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

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.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Hooptedoodle #239 - A Bit More Family History, and a Small Coincidence

Today I started on the mammoth task of sorting out my mother’s house prior to selling it. This is not so bad as it might have been, since she and my dad moved to Scotland only 15 years ago, and the ground has been recently disturbed, so to speak.

In the box room is an absolute horror of an old cupboard, which contained a pile of accumulated junk belonging to my late father – art materials, tools and a bewildering assortment of ironmongery, and spares for things that most people wouldn’t have thought of owning in the first place. In there I found my grandfather’s old watch, which I haven’t seen since I was eleven. I know I was eleven because I had just started at the grammar school when it was given to me. I regret to say that I took it to school, dropped it on the stone floor of the basement cloakroom and broke the glass. The watch was taken back into safe-keeping, apparently repaired, and I never saw it again until today.

My granddad was a foreman in the electrical workshops at Liverpool Docks, and as such he used to go to work each day (on his bicycle, by the way) wearing a suit with a waistcoat, and a bowler hat. A bowler hat was the mark of the foreman. On his waistcoat he sported chains for his two watches (he was a bit flash, my granddad). One of the watch chains had a little silver match-case, with original wax Lucifer matches in it (lost years ago). This is the other one.

Yes, this is the one I had, if only briefly. It's good to see it again. It is a Swiss-made military style watch imported by Morath Brothers, of Liverpool. I believe the case is of gunmetal, with nice brass detailing. I would guess it dates from about 1910 or thereabout – it still works beautifully, I can tell you. The chain is silver, and the attached coin is a very worn silver Queen Victoria fourpenny piece dating from 1838 (is that a groat, then?).

I don’t imagine it is especially valuable in cash terms – I might have a look later. What I did was find out a little about Morath Brothers. It seems their shop was at 71 Dale Street, Liverpool, and they specialised in imported clocks (especially cuckoo clocks) and watches. Typically, the pocket watches were made by Omega or Zenith. The Moraths originally came from the Black Forest area of Germany, and Fedele Morath was listed as having a business at the Dale Street address in 1848. I don’t know how long they survived, but I know for a fact they were certainly open in the late 1950s. I know this because, I now discover, their shop was right next door to the old Top Hat record bar, which opened in 1957, and where my Auntie Barbara was manageress until she went to work for NEMS and then Beaver Radio, in Whitechapel. Some of my very earliest dalliances with popular music were in the pegboard listening booths at the back of the Top Hat – Buddy Holly, Duane Eddy and all that exotic American stuff. Great, actually. My aunt must have been one of the most patient women on the planet, since my cousin and I used to hang around the shop during school holidays, and we never actually bought anything.

The Top Hat was locally famous for having record-signing days when big name stars (well, quite big) would sign autographs and so on – there were queues right down the street, sometimes.

I was interested to see these old photos online – if only to prove that it really did happen.

Queues waiting to meet Frankie Vaughan at the Top Hat, circa 1958 - note
Morath Bros next door at no. 71
And here's Frankie himself signing autographs for the fans - he was a bit of a
star, but I think he only came from Granby Street, which was not very international...
...other celebrities included the Texan recording artist, Mitchell Torok (no - me neither)
 - note here that he is signing 78rpm discs!...
...and Lonnie Donegan
This remarkable picture, borrowed without permission from "A Liverpool
Picture Book", compares the Frankie Vaughan queue scene with the
current state of the site. The jewellers' has disappeared, and the rest
of the block lies empty. By the mid 1960s, the Top Hat had evolved into
a branch of Radiospares (the Leeds-based hobby-electronics store) and may
have later been a joke shop. Urban decay, you see.

1809 Spaniards – Regimiento de La Coroña – got there eventually

The Mojo Breakers - painted at last - just waiting for flags. Mostly NapoleoN 
figures - some Falcata and some conversions in the command
I checked some dates – I painted up some test figures for a couple of regiments, including this one, in September last year. At that time (unusually for me) I had been progressing well with figure painting, and my Spanish army was coming along nicely, but it was becoming obvious that I would have to cope with increased exposure to Real Life for a while, so I was attempting to plan what to do next. What I did next was to paint up the command figures for two 2-battalion regiments (pics appeared here in Oct ’15), and ship off the massed fusileros to a painting service I’ve used before.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, my philosophy with these paint shops is that they do a so-so job, requiring a fair amount of correction and retouching, but if they are cheap enough then the time saved is worth the cost – even comprehensive retouching is invariably quicker and easier than painting from scratch.

Well, maybe not invariably. In this case, I sent the figures away with uniform artwork and a couple of painted samples, which is the normally the best way of ensuring an effective job. They were a long time at the painting service, and I started to get worried when the customary progress photos did not come back by email. When I chased the batch up, they simply returned them, painted to what I regarded as a very disappointing standard, and with a few breakages to add insult. One of the regiments was a fairly straightforward job to sort out, and they duly took their place in the line (well, the box file) within a week or so. The other – 2 battalions of La Coroña – was just a mess. I started tinkering around, to find matches for the paint shades, and to work out how much effort was needed to sort out the facings and piping. To be quite honest, it would have taken me a couple of weeks of evenings to make a really nice job of them, but instead I went into a major sulk. La Coroña  are my only Spanish regiment to wear the older 1802 regulation uniform (which is very smart, though a bastard to paint), and I was upset out of all sensible proportion that they had gone so wrong.

My last emails to the painter, expressing my disappointment, are dated the end of November last year, when I put the figures away in a plastic box – all mounted on the official painting bottletops and everything – and left them to fester for a while. A week or so later, my mother was admitted to hospital for the first of a series of episodes which has severely limited my hobby time. We got a reprieve from March to August, but otherwise this has not been a good year for a lot of reasons, and figure painting is well down the list of priorities that didn’t make progress this year.

So – no hard luck stories – I simply got timed out on the Coroña boys, and they have sat like an itching sore in the plastic box for best part of a year. I could have done much better, but I managed to find more pressing things to do and – I have to admit it – my spirit was rather damaged by the episode with the painter. One thing for sure, this is the last time I learn that particular lesson…

Time passed. I was pleased with the things I did with ECW sieges, but the Spanish infantry stayed very definitely in the Sulk Box – I felt worse and worse about them. My mum has now been back in hospital for a month and – paradoxically – this has helped, since it has broken my spare time down into definite times and fairly short sessions. Almost out of spite, I dug out La Coroña, and over a week or so I have finally got them finished to a standard that I am happy with. It was fiddly, and it took a lot of coffee and Chopin and Stan Getz and Bill Evans and the Yellowjackets to get the job done, but it’s done.


The 1st Battalion - almost all my 1809 line infantry are in the better-known white
1805 uniform. I think the 1802 uniform, as illustrated here, was very attractive
- all regiments were the same, and the look was permanently tainted by
association with the despised Godoy. It is correct, I understand, that La Coroña
were one of the units still in the 1802 kit at the Battle of Ucles (1809),
so here they are, just to add a bit of variety to the army.

2nd Battalion

They do not have their flags yet – I believe I have already printed the flags, so they will be in the folder somewhere. I’m not worried about that for the moment – the main point is that I have defeated the mojo-breakers. I’m back on track, and am feeling a lot better about painting.

I have plenty more Spaniards to paint - I also have a couple of units farmed out to friends who have kindly offered to do some painting for me, so I expect to make better progress now – even if things crop up to delay me, I know I can get the job done when I am ready. These things are important, it seems.

I was going to put up a short list of things which I have to paint next, but when I started thinking about it I found my enthusiasm starting to waver, so I’ll just stack the plastic boxes in order, and work through them. Stand by with the coffee and the CDs.

In passing, my thanks to Stryker for invaluable guidance on paints, and on the technique for painting buttons with a cocktail stick (a potential sanity-saver), and to Arlen de Vries for spiritual support and occasional Dutch jokes.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Hooptedoodle #238 - Juvenile Delinquency in Eastern Scotland

Mother Nature right in your face - I'm delighted to see the adolescent Roe Deer bucks starting to practise their rutting fights, but do they have to do it in our garden?

Also, if they are going to do it, could they please take a bit more time over it, and choose a morning when we have a window open, so we can get better pictures? This fight was a bit unfair, since one of the participants hasn't got his horns yet. No-one was hurt.

Things are getting a bit serious - the other morning we had eleven young deer in the garden. They appear to be very fond of our lupins.

[Photos by courtesy of Mme La Contesse Foy.]

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Hooptedoodle #237 - Scammers - some good news at last

A few weeks ago, while I was at my mother’s home, waiting for an ambulance to take her into hospital, the phone rang. I was expecting a situation update anyway, so I answered it very quickly. On the other end was a very cheerful gentleman – almost certainly from the Indian subcontinent – who was obviously sitting in a large room full of other busy callers. He told me his name was Ronald (is Ronald a common name in Kolkata?) and that he was calling from the Windows Help Team.

Normally I would just have put the phone down and practised my deep breathing for a few moments, but that was not a good day, so, Ronald, if you ever read this, I apologise for my language, and I sincerely hope you did not attempt to follow my instructions on what you could do with yourself. Nothing personal, mate.

I’ve become a bit detached from phone scammers now – I wouldn’t say I have forgotten them, but we now have a wonderful in-house phone system here which filters out and blocks problem calls so successfully that we have had none for many months – and it used to be a major issue for us, as featured in my previous rants on the subject (see here). At one time, things got so bad that I got a little obsessed with this evil industry, and I even managed to get hold of some names and (unbelievably) Facebook profiles for some of the individuals behind it. Not that I could (or would) do anything about it – just to have a look at the enemy.

These call-centres are often more sophisticated than they sound, and employ good quality
technology - there is a lot of money in this so-called industry
If a scammer cold-calls, of course, the only sensible action is to put the phone down on him, and don’t respond. Occasionally, I admit, I did attempt to be clever, but it was always a waste of time and effort - the callers have heard it all before. My only minor success (debatable) came on another occasion when I was at my mum’s, and, since I had a few minutes, I played along a little. I told the caller that he had got through to a day-centre run by the Church of Latter Day Escapologists, and that we had no computer here. In fact, I told him, we at the CLDE do not believe in technology, so we do not have a telephone, either. Undaunted, he launched into his spiel. When it was obviously my turn to speak, I kept silent for a while. He asked me was I still there, and I asked him, was he a religious man? Yes, he said, he was. And does your mother know what you do for a living, I asked – he hung up. It would be nice to believe that I scored a hit, but I know in my heart that he was either bored or else needed to get on with meeting his quota.

OK, Foy – so why have you dragged this old stuff out of the archives? Do you, perchance, have some kind of point to make?

Well, in fact, maybe I have. I am delighted to learn that the police in Thane, near Mumbai, the chief financial centre in India, have arrested a great many people who were involved in a phone scam which targeted individuals who were on lists of US tax defaulters – at its peak, this scam has been making $150,000 a day. The local police are now working with the FBI, we are told, to progress this through the courts.


This may be a false dawn, or a damp squib, or any kind of inappropriate metaphor you wish to suggest – it may come to nothing at all. On the other hand, the mere fact that the Indian police are prepared to get involved in this kind of initiative is a reason to be just a little hopeful – the general view in the past has been that the police and the telecom companies in India have been liberally bunged with backhanders to stop them interfering. A more active role would be a great start.

Interesting press photo of a group arrested in India in connection with a different
phone-based scam - seems to confirm my general feeling that you should never trust
people who wear rectangular eye-shades.
I promise I shall not get obsessed again, but I really do see this kind of scam activity as especially vicious and heartless, and any small steps towards stopping it are most welcome. Having some evidence that at least the Indian police now regard it as a crime is certainly very pleasing.

The BBC news story about this can be found here.

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