A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Hooptedoodle #242 – They Say the Neon Lights are Bright on Broadband

In which a new gizmo arrives, and British Telecom make one last, bravura attempt to be a pain in the backside.

As I mention fairly regularly, I live in a rural area, and one of the consequences of this is that we have had very poor broadband since forever. This in itself is just a fact of life if you choose to live in the middle of nowhere, but things have actually got steadily worse over recent years – for a start, there are more people online out here, so traffic levels are getting further and further beyond the capacity of the available service, and, for another thing, the global assumption that everyone now has fibre-optic connections which blow your hat off has meant that all the resulting add-on claptrap noise of advertising screws up what bandwidth is left by sending you gratuitous video clips of things you didn’t want to see in the first place. In the last couple of years, it has been a feature of my email that I cannot read it until I have seen some advert of the day – frequently this is a completely irrelevant American advert (this because our ISP, BT, provide an email service which is really just a very poor relation of Yahoo’s), and often it could take up to a minute to reach me from a server in Ohio or similar. Your blood pressure can do some surprising things in a minute.

The fundamental problem has been the distance between here and our nearest telephone exchange. We pay BT for a service which is officially 1 Mb/sec, but it is normally about one fifth of that. Not fast. We were, of course, promised by that nice Mr Cameron that everyone in Britain would soon have superfast broadband, and BT have even published some grandiose plans for implementing this, but no-one was holding their breath around here. BT have finally admitted that there will be 5% of the UK population for whom fast broadband is just not going to be available – we are in the 5%. You may imagine us, sitting around a campfire in our animal skins, playing with bones and baying at the moon.

Well, there is a new game in town. As a result of a local government initiative, a private company, Lothian Broadband, has created a new infrastructure which provides broadband by wireless connection. Our hamlet is now connected. Our broadband is transmitted from the hill of Traprain Law, some 10 miles away, a shared receiver/relayer then sends signals to the individual households, via little aerials – ours is shown in the photo. As broadband goes, it is not especially cheap, but for a total outlay similar to what I was paying BT we now get an effortless 12Mb/sec. This may not seem impressive to you, but for us this is a whole new world.


Very pleased.

I have, of course, taken the opportunity to remove broadband from the services I receive from BT. It was harder to get it sorted out than I expected. As of last month, I was paying BT some £69 per month in total, including a charge for this lamentable broadband service, and – as it happens – my account was some £83 in credit. I spent a fair amount of time on the phone to BT on Thursday, explaining that I wished to keep my telephone services exactly as they were, but to drop the broadband. OK. It was explained to me that my new monthly bill (ignoring any extra call charges that arise) will be £28.74 per month. That seems reasonable – that’s about £40 down on what it was, which compares favourably with the £35 I shall be paying to the new broadband provider.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received a confirmatory email stating that my new monthly payment to BT from December would be £72. That’s right – though my account is in credit at the moment, and though the broadband will be removed from the service I receive, my monthly payment was to increase by £3. The email stated that if I did not agree with this, or if there was something incorrect about the proposed changes to the service, I should phone 0800 800 150. So I did.

This number puts you in touch with a technical support team (in New Delhi), who do not know anything about the product ranges or the pricing. All they could do was arrange for the Sales people (in Leeds, I think) to phone me back. This was done, and eventually I got confirmation that the revised service will be what I actually asked for, and that the monthly payment will, in fact, be about £30. That’s more like it.

There was a time when I would have been interested to know just why they had been prepared to charge me a completely fraudulent amount, but I no longer care. I don’t get my broadband from them any more. They can, in fact, go to Hell.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Grateful Thanks from the Wilds

Strange couple of days here - our local electricity supplier has seen fit to do some line upgrades, which is always a good idea, but the result has been that we were without power during daylight hours for a couple of days. We are, of course, in a very rural area - probably only about 14 or 15 households affected by this work - but why November? The first day coincided with the gales and freezing rain associated with the northern fringes of Storm Angus (which was a lot less severe here than further south). It also coincided with the day that Dod the Gardener was coming to trim down the top of the second of our juniper trees, so that our exciting new wireless broadband service may have an uninterrupted line of sight connection from the main transmitter on Traprain Law. The second day, probably fortuitously, prevented the broadband installation anyway, so Dod and the Broadband Men (I have all their albums) will get a second chance at all that tomorrow.

Why November? Is it just that we don't matter much here, or is there some ancient tribal vendetta at work?

Anyway, we've got through the two days. No, the downtime was not restricted to the promised hours - there was a period of overrun yesterday, after dark, when there was not much to do but sit and stare at the log stove (see photo), which is very therapeutic, in fact. Brandy helps, too.

I thought I'd take this chance to thank everyone who pitched in after my plea for help with some Hinton Hunt hussars (see here). Many thanks to Clive, Matt, Simon, Ian, Martin S, Chris and a few others for advice and suggestions, and especially to Roy, Andy T and Old John for providing castings. If I've forgotten to mention anyone, then thanks anyway - this has all been very heartwarming. The project to produce an actual unit of the Husares Españoles (to replace the unit which I currently have-but-hate...) will proceed with dignity and care, rather than speed, but I shall certainly see it through. The tricky bit will be the production of convincing command conversions. You will hear more of this, be sure of that.

Thanks again, anyway - very much indeed.

You may have observed that my previous post on the subject of Trumpo has now been suppressed. I was asked if I had been threatened or imprisoned or anything, and the answer is, of course, no. I thank everyone who contributed comments and balanced appraisal - I simply decided that if I am to be off-blog for a while, I would rather not have a post about Trumpo hanging around as a lasting legacy and reminder. I really don't find Trumpo very amusing at the moment.

Monday, 7 November 2016

New Officer for the 43rd

My good friend Pieter very kindly sent me samples of some new GBM Peninsular War figures he has commissioned, which are now in the Hagen shop. As ever with Massimo's sculpts, the figures are very pleasing - so pleasing, in fact, that I took advantage of a rare couple of hours' free time this evening to paint up a replacement officer for my 43rd Foot - note the regimental eccentricity of a non-regulation pelisse. The unit he will serve with consists of original 1970s Les Higgins figures - the officer is obviously quite a tall man, but his hat is a good match so - by my house rule of thumb (also known as Foy's Third Law) - this officer is officially the correct scale for the job.

He displaces a Les Higgins officer - I'll find the redundant chap alternative employment elsewhere.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

1809 Spaniards - Digging for Figures

My 1809 Spaniards now have a total of 5 light cavalry regiments - 2 of hussars, 2 of cazadores and 1 which is sort of another cazadores unit. Now the dreaded Creeping Elegance rears its head once again. Problem is that 4 of these regiments were produced for me by the excellent Pete Bateman, using conversions of Hinton Hunt French cavalry, and the remaining unit of hussars very definitely was not - it is so far inferior to the Bateman regiments that I have vowed to try to replace it whenever possible.

I have been in contact with Peter, who is not in a position to do anything for me at present, but we have established that I need to drum up some suitable figures - we have some, but not enough.

Examples of FN317
- picture borrowed from the Hinton Hunter blog, which is the standard reference work
I need some Hinton Hunt FN317 - French Hussar in Mirliton cap - the official HH horse to go with this is FNH7. I probably need up to about 8 of these, but any odd figures - painted or otherwise - would be of interest. If you have any such chaps that you could spare, or would like to sell me, could you please get in touch? Send a comment (which I won't publish, if it is not appropriate) or email me at the address in my profile. Since these will be converted and painted as Spaniards, I'd prefer not to import collector-standard pieces!

Last time I asked for help with raising troops I was looking for S-Range Minifigs Spanish infantrymen for 1812, and I was so successful in obtaining reinforcements that my 1812 Spanish army is now large and formidable - well, large anyway.

All help will be very welcome!

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Hooptedoodle #241 - A Return to the Enchanted Forest

Well, we had such a splendid time last year at the Enchanted Forest show in Faskally Wood, at Pitlochry, in Perthshire, that we went again for this year's edition. Really very good indeed - we were, admittedly, lucky with the weather, but it is a marvellous experience - lots of loud music and unbelievable lighting effects in a highland forest, all reflected in a lake. I can't quite remember what psychedelic actually means, but I think it is on the right lines. The festival runs for the month of October each year, and if you get an opportunity to go, I recommend it thoroughly - tickets normally go on sale around July time.

This year's theme was Shimmer (last year's was Flux).

We had a welcome chance to catch up with progress on the new bridge over the
Forth - it may not be open in time for the end of this year, but it won't be far off.
Looks good. The new bridge will not be called the Third Forth Bridge, nor the
Fifth Bridge, nor any other of the popular social media names (especially
not Bridgey McBridgeface) - it will be called (possibly rather tamely) The
Queensferry Crossing. So there.

Autumn on the A9

Foy the Younger throws himself into his highland break with typical zeal

And the show itself was breathtaking...

Pitlochry is rather an expensive place - especially during the Enchanted
Forest season - there was some very competitive marketing in evidence

All very confusing for a visitor who was, almost certainly, probably definitely the
only retired Napoleonic French general in the Highlands this week
The Contesse did a nice job with the photography - she also took some splendid video clips, but these are dauntingly large things to upload, so instead I've linked to someone else's YouTube effort, which gives an idea - only an idea - the spectacle is far larger than a computer or mobile screen can portray, and the sound is well beyond the scope of the budgerigar's-bottom-hole-sized speakers in your laptop - you'll just have to go and see it!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Hooptedoodle #240 - Another Mystery Object

I'm still clearing out my mother's house, and amongst my dad's old junk I found a strange thing. Anyone seen one of these before, or know what it is? - I have no idea, by the way, so this is not a prize quiz!

It is a cylindrical rod of dense, dark wood - not ebony, I would say. It's very hard. It is exactly 1 foot in length - hmmm - it also has the crown emblem and V-R stamped into the end, so, whatever it is, it is Victorian and it was government property.

My first thought was that it might be a police truncheon or night stick of some sort, but it's too puny, and examples I've seen of such things are usually lead-filled and fitted with a wrist-strap. Perhaps then, I thought, it is some sort of official measuring stick used by excise men or someone with a governmental role. It does look a bit like a miniature ECW general's baton of office, but that's by the way.

If my dad collected it as an artefact of interest then it might well be connected with ships, or stevedoring - as a young man he worked at Liverpool Docks and was always fascinated by sailing ships and the maritime traditions of the old port.

The reason I thought of a measuring stick was because I have seen examples of antique yard-sticks used for measuring the depth of beer or spirits in a barrel, and they were the same sort of idea.

Any clues? Obviously it isn't important, but it would be nice to understand what it is.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Hooptedoodle #210 revisited - More about Jim and Ike and the Cowhouse

Back in February I wrote about when my Great-Grandmother left her farmer husband, and moved with her sons, Ike and Jim, into Liverpool, where they ran a dairy in Toxteth. The story is well known in our family, but the details have become a little hazy - one thing that has always irked me a bit is that I never knew where the dairy was.

As discussed in February, these little local dairies were important in poor districts of the cities - for one thing, we must remember, it was not a good idea to drink the water in those days - milk or beer or boiled tea, but never water!

Without wishing to become one of those dreadful genealogist people who bore you to death at parties, I bought some inexpensive DVD scans of old Liverpool street directories, and I very quickly scored a bull - or maybe a cow? I found Great-Grandma Ellen listed as a "Cowkeeper" in the 1900 directory, at an address which is given as 32 David Street and 2 Grace Street - which is simply explained by the fact that it was on the corner of David and Grace Streets, in Liverpool 8, and there were entrances in both streets.

I found some street views on Google Maps - David Street is still there - at least the North side including No.32 is still there.

32 David Street is the terracotta-coloured building with the modern shutter door. That
would have been the typical wooden gates, where the delivery carts and the
cows came and went. A quick study of the photo shows a lot of change in the
building frontage.
...now we are round the corner in Grace Street - there was obviously a door (the
shop door for the dairy?)  in the wall in a former time, and the back of the archway
is still visible, albeit bricked up, in the rear wall
My estimate of 1895 for their arrival in the city looks pretty close - in the 1894 directory, the business is listed as belonging to one George William Hollingsbee. In the 1911 directory, the next one I have later than 1900, the dairy has passed on to a Mr Stephen Robinson. Ellen died in 1910, aged 71, and her son Ike (my grandfather) was married with a young family by then, and he is listed as resident at 21 Cockburn Street. Ike, you understand, was the original owner of the watch which featured in Saturday's post.

I now know for a fact that you will run screaming if you see me at a party, but I have to say I'm pretty pleased, tracking down the old dairy without leaving my chair. Virtual reality, anyone?

***** Late Edit *****

This a fairly recent photo of the old Toxteth Reservoir mentioned in the Comments - definitely an odd thing to come across in the city streets. I recall that I was scared of it as a small child - in later life, for years, I wasn't sure if I had imagined it or if such a place existed! The dreadful problems with cholera epidemics in the 19th Century required radical solutions to get better water into the houses - this was one - pipelines bringing fresh water from well outside the city (Lake Vyrnwy, in North Wales, in particular) was another.