the unit moving back 1 hex, remaining pinned. The owning player now has to unpin the unit and then try to move it back. '

This is a very elegant and simple solution that meets almost all my requirements as well as answering some of Dr Vesuvius's concerns. It does not do away with the aesthetic problem of having 'pin' markers on the tabletop, but it does remove the problems associated with single Units receiving multiple 'pins'. On the plus side it also introduces a degree of automatic response to events (rather like the existing 'Flight to the Front' reaction that European Cavalry Units have to being 'pinned'), and as a solo wargamer this sort of thing has a considerable appeal to me.

This online 'discussion' and the ideas that it has generated are what makes blogging such a useful adjunct to wargaming in general and wargame design in particular. My ideas for the next draft of the PORTABLE WARGAME rules are slowly but surely forming into something more concrete, and when I begin the process of actually putting them down on paper, I am sure that a new simpler and easier to understand set of rules will emerge from the process.

The portable wargame: To 'pin' or not to 'pin' ... that is the question ... and here is a possible answer!

Having considered the 'pin' or not to 'pin' question yesterday, I must admit that I was unsure what to do with regard to a solution. I thought that there needed to be an intermediate combat result between 'unaffected' and 'destroyed' ... and I am still firm on that point ... but having to place and remove 'pin' markers, coupled with the ramifications of multiple 'pin' markers being placed on a single Unit, was complicating a set of rules that were essentially designed to be as simple as possible.

Yesterday was a busy day for me, as my wife and I had to visit my father-in-law in order to do his shopping for him and to sort out a couple of problems that he had. Driving backwards and forwards to Herne Bay, Kent, did give me a bit of time to think about alternatives to using 'pin' markers and the 'pinning' rules, but none of them seemed to fit in with the way the rest of the rules worked, and some of them just added an additional layer of complication.

Just before I went to bed last night, I happened to catch up on some of the blogs that I follow, and one of them – Mr Farrow 2U (+ Jack & Amys!!) DBA 1500 Onwards Page – contained a blog entry about a Franco-Prussian War battle. Mr Farrow uses a set of rules that are based on DBA/HOTT, and under those rules there is an intermediate combat result ... recoil! This set me thinking, and just before I dozed off to sleep, I decided to look at a similar result – possibly 'withdraw' – as an alternative to using 'pinning' and 'pin' markers.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I read my emails this morning to find a comment from Ross Mac about yesterday's blog entry. Ross Mac's comment included the following: 'Bob, I was pondering alternatives to the pin and one which came to mind was a recoil. DBA uses this as a less drastic result than destruction. I'm not sure if it would fit but it would eliminate markers.'

Well, if both of us have independently come up with the same solution, it must be worth a try ... especially as the PORTABLE WARGAME rules already use a 'withdraw' result for drawn Close Combats, and a 'withdraw' result for artillery and fire combat would make the results of all combat more consistent

This idea has been added to the list of possible changes that I will incorporate in the next draft of my PORTABLE WARGAME rules, and work on this draft should begin early next week.

Friday, 22 July 2011

The portable wargame: To 'pin' or not to 'pin' ... that is the question ...

In a recent blog entry, Ross Mac made the following point about the current version of the PORTABLE WARGAME rules: 'I am still wondering if the Pin rules are worth the extra hassle or if perhaps its just that the Pin is too easy to inflict'.

Now the 'pin' rules were introduced to add an extra level of combat result between 'unaffected' and 'destroyed'. It also added a layer of additional complication to the task of commanding an army as the players had to decide whether or not to use an activation to 'unpin' a Unit or to move an 'unpinned' Unit.

For a longer game, I would like to continue to use the 'pinning' rules, but for a short, sharp, 'do-or-die' action, removing the 'pinning' rules would speed up the whole thing considerably ... and would be one less thing for the players to remember to do!

That said, Ross Mac makes a very justifiable point about the ease with which Units can be 'pinned', and I will look at this again when I draft the next version of the rules. In the meantime, I hope that Ross Mac (and others) will continue to play-test the existing version of the rules and feedback to me their comments and suggestions.

Heroscape™ hexed terrain ... there's some more!

I was just finishing off the 'Spring clean' of my toy/wargames room ... when I found some more Heroscape™ hexed terrain!

Therefore, my current ‘collection’ of unpainted Heroscape™ hexed terrain includes:
  • 73 x 24-hex tiles (1752 hexes in total)
  • 112 x 7-hex tiles (784 hexes in total)
  • 112 x 3-hex tiles (336 hexes in total)
  • 112 x 2-hex tiles (224 hexes in total)
  • 248 x 1-hex tiles (274 hexes in total)
This is a total of 3370 hexes ... and is considerably more than I estimated that I owned!

I don't think I need to buy any more ... for the time being at least.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Technology and me ... again!

The last two days have been very busy ... and technology has conspired to make my situation somewhat busier than it needed to be.

Yesterday I spent most of the day on the 'Spring cleaning' of my toy/wargames room. I achieved quite a lot ... and found a lot more stuff that I had forgotten that I owned (mainly 1:76th-scale model military vehicles). Things are now far better organised, and although the job is not quite finished, the main part of it has been done.

It was also my wife's last day at work before the Summer holidays, and so we went out for a drink at the local golf club with some friends to celebrate. It was on our return that technology began to cause me grief. We had just sat down to eat our evening meal when we both heard a loud 'bleep'. I went off to investigate, and about forty seconds after the first 'bleep', there was a second one.

From then on the 'bleeps' came regularly every forty seconds ... and I eventually traced the source to the fire alarm on the middle floor of our house. I set up the stepladder and climbed up to see what was causing the problem ... but could find nothing wrong because I could not get the cover off the alarm! Some twenty minutes later, after a degree of bad language and a lot of effort, I managed to get the cover off, and discovered that the cause of the 'bleeping' (which was, by now, not only very annoying but also deafening as my head was only inches from the alarm) was the back-up battery. It had reached the end of its 'life' and needed replacing.

By now it was 10.15pm. Where does one find somewhere where you can buy a new 9 volt battery at that hour? The answer is ... the local petrol filling station!

I drove to the petrol station, persuaded the clerk to go into the by-now-closed shop to look for a suitable battery, and when he came back and told me that they had some in stock, I bought two ... which turned out to be a very good idea!

I drove home, climbed up the ladder, inserted the new back-up battery ... and the fire alarm continued to 'bleep'. On reading the instructions, which happen to be on the inside of the plastic cover that holds the back-up battery in place, and therefore not in the easiest of places to read when up a ladder, I discovered that this should happen for seven to ten minutes after the back-up battery is installed, after which it should be silent.

Ten minutes went by ... and the 'bleeping' continued. Not only that, but the other fire alarm, which is on the top floor of our house, began to join in as well! I quickly took this fire alarm down (I was able to do this quite quickly as by now I had plenty of experience of removing the alarm cover and replacing the battery) and once the second battery I had bought was in place, it also continued 'bleeping' ... but unlike its companion alarm, it did stop after ten minutes.

By now it was time to go to bed, and I just could not stop the first fire alarm from 'bleeping'. I took the battery out ... left it for a few minutes ... and put it back in ... and waited ... but after fifteen minutes it was still 'bleeping'. Finally, out of pure desperation, I disconnected the whole alarm from the electrical mains system, and took it (still 'bleeping') into the conservatory so that it was out of earshot. My wife and I then went to bed.

This morning the fire alarm had stopped 'bleeping', and so after breakfast I reattached it to the electrical mains system ... and it immediately started 'bleeping' again. It carried on doing this for nearly twenty minutes ... and then it stopped ... and it has been silent ever since.

I have now tested both fire alarms twice today, and they seem to be functioning normally at last. I do not want this to happen again next year, and I have made a diary note to check the back-up batteries in the fire alarms in twelve months time.

Technology and me do not seem to be 'interfacing' very well at the moment. I hope that things will be better tomorrow.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

I never realised I owned so much Heroscape™ terrain

Over the past few years I have built up quite a collection of Heroscape™ hexed terrain, which is one of the reasons why I am currently developing a version of the PORTABLE WARGAME rules so that I can use them with my Heroscape™ terrain. However, as I have bought the terrain in piecemeal packets (some when it was on sale in Argos stores at 75% off its original price and some via eBay), I have never sat down and counted up what I own. As part of the big ‘Spring clean’ of my toy/wargames room I did just that… and it was then that I realised quite how much I owned!

My current ‘collection’ of unpainted Heroscape™ hexed terrain includes:
  • 65 x 21-hex tiles (1365 hexes in total)
  • 102 x 7-hex tiles (714 hexes in total)
  • 102 x 3-hex tiles (306 hexes in total)
  • 102 x 2-hex tiles (204 hexes in total)
  • 248 x 1-hex tiles (248 hexes in total)
This is a total of 2837 hexes!

I have not included the blue 1-hex water tiles in this total, and I have not differentiated between the green, grey, and tan-coloured hexes when counting up the number of each type of hex tile.

My intention is to eventually paint and flock this collection of Heroscape™ hexed terrain in order to reduce the rather stark finish they come in ‘straight out of the box’. Some will be finished in green, some in sand, and some in other colours and textures as required.

With such a large collection, it would be silly not to use it, especially as I have now counted up how much I have; after all, one reason for the ‘Spring clean’ was to find out what I actually had in my toy/wargames room and to make sure that what I kept would be used.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The big 'Spring clean' has begun!

I have begun the process of 'Spring cleaning' my toy/wargames room ... and I have already found things that I had either forgotten I had made or bought.

So far the most important 'finds' have been a big box of Heroscape™ hexed terrain and two large, flocked terrain boards that are marked with a squared grid. They are both 60cms x 90cms (or approximately 2ft x 3ft) and the grid is marked in 7.5cms x 7.5cms (3-inch x 3-inch) squares. I remember making them several years ago, and thought that I had stored them in the garden shed. Evidently I did not, and they have now ‘emerged’ from behind a storage unit.

I have also found several crates full of unmade 20mm-scale model tanks and vehicles, including some that I just do not remember buying! I intend to carry on the process of ‘Spring cleaning’ tomorrow … and I have no idea what I will discover/re-discover as a result.

Technology and me

My morning seems to have been dominated by technology and my attempts to get it to do what I want it to do.

The first thing was the new cordless doorbell. It was supposed to be simple to install. The bell plugged into a normal electric socket and needed no battery ... a definite plus as far as I was concerned. I tested it ... and it worked fine ... until someone rang it for real ... and then it kept ringing ... not once but several times.

The whole thing came without any instructions, but a trawl through the Internet produced a result; this problem sometimes happens when the bell button sticks. So off came the bell button cover ... which revealed absolutely nothing that would cause the button to stick ... and since then it has worked without a problem. I wish I could say the same for my dealings with my telephone company!

I have a business 'phone line which was very useful when I started my business over ten years ago, but since then most of my customers have moved over to telephoning my mobile 'phone, sending me texts, or sending emails. The line is almost unused, so I decided to get rid of it. This involved 'interacting' with the multiple choice telephone system that my 'phone company seems to employ to 'help'/'annoy' (Delete as appropriate) its customers. Eventually, after nearly twenty minutes 'holding on' and listening to interminable music and announcements, I actually spoke to a real person, and they put a 'termination' in place that will come into force once the thirty days notice period has elapsed.

I then wanted to discuss enabling the Voicemail option on my home 'phone line, which is provided by the same telephone company ... but the young lady was unable to help me as she only dealt with business customers. She tried to transfer my call to the right department ... but I was again put on 'hold', this time for over thirty minutes!

When I finally spoke to someone, they had considerable problems understanding what I was asking them to do. The young lady at the call centre kept telling me that my business 'phone line was the only one registered to my address. I explained that it was not, but she adamant that it was. She finally put me through to her Supervisor, who did understand what I was saying, but who repeated the same story about there only being one 'phone line registered at that address. When I finally persuaded her to look up my name and address as a private and not a business customer, she found that I did have an account with them and a second 'phone line. I actually got an apology for the confusion, and an assurance that my Voicemail will be activated within 24 hours.

Having wasted nearly two hours sorting out the doorbell and the 'phones, I moved on to my wife's HP InkJet colour printer, which has been giving her all sorts of error messages about the ink cartridges. I tried all the 'cures' suggested in the user's guide that is supplied manufacturer ... but nothing worked. In the end I switched it off, went and had a drink, came back and switched it on again ... and it now seems to be working.

I will ask my wife to test her printer when she gets home ... and if it still doesn't work it will be going in the rubbish bin tomorrow and I will buy a new one.

Technology and me ... I've got it taped!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

My latest Osprey purchase

Back in December I managed to buy a copy of WORLD WAR II SOVIET ARMED FORCES (1) 1939-41 (MAA 464 by Dr Nigel Thomas and Darko Pavlovic [ISBN 978 84908 400 0]).

The second book in this series about the Soviet Armed Forces during World War II has now been published, and I now have a copy.

WORLD WAR II SOVIET ARMED FORCES (2) 1942-431 (MAA 468 by Dr Nigel Thomas and Darko Pavlovic [ISBN 978 84908 420 8] follows the same basic layout as its predecessor, and traces the organisation and uniforms of the Soviet Armed Forces during the crucial mid-war period.

As an aside, I was once asked why the bulk of my World War II figure collection was made up of Soviet troops. My answer is simple ... they are very quick to paint! The method I use is very simple. I undercoat as normal and top coat in a shade of khaki brown. I then pick out the main details (boots, packs, pouches, hands, faces, weapons etc.) in relevant colours, and once all the the paints have dried for at least 24 hours, I give the figure a coat of Nut Brown Indian ink. The latter dries into all the undercuts and details on the figure, and picks out the creases, edges of belts, eye sockets etc. Once the ink has dried for at least another 24 hours (I prefer to leave it for 48 hours if possible), I then give it a coat of gloss polyurethane varnish to seal the ink onto the figure and to protect it. I then base the figures using whatever method I am currently using.

The results are not individual masterpieces, but on mass they do look quite good.

A busy weekend so far

I can see why some retired people complain that they don't know how they fitted everything they needed to do in to the time available when they worked!

Yesterday was taken up by a visit to my father-in-law in Herne Bay and a party for a friend's fortieth birthday in Barnet. The drive to Herne Bay was punctuated by a trip to a large supermarket to buy in a stock of food and other things for my father-in-law, and once we got to his bungalow this had to be unloaded and stored where he can find it. This process is a long one, as we also have to sort through the food he has in his refrigerator take make sure that anything that is past its sell-by date is thrown away. If we don't do that, it either sits in the fridge uneaten or he eats it and then complains that he is ill.

This took most of the morning and a large chunk of the afternoon, and when we got home we had just enough time to have a quick wash, change of clothes, and a bit to eat before we had to drive over to Barnet in North West London.

Barnet is in that part of London which is farthest away from where we live, and the drive there is never uneventful. As a result of problems earlier during the day due to an accident or breakdown, the fastest (and longest) route around the M25 was likely to take up to two hours because of tailbacks, whereas the shortest route through Hackney and Edmonton was predicted to take nearly as long due to various roadworks. In the end we took a route that was neither the longest/fastest nor shortest/quickest ... and arrived in just over sixty minutes.

The celebrations were held in a local pub, and we had a great time. We left at about 11.30pm, and got home in about an hour ... and it was already Sunday by the time we went to bed.

That was my Saturday. I hope Sunday will be a bit more restful ... but somehow I doubt it!

Friday, 15 July 2011

The portable wargame: Some thoughts arising from the COW2011 session

It is now almost a week since I ran my PORTABLE WARGAME session at COW2011, and since then I have had a chance to think about the feedback I received from those who attended and took part in the games that were part of the session.

As I have mentioned in my replies to some of the comments made about my COW2011 photo report, there was overwhelming support for the use of squares rather than hexes, and this has given me pause for thought. I will not go into the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of these two alternatives, but in the immediate aftermath of COW I was firmly convinced that I had to go with squares, and abandon the hexes altogether. However I do have a large collection of both Hexon II and Heroscape™ hexed terrain, and I am unwilling to dispose of either.

One complaint about the Heroscape™ terrain is its starkness, especially when compared with Hexon II … and this does make the battles look less aesthetically pleasing. That said, I have painted and flocked some Heroscape™ terrain in the past, and as the photos show, it loses much of its starkness when this is done.

So I have decided that – for the time being at least – I am going to persist with using suitable painted and flocked Heroscape™ terrain. This does not mean that I am going to totally ignore the use of squares; it is just that they are not going to be a priority for the immediate future.

The other important feedback concerned the Activation Dice, Turn Sequence, and ‘pinning’. Basically, without special Activation Dice marked 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, and 0, some players were confused about converting the scores on normal D6 dice. Did they add all the D6 dice scores together and then divide by two, or did they do it for each dice and then add those results together? I need to address this, and I have a possible solution.

The best solution I can currently come up with is to add all the D6 dice scores together and then divide by two. However, in order not to skew the results too much, the ratio of dice to non-Command Units should be changed from 1:3 to 1:4. This seems to produce similar results to the original system, but appears to be easier to understand.

The current Turn Sequence also confused some players. They kept losing track of which non-Artillery Units had moved and could not fire and which had not moved and could fire.

One possible solution is to make players place ‘moved’ markers by those Units that have moved … but this means more clutter on the already crowded battlefield, and is one more thing that will detract from aesthetic look of the game. It might also lead to confusion with the ‘pinned’ markers. I have considered several solutions, but the only one that currently seems to make for less confusion rather than more is to allow non-Artillery Units to move if they are ‘activated’ … and to allow all non-Artillery Units that are in range of enemy Units to fire without having to be activated.

This will, of course, lead to more Units being able to fire each turn, but at present I cannot come up with an alternative solution that is also a simple solution. It is also in keeping with Joseph Morschauser’s original rules, and this further commends it to me.

The process of ‘pinning’ and ‘unpinning’ Units cause no problems whatsoever … but there were a number of instances where Units were in receipt of several ‘pin’ markers. This is not covered in the current draft of the rules, and I therefore came up with a simple expedient rule on the spot.

The rule states that each ‘pin’ marker requires a separate ‘activation’ to remove it, but that players can expend multiple ‘activations’ in the same turn to remove ‘pin’ markers from a Unit or Units. Doing this reduces the number of Units one side can move during a turn, but it does reflect a Commanders decision that it is better to get ‘pinned’ Units moving next turn than to just move those Units that are not ‘pinned’ this turn.

I still have some more thinking to do, but this blog entry shows the direction in which I am likely to go with the next draft of the rules. Nothing has yet been committed to paper, but I hope to produce a new draft of the PORTABLE WARGAME rules sometime in the next seven days.

Gone ... and already forgotten ... by some ... but not by others

During the day one of my friends from my former workplace sent me some photographs of the presentation that was made to me ... and I thought that I would share them with you/bore you to death with them (Please delete as appropriate).

The Principal begins her speech, whilst I look on. (I am the one of the right, whose trousers have not had an argument with their feet.)

I look suitably bemused when the Principal mentions the arrival of the student deputation that demanded that I not be allowed to leave. (I am bemused more by her surprise that this happened than I am by the fact that it did.)

I share my words of wisdom about teaching with the appreciative crowd. I was brief (not something that I usually manage!) and at least I did not take up the stance recommended by the two actors in the 'Sense and Senility' episode in the 'Blackadder the Third' series.

Gone ... and already forgotten ... by some

Yesterday was quite a busy day for me. I had quite a few things to do during the morning, including sorting out the Wargame Developments accounts (no problems, just time consuming), sorting out my company's accounts (some problems [of my making thanks to transposing two numbers by mistake], quite time consuming), and a visit to the local cash-and-carry to buy some much needed household supplies and some new storage boxes that I will use when I 'Spring clean' my toy/wargames room.

The afternoon was taken up by a return visit to my former place of work for the end-of-term barbeque. I had been specially invited, as the Principal wanted to publicly thank me for everything that I had done, and I wanted to take the opportunity to say my final 'goodbyes'. I was also supposed to collect my final contract payment.

As expected, things did not go too well. The barbeque started at 2.00pm, and by 3.00pm the food and soft drink was gone (there was no alcohol available), and the assembled staff began to disperse. At 3.15pm there was an urgent announcement that we should all return to the area where the barbeque had taken place as the Principal was now ready to make the presentations. Furthermore, the alcoholic drink (wine and beer) had now arrived ... after the organiser had realised that none had been bought!

I was one of several people who were thanked for the work that they had done, and presented with a small token of thanks ... which in my case was a bottle of Merlot ... and a comment that the Principal had never before experienced a deputation from a group of students demanding that a member of staff should not leave (Nice one, ladies and gentlemen!).

We then said our final 'goodbyes' ... or at least I managed to say mine to most of the people I had worked with, but not all. One of my closest work colleagues had not bothered to turn up as she was having some TOIL (time off in lieu) for working over half-term, and my line manager was working in her office and had not thought it necessary to go to the barbeque. It is funny how you can work with people for three years and they don't want to or can't be bothered to come to say 'goodbye' to you ... and then they talk about how important it is that we respect each other?

Oh! One final thing. My payment cheque was not ready. It had been raised and authorised ... but was still awaiting a signature. I doubt if I will get it before September.

C'est la vie!.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Fletcher Pratt's Naval Wargame

Many years ago (back in the early 1980s), I took part in Eric Knowles' Madasahatta Campaign. This featured quite a lot of naval battles, and these were fought using a version of Fletcher Pratt's Naval Wargame rules.

Since then I have taken part in several more games run by John Curry (the driving force behind the HISTORY OF WARGAMING PROJECT) at COW and various other locations, and was very pleased to see that John has managed to put together a book that not only contains the most complete set of Fletcher Pratt's rules but also a lot of other related material.

John Curry very kindly let me have a copy of the book at COW2011, and I have read a great deal of it already. I know that it is the top selling book in the HISTORY OF WARGAMING PROJECT, and I can see why. I strongly recommend it to anyone with an interest in naval wargaming who has not already bought a copy. Its details are as follows: Fletcher Pratt's Naval Wargame (published by The History of Wargaming Project [2011] ISBN 978 1 4475 1855 6).

Returning fire ...

On Monday, after I had written my blog entry about the very recent COW2011, I put a topic entitled CONFERENCE OF WARGAMERS (COW2011) REPORTS on THE MINIATURES PAGE. I added links to my blog entry and to the relevant blog entries of other members of Wargame Developments. The topic was not intended to start a discussion; it was more in the nature of a news item.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I read the following reply from someone whose identity on TMP is ‘Dan of Iniquity’:

I am always struck that in thirty years Wargames Developments have never actually developed anything that seems to be used in popular rules.

Will there be a point when this exercise in self-selective elitism does actually produce even the smallest thing that finds itself into the main stream of the hobby.

I felt that I could not let this comment go unanswered. I have been a member (and Treasurer/Membership Secretary) of Wargame Developments since it was founded, and I know who has been a member during those years … and the membership has included quite a few people whose names ‘Dan of Iniquity’ might recognise because they are well-known within the wargaming hobby both in and outside the UK.

Last night, after I had read the comment, I felt compelled to write the following reply:

Dan of Iniquity,

You are quite right; in 30 years Wargame Developments has produced nothing … but its members have! That's the point of WD; it encourages people to experiment and develop. It isn't a wargames publishing house, a game designer, or a model figure manufacturer … but these are represented amongst its membership, as are professional military personnel who design simulations for a living.

As for being a self-selected elite … well anyone can join, even you. We do not discriminate; all you have to have is an interest in wargaming and trying out new ideas. If that makes members a self-selecting elite … well that is your definition, not mine.

PS. If the Data Protection Act allowed me to publish a list of the members of WD, you might see quite a few names of long-term members that you recognise and who have 'actually developed anything that seems to be used in popular rules.'

PPS. I am sorry if this message sounds a bit rude, but after thirty years of this sort of comment, one gets a bit miffed.

In the cool light of morning, I feel that I might have stepped over the boundary of politeness more than I intended. No doubt I will get ‘stifled’ if ‘Dan of Iniquity’ takes offence … but ever since Paddy Griffith started the ball rolling and Wargame Developments was founded, it has been ‘sniped’ at by various individuals and/or groups within wargaming. We have been termed ‘elitist’ (a self-selecting one, if ‘Dan of Iniquity’ is to be believed),’ ivory towerist’ (whatever that means!), ‘secretive’, ‘self-satisfied’, ‘self-indulgent’, ‘out of the mainstream’, etc.

The funny thing is that anyone can join. You just pay the membership fee and become a member. It is not by ‘invitation only’ (something else WD has been accused of: ‘You can only become a member if you are nominated by an existing member’ was something that was said to me at a wargames show some years ago when I was helping to run a participation game on behalf of Wargame Developments). There are no secret rituals to be endured. No special handshakes to learn. No passwords to learn. No interview to go through. All it requires is a small payment … et voila!

So did ‘returning fire’ make me feel better? I am afraid to say that it did. I am probably still too combative for my own good … I must try to learn to relax now that I am retired, and not to let comments like those made by ‘Dan of Iniquity‘ get under my skin.

I think that this is going to take me some time.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

What to do now?

Now that COW2011 is over, the preparations for COW2012 are underway. I already have some bookings to process, and the membership records will need to be updated ... as will the Wargame Developments website. But what should I do now?

Before last weekend, retirement was something that I was looking forward to. I had plans. I had ideas. I had priorities. But now that reality is upon me, I am beginning to feel a bit uncertain about what to do now. The routine tasks that always come after a COW (Conference of Wargamers) are helping to fill my day, and I am beginning to adjust to having time to do things around the house that I used to have to do after I returned from work ... but somehow I feel like I am not quite 'with it'.

I suppose that I thought that the move from full-time work into retirement would be seamless ... but so far it has not been. For one thing, I suddenly feel very tired all the time. Not mentally tired; physically tired, just as one does after being ill for a long time. I assume that this is the result of me beginning to relax, safe in the knowledge that I can do so without feeling that I should be preparing something for work. If it is, then I know that it will pass.

I need to 'sort out' the wargaming side of my life. I have now got the time to do a lot more wargaming ... but before I do I need to have a good 'Spring clean' in my wargames/toy room. I need to reorganise (and possibly prune) my book collection and to reduce the pile of unpainted figures that I own down to something more manageable. I had already set myself some goals ... now I need to start achieving them.

Finally, my PORTABLE WARGAME session at COW2011 made me realise that some small but significant changes to the rules need to be considered. It was apparent that players found one or two aspects of the Turn Sequence and Unit Activation stopped the game from 'flowing' quite as easily as I had hoped, and these need to be looked at long and hard. It was also very noticeable how many of them preferred the squared grid rather than the hexed grid ... and this included players who experienced both and who regularly design games that included a gridded playing surface.

I have quite a few things to think about and do ... but at least I have the time now to do them thoroughly.

Monday, 11 July 2011

COW2011: A photo report

I arrived at Knuston Hall in Northamptonshire after a very tiring journey from London via the M11 and A14. Not only was the traffic heavy, so was the rain! The latter made driving conditions very hazardous at times, and I was extremely pleased when I finally pulled up outside the Hall and began to unload my luggage. Many of the attendees had already arrived, and it was lovely to receive such warm welcomes from so many old friends.

Friday Night
After dinner, the conference got under way. Tim Gow – my co-organiser – introduced the Plenary Game, for which the attendees were split into six teams.

The conference attendees waiting to start the Plenary Game.

Tim Gow explains the Plenary Game.

We were all given the name of a famous military action that we were to ‘interpret’ to the rest of the attendees through the medium of dance and song. (We were given the opportunity to choose one of two military actions to ‘interpret’: we chose The Charge of The Light Brigade rather than the Battle of Bannockburn.)

Needless to say we acquitted ourselves well in the task, but were let down by our decision to only give each of our rivals one vote for their style and content; they retaliated by giving us low scores … and we came last! The Plenary Game is intended to be an ‘ice breaker’ and this one certainly achieved that … and gave everyone a lot of fun and laughs as well.

We then moved on to the After Dinner Games. I intended to have a go at Richard Brooks’ BROKEN SQUARE solo game, but after watching two other people play, I was too tired to take my turn and went to bed to sleep.

The Egyptian square prepares to move off.

The Egyptian square runs into trouble.

The first encounter between the Egyptian square and the Mahdists. After inflicting casualties on the Mahdists, the square eventually pushed on towards its objective.

What I liked about Richard’s game was both its unpredictability and its simplicity. It was possible to get almost across the board, and then – when the final goal was in sight – for everything to go wrong.

Saturday Morning
Some years ago I demonstrated WHEN EMPIRES CLASH! rules at COW, and Wayne Thomas and David Brock have used them as the basis for their own rules for the Spanish-American War of 1898. I was too late to sign up for one of the player roles in this game, but I decided to act as an observer … and I am very glad that I did!

The American forces preparing to move forward to engage the Spanish defenders.

The American forces deploy from the forest into the open area in front of the Spanish defences.

The Americans mount their final assault on the centre of the Spanish defences.

As you can see from the photographs, the Americans outnumbered the Spanish, who were dug in along a line of hills. The Americans had some difficulty in deploying their superior numbers in the open ground in front of the Spanish positions, but eventually they managed to mount an attack which succeeded in breaking into the centre of the Spanish trenches. During the fighting, the Spanish commander was killed, and this marked the turning point of the battle.

A splendid little wargame about a ‘splendid little war’!

I did manage to get to see part of Ian Drury’s BATTLE OF KNUSTON COURTHOUSE, which was taking place in the next door room to A SPLENDID LITTLE WAR. The rules being used were a version of Ian’s REDCOATS & REBELS, and as the photograph shows …

The heavily wooded terrain around Knuston Courthouse.

… the hexed terrain was covered in trees in order to represent the very wooded terrain so often fought over during the American War of Independence.

Saturday Afternoon
In order to ensure that all the attendees who wanted to try out this latest development of Richard Brooks’ and Ian Drury’s Minischlacht rules system – this time with a 1:1000th ground scale using Hexon II hexes – two re-fights of the battle took place in parallel. I took part in the re-fight that was umpired by Ian Drury.

The battlefield of Froeschwiller. The Prussians (and their Bavarian allies) are advancing from the right and the French forces are occupying the left-hand side of the battlefield.

Some of the French defenders.

The Prussian Vth Corps prepares to move forward to engage the French.

The Prussians struggle to cross the river to engage the French. Every time that they manage to get a unit forward, it is pushed back after suffering casualties.

The centre of the French defences.

After moving their artillery forward, the Prussian Vth Corps finally manages to maintain a foothold on the French side of the river and pushes them out of the centre of their defences.

The Prussians finally win the battle ... but it has taken them much longer than it should have done.

In the end the Prussians – with some minor assistance from the Bavarian – overcame the French positions, but it was a hard fought battle, and although the result was historically correct, the French held out for much longer than they did during the real battle.

Tim Gow and I – in conjunction with the newly recruited FLW devotee, Jim Wallman – set out some units from our FUNNY LITTLE WARS armies and rang a few experiments with the rules.

Several of the major units of the Forbodian Army. King Boris and his staff can be seen standing next to his Rolls Royce staff car.

Some of Jim Wallman's Freedonian Army. 

Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery units of the Cordeguayan Army.

This has convinced us all that we must run a full-scale FUNNY LITTLE WARS battle at COW2013, if not beforehand. Interestingly, this session was not on the conference timetable but we had lots of attendees who popped in to have a look … and to have a go at firing the matchstick-firing cannons at our toy soldiers.

Saturday Evening
This was another of Richard Bassett’s award-winning role-play/map campaign games set during the period around when the Roman Republic was ending and Augustus Caesar was emerging as the new leader of Rome.

Rome's elite. Visible from left to right are Mike Elliott, Phil Steele, John Bassett, David Bradbury, and Roger Barnes.

My role was that of Cimber, a stalwart defender of the Republic and reputed to be the first man to strike a blow at Julius Caesar during this assassination. I managed to achieve almost all of my aims and despite the deaths of Brutus and Cassius (Wayne Thomas and Tony Hawkins), the Republican ‘party’ still retained a power base in what is modern-day Turkey.

This game will be next year’s WD Display Team North participation game. It was designed by Tim Gow and recreates the opening moves of Operation Barbarossa from June to December 1942.

Three ‘tracks’ represent the routes taken by Army Groups North, Centre, and South, and each player ‘commands’ an Army Group. The winner is the first player to get his Army Group to his objective before winter sets in.

Tim Gow demonstrates Rollbahn Ost to Richard Brooks and Graham Evans.

The game is played against the clock – we had 12 minutes to complete the game – and players can either co-operate (which pretty well guarantees the game will be over within the time limit) or concentrate on winning the game (which can mean that all the players run out of time before any of them reach their objectives).

Sunday Morning
Rob Cooper’s modern submarine warfare game is similar to one I took part in years ago … but had a few extra twists that made it very thought-provoking.

Each player is blindfolded and given a small plastic tray containing marbles. They are then placed by the umpire away from their opponent, asked to kneel down on all fours, and then attempt to torpedo their opponent by rolling a marble at them and hitting them! Players can move if they want to, and can ‘ping’ their opponent by saying ‘ping’ to which the opponent must reply ‘pong’, thus giving some idea of their possible location.

I took part in two games; I discovered that it helps not to have squeaky shoes (they are quite literally a dead giveaway!) and that although ‘pinging’ is risky, as long as you are ready to ‘fire’ your torpedoes as soon as your opponent ‘pongs’ back, you can ‘kill’ your enemy.

This was a very interesting game that has generated a few ideas for future games that can use these simple but effective mechanisms.

My session began with a short presentation that described how the PORTABLE WARGAME evolved and developed. It ended with a brief description of the main rules, after which the attendees had to opportunity to try out both the latest hexed-based version of the rules and the earlier square-based ‘modern’ version.

The feedback was very interesting. Players who tried the latest version all found that the simplicity of the rules belied its subtlety as a game. Most battles began with lots of movement, but as Units began to get pinned down, players had to devote more and more of their time and efforts into keeping their forces mobile and able to exploit any initiative they might gain.

In the foreground Philip Hooper and Fred Cartwright are trying out the latest version of my Portable Wargame rules. In the background Wayne Thomas and Richard Brooks are playing an earlier version of the rules on Nick Huband's Spanish Civil War version of the rules.

What was also very interesting was the feedback from players who tried both versions of the rules that although the use of hexes simplified the rules somewhat, squares seemed to be the preferred option because it felt and looked ‘right’.

Nick Huband's Spanish Civil War version of my Portable Wargame.

This may be something to do with the excellent game board, terrain, and figures that Nick Huband kindly brought along to the conference … but it might also reflect a genuine preference for something that can easily be reproduced without the need to buy or acquire a hexed terrain system.

A very thought-provoking that will certainly influence the development of an early twentieth century version of the PORTABLE WARGAME rules.

Sunday Afternoon
The session after lunch saw a few more players take the opportunity to try out my PORTABLE WARGAME rules, after which the Wargame Developments Annual General Meeting took place. There were not contentious items to discuss, and other that some brief reports by the various officers (including the conference organisers, the treasurer/membership secretary [me!], the editors of THE NUGGET and the COLOUR SUPPLEMENT and the various Display Team Co-ordinators), the conference came to a close … and we began the process of preparing for next year!

My drive home was slightly less arduous than the drive to the conference, and despite holdups on the M1 going south towards London, I managed to get home in just over 2.5 hours.

Oh no! Not Ofsted ... again!

Just when I thought it was safe to begin enjoying myself, Ofsted* has returned to blight my life, if only indirectly.

Whilst I have been away at COW2011, my wife got the news that one of the schools where she works as a Special Educational Needs consultant will be inspected on Tuesday and Wednesday this week by a team of inspectors from Ofsted.

Now for those of you who don't know, Ofsted inspections can be (No, are!) very stressful. A school has some idea what evidence they will be asked provide to the Ofsted team ... but in theory the team can ask for almost anything and expect that it will be available for their perusal within a relatively short period of time. Getting all the data together that they might need to see is a massive task ... and this is in addition to expecting the teaching staff prepare top quality lessons that can be observed.

You can imagine, therefore, that my wife has a lot of work to do ... and not a lot of time to do it in. I am going to do as much as I can to help her, and so I can expect that the first few days of my 'retirement' will be devoted to assisting her in whatever ways I can to meet the extra demands that the inspection will place on her.

And I thought that once I was retired I would never have to worry about Ofsted again ... how wrong I was!

*Ofsted is the acronym for the Office of Standards in Education. They are the body that undertakes inspections of schools on behalf of the Government.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Their exits and their entrances* ...

Today I will be leaving my current place of employment – a Sixth Form College in South East London – for the last time as a contractor ... and going straight to Knuston Hall in Northamptonshire to attend COW 2011.

To mark this I have included photographs of the exits (and entrances) of both educational establishments; the Sixth Form College ...

... and Knuston Hall

* The title of this blog entry is a quote from Jaques speech in Shakespeare's play, 'As You Like It'. It seemed rather appropriate in the circumstances.

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Thursday, 7 July 2011


Just after I had completed the task of sorting out all the figures I need for my PORTABLE WARGAME session, and I had finished putting them in the newly-purchased plastic trays I was going to transport them in to COW, I had an accident of the sort dreaded by wargamers.

I had the trays in my hands, and turned to put them into the storage box they are designed to go in when, for some inexplicable reason, my left ankle gave way and I began to fall over. As I fell, I dropped the trays … and they landed upside down on the floor of my wargames/toy room. Luckily the thick carpet absorbed most of the impact, but the figures were all jumbled up and – what is worse – some of them were damaged.

I had to spend quite some time re-sorting them and repairing any damage. In the end the only damage that I could not repair was that done to the Austro-Hungarian cannon. Two lost their barrels and one of the others lost a wheel … and it was at this point that I discovered that my stock of superglue was exhausted.

A quick sort through my collection produced four suitable replacements (not totally accurate replacements, but ‘good enough for Government work’ as the saying goes).

Everything is now safely stored in carrying boxes and bags, my luggage is packed, and all I have to do is to put it in the car tomorrow morning. The only problem I have that is not quite so easily solved is my ankle, which is quite sore and slightly swollen. Hopefully it will be better by tomorrow morning, as I don’t relish having to drive my car – which has a manual gearbox and clutch – through heavy traffic going to work and on to Knuston Hall afterwards. A good night’s rest should ensure that it is a lot better by morning, but just in case, I am going to rub some anti-inflammatory cream on it tonight.

One day left ... to COW2011 and retirement!

It is less than twenty four hours before COW2011 will have started ... and I would have finally retired from full-time teaching.

For the last ten years I have worked as a Consultant Teacher, which meant that I was under contract to various education establishments and organisations for various lengths of time. My main role has always been to show less experienced staff how to get the best from students. I have done this by showing them how I do it, and not just by telling them how.

It has not always been easy, and over the past few years I have felt less and less in step with the way education in the UK has been going. No one seems to take the long view any more, and I have become very disillusioned with the short-term and quick-fix attitude that those responsible for setting national education policy seem to have adopted, and the way that this has filtered down into the management of education at local level.

I suppose that it was time for me to accept that I although I was still a good teacher, who seemed to be able to guide and motivate some of the more deprived and disillusioned students in the schools where I worked, my 'style' of doing things was no longer acceptable to those that I worked for.

So what next after COW and a rest? I have ideas and plans ... and so does my wife ... but I have a sneaky feeling that I will still be involved in education is some shape or form again. Until then, I am going to enjoy my new-found freedom.

Off to COW tomorrow. I can hardly wait to get there.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

What sessions should I attend at COW2011?

Helping to organise COW has one major benefit and one major drawback. The benefit is that you are first to know is on and when it is on; the drawback is that you are usually last in the queue to sign up for sessions because you are handling the administrative tasks as everyone arrives at the conference and signs in.

This year I am going to try to avoid the pitfalls of the latter by taking regular breaks to add my name to session 'sign up' sheets as and when session organisers pin them to the notice board.

So what sessions have I decided that I want to sign up for? Here is my list of possible 'runners and riders':

Friday Evening
  • ALL IN THE BEST POSSIBLE TASTE (the plenary game) – I have not done 'dance' since I left college over forty years ago ... so this might be both a challenge and a life changing experience when my fellow attendees see my un-sylph-like figure cavorting about during my interpretation of whatever great battle I am asked to render through the medium of dance
  • BETTER RED THAN DEAD – This is WD Display Team North’s game about the possible and probable dangers of being an ambitious junior commander in the Red Army during the period from 1918 to 1941
  • BROKEN SQUARE – Richard Brook’s solo game about the Sudan campaign is a ‘must try’ for me for so many different reasons
  • ANOTHER FOOTFALL SITUATION - if I am still awake by the time it starts, I will hope to take a small part in this game. I usually get killed in Tim Price's role-play games ... so the chances are that the same will happen again this year if I manage to get a role!
Saturday Morning
  • Either FATAL GLORY (Ian Drury’s latest incarnation of his REDCOATS & REBELS rules) or A SPLENDID LITTLE WAR (Wayne Thomas’s recreation of the Battle of San Juan Hill) – it is difficult to choose between these two sessions, but as there is always a possibility that I can persuade Ian to run his session at some future date, I will probably opt for A SPLENDID LITTLE WAR
Saturday Afternoon
  • Again another difficult choice of either FROESCHWILLER, 1870 (The battle will be re-fought using Ian Drury and Richard Brook’s latest rules, KILOSCHLACHT, which have been developed from their earlier MINISCHLACHT rules) or SEND NOT TO KNOW … (Where Graham Evan’s newly-developed divisional-level Spanish Civil War rules will be used) – Making a decision as to which session to attend is very difficult because I love to fight wargames set both during the late nineteenth century and the inter-war era
Saturday Evening
  • CAESAR’S HEIRS – John Bassett’s map/role-play games are always great fun as well as being very educational, and I will try to get a role in the game; if not, I hope to watch events as they unfold
Sunday Morning
  • GIVE ME A PING, VASILIY – Any submarine game that begins with a quote from the HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER is a must for me … and knowing Rob Cooper, it will be a great game to take part in!
  • PORTABLE WARGAME – My turn to bore attendees in the ‘just before Sunday roast lunch’ slot with a (hopefully) short presentation, followed by some ‘hands on’ gaming
At some time during the weekend I also hope to have a try-out of the FUNNY LITTLE WARS rules with Tim Gow … but at the moment I am not quite sure when that will be.

So this is my plan … but knowing what happens to the COW timetable once people begin arriving and changing it (a perennial problem that Tim and I have long since stopped worrying about) I may well end up going to a completely different set of sessions. As Helmuth von Moltke the Elder once said ‘No battle plan survives contact with the enemy’ … and that pretty well sums up the COW timetable by dinner time on Friday night each year.

Roll on Friday and COW2011!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Preparing for COW

Since I got home from work (which was a bit of an ordeal due to road closures that affect my route home), I have managed to make quite a bit of progress in my preparations for COW2011 next weekend.

I had already got all mu FUNNY LITTLE WARS stuff together and packed, and today I wanted to concentrate on sorting out everything that I need for my PORTABLE WARGAME session. I have made:
  • A few minor adjustments to the Microsoft PowerPoint presentation I am going to use
  • Printed off more than enough copies of the Rules Summary sheets
  • Packed the terrain into my old metal Pilot Case (which I have found is ideal for carrying Heroscape™ terrain in)
  • Sorted out - but not put into sets - enough dice and 'pin' counters for each player
  • Sorted out - but not yet put into carrying boxes - four Austro-Hungarian and four Prussian armies, each with ten Units (which should be enough for a reasonably short and interesting game)
  • Got out one of the vinyl chessboards so that session attendees can see what they look like
In addition I have boxed up all the attendee badges, an A0-sized copy of the conference timetable (which will be pinned up in one of the main meeting rooms), and some spare copies of the Conference Programme.

I think that all I will have to do on Thursday evening is to pack my clothes and the dice, counters, and figures ... and once that is done it should take just a few minutes to pack everything in the car before I leave for my last day at work and the subsequent drive to COW.

The problem is ... I keep thinking that I have forgotten something.

PS. As I was writing this blog entry I suddenly remembered to add the following items to my list of things to take:
  • My laptop computer
  • My iPad (and yes ... I will need both my laptop and my iPad as copies of my rules are stored as a PDFs on my iPad!)
  • My digital camera (most important if I want to write a suitable illustrated blog entry when I get home!)

Not with a bang but a whimper ...

It is only Tuesday, and I have three more days – and 7.5 hours of teaching – before the end of my contract (and my retirement begins) ... and things are rather boring. I have cleared my desk and work area of everything that I don't need, tidied up my teaching room, filled several recycling bins full of waste paper, and have marked all the work my students have handed in. Their marks have been added to the subject spreadsheet in the Faculty area on the computer system ... and I don't have much left to occupy me until my next lesson tomorrow morning.

If I could, I would go home and carry on with getting ready for COW2011 ... but I have to stay at work 'just in case'. I have even helped other staff to sort out their computer problems - something that the IT Support staff here would not be happy about if they knew ... but they won't know because they are all trying to get the new information management system to work.

I did get a letter from the Principal today explaining why my contract had been terminated and thanking me for all the work I have done over the past three years ... but the fact that I had to ask her to write it for me (a written explanation of the reasons why a contract is being terminated is one of the conditions in the contract, and this is supposed to be done within 48 hours of the verbal notice of termination being given) rather took the edge off the 'thanks' the letter contained.

So it looks as if my final few days in teaching are going to go out with a whimper and not a bang.

As T S Elliott writes in his poem, 'The Hollow Men':
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Two milestones on one day

I could not have done a better job had I planned it ... but I didn't!

This is my 1,000th blog entry ... and it is also the day when the 'hit' counter on my blog reached 200,000!

Two major milestones reached on one day ... and only a few days before COW2011 starts and I retire from full-time teaching.

Preparing for COW

It is now four days before COW2011 starts (and four days before I retire as well!). I am trying to get things ready for my session about the PORTABLE WARGAME, but every time I think that I am almost there, something crops up.

Today I managed to finish the Microsoft PowerPoint presentation I am going to use to start the session. This covers the origins of the rules, the way they have developed up to the present day, and a brief breakdown of the main points. The latter is included so that attendees will not have to plough through the rules before they can start fighting the battles I have prepared for them.

I have put together four sets of Heroscape™ terrain along with some buildings and trees from my 'Town in a bag' collection. All I have to do now is to sort out four Prussian and four Austro-Hungarian armies, the dice, and copies of the rules summary. In theory this should only take a few minutes but ... every time I set aside some time to deal with these simple tasks, something else more pressing comes up. I had hoped to do this final bit of preparation tonight, but a trip to the printers to print off a large copy of the COW timetable took much longer than expected, and now my wife and I have to go out to do the weekly food shopping because we did not do it over the weekend.

Hopefully I will get enough time to complete these last few tasks tomorrow night … but knowing my luck, something is bound to crop up!

US Independence Day

I wish all of my regular US-based blog readers a happy and safe Independence Day holiday.

For once I will use an expression that usually grates when I hear it, but which on this occasion is absolutely bang on the nail:


Sunday, 3 July 2011

I have been to ... Southampton and Winchester

It was my wife's birthday earlier in the week, and we decided to go away this weekend as part of the celebrations. We chose Southampton because we have driven through it many times over the past few years on our way to board or disembark from a cruise liner ... but we have never stopped and looked around the place. Another reason is because a branch of my wife's family lived in Southampton and one of them – Charles Kennell – was a member of the crew of the 'Titanic', and died when she sank.

We stayed at the Chilworth Manor Hotel, which is situated near the village of Chilworth, just north of Southampton. The hotel was originally a private home, but over the years it has been the head office of an engineering firm and Halls of Residence for the University of Southampton. The University later converted it into a residential conference centre, and when they sold it, it became a hotel.

We arrived at the hotel just before 5.00pm on Friday afternoon, and after unpacking and having a drink on the terrace, we had a walk around the hotel's extensive grounds before returning to our room. We ate an excellent meal in the restaurant, and after yet another drink, we went to bed.

On Saturday morning, whilst on our way to breakfast, we became aware that a helicopter was flying very low overhead. In fact, it was landing on one of the lawns near the terrace. We stopped and watched its arrival, and after a wait of some ten minutes, a family that had been staying overnight boarded it, and it took off.

As the photographs show, the space in which the helicopter landed was only fractionally larger than the span of the rotor blades, and the lawn had a slight slope. Despite this, the helicopter seemed to have little difficulty getting in and out of the available space. I asked one of the staff who was acting as a safety officer whether this was a common occurrence, and he told me that on some days that had three or four helicopters land and take off from the hotel's grounds.

Once breakfast was over, we drove into Southampton. It took us less than thirty minutes, and we parked in the West Quay multi story car park. From there we went out into the main shopping area. After a spell of 'retail therapy', my wife and I walked northward to visit the Titanic Engineers Memorial, which is located in East Park.

From there we crossed over the road to the junction of Cumberland Place and London Road, which is where the Titanic Musicians Monument is fixed to the wall of a rather anonymous modern office block.

The original Monument was destroyed when the building that originally housed it was demolished, and the existing Monument is an exact replica of the original.

We then walked south through the East and Houndwell Parks on our way to the Southampton Maritime Museum. Our walk took us past Holy Rood Church. The church was damaged during the Southampton blitz, and now houses various monuments devoted to the Merchant Navy. The largest of these monuments is in memory of the Titanic's Stewards, Stokers, and other Crewmen.

Having paid our respects at this monument, we completed our journey to the Maritime Museum. This is a small museum, but the ground floor area contains several excellent ship models as well as a large model that shows what Southampton Docks looked like in the late 1930s. The upstairs floor is dominated be a huge scale model of RMS QUEEN MARY. This was made by the ship's builders, John Brown Shipbuilders, and depicts the ship 'as built'.

The rest of the gallery is made over to two exhibits. One is devoted to the history of the Ordnance Survey; the other tells the story of RMS TITANIC from the perspective of her relationship with Southampton. The exhibition is quite small, but does contain some interesting and unusual exhibits, including a watch that was found on the body of a dead crewman from Southampton and copies of 'Presumption of Death' certificates that were given to the families of 'missing' crewmen.

We then made our way back to our car and drove back to the hotel, tired but feeling that we had had an interesting day. We ate another excellent evening meal at the hotel, and after sitting on the terrace watching the sun slowly disappear, we went to bed and slept well.

On Sunday we decided not to drive straight home, but to make a short detour so that we could visit Winchester. Once we had eaten breakfast and checked out of the hotel, it took us about thirty minutes to drive to Winchester. We parked as close to the city centre as we could, and after a break for a drink in the local branch of Costa Coffee, we made our way uphill towards the area of Winchester where the museums are situated.

As our time was limited, we chose to visit the Royal Green Jackets Museum (which is also known as the Rifles Museum). The other military museums on the site are the Gurkha Museum, the King's Royal Hussars Museum (which is also known as Horsepower), the Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum, and the Adjutant-General's Corps Museum.

The entrance to the Royal Green Jackets Museum was guarded by two cannons. They were originally operated by the Egyptian Army and were captured by the Mahdists. After they were re-captured at the Battle of Omdurman, they were presented to the Rifle Brigade by General Kitchener.

The museum tells the story of the various infantry regiments that were the antecedents of the Royal Green Jackets, and includes sections on their involvement in the numerous wars fought by the British Army from 1741 onwards. The largest single item in the collection is a diorama of the Battle of Waterloo that has over 20,000 figures. This has a recorded narrative and light show that describes and illustrates the course of the battle.

Our visit to the museum lasted over one and a half hours, and had not time been pressing we could have easily spent longer looking at its exhibits. We will certainly try to re-visit this museum when we return to Winchester to visit the other military museums situated there. Our journey home from Winchester was uneventful, and we are both determined to return to the Chilworth Manor Hotel, Southampton, and Winchester as soon as we can.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Taster Day ... or how to shoot yourself in the foot!

Today is Taster Day. This is a special day in our school's calendar because it is the day on which potential recruits for the September intake have the opportunity to sample the various courses that will be on offer.

At briefing on Tuesday – before quite a few staff (including myself) were told that their contracts were to be terminated on Friday 8th July instead of the following Friday 15th July – we were told in no uncertain terms to make sure that the taster sessions had lots of pizzazz and fun activities, as this would attract potential students … and that this would also help to secure the future employment of all existing staff. Furthermore, those of us who were to be specially ‘selected’ to teach these taster sessions were instructed to send our lesson plans and teaching materials to our respective Heads of Faculty as soon as possible … for vetting and approval.

Preparing a special taster session that has ‘lots of pizzazz and fun activities’ takes time ... and at this particular time of the year, there is quite of lot to do. Time for preparing special ‘one off’ lessons is – as a result – somewhat limited. Therefore setting up and teaching the taster sessions is seen as a bit of a chore by some of the staff who have minor management responsibilities, and as a result it is usually ‘passed on’ to the most junior members of each Faculty to do the preparation and teaching.

Now regular readers of my blog have probably already guessed what happened next … the specially ‘selected’ teachers included quite a few of the staff who were told after they had prepared their taster lessons that their contracts were to be terminated a week earlier than expected … with a consequent loss of salary. Today those same staff are expected to deliver those taster sessions with ‘lots of pizzazz and fun activities’ in order to recruit potential students to ‘help to secure the future employment of all existing staff.’

Am I the only person who thinks that this might just be a bit of a bad idea? Would a school’s ‘management’ be so inward looking not to see the potential of shooting oneself in the foot by making this sort of decision?

We shall see.

PS. I have got my taster sessions ready ... and I think that they meet the 'management's' criteria of having lots of fun activities that will attract potential recruits. I will also deliver it as well as I can; not because I have been told to, but because I still have some professional pride in wanting to teach as well as I can, whatever the circumstances.

PPS. Latest news! The senior member of staff responsible for timetabling the Taster Day has managed to put several different but conflicting activities in the same room at the same time ... things can only get better!