Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Reading wargames magazines over lunch and a journey to the Dark Side.

Yesterday I had a meeting in London, which was one of those where the timing keeps moving about until the last minute.  Well, I say London but actually it was at Holloway Road which is much further north in London than I like to go.  It's almost the Midlands!  Originally scheduled to take place between 12.00 and 13.00, the meeting was shifted to 13.00.  I arrived at Waterloo early, so had time for a cup of tea (I thought you might not be able to get tea in North London) and a quick trip to Smiths and picked up May's Miniature Wargames. I then got a phone message to say they had moved the meeting forward to 12.30.  Anyway, it all meant that I was out at 13.30 and desperate to get back to civilisation.  As I hadn't had lunch I headed south as fast as possible and pitched up at the National Cafe at the National Gallery.  Basically, I wanted to waste some time so that Old Bat would be at home to pick me up and save me the walk from the station, as I have a bad foot at present.

Now although I don't like its new poncey incarnation (could this be the name for Warhammer's first gay hero?) compared with how it used to be (all change is bad) the food there is very nice, apart from a baffling preponderance of fishy dishes.  They had one of their exhibition specific menus again (Monet) but now, annoyingly, they only serve these in the evening (more change for the worse).  Anyway, apart from my newly purchased Miniature Wargames I also had April's Wargames Illustrated in my bag.  Time, therefore, for another  thrilling episode of Reading Wargmes Magazines over Lunch!  Before I could start, given it was susprisingly warm yesterday, I needed a cool drink and so chose a Côtes de Provence.   This was a pale, almost transparent, fragrant pink which reminded me (in many ways) of a former girlfriend's favourite pair of knickers; although not as expensive (I was with her once in Wimbledon when she spent an eye watering £105 on a pair of La Perla black knickers).

Leek and potato with wild garlic soup for a first course; although in reality it was more garlic soup with a little bit of leek and potato.  Miniature Wargames new May edition first and a look at their Forward Observer review section.  Firstly, review of the new Osprey Outremer: Faith and Blood rules, for Crusades skirmishes using between five and ten figures a side, which strike me as being too few (surprisingly) so I will pass on these, despite the fact that I have some painted figures for the First Crusade, done for a Society of Ancients game some years ago.

The problem

The solution?

Far more interesting was a review of a paint station which, at two feet long might, hold a lot of rubbish cluttering my desk.  One side of my desk is a complete tip (actually so is the other side) but this has racks for paint brushes, drawers and lots of space for paint. I bunged off an order to Always Hobbies and hope the reviewers claims that it was easy to assemble will prove accurate!

Picnic girl by Ron Cobb for Mayfair July 1972

Many articles in wargames magazines have tried to categorise the different tribes of players and Conrad Kinch had a go, this month too, looking at their motivation.  In a way, these pieces remind me of those articles you used to get in Mayfair, which would examine the different characteristics of 'birds' in the early seventies; country set girls, librarians, air hostesses, secretaries, au pairs, etc.   These were usually illustrated, falling out of their clothes, by Ron Cobb who would go on to do concept art for films like Alien and Total Recall. None of them look like wargamers, of course!  Kinch's categorisation had four types: Socialite - who games to meet up with people (definitely not me), The System Master - who loves mastering the rules so they can win at all costs (not me either), The Daytripper - inspired by history, films or TV (that is me) and The Craftsman - who likes painting figures, making scenery and devising scenarios (a bit me).

A member of my Sudan Naval Brigade encounters some cavegirls

There were several other articles I was interested in: one on making rocks out of yoga blocks (no, I had no idea what a yoga bloc was either) and a piece from the Wargames Widow on making a swampy river.  I have to say (cruelly, given my lack of ability at constructing scenics) that I find many of her projects a bit lumpy and agricultural but this one may be worth keeping.  There was another one of those four staples of generic wargames magazines articles (along with the aforementioned type of wargamer, the greying of the hobby and the decline of shows) on historical versus fantasy wargaming (two out of four of these tropes in one issue?).  The position taken by the author seemed to be that historical and fantasy games were all after the same objective but historical gamers were more hamstrung by...well, history. He also takes the view that historical games are in decline.  Hmm.  This is not something I want to get into but I think that the sheer number of, in particular, plastic historicals coming out says that the decline isn't as steep as some thing. I think that, perhaps, big battle historicals are on the decline, with the rise of the semi-skirmish type of game like Lion Rampant,  Many historical games are now fought with forces of several dozen, rather than hundreds ,of figures a side, as seen in Fantasy and SF gaming for some time.  This is partly due to time constraints, I suspect, and cost.  I actually think that one thing fantasy wargaming has given to historicals is nicely produced rule books, coming from Warhammer Historical and now Warlord Games, there are still some who prefer the ring bound efforts of the past but being a Daytripper/Craftsman, according to Mr Kinch's definitions, I think glossy, beautifully produced rule books are inspirational.  Also, I think that while younger wargamers (and most wargaming women) focus on Fantasy, contraty to the author of this piece,  I don't see a situation in thirty years time when lots of fifty year olds are still playing Warhammer.  This is because I think, like myself, many who wargame at a younger age stop for years, as adult life takes over, only to return to the hobby years or decades later.  When they do return I suspect they are more likely to take up historicals as opposed to fantasy, if only as it may feel more acceptable to their peers.  'I play wargames with Orcs' not being so, justifiable, perhaps, to others as 'I recreate battles of the Crimean War'; even if the gaming mechanisms are almost identical.

However, the thing in the magazine that had an immediate effect on me was the actually rather poor review  (he reviewed the figures not the game, with which there are issues, I gather) of Star Wars Legion. I had been excited when this game was first announced (I think my daughter pointed it out) but with my eye problems of last year, I gave up on it. It was delayed so often I lost interest.  However, the review in Wargames Illustrated seemed to indicate it was out and I gather it was being demonstrated at Salute, although, needless to say, I didn't see it.  However, now that I can see much better again, I wanted to get it, especially as Charlotte seems keen on playing it (some of her friends play X-Wing).  Quick phone call to Dark Sphere and a short walk from Waterloo Station and there I have yet another impulse by.  Much more on this in due course.

On to my main course of duck with spicy liver sauce and Wargames Illustrated's April edition.  The themed approach is always a bit hit and miss and aviation wargames are a definite miss for me but the Thirty Years War is something I have been interested in a for a long time, not least because of the old Revell 1:72 plastics of years ago (there was an article on other suitable plastic figures in this scale in the magazine) and several visits to the Swedish Army Museum in Stockholm with my friend Anna.  It seems that this would be an ideal period for The Pikeman's Lament so I will keep the articles from this issue.  One thing, however, is that the uniforms  (not that they were) from the period are not the same as those from the English Civil War.  I recently read about a European firm that was starting up a range of 28mm Thirty years War figures which looked really nice but I can't remember who?  Were they Russian? Probably just as well I can't remember!

There was also a piece on Warlord's Shieldwall supplement for Hail Caesar which I haven't quite finished reading et.  I haven't played Hail Caesar but perhaps this will be what Eric the Shed uses for his big new Norman and Saxon project.  Coincidentally, after I returned from Dark Sphere, I ran into Eric on Waterloo Station, after I had collected my big Star Wars box.  He said I should take the game over to the Shed, which I may do when I have painted the figures (in about 2020). 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A quick visit to Salute 2018

Just back from a very short trip to Salute; I think I was in and out in just under two hours.  I arrived just after 11.00 am and the free giveaway figure had already run out, which was fine as I didn't want it.  Given  the theme this year was the centenary of the end of World War 1 I didn't see much in the way of WW 1 games (there were a couple of African set ones).  In fact the most Great War thing was this reproduction tank which, while being made from wood, can actually move under its own track power,  It has featured in a number of TV and film productions (including Wonder Woman, Eric the Shed informed me) but was a rather stunted, foreshortened thing; rather in the way that James Cameron sliced a big chunk out of the front of his Titanic reproduction. It's almost like an anime version of a tank. Still, it looked excellent from the front.

Compared with last year there were a number of games which caught my eye as regards scenery.  As ever the venue was stygian and you only had to look into the bridal show across the way to see the difference.  I liked this World War 2 Greek Island set game featuring the Battlegroup rules. They really caught the look of the scenery of the region. Extra marks for the seaplanes

More arid scenery was depicted in this big Crusades game by show organisers, the South London Warlords, using the Sword and Spear rules which I have never played but have heard good things about.

It was odd to see a Big Red Bat game which did not feature ancients but there were still plenty of pikes in this English Civil War game, witch was promoting his new For King and Parliament rules (shouldn't it be For King or Parliament).  Anyway, he was so busy I didn't get a chance to chat to him, this year.

I haven't given up on my American Civil War project but, again, ACW seemed thin on the ground this year.  Most impressive was this one featuring a fort and an ironclad.  Great water effect.

Another American set game but a different conflict was this one, featuring a fictitious battle in Florida in 1761, with the Spanish attacking a plantation.  A really nice board. this one.

Maybe I just go for boards with water on them as I also liked Dalauppror's Great Northern War clash, the Battle at Stäket, 1719, using The Pikeman's Lament.


I have been lurking on the Gangs of Rome Facebook page and there are some nice figures by Footsore Miniatures, backed by a great range of Roman buildings by Sarissa Precision (except for the roofs - they really do need 3D Roman tiled finishes - buying tile effect plasticard for this is possible but always seems to be out of stock everywhere).  The Sarissa stand did have a Roman house with a proper roof and it looked fantastic.  I was most impressed by their Roman galley, however,  Some things work with laser cut MDF (like this) and some things don't (anything cylindrical).  In the end Gangs of Rome makes me feel a bit queasy as, basically, it is not a wargame but a murder game (I wouldn't play gangsters either).  I like my little soldiers to believe in a cause!  Even if they are French and therefore misled.

I was somewhat surprised to see the University of Wolverhampton trying to recruit students for their history courses.  I don't think I have seen such a thing before at a wargames show.  I do wonder if they hadn't quite done their research into the average age of wargamers properly.  They were probably expecting the place to be filled with the Warhammer generation.

The numbers were as high as ever, I think, the light was as bad and there were a lot of Fantasy and SF manufacturers with large and impressive stands.  For me the demonstration games were of a higher standard than last year.  The absence of the London Marathon registration (it is next week) made moving around Excel and getting something to eat and drink easier.  From my point of view, there were not many people selling scenics, other than the MDF giants,  Resin buildings seem to be dying out. There were still a fair number of small 3' x 3' type games, many of which looked like those little gardens you had to make at junior school using a roasting tin, moss, stones and a mirror for a pond.  My one, inevitably and somewhat controversially, had dinosaurs in it, when I think it was supposed to be an Easter garden.

I am sixth from left

I went to the bloggers meet up, which seemed smaller this year and met Eric the Shed, Alastair and Tamsin.  I also ran into another Shed regular, John, at Waterloo on the way back.  The picture is from Big Lee's blog.  He has some excellent photos here.

There was no Dave Thomas stand this year (rumoured he has stopped doing shows) so there was nowhere to get my metal Afghan cavalry as the Perry stand (which wasn't where it was supposed to be on the map) was just selling their plastics.  There were two sets of three-ups for new sets: Agincourt mounted knights and US WW 2 infantry, neither of which I am interested in, fortunately.  I resisted the new Napoleonic chasseurs as I had already bought some other figures.

I think I bought more figures than last year.  A set of Afghan foot from Empire, as they will go into an army I am painting at the moment.  Some LBM Carthaginian shield transfers, which were on my list. Two packs of Bicorne ECW firelock men to replace the historically inaccurate figures in my Tower Hamlets trained band,  What really wasn't on the list were a box of, and some command for, the Fireforge plastic Byzantine Infantry.  This is one of my earliest 28mm armies and I do, occasionally paint a few more for it. 

"You have things in your bag," cackled the Old Bat, accusingly, when I got home.  I showed her this picture of Eric the Shed's purchases.  "His poor wife!  Although he can buy as much as he wants as he can do DIY." she said.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Salute Eve and a Sharpe adventure at the Shed

Well, I didn't enjoy last year's Salute very much.  I wasn't feeling well and my eyes couldn't cope with the murky light and my crumbling joints couldn't cope with the concrete floor.  I did enjoy the Bloggers meet up (12.30 this year, rather than 13.00), though, and met some new people in real life who I had only previously encountered in the Blogosphere.  Whenever I appear in the Blogger's meet photo my hair always looks like John Harvey-Jones' so I was determined to get it cut this week but sadly, Tracy, my hairdresser had no free appointments when I was in London, so I will look my usual dishevelled self.  Not such an issue amongst a group of wargamers, at least.

Usually, I have a list of things I want to buy but not this year, apart from some more Afghan cavalry so I can complete my TMWWBK force for the North West Frontier.  This week the Old Bat wanted some money for paint (we don't have a joint bank account so if she wants something she has to beg) and was shocked when I gave her fifty pounds (which is what the sort of paint she likes costs per tin) from my wallet.

"Why do you have so much cash in your wallet?" she asks, suspiciously.  It gradually dawns on her, about ten minutes later.  "You don't need any more soldiers!"  So, of course, obedient as ever, I won't get any.  Honest.

That said, I went over to Eric the Shed's for a game this week.  It is the first time I have got there since January 2017 and since then he has extended his shed even morem so he can now host two games on separate tables in separate rooms.  To call it a 'shed' is like calling HMS Victory a sailing boat.  This time it was the second game he has had featuring Sharpe and Harper, using the Fistful of Lead Horse and Musket rules.  He assured me that these would be simple enough for even me to understand.

As ever, he had done a lot of work on creating a scenario wherein Sharpe had to capture a renegade Irish priest in the French port of Brest  and take him away by sea, supported by a Royal Navy ship, HMS Indecisive.  This name reminded me of a more recent adjectival Royal Navy vessel, HMS Active, which some years ago was the guard ship for the Royal Yacht Britannia at Cowes Week.  My sister joined us for the Royal Yacht Squadron Ball and danced the legs of the officers and a good number of ratings who had been invited to participate.  They didn't look so active afterwards, as she is a very fit woman. Anyway, each of five players (Eric was referee) had a character and four ordinary soldiers each; two groups of five British Riflemen and three groups of French Infantry.  

I had a group of French light Infantry ensconced in a fortress on the seashore.  Every turn I had to blast away at HMS Indecisive; largely ineffectuall, given my usual dice throwing.  I wasn't sure what effect this might have on the game (Eric kept much of the scenario plot points from us) so whether my slightly better throws in the second half of the game helped mean that Hornblower and his scurvy crew (who spent the whole game equally ineffectually floating about the harbour in a small boat) didn't land, I don't know. 

My fellow French commanders engaged the Riflemen as they infiltrated the town. I was worried about the random bombardment from the Royal Navy ship, so kept safely inside the fort for much of the game. I was in nice, safe, hard cover so decided to wait until any of the British appeared at the dockside before employing those famous sniping skills French infantry are so well known for. Ne pas.

Callum (Alastair's son - pitched against his father for much of the game) managed to kill Sharpe (although, apparently, Sharpe has a Dracula like ability to rise from the dead - probably something to do with the blood of virgins).  Encouraged by such a setback for the British and with the bombardment from HMS Indecisive diminishing somewhat, following a couple of large hits from the fort, I set my troops out skirmishing, as Callum had got the Irish priest into the fort from which the rosbifs would be unable to liberate him. 

My officer, stung by the accusations of his fellow commanders that he had been cowering in the fort too long, ordered his four privates out onto the dock where three of them, who we shall call Lebrun, Leblanc and Lefebvre, bravely cowered behind some boxes and barrels.  He sent his fourth and fastest soldier, Le Mans, to charge into the nearest house where he was confronted by a large Irishman with a seven barrelled Nock gun.  What should he do? 'Tirez!" shouted my officer from behind his pile of boxes.  Le Mans did and Harper dropped dead (well at least for the game).  He will no doubt be back.  Le Mans didn't last very long after that but he was my only loss.  

Only two Riflemen escaped to a boat, HMS Indecisive was in flames, the priest was safely in the fort, Hornblower's boat drifted off like a bread crate from the beach and the French were victorious. Hourra!  Another wonderful game at The Shed and I really liked the Fistful of Lead rules which are obviously the Peninsula skirmish rules I have been looking for. 

What this does, of course, is put me in a vulnerable position vis-a-vis Napoleonics at  Salute.  I sold nearly all my unpainted ones last year but maybe a few for a skirmish?  The ones I really like are the Paul Hicks sculpts for Brigade Games but I don't think you can buy them in the UK.  Probably just as well! 

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Paint Table Saturday: time to focus

As regular readers know, focus in not one of the Legatus' strong points.  Some time ago, I decided to focus my figure painting by just keeping a small number of figures I was currently working on on my desk. I now have twenty plastic boxes of figures stacked up on my desk. Out on the actual workbench area I currently have: 1864 Danes, Afghans, Zulus, SF troopers and a few random character figures,  However, what I am going to concentrate on, until they are done, are the last four figures for my Carthaginian War Elephant. However, sometimes I put off finishing figures because there is a bit I can't face doing.  On the 1864 figures it is doing a snow base.  I have no idea how to do this and every time I read about a solution other people chime in and say 'you don't want to do it like that' and invariably offer up some solution that involved twelve separate ingredients and some tool I have never heard of.

My Carthaginian elephant crew pose a similar problem in the case of their shields.  Now, on most of the models of the Victrix elephants I have seen the shielsd are attached to the sides of the howdahs.  However, the arms for the crew have hands holding what is obviously the handle of a shield.  It would be odd to have them waving around hands holding a short length of rope, so I was planning to put the shields on the figures.  Then, however, I couldn't work out if there would be room in the howdah.  I have clipped them from the sprue to paint but left part of the sprue on to hold while I paint them.  So I can't see where there arms would be when stood in the howdah until I cut the sprue off.  Until then I can't decide where to put the shields.  

The other stressful thing is that the shields are domed and I have never tried to use Little Big Men transfers on domed shields.  Someone suggested using something called micro-sol but I have no idea where to buy it or how to use it.  Also I wonder whether that is for traditional waterslide transfers which the LBM ones aren't, as they have the backing paper on the front of the transfer, which also makes positioning them precisely, impossible. The LBM transfers are expensive and there are only the four on the sheet.  I also seem to recall, when using them on some Greeks in the past that about half got ruined when trying to put them on or they just fell off. You need a gloss surface for them, it seems.  Anyway more things to worry about before they are done.  At least I got the elephant drivers done this week so I have now painted four figures this year (as the elephants only count as one each).  I want to get some more Victrix Carthaginians but don't feel I can unless the elephants are finished and Salute is only a week away.  Can I paint four figures in two days?  I somehow doubt it.

For reasons I can't justify even to myself I put in an order for some more of the Raging Heroes SF women troopers.  Because of this I got the five I had already bought and painted the base coat on their faces.  Why?  I should be getting on with my Afghans of Zulus.  I did at least get the base coat down on all 12 figures in my next Zulu unit this week.  I have also based four of Iron Duke's Indian Mutiny British.  This is because I have around twenty about half done and I am looking to try to get one unit of figures finished in April.  Of all the ones in my twenty plastic boxes these are the furthest along.  Oh, and the Bunny Girls should be on their way too.

Also imminent, supposedly, is the Miniature War Gaming: The Movie DVD which I backed what seems like years ago.  Honestly, this film has taken longer to make than Cleopatra. No doubt designed as some sort of showreel for a bunch of budding filmmakers they seemed to have completely underestimated the time it would take to do everything. A lot of the delays seem to have been caused by things like getting rights to stock footage, as they insist on adding historical combat elements that really aren't necessary for a hobby film.  This is where I realised that they had ideas above their station (or, at least, their experience).  Now, given the parlous wargaming material on You Tube (I hope no one in MWTM slurps hot drinks like so many do when making YouTube videos) I am hoping for a professional job, although their website contains a worrying amount of SF and fantasy illustrations (says the person who has just ordered a load of SF lady warriors).  

Salute is a week today and I really don't have much of a list of things to get: some more Perry Afghan Cavalry and, perhaps some Savage Core simians but that is it.  Honest.  I might keep my eyes open for some more random scenic items, though.  I don't now if there is a wargames bloggers meet up this year and whether anyone has managed to coordinate it so that it doesn't clash with the Lead Adventures Forum one, as for the last few years they have both been at 1.00pm.  I wasn't feeling very well last year and didn't really enjoy it so hope I feel better this time.

We took Guy back to Oxford today and one of (the only) advantages of where he is living is that it has a parking space.  Oxford must be the most car unfriendly city in Britain.  There is nowhere to park (but an excellent park and ride service) and the wardens are relentless.  As a result, there are very few cars in the centre of the city which does, I admit, improve the place from my time, when crossing the High was a perilous operation. We walked into town and I made Guy and the Old Bat have lunch at The Nosebag, the only place I use to eat at College when I was there which is still operating.  It is just around the corner from the college accommodation annexe I was in in the second year and they used to do soup and a roll for about 60p. Today soup and (a really big bit of) bread is £5.00 but it is still good and the interior does not appear to have changed at all.  It reminded me of C, K, other C, B, J, other J, F, T, M, S, H (and maybe some other girls I have forgotten) as it was my go to place for a quick lunch or tea and scones.   We would talk about art, as I sought to get them to model for a charcoal drawing or two (looking at the list it worked on seven out of eleven of them).  It was up to them, of course, how much they chose to wear for these sessions. The advantage of the place was that it was only about a hundred yards from my room and my drawing materials. There was also a good shop selling old prints next door, where I got a lot of Arthur Rackham prints of his Ring series, and postcards of art nudes which helped, er, 'condition' them to an extent.

Nude (1915)

Today's appropriate wallpaper is a painting I saw in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston a few years ago. The painter, William Paxton (1869-1941), was an American impressionist who studied in Boston and Paris, under Jean-Léon Gérôme (of Police Verso fame).  Gérôme instilled a practice of the faithful modelling of the human form in Paxton; triumphantly achieved here in this beautifully lit study.

Today's music, given I am writing this late Friday night, is this hip and cool album To Sweden with Love (1964) by the Art Farmer quartet.  This is an arrangement of Swedish folk songs recorded in Stockholm when Farmer was touring the country. The cover is very mid sixties!  It was a present from H, a Swedish girl I knew at Oxford, who very much enjoyed soup and a roll.  She did not have that long hair with a fringe prototypical look expected of Swedish women at the time but she was, at least, a natural blonde.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Paint Table Saturday: Back from Africa

I had hoped to have finished my Carthaginian war elephant crew by now but, unfortunately I had to work abroad for two weeks earlier this month and when I got back I had picked up a very nasty bug which has left me with a headache, sore throat and cough.  I have had it for over ten days now and it is very tiring.  Nothing to do, therefore but catch up on all the TV I recorded while I was away, including one of my favourites, Repair Shop, which the Old Bat declares is literally watching paint dry.  She claims I would be better off going upstairs to watch the paint dry on the bedroom walls as at least I would then get some exercise too.  I love Repair Shop, of course, because I have no ability to do anything with my hands but these people can do anything. 

Anyway, yesterday and this morning I have got the flesh tones down on my elephant crew, having assembled the figures yesterday.  I have even done the shading on the mahouts, or whatever Carthaginians called them.  The Punic language did survive the fall of Carthage and may have even hung on until the time of the Muslim conquest of North Africa but being a Semitic language, as well, it was likely absorbed at this time.  I am also working on the skin tones of a half dozen Perry Afghan tribesmen (as they share a similar palate) which I picked up at last year's Salute, This week I took delivery of a dozen mounted Afghans, which I will need for my force for The Men Who Would be Kings.  I need another eight, so will get three packs at Salute in two weeks time, hopefully.

There was a flurry of emails between myself and Gaborone earlier in the month. We had just won a tender to do some government training in Botswana and the government there had fixed the dates without telling us.  'We'll have a briefing meeting here on Sunday' said our local man.  What?  This was Tuesday!  We tried to get them to delay a week but they couldn't.  Barely time to sort out my washing and ironing, get my Malaria tablets (you probably don't need them at this time of year but I wasn't risking it!) and finish my slides.  Off to the airport on Saturday afternoon.  Shockingly, on the last couple of BA flights I have taken, there have been lots of attractive young ladies working as cabin crew.  Where were all the camp men in dodgy short sleeved shirts?  Where were all the fifty something old boilers who appeared to have escaped from doctor's surgery reception?  'You want a drink, why?'  No, just lightly fragrant young women with amazingly complex hairstyles (do British Airways have new hair design clinics?) enhancing the whole flight.  Lovely.

Travelling is, of course, a series of stress points for me, which means as soon as I pass one the next one is looming. Will I remember everything for my packing ? (no, I forgot my shirt collar stiffeners and my USB plug).  I have a list to ensure I don't forget things but I can't remember where I put it). Will I get to the airport on time? Hope there are no problems on the M25. Will I get on the plane early enough to get my bag stowed in the overhead locker? This is an increasing problem. The number of young women who have a drag-a-bag, a back pack and a vast handbag is starting to annoy me (Me? Annoyed? Surely not).  That's three bags, bitches. One bag.  You are supposed to have one, unless you put the others under the seat in front, which they never do. No, they put them in the overhead locker, next to each other, rather than on top of each other, so they can constantly get at their hand lotion, lip balm, hair brush, eye drops etc. etc. during the flight.  Then. of course, in the morning (it's an eleven hour overnight flight) they all take bags of toiletries into the washrooms.  People are desperate for the loo, women, they can't wait for you to pretty yourself up for landing.  Get a bloomin' move on!  Grr!  At least there were no screaming babies in the cabin (they should have to go in the hold, like dogs). When we land it is a race to passport control to avoid queuing, as I try and count off people I pass.  Will they accept my passport?  It's in a bad state now, at the end of its life and often attracts negative comments from bored immigration staff.  Annoyingly, I have to replace it this year, so will just miss a new blue one, with all its inherent promise of sending a gunboat if Johnny Foreigner kicks up.  At least mine won't be made by the French, I suppose.

The late departing flight kept me stressed the whole way, as it gradually became clear that we were going to miss our connecting flight. Lovely blonde stewardess, with tiny braids set around the back of her head, told me to ask the ladies as we got off the plane and thankfully a South African lady was waiting with my replacement boarding pass for a flight three hours later.  At least I could recover in the nice lounge for a few hours.  SA Express had much better cabin service than Air Botswana, which we were supposed to have flown on. They managed to served lots of drinks and proper snacks on the fifty minute flight.  Efficient! We missed our Sunday afternoon briefing meeting, though, which meant leaving the hotel at 7.00 am the next morning.  Actually, we had to leave the hotel at 7.00 every morning, which was no joke when Botswana is two hours ahead of Britain.  It took 21 hours door to door but I was glad I was back in the Avani hotel.  The course we were giving was in another (very nice) hotel but ours had gardens and a pool and the Pool Bar which we use as our office.   The temperature varied from 25 C to 32 C over the two weeks which helped my mood too. 

Anyway, it was basically eleven days straight working, including a flight up to Francistown, Botswana's second city (population 43,000).  We did there and back in a day on another too small aircraft.  I wouldn't have minded staying there for the weekend, actually, as the training was in a nice hotel where all the accommodation was in individual, thatched lodges and the weather was like a perfect Mediterranean climate.  Indeed, we gave our course in a thatched building too, which was a first.  The locals wondered why I was taking close ups of the outside and the inside of the thatch which was, of course, to do with my recently purchased bunch of Grand Manner African huts.

The River Tati

We also stopped to have a quick look at the River Tati.  Like most rivers in Botswana it is just sand for most of the year but after a lot of rain recently (they really needed it - the first time I went in 2016 they hadn't had proper rain for three years) it actually had some water in it.   A tributary of the River Shashe,which empties into the Limpopo you can't get much more Darkest Africa than that.  Well not with easy access to a nice outdoor terrace which serves Martinis, anyway.

Francistown proudly declares itself an international airport but it became apparent, on the way back to Gaborone that evening, that, in fact, they only have two flights a day leaving from there.  Bustling it is not.  They actually have six gates there, so they were obviously planning ahead for the day when it becomes a bustling tourist and business hub.  Or perhaps the Chinese sold them an airport far bigger than they actually needed.  Surely not?

I tried to be good about not eating too much, as a buffet for every meal had the potential to be a disaster.  I did try local delicacy Mopane worms, which were served in some sort of sauce.  These aren't worms, of course, but the caterpillars of the Emperor Moth.  They had no taste at all and were rather like eating a stick with dry rot.  Very high in protein, I was told and they can form 70% of the diet or people in rural Botswana and Zimbabwe.  Personally, I much preferred the goat curry and Kudu steaks.  I also had some excellent (really, really excellent) ribs at the Bull and Bush Irish pub on St Patrick's day.  

The best meal was at an Italian restaurant owned by the Foreign Minister where I had a quite superb fillet steak.  Botswana beef is rightly famous and is exported all over the world (Norway buys a lot, apparently).  I taught the lovely (goodness me there are some lovely women in Botswana) local waitress that as she was in an Italian restaurant she should learn to say 'al sangue' not 'bleu' for correctly cooked steak.  The restaurant even had Santa Cristina chianti, which I used to drink with my particular friend Principessa I in Rome thirty years ago.  Nostalgic!

Speaking of wine, at the weekend I got invited to a South African wine tasting at another big hotel.  A large tent with about two dozen producers serving wine to a predominantly female clientele, largely dressed to the nines and tottering about (increasingly tottering as the afternoon went on) on their ridiculous high heels.  

There was a huge local derby at the football stadium, hence the dearth of men.  'Not watching the football?' increasingly relaxed ladies asked me.  'Don't like football.  Prefer wine and ladies,' I answered, truthfully.  Each group, usually three or four of them, then wanted me to try their favourite wines, as I admired their shoes, to their delight.  I have had worse afternoons.  Well, evening as well, actually, as one posse attached themselves to me for the rest of the day and compared stories of friends having been to freezing England.  Fortunately, I missed the second big freeze while I was away.

On the final night our local contact took us to the tallest building in Botswana (28 floors) which has the highest bar, the relentlessly trendy `Room50Two.  It was a wet and stormy night and the views over the city were impressive. The hills around the capital are oddly wargames like, in that they seem to spring straight up from an otherwise flat landscape.

It had been an exhausting twelve days, so I deserved a Vodka Martini (or two) and they were largely medicinal, anyway.  Later on, after our Italian dinner, I decided I needed a nightcap and to get away from my colleague, whose conversation consists entirely of reading the BBC News political headlines from his phone and then ranting about each story.  I told him that I wasn't interested in politics, didn't know the names of any of the people he was talking about and how would he like it if I read him all the headlines from The Miniatures Page every twenty minutes. Anyway, I went to the Pool Bar at our hotel. 'Hello' purrs a lovely local lady, setting her beer on my table, resting her forearms on the surface and presenting her chest assertively. 'Perhaps you would like a manicure or a pedicure?'  Well, never had that offered before.  I glanced at my fingernails, anxiously.  'Or maybe a massage?' she suggested, hopefully. I instantly realised that she had suggested a manicure or pedicure as the thought of giving me a massage was a step too far, even for cash.  She was lovely, though, as had been the one in the skintight trousers the night before.  Walking death sentences though, both of them,  Unless she really was a friendly beauty therapist.  Not in that blouse, I suspect. 'Haven't seen these types of girls in here before,' I observed to my waiter.  "Ah, it is because there are lots of Chinese staying here at the moment," he observes. I don't look very Chinese, I think. Maybe I do just have bad nails.

The next day we didn't have to leave the hotel until 3.00 pm so I spent it in the Pool Bar, writing my report and enjoying the outrageously shaped ladies by the pool who were there to organise a jazz festival at the hotel for later in the year.  Everywhere they went they were accompanied by promotional balloons, oddly.  Debbie was particularly nice and we happily shared lunch and, companionably, a plug socket for our laptops.  Safe sex, anyway, even if my fingernails remained tatty.  I had dinner in the lounge at Johannesburg so I didn't have to eat on the plane and could try to sleep from early on.  Fortunately, the two people inside me settled down for the night and didn't move for eight hours.  The man had those horrible thick, blonde hairy forearms I usually associate with Australian men but he was South African.  Wifey was rather fine, however. Across the aisle I had whining fat vegetarian woman, who complained loudly when there was no vegetarian option left when the food trolley reached us (we were in the very last row). "Did you order a special vegetarian meal?' asked yet another lovely stewardess, patiently.  Of course fat vegetarian hadn't (boy, she must eat a lot of nut cutlets.  Most vegetarians I know are thin).  She moaned about everything else too (they had run out of pretzels by the time they reached her, before this, which started her off).  She was wearing a weird looking orange puffy jacket with vertical ribs; like a lilo.  When she fell asleep she looked like a collapsed pumpkin that had been left on the front step a week after Halloween. In front of me I had Mr Elephant Man hair, whose strange wavy (and badly dyed) hair seemed to have been glued to his head in three strange asymmetrical clumps like three giant walnut whips. He was one of those people who has to open his locker every twenty minutes.  Maybe he was looking for his moisturiser.  Opposite him was Miss Nice Leggings who kept making little videos of the inside of the plane.  When she started filming the emergency exit the stewardess got anxious and asked her what she was doing.  She claimed she worked for a company that made interior sets of aircraft for films.  Hmm.   She was up and down to the locker, too, rooting around in her three bags but I didn't mind her, as she had a top that was just a bit too short when she stretched up to the locker. Anyway, back home now and, hopefully, no more overseas trips for a bit and more figure painting.

Today's rather sumptuous wallpaper is by the Polish painter Wojciech Gerson (1831-1901).  Born in Warsaw he worked and studied there most of his life, except for a two year period of study in St Petersburg.  Well known in Poland today for his landscapes and patriotic paintings, many of his works were stolen by the Germans in World War 2 and have disappeared, so often only black and white photographs remain.

Today I am listening to the annual four day Classic FM Hall of Fame, which isn't a Hall of Fame at all, of course, but a top 300.  They are up to number 164 now and I have got more than ninety of these on my iTunes; the missing ones being largely choral works as I am not a big fan of those. I usually hear one or two things during it which makes me want to add them to my collection and so far it has been Strauss' Four Last Songs and Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy.  My mother used to love Bruch's violin concerto but I find it one of those pieces that I have just got sick of over the years.  I am the same with Beethoven's fifth and sixth symphonies, Mozart's clarinet concerto, Tchaikovsky's piano concerto and some others.  Some of the first classical pieces I got on record, when I was eight, and inherited some of my aunt's collection when she got married, like Dvorak's New World and Beethoven's 3rd I never tire of, though, so I can't work out whey some have grown stale.