Sunday, January 04, 2015

2014 Non-wargaming review

The furthest I got from home this year

This year, as a radical change, I have decided to reverse the publication of my wargaming and non wargaming highlights.  Oh, the excitement.


Get yourself over to Britain! (and get a profile photo that wasn't taken ten years ago!)

Well, it's certainly been an atypical year in that for the first time since 1986 I didn't make an overseas business trip.  I was scheduled to make some but I passed on them as I have now got really, really scared of flying and major air crashes in the news certainly haven't helped that.  I don't miss it at all, other than not being able to meet up with my particular lady friends.  I think in 2013 I was out the country something like 60 days.  The worst year recently was over 200 days.  The stress of airport security, connecting flights, baggage allowances, operating in places where they don't speak your language, dodgy food and dodgy women (alright some of them have been OK) is not missed!  I did make two flights to see Charlotte in Edinburgh in August but I think next time I will take the train.  I've visited 62 countries and hundreds of cities around the world over the last 30 years.  The most eastern was Seoul in Korea, the most western was Victoria in Canada, the most southern was Augusta in Western Australia and the most northern was Tromso in Norway, which is actually more than 200 miles inside the Arctic Circle.  I've done enough travelling!  The fact that I have been more productive on the painting front certainly has something to do with this!

Biggest upheaval 

His majesty's suite

All the stuff around our mini extension.  Deliveries of bricks at 6.15 in the morning, stuff all over the garden, having to buy a shed to put everything in from the demolished garage and planning applications, engineering studies (the clay soil here makes normal foundations insufficient) etc.  All not to provide me with a wargames room but to give my son a splendid room and bathroom he doesn't deserve, given his A/S level exam results.  As my daughter said when she saw it for the first time just before Christmas: Scummage!  

 Best day out 

It's a Lost World in the botanical gardens

Probably the day we all had in Edinburgh where we went to the botanical gardens, an unexpectedly enjoyable attraction, visited the Museum of Scotland (excellent) and went to a show at the Edinburgh fringe featuring flexible Australian women (there were some men in the cast but I don't see men).

Best improvement in the local environment

Not the extension but the fact that the people across the road with the horrible little yapping dog (it was one of those ridiculous terriers with a pom pom tail as big as its head so, like a pushmi-pullyu, you could never work out which way it was going until it went for your ankles) moved out in November.  Our new neighbour is the, er, face of a well known healthy breakfast cereal (the picture of her above may give you a Special Klue!).  Having a lingerie model move in opposite is a lot better than a dog.  A dog she is not!

Best Book

The book I enjoyed most was Egypt's Belle Epoque by Trevor Mostyn.  An account of that brief period when Cairo became a new Paris and saw the building of the Suez Canal, the premiere of Verdi's Aida, and a building programme stylistically reminiscent of Haussmann's in Paris. It was an intriguingly cosmopolitan society of Greek bankers, Levantine merchants British officers, archaeologists, French architects, Italian ladies of ill-repute, Circassian dancing girls, Turks, Egyptian princesses of dubious morals and profligate spending by the royal family.  It all helped provide background for my planned pulp Egyptian adventures this year, which will be set in the late nineteenth century as well as the nineteen twenties.  Not to mention my erotic story The Croissant Sisters, which started as a brief diversion for my friend Sophie and now runs to 400 pages with three ladies contributing scenario ideas.  I will be featuring some of the non-naughty bits on my Pulp blog shortly.

Best Film


I didn't get to the cinema at all last year; I didn't even see the Desolation of Smaug on the big screen.  Because I was at home all year I did watch a lot of films on DVD, although choosing one would be tricky.  If I confine myself to ones released in 2014 I did, against expectations, really enjoy Godzilla.  One does sometimes wonder at the amount of technical effort that goes into something so ridiculous but it was well-crafted ridiculousness.  And any film that has Juliette Binoche in it is always worth watching.  

Biggest trashy film disappointment was Hercules which dispensed with his labours in the first ten minutes for some forgettable war with really weirdly anachronistic (at least for the Bronze Age) costumes (costume designers grrr!).  This year's X-Men effort was really boring and just goes to show that Jennifer Lawrence's body, despite the evidence provided by its leaked exposure (thanks Sophie for getting those to me before Miss Lawrence's lawyers bombarded the net with threats of writs), is not a patch on Sports Illustrated model; Rebecca Romijn's from the original films.

Best TV Show

I am still catching up on the many series I have to watch on DVD but I am really enjoying Vikings, which I am now working through the second series of. Rather over-designed clothes but good buildings and ships (on the whole). For this year, I'm looking forward to Wolf Hall where they have gone to great lengths to ensure authentic costumes but I'm not certain how the Bernard Cornwell The Last Kingdom will look (it's being made by the team behind Downton Abbey) but its got Ripper Street's Matthew Macfadzen and Rutger Hauer in.   I'm not convinced the BBC can do justice to War & Peace in six, hour long, episodes.  I remember the superb 20 episode, 17 hour version from 1972 with a young Anthony Hopkins.  It had some big battle scenes shot in Yugoslavia with hundreds of extras and using many of the uniforms made for Waterloo.  I suppose these will all be digital now.

Guilty pleasure was Nashville which had more partner swapping and cliffhanger endings than any show I've seen since Dallas plus Heroes' Hayden Panty-liner in a lot of very short skirts.  Yee ha.

Biggest annoyance


Not quite Tess Daly, on Strictly Come Dancing, who, like a life-sized talking Barbie, only appears to have twelve programmable phrases ("they're on their feet" being the most popular - yes, Tess, we can actually see that people have stood up to give a standing ovation).

No. I'm afraid, again, it is my least favourite activity, supermarket shopping.  What is lacking (at least around where I live where supermarket staff have to be specially trained in how to deal with stuck up millionaire's wives who treat the staff appallingly) is any sort of supermarket trolley discipline. Manoeuvering around a supermarket in Surrey, even during the week, is rather akin to taking part in a chariot race at the Circus Maximus or driving a taxi in Cairo. What is needed is a supermarket trolley equivalent of the cycling proficiency test which most children in Britain take at school (with the exception of the Legatus, of course, who didn't learn to ride a bicycle until he was 34). Anyone who hasn't passed this test will not be allowed to push a trolley around a supermarket at all. This will be designed to prevent behaviour such as: Parking your trolley at a 45 degree angle across the aisle (keep your trolley parallel with the shelves at all times!), parking your trolley right in front of a popular section (like smoked salmon, in Surrey) whilst you wander off to look for some lemongrass (if you have to park your trolley keep a gap between it and the shelves so others can still access them), parking your trolley across the main access aisle while you get a free frothy coffee from the machine, stopping next to another trolley whilst you chat to your friend about their Christmas in Antigua, moving down the aisle and then stopping dead whilst you take a mobile phone call from your friend in Antigua and parking your trolley right next to a supermarket unloading cart which is already blocking more than half of the aisle. These are just parking offences and are nothing compared with the people who: Let their horrid little children stand in trolleys so their Labrador faeces-covered shoes can totally infect them, let horrid little children ride on the side of the trolley so that they crash into everyone else, let their horrid little children push the trolleys in a totally uncontrolled fashion and those who actually crash their trolleys into you or your trolley as they fight their way across the fruit and vegetable section (this area in Waitrose in Hersham is a battleground) under the impression that they are commanding a T34 at the Battle of Kursk. Non-compliance with the new Supermarket Trolley Proficiency code will be enforced by people carrying electrified cattle prods who just need to touch an errant trolley to ensure a healthy dose of volts for the miscreant. Supermarkets. Grrr!

Best Musical Discoveries

I have enjoyed listening to Chinese pianist Yuja Wang's solo CD's this year, although her rather frenetic Rachmaninov 3rd was disappointing.  I tend to think of Einaudi as the worst sort of pootling New Age composer but I have been very taken by his Passaggio as performed by Daniel Hope on violin and Jacques Ammon on piano from Hope's excellent CD Sphere.  I don't like any modern popular music on account of the fact that it is all rubbish, although I did discover and enjoy First Aid Kit's remarkable My Silver Lining, no doubt conditioned by my Nashville watching.  

I do appreciate slushy light music and really enjoyed Ron Goodwin's Music for an Arabian night (1959)/Holiday in Beirut (1962) double album which sounds (not surprisingly) like a film score from a sixties spy film.   It's like Les Baxter meets Henry Mancini.  Talking of Henry Mancini my new friend A (the best thing to happen to me all year - you never know who you are going to meet in Sainsburys) bought me the new Henry Mancini Soundtrack collection for Christmas. It has 18 film scores on nine discs, including the Fran Jeffries version of Meglio Stasera from the Pink Panther and the soundtrack to What did you do in the War, Daddy ?which has a wonderfully catchy theme tune I've been trying to get hold of since I first saw the film on TV in the seventies.

Food and drink

My food, wine and beer review will appear on my food blog shortly.

Best Artistic discovery

The work of Italian illustrator Umberto Brunelleschi whose Art Deco illustrations and designs brightened up many magazines, books and theatrical performances in the 1920s and 1930s.

Best Sporting event

Going up to London to watch the Tour de France go along the Embankment, although cycling has to be one of the worst spectator sports to watch live and I didn't find out who won the stage until I could watch the recording at home.

Worst few days

The time last January when we had to prepare my parents in laws house on the Thames for imminent flooding before they were evacuated by the Royal Engineers.  The water got to within one inch of the doorstep before, fortunately, it receded but we had a tense week.


  1. Wonderful life! Although nowhere near the travel hours you've logged, I've long since grown tired of flying and the attendant headaches that go along with it. Those little yelping dogs are bothersome too, I agree. Well, I'm sure 2015 will be another fine year! Well done in 2014. BTW, that plate of beans and bacon does look good.

  2. I share your supermarket trolley rage - there's something about being in a supermarket that seems to reduce people's IQ's to single figures. Yesterday I had to dash into our big Sainsbury's to pick up 2 things while everyone else waited in the car and I realise how difficult it is to shop quickly when everyone else are acting like zombies.

    Good news about the travel. As one gets older one has to factor in the chances of developing DVT on long-haul flights - that happened to my father when he flew out to NZ for my wedding. He hasn't flown further east than Turkey ever since!

  3. An eventful year even without the travelling. I refuse to shop in Waitrose for the reasons you describe, plus you cannot get in the car park because of the badly parked 4 x 4 s anyway!

    1. My wife gets 15% discount as she is a John Lewis partner (which brings it down to about Sainsbury's prices). The staff do get special training on how to deal with arrogant footballer's, Russian oligarchs and other's horrible wives. Actually, to be fair, I am on nodding terms with Louise Redknapp, whose child attends the school my son did and she is always very polite although she does drive a massive black Land Rover. Gary Lineker is always polite. I suspect its the bankers and Russian wives who are the worst. I saw Ronnie Wood in Waitrose a couple of times and his Russian then girlfriend was always playing up. Second time around trophy wives who I have actually seen try to kick the staff out of the way.

    2. Round here it is mainly banker's or dodgy builder's wives wearing fur coats and orange skin that spend their time looking down their noses at anyone not driving a Discovery or X5 who inhabit the Waitrose aisles. Rather go to Aldi than breathe the same air as them!

    3. Yes the Russians still wear fur coats too!