Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Lost World Monster Hunters!

I finished another two figures today to complete my initial Lost World force.  From left to right we have Zambo, Edward Malone, Professor Challenger, Professor Summerlee and Lord John Roxton.  They are a mixture of Foundry Darkest Africa and Copplestone Castings High Adventure series.   Challenger was the one I was struggling with but I found I had a spare Foundry John Hanning Speke figure which had an appropriately large beard so after a bit of surgery and the addition of a Greenstuff jacket I had something usable and a little different from the original figure.

Now I may add a defiantly non-literary woman to the plateau-ascending group as a nod to all their cinematic incarnations.  However, finding a good adventuress for 1912 will be tricky.  By 1912 corsets were still worn (they would survive until just after WW1) giving a slimline look with long straight skirts and loose blouses.  Most of the female 28mm figures are either mid-Victorian (crinolines and full skirts), late Victorian, (small bustles, fitted bodices) or nineteen twenties and thirties (mid-calf skirts or jodphurs - first worn by women following Coco Chanel in 1921).  More research needed! 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Back from Copenhagen

Whenever I travel to a foreign city I often think that it might be the last time I visit it.  Not a problem if it's somewhere ghastly where you never want to go again (Seoul, Manila, Tallahassee) but more poignant if it is a nice city.  I haven't been to Copenhagen since 2007 and didn't really expect to go there again.  However, HMG decided I was just the man for some meetings this week so I found myself taking a taxi to the airport at 4.45am.  I had to go for a preparatory meeting there a week or so ago but that was only at an airport hotel so didn't count; although it did mean I missed SELWG.

Taut thighs.  Lots of them

I love all the Baltic capitals: Helsinki, Tallinn, Stockholm and Oslo but have a particular soft spot for Copenhagen.  It's a very easy city to walk about in as it is very compact (compared with Stockholm for example).  Of course the best way to get about is by bike.  Denmark has the highest proportion of cycle transport in Europe (even more so than the Netherlands).  You have to be careful crossing a road because the cycle paths are often easily mistaken for footpaths.  If you are using a crossing on a large road, like the four lane Hans Christian Andersen Boulevard, then you need to jog to get across in time before the traffic lights unleash a furious posse of cyclists.  The Danes don't dawdle on their bikes but hammer along on their big 28 inch wheels (very few mountain bikes but a few hybrids) at a tremendous pace.

Bikes are just transport and not a fashion statement as they are in Britain but there was an article in the paper in Copenhagen this week complaining about the 26,000 bike thefts a year in the country (compared with the UK's half a million).  The reason for even this comparatively small number, however, is that hardly anyone in Copenhagen locks their bike.  I didn't see a single lock on any of the bikes parked on the street.

Many of these cyclists appear to be attractive young women (or maybe they are the only ones I noticed) with long, slim (and presumably very toned) legs.  Again, hardly anyone wears traditional cycling clothes; just their ordinary day wear.   Of course it is all much more entertaining in the summer!  I had most of Tuesday to wander around and the weather was sunny and reasonably warm (you didn't need a coat after mid morning).

One of the few bad things about Copenhagen is the prices.  Taxis are really expensive and I had to get out more money as my taxi fund had been virtually used up on the trip from the airport.  There must have been something going on in the City (there was a lot of UN activity around Parliament) as finding a hotel had been a nightmare.  So I decided to take the opportunity to stay in the newly renovated (and fabulously expensive) Hotel Angleterre on the main square opposite the Opera.  Established in 1755 the hotel was the venue for the first performance by Danish composer HC Lumbye (the Danish Johann Strauss and composer of the brilliantly eccentric The Copenhagen Steam Railway Gallop; one of my favourites). Although I checked in at 9.30am the room was ready, thank goodness, so I could drop off my bag and walk to the National Gallery.

Snowscape by LA Ring

I really like nineteenth century Baltic landscape painting and the gallery has a fine collection of paintings by Eckersberg, Lundbye and, my favourite, LA Ring.  Usually I eat in the gallery's trendy cafe but as I was only there for one night and was having dinner out I decided to go back to the hotel for lunch as it was, conveniently, half way to where I planned to visit in the afternoon.

Lunch was very nouvelle cuisine but was absolutely delicious.  Lobster bisque, followed by turbot and then fillet steak with sweetbreads.  All washed down with three glasses of Sancerre at a rather eyewatering £16 a glass.  Don't worry though, taxpayers, I was paying for lunch and the hotel not HM government!  I could have stayed somewhere cheaper at government rate but I just fancied a little splurge.

After doing a few e-mails I set off for the Arsenal Museum which, unlike the National Gallery, I hadn't been to before.  The rather unpretentious entrance (Copenhagen is an unpretentious sort of city) belied the very large museum behind the door.

The current museum is located in the long left hand building on the model above.  Originally built in 1611 the complex had access for naval ships so they could pick up stores directly from the harbour inside.  By the end of the seventeenth century the ships were getting too large so all the naval supplies and arms were moved to the island of Nyholm, the harbour was filled in and only the army's weapons were stored there.

Canon de 75 modèle 1897

The ground floor contains dozens of artillery pieces from the fifteenth century to the present day.  This is the famous French 75 of World War 1 fame: the first artillery piece with a hydro-pneumatic (the French love their hydro-pneumatics) recoil mechanism which meant it didn't have to be re-aimed between each shot.  It's also the only artillery piece I know that has a cocktail named after it.  In the background is a Carden-Lloyd tankette a name very familiar to anyone who has read about the history of tanks.  Never seen one before though!

Also downstairs was a temporary exhibition about the Danish army in Afghanistan (no, I didn't know they were there either) with a number of very well done "environments" such as this mined Land Rover.

Upstairs was a huge gallery with a selection of exhibits from Danish military history from 1500 to the present day.  It was very selective with just a few items from each period rather than taking the Brussels Military Museum approach of throwing everything they'd got in.  All the signs were in Danish and English, helpfully. Visiting things in Copenhagen is made considerably easier by the fact that everyone speaks perfect English.

Not everything was Danish.  There was a collection of Russian army uniforms, a collection of nineteenth century military headgear and two fine sets of samurai armour.  One of these reminded me that some Japanees lacquered armour was brown which will add some variety to my Ronin figures.

The Thirty Years War was represented, primarily, by this nice set of cuirassier armour and pair of long pistols.  Fortunately, you are allowed to take pictures in the museum and there doesn't appear to be any restriction on using flash although the building is very well lit by large windows anyway.  Most museums around the world seem to permit photography; it's only in Britain that you tend to run into problems and that, I suspect, is more about protecting postcard revenue than the exhibits themselves.

Here is a Danish army cap from the First Schleswig War which got me thinking about what happened to Matt's range of figures from that conflict.  I wonder whether you can still buy them?

One very interesting exhibit was a complete set of uniforms of a US infantryman and cavalryman acquired by the museum just before the American Civil War, in 1858.  Jacket, trousers, shako, shoes, leather equipment, greatcoat, blanket and even socks.  Apparently it is the only surviving complete set of a US infantryman's and cavalryman's uniform and equipment from the period in existence.

I went back to the hotel to do some emails and drink some Carlsberg (inevitably) before having dinner at the ambassador's residence (no pictures allowed).  I did have time for a quick Vodka Martini or two in the Hotel Angleterre bar with a nice young lady I had met at dinner.  Too many olives, as usual but really, really cold so they get points back.  8/10.

Next day it was goodbye to my cosy (or hygge, as the Danes say) room and just time for a quick breakfast of interesting sausages and €6 eggs (not included in the set breakfast cost) before a day of talking to government people.  These talks went so well that I might have to go back to Copenhagen again, which will not be a trial.

Edinburgh next week and a chance to see the Antonine Wall (I know it's just a ditch!)

Friday, October 25, 2013

A to Z Blogger Book Survey

The Legatus' college library

Thanks to The Laughing Ferret and the Too Much Free Time blogs for their posts on favourite books as they mean I can do a blog post whilst stranded in Denmark.  I've tried to illustrate the various books with the covers of the ones I had.

Author you've read the most books from: (not sure about the grammar of this one!)

Somewhat to my surprise this is a narrow win for Clive Cussler over Bernard Cornwell by one book. Cussler's books today are largely not written by him, however, so I will award it to Cornwell.  I went out and bought Sharpe's Rifles in 1992 after watching the first TV adaption. 

Best sequel ever:

I don't know about ever, but I enjoyed Tom Harper's novel Knights of the Cross, which focussed on the siege of Antioch during the Crusades much more than the smaller scale original The Mosaic of Shadows.

Currently reading:

City of Sin by Catherine Arnold.  The story of London as a hot bed (literally) of fornication, prostitution and sex scandals show that the last 150 years of supposed "Victorian values" have been far from the norm for a city where many of the best brothels were owned by the church and in the mid-1850s there were 80,000 prostitutes working in central London. 

Drink of choice whilst reading:

Probably a nice Bordeaux, although only an expensive one if the book has a leather binding.  Someone gave me a couple of bottles of Gruaud Larose 2009 recently but they need a few years and an expensively bound book to go with them.

E-reader or physical book:

Well nothing beats a physical book and you can't use an e-reader in the bath but I have been surprised by how much I have used my Kindle since I bought it for a long trip to South America earlier in the year. I wouldn't take a physical book abroad any more.

Fictional character you would probably have dated in high school:

At school I was into sporty girls, including an athlete from a nearby girls school who I have mentioned before.  So it would probably have been Golden Girl in the 1980 Olympics-set novel by Peter Lear.  Especially as perkily personified on the cover by Page 3 girl Diane West, who also featured on some of those James Bond book covers with girls draped over  a giant pistol.

Has to be the one with the Chris Foss cover

Glad you gave this book a chance:

Triplanetary by EE Smith.  I read this at school and initially thought it was going to be an AE van Vogt style really alien novel but, of course, it then turned into rollicking space opera with massive spaceships, including of course, the model for the Death Star, square jawed heroes and curvy women. The initial "alien sections", it turns out, were added fourteen years after the original serial publication of 1934, hence the difference in tone.  Never could get over an evil mastermind called Roger, though.

Hidden book gem:

I enjoyed Invasion: They're Coming! an account of D-Day by Paul Carell so much that I actually bought their rather dog-eared copy from the mobile library when I was at junior school.  This was the first book about World War 2 I had read and, probably, the first military history book I read. 

Important moment in your book life:

Reading my first science fiction book, Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, when I was ten years old.  Up until that point nearly all my reading had been non-fiction. It literally opened my mind up to another world.  I didn't ready anything but science fiction for nearly ten years.

Just finished:

False God of Rome by Robert Fabbri.  I have been enjoying these novels about the rise of Vespasian which contain good military action, fairly accurate history and a well characterised Vespasian who is evolving convincingly over the three books I have read so far.

Kind of book you won't read:

Anything that smacks of literature; old or new. I had enough of that at English A level.   I know people who read every Booker Prize nominee every year. I am not interested in challenging books; I read to relax. I don't like crime novels (on the whole) and I also don't read many novels with a contemporary setting (apart from a few techno thrillers).  I very rarely read, oddly, science fiction any more.  My real issue with novel style is that I don't like first person narrative very much, for some reason.  

Longest book you've read:

It could quite possibly be Dhalgren by Samuel R Delany which was around 800 pages but felt much, much longer.

Major book hangover because of disappointing endings: 

Gladiatrix by Russell Whitfield is an otherwise enjoyable novel of female gladiators somewhat spoiled by a very rushed ending.  We forgive him, however, for including one of the best lesbian sex scenes ever.

Number of bookcases you own:

A tricky one this. I have three actual bookcases in my study plus one wall which is entirely bookshelves.  Also 20 crates of books in the loft.

One book you've read multiple times:

I must have read Clive Cussler's Raise the Titanic at least four times.  It's still his best novel.

Preferred place to read:

I do most of my reading on planes or trains but I prefer to read in the bath, ideally, in a nice hotel with a glass of wine or a local beer.  I have only dropped a novel in the bath once, when I dozed off after a long flight.  After an unsuccessful attempt to dry it with the hotel hairdryer I was lucky that I was in Singapore and could go out to a book shop and replace it immediately.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you've read:

"All the feels"? I've always liked the first line of David lodge's Changing Places which I read after watching the TV adaption of his Small World.  "High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour."  It encapsulates both the style and the subject of the book in a single sentence.

Reading regret:

That I can't be bothered to read more highbrow novels like all my friends do.  Especially, S, who reads novels in foreign languages.  Occasionally one of my friends gives me something "I should try" and they all go straight off to the charity shop.  I was recently given The Wilderness which is about a man with Alzheimer's "because your mother has it".  Off to Oxfam with that one straight away.  I do not want to read anything depressing or downbeat, thank you very much.  I am not an intellectual.

Series you started and need to finish:

I really want to finish Jean M Auel's Earth's Children's series begun in The Clan of the Cave Bear but you need to have a lot of time to tackle one of her 800 page, literally mammoth, epics.

Three of your all-time favourite books:

Three?  Good grief! None of them would be novels.  Taking a Desert Island Discs approach then it would be (at least today) Roger Dean's Views, Peter Young's The War Game and The Playmate Book.  I like pictures more than words, on the whole.

Unapologetic fanboy for:

Hmm, tricky one this.  Are there any authors where I buy their latest book in hardback as soon as it comes out?  I used to do that for Cussler and Cornwell but not now. Currently it is the Robert Fabbri Vespasian series I suppose.

Very excited for this release:

Simon Scarrow's The Blood Crows comes out today so I will pick that up in the next few days. 

Worst bookish habit:

The fact that I start lots of books and read half of them and then start another one.  This often had something to do with my travelling.  I didn't want to take a half read book away with me so I took an unread one.  I often leave them for years and then have to go back and start them again.  I must have about twelve like this at present.  Actually, the Kindle is helping to prevent this now.

X marks the spot - Start at the top left of your bookshelf and pick the 27th book: 

Not sure which bookshelf to pick but if I take my biggest actual bookcase then the 27th (wouldn't the 25th have been more appropriate?) would be the photographic book Fine Lines by John Swannell, which was a present from a girlfriend in the early eighties.

Your latest book purchase:

I'll only count real books not ebooks so that would be Inside HBO's Game of Thrones which I picked up for £4 in Sainsbury's at the weekend. A beautifully produced effort, this.

Zzz snatcher book (the last book that kept you up waaay too late:)

I don't read late at home as I tend to watch TV at night so it would have been when I was away.  Looking at my Kindle it looks like Anthony Conway's origins of Word War 1 set thriller The Black Hand which I remember being desperate to finish after midnight despite having to get up at 5.00am to catch a flight.

So a very interesting exercise this which just confirms that I am defiantly low brow in my reading.  I shudder to think what my sister's answers would be. I would probably have never heard of the authors let alone the books.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Squashed! Plus goodbye to the big battalions.

Given the number of figures crowding my workbench it is amazing that I don't end up with more bashed up figures, as I am constantly knocking them onto the floor.  The problem with plastics is, of course, that they are so light that if you inadvertently catch one with your arm you may not here it hit the ground.  This was the case with this Warlord Games plastic Roman who was destined to be part of the crew of my galley.  I stood up and there was a nasty sound and a pain in the ball of my foot leaving the poor chap looking like he had just had an encounter with s scythed chariot. 

Also taking a pounding lately were my part completed Perry plastic Prussians whose bayonets are very delicate indeed.  In order to protect both units from further attrition and because my desk is covered in skirmish figures at present I have decided to confine them to a file box until I am ready to finish them.  In go the ACW Federals too, as there are so many steampunk, samurai and Argonautish figures on the table at present there just isn't room.  This means my workbench now contains figures for In Her Majesty's Name/The Lost World, Empire of the Dead, Latin American independence, Jason and the Argonauts, Copplestone 18mm fantasy and a few odds and ends.  More than enough to keep me busy until Christmas anyway.  I am painting so little at present that it just isn't worth trying to finish units of 20 figures or so but I can do the odd bit on individual skirmish figures.

In fact, shock, I finished two more this weekend for my Lost World/IHMN company.  Here we have Edward Malone and the faithful Zambo.  I made good progress on Professors Challenger and Summerlee as well yesterday, before the horrible weather caused bad light to stop play, or I would have finished them too.  I am back in Copenhagen again this week (a 4.45am, taxi pick up tomorrow) but I hope to get them done this weekend.

Charlotte is on the far right

More travel next week as the family is going up to Edinburgh to see how Charlotte is getting on at university.  Today her photograph is in three newspapers there as part of the Edinburgh Bhangra Crew who were performing at the celebrations for the Hindu festival of Dussehera on top of a freezing looking hill.  In three weeks I am back to Colombia again for ten days or so which is why my British Legion is the only unit still on the workbench.  It's been too cold and wet to undercoat them yet, though, as I always do that outside.

I set to work with my Games Worshop razor saw during Strictly Come Dancing this weekend (my goodness, that Rachel Riley from Countdown has a splendid figue) cutting the mounting bar on my Empire of the Dead figures to the depth of a normal base so I could mount them on washers so that they will match my IHMN figures.  This is Captain Nemo but I managed to base another seven as well and am looking forward to getting started on these when I finish my Lost World figures. These are really gorgeous figures with no flash and hardly any mould lines.

As I increasingly come to the conclusion that I enjoy painting more than gaming my choices of figure are tending towards the individual rather than the unit.  Recently, I bought a few Japanese figures to complement my Samuari, which should be a real painting challenge.  I also ordered a set of five figures from Hasslefree (my first order of their 28mm figures I think) which I bought just because I like them, I liked the TV series they were inspired by and I thought I would like to have a go at something different. Hasslefree are in America for some time, though, so I don't expect to see them for three weeks or so.  My particular friend, S, made a (unsuccessful) pass at one of these actors at a party in Vancouver.  We won't tell which one, though!

After all this non-gaming talk my latest purchase is, therefore, bizarrely inconsistent and is entirely the fault of Mr Michael Awdry in pointing out a Kickstarter I had no knowledge of or interest in.  But then my mind was invaded by the wailing theremin music of Mr Daniel Robert Elfman and I was lost.  From as early as I can remember until I was about eighteen I read nothing else but Science Fiction and, in those pre-Star Wars days, I watched all the classic fifties science fiction films from the fifties and early sixties on television.  So I love the whole rationale behind Mars Attacks.  My only disappointment is the fact that the manufacturers of this new game have chosen to go with modern US-style troops and not the early sixties look of the trading cards and, indeed, the film, which despite it being set contemporary times had the American troops in retro uniforms and with equally retro tanks.  Still a few plastic WW2 infantry should solve that.  Also I would have liked to have seen the Martians rather smaller than the humans as they were in the film.  The game's creators say that the Martians were the same size as humans in the original trading cards but actually they weren't and to quote original card number 50 the Martians were "puny in size".  Easier to paint, though!

Some time ago the Legatus had a meeting in 10 Downing Street and ran into the wife of the then incumbent.  I couldn't for the life of me remember who she reminded me of.  It was only a few days later that it came to me.  Ack! Ack! Ack!

In other military news this week I have just found out from a friend in the US that a girl I was at college with and went to the Rhodes House Ball with has just been made a Lieutenant General and the first woman Superintendent of the Air Force Academy.  For two years she was one of the Presidential military aides who carried the nuclear "football" containing all the US nuclear reaction options and codes.  She'd know how to deal with the Martians! Well done Michelle!