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

Friday, 23 June 2017

If a tree is in a box and no-one sees it, is it really there?

Well I haven't had any activity on the give-away quiz for a few days now, so - since I am in for a busy weekend - I decided to close a day early. Thanks to everyone who sent an estimate of the original value of the trees in the boxes. One slight shock was how unfamiliar and illogical the old British currency seems now.

There are 107 individual fir trees in the boxes - you probably can't quite see all of them, but I was looking for an estimate. I know it is 107 because I had 85 good trees and recently I obtained an additional 22, and also I can confirm that the number of magnetic patches I attached to them is 107. And, of course, I counted them again, to check. That should about do it.

107 trees, at 6-to-a-box, is 17-and-five-sixths boxes, which, at 3/11d a box (that's three-shillings-and-elevenpence, or 47 old pence a box), works out at close to £3:9:10d - that's three-pounds-nine-shillings-and-tenpence - or £3.49236. I did not bother to work it out in contemporary Mars Bars, since no-one seemed interested.

Best cost estimate came from Ross Mac, who doesn't want the prize and is therefore a Category B entrant (glory only). Ross's estimate of £3:3:7d was based on 16 and a half packs - 99 trees. If he had done the cost calculation more accurately, I think he'd have got £3:4:8d, which would have been even closer, but no matter - well done, Ross, the glory is yours.

The nearest estimate from Category A was Mark Dudley's £3:2:8d, so he wins the Lachouque booque (or Lachook book if you prefer). Mark - if you send me a comment (which I shall not publish) giving your postal address I'll get your prize to you.

Goya observed that, around 1960, when these were bought, three-pounds-something would not be far away from the average weekly wage of a manual worker supporting a family. Discuss...

Thanks again, everyone - them sums are harder than I remembered, man.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Can't See the Trees for the Wood - plus a small giveaway...

Well, you were warned. I now have my Merit Fir Tree collection safely housed in two wooden boxes. Yes, the trees have magnetic sheet on the bases and, yes, the boxes are lined with steel paper [was that a snort I heard from the back?]. My trees can now be transported in complete safety to most places you can think of. The boxes, by the way, are "Memory Boxes" - it is a very popular activity (I am told) to stow away photos, cuddly toys and all sorts of memorabilia to be kept safe for your descendants, or, I suppose, for yourself many years from now. Even someone else's descendants would do at a pinch - you get the idea - you leave something personal and precious - all you have to do is remember where you left the box, and who it was for.

Excellent. More relevantly, there are some good deals around at the moment on wooden memory boxes - worth checking out for odd storage problems.

Anyway, miserable beggar that I am, all I'm potentially leaving for posterity is my collection of plastic trees - I hope they are appreciated. As mentioned before, these Merit plastic accessories for model railways were manufactured by J & L Randall in the 1960s, and it says on one of my original Merit boxes that they were 3/11d a set - that's three-shillings-and-eleven-old-pence, or £0.19583 for half-a-dozen trees. This was in the days when a Mars Bar was 6d (£0.025) - just to put everything on an understandable footing.

Oh yes - the small giveaway. I have a spare copy of Henri Lachouque's "Napoleon's War in Spain" - in decent nick. If you are an existing follower of my blog (which includes regular email correspondents), then all you have to do is estimate from my photo what is the approximate original value of the fir trees in the two boxes (in Pounds Sterling, not Mars Bars) at 3/11d for a set of six trees - there is unlikely to be a round number of sets, of course. The book is a big format hardback, so if you live outside the UK I should be very pleased if you could help out with the postage charges.

Send a comment (which I shall not publish) with your estimate, or email me at the address in my Blogger profile - I'll award the book to the sender of the best estimate, and I'll keep this open until midnight at the end of 24th June.

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

Some perfectly reasonable protests from non-UK readers, not to mention UK readers who were never exposed to the pre-decimal money...

Just to confirm, there were 12 pence in a shilling, 20 shillings in a pound (abbreviations for pounds, shillings and pence were £, s and d) - so 240 old pennies in a pound.

Also to confirm, the number of trees shown here is not necessarily an exact number of boxes - for the purposes of the puzzle, ignore the fact that the assembled trees are different sizes and assume that each tree is one-sixth of a box...

A thought occurs to me - if you bought these from the high street hobby shop in 1960-something, the lady behind the counter would be able to work out how much so many lots of 3/11d added up to, without a calculator and without a barcode-reading till which did the sums and the stock control for her. This lady did not have a degree in arithmetic or anything, she just worked in a shop, and didn't get paid very much. Nowadays such things would be incomprehensible - even with decimal currency, most of us (including myself) rely on the automation.

The other thing that occurs, of course, is that the very idea of a hobby shop in your high street is pretty wild nowadays. 

I bought my first pack of Merit fir trees from the Post Office in Rose Lane, Allerton, Liverpool, circa 1959. My neighbour (and school chum) Hutchie and I combined our model railways (3-rail Hornby Dublo) into one slightly larger railway, but we fell out after about 3 weeks. Through some mystery which has never been explained, I lost an LMS guard's van in the redistribution. On the other hand, Hutchie seems to have lost 2 packs of Merit trees and 2 of Merit stone walls. I believe I still have them.

Dog eat dog.

This and That

I guess this post is mostly about OCD, and maybe ineptitude - both topics on which I might claim a small amount of expertise.

Topic 1: The Catalogue

Recently, in relaxed conversation, Stryker, having had the mixed pleasure of inspecting my Soldier Cupboard (in semi-darkness, on his knees - it's an architecture thing), asked, as one might, how many units there were in my armies. An innocent enough question, quite appropriate in the context.

The Cupboard - current state; these days it contains only the French and
Anglo-Portuguese cavalry and infantry...
I answered, correctly, that I really didn't know, which surprised him a little, and then the conversation moved on. Afterwards, I found I was actually slightly concerned that I didn't know. Firstly, there is a faint whiff of schoolboy bravado in the implication that I have so many units that I don't know how many there are - I wouldn't like to give that impression - that's a bit like claiming not to know how many yachts one owns. More worryingly, I felt it was more than a little odd that I didn't know - I should know, really, shouldn't I? If I were in control of this silly obsessive hobby thing then I would know.

Now I do maintain a very detailed catalogue of my armies - which unit is which, what all the figure castings are (including known conversions), where they came from, who painted them - all that. I get a lot of value out of that, but one surprising omission is the date when they arrived - I wish I had thought of recording that, but I could probably reconstruct most of that information if I were pressed - at least approximately. Have you ever been approximately pressed, by the way? - no matter.

...everything else is in boxes - the pink boxes are ECW, the remainder are
the rest of the Peninsular War stuff.
The Catalogue is in a dirty great Word table, with hyperlinks to photographs of all the units. Being a table, though, it doesn't lend itself well to proper statistical analysis. So after I had thought about it for a little while I set about linking a spreadsheet to my Catalogue tables, and - of course - the spreadsheet very readily coughed up the numbers. As is always the case with worthy, obsessive jobs like this, after I had studied the numbers and thought about them, I was at a loss what to do with the information.

One obvious thing to do was to send it to Stryker - that'll teach him - but it also occurred to me that I could post it on the blog too; not so much because I think you'll be interested, or even remotely impressed, but because the blog in some ways is a sort of confessional - forgive me, Father, for I have far too many soldiers - in fact I have now quantified how many I have. If you can give me some pointers towards an official algorithm, Father, I could add a column to my spreadsheet giving the appropriate number of Hail Marys.

Situation as at 11:00, 14th June 2017...
Anyway, I'm pleased I have the thing under better control - well, not under control, maybe, but at least more accurately measured. I feel better for it. Cleaner.

Now I'd better have a look at doing one for the ECW, and all the Napoleonic transport items...

Topic 2: The Plastic Forest

This is really just a fleeting mention - I seem to have accumulated what must be one of the world's largest collections of Merit fir trees - the little plastic jobs for HO railways, out of production since about 1970. I didn't set out to achieve this, but people kept selling them on eBay (I guess railway modellers must be dying off too?). In its way it is a fine thing, and I am increasingly concerned about storing and looking after these little trees, because they are very old and fragile, and the plastic is rotting - they are very like me, in fact. I have a new solution to the storage, which I shall share with you when it is ready. You will be impressed - you may not wish to copy it, but you will be relieved to learn that someone else is as weird as this.

Anyway - more soon. Oh - and, yes, I do know how many fir trees I have, but I'm not saying.

Topic 3: Plonk

I do enjoy a glass of wine now and then. My wife drinks almost no alcohol these days, so opening a bottle of wine means either:

(a) I drink the whole bottle, which is not a great idea, or

(b) I try to recork it and make the bottle last a few days, which - let's be honest here - doesn't work very well - the stuff really doesn't keep, despite all the patent air-pumps and sealing stoppers we have accumulated - or

(c) I can drink some of the bottle, and then pour the remainder down the sink, which is maybe the worst idea of the lot.

Recently, someone jokingly suggested that I should buy wine that I didn't like, so that I wouldn't feel bad about wasting it. As is often the case, there is a germ of commonsense in that daft thought.

What I have been doing for a year or two now is buying a box of wine. You can have a single glass, and it will still be drinkable for a week or two. OK - that's a working solution (the issue of sticking to a single glass is important, but a separate problem). However, on the general subject of wine...

There are some excellent wines available now - I don't know how Brexit might affect that, but at the moment our local supermarket has some splendid wine. I find that I am having to be a bit choosey - this comes down to personal taste, of course, and my taste is no better than anyone else's, but it's me I'm making the choices for. A large proportion of the good wine on sale comes from the sunny countries of the world - Australia, Chile, California, South Africa and so on; it's good stuff, much of it, and its ancestry is from the classic vintners of Old Europe, but it is often too strong for me now. Too much sunshine? I can buy an excellent 3 litre pack of Australian Shiraz for about £15 - super stuff - but too serious, too fiery, too intense - I can't casually sip a glass of this (13.5% alcohol by volume) while reading or watching a film - too much Marmite in the taste, too many headaches.

I find I'm moving down-market a bit. Nothing new - I always used to like French Table Red - Chateau Plonko - vin ordinaire - you can't buy it now, as far as I can tell. No demand, I guess. I prefer simple red wines - Tesco do a good Sicilian red which is not too beefy, I like Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Corbières - things which are soft and friendly.

Quick digression. I was listening to the radio a week or two ago, and there was a chap on from the British wine-growers' association. I might have overlooked that there was such a thing as a British wine industry, but it seems they have been having a tricky year. The mild, wet winter produced brisk budding activity early on, and then the frosts of April did a lot of damage. I made a mental note that there was a British wine industry capable of being damaged, and promptly forgot about it.

Last week, in Tesco, I spotted a box of British wine! Never seen one of those before. It was very cheap, 8% strength and described as "refreshingly fruity". It is a poor life that does not extend to a little research, so I bought a box - I expected little and - as you expected - that's what I got.

The box suggests they have the neck to sell this stuff in bottles, too.
The stuff is awful. It tastes like a cross between Ribena and boot polish, to be honest. I could, I suppose, grin and bear it in a spirit of Good Old Patriotism, but the final straw is it isn't actually British. The box says that it is made from imported grape juice. Good grief. My dad used to produce home-made wine like that years ago, and it was all crap and it all tasted mostly of sulphites. A long and honourable tradition, then, of putting a brave face on things. Personally, I feel I humoured my dad for quite long enough, I want no more of this. I mention this only as a gentle warning - if Brexit requires you to change your drinking habits, don't be tempted to change in this direction, lest you, too, get to rinse out your kitchen drains with it. 

The small print.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Hooptedoodle #265 - Goings-On in the Wilds

Some odd stuff happens around here. Our plant life and other wildlife does not seem to behave in the correct ways - maybe they haven't read the books, but I suspect some kind of dark forces in the wood at the bottom of the garden (don't ever go down there...).

First off, we have some very unusual short-blossomed lupins. What is most unusual about these is that until a week ago they were normal, big lupins. You don't suppose some bad thing has come out of the woods and nibbled them, do you, boys and girls? We'll come back to this later.

Next, for 17 years (or whatever it is) we have managed to escape the privilege of having a swallows' nest on our property. Swallows are cute little fellows, if a little relentless, but their nests are a cuteness too far - they make a noise and a dreadful mess, and you are not allowed to disturb them - I mean by law. Well, this year we finally have a nest in the woodshed - it's such an obvious place to build one that I'm astounded it never happened before. There's been a lot of activity, and comings and goings, so we stayed out of the way and left them to get on with it, just occasionally having a peek to see what was going on. Depressing. Our swallows were the worst nest builders ever - they seem to have spent their time flinging mud around, to see if enough would stick to one spot to qualify as a nest. We found an actual nest in the end - on top of the electric lamp. Not so smart, guys - we'll try to remember not to switch the light on, to avoid frying their eggs. In the meantime, our woodshed is a shambles - mud and crap in all directions, and presumably it will get a lot worse when the eggs hatch!

Evidence of preliminary mud-flinging trials...

...and an actual nest (after a fashion)
Speaking of fried eggs, some unusually dumb sparrows have put their nest inside the main junction box for our main electricity supply - and this is high voltage, overhead cable stuff, so not recommended at all. We wish them well.

What else? Oh yes - we had a spectacular show of blossom on the plum tree this Spring, but for some reason we never seem to get much successful pollination; by rights we should, because there are some very healthy plum trees in the neighbours' garden, but maybe they are the wrong variety, or the wrong religion or something. So we have a very poor plum count, yet again. We must appreciate what we get - I know, I know.

This year's plum crop?
A long-standing oddity is our Edelweiss, which thrives very nicely, despite being 2000 metres too low, far too near the sea and in entirely the wrong climate and soil type. We tried growing some from a seed packet that we brought back from an Alpine holiday, circa 2011 - mostly for a laugh - and every year it comes back, small and white, clean and bright, cheerfully oblivious to the fact that it is a horticultural mistake. Bless my homeland forever. Maybe we should try an alpine plum, if there is such a thing.

Otherwise we currently have a couple of very attractive robins, and the loudest song thrush ever - it sits on the TV aerial in the evening and sings its heart out - I am hoping to try to record it in action if I can set up my digital recording kit somewhere out of sight - the woodshed obviously is out of bounds at present...

And, as promised, here's some security footage of the bad things from the forest...

Usual rules apply here - the good photos are all, without exception, by courtesy of the Contesse. 

Sunday, 11 June 2017


Two trips in two weekends - this could be a developing trend? Well, maybe.

Topic 1 - This weekend - Wargame at Stryker's

Because of the indisposition of Count Goya, the planned trip to fight the Battle of Raab was postponed, which left me with a free day and a van loaded with wargame terrain and soldiers. I phoned the Bold Stryker, to see how he was fixed. It seemed to me that it was just as easy for me to unload the van and set up the contents on my dining table, if he would care to trek down here to join me. His alternative suggestion was that I could drive my travelling wargame circus to his house, and we could arrange something there - a very fine and generous idea - it may be related to the fact that I forced him to have lunch in the garden last time he came here...

So that's what we did. I drove gingerly over the Forth Road Bridge (bumpy-bumpy) and up the M90, with a slightly amended cast of hundreds to provide a generic Peninsular War battle. Stryker, of course, has a far more prestigious collection of soldiers than mine, but he has not yet fully unpacked them following his recent house move.

We had a splendid day - once again, my thanks for hospitality, good company and magnificent eats. I forgot my camera [idiot], so took some photos with my phone, but they were so dreadful that I have reproduced only a couple here - mostly just to prove I was there. Ian has published a post on his blog, which has good pictures, so I recommend you have a look there. I shall have to read up on how to take better photos with my phone, but I will have to do so without offering my son the chance to gloat over my stupidity.

17eme Léger spent the afternoon capturing this village and getting driven out
of it again - anyway, here's a snap of them on their holidays in Tayside
Know your enemy - that's him, Old Conky Atty, with his tree. Laconic to a fault.

5th Foot (Northumberland Fusiliers) taking a turn at looking after a village - do
you think that flag is the official shade called "Gosling Green"? - no, me neither.
It was useful to prove that magnetic box-files, bubblewrap and bungee cords make such transport feasible. My soldiers have only ever moved anywhere at all when I moved house, so this is valuable experience. No problems, no casualties. When I got home and put the boys safely back in The Cupboard, I could have sworn I heard a little voice say "...and where have you been?...", and then another little voice said, "Dunno, but it was dark and a bit bumpy, and then later there were dogs...".

Great day out.

Topic 2 - Last weekend - Classic Car Show at Thirlestane Castle, Lauder

The Contesse very kindly obtained some discounted tickets for this show and, since she could hardly be less interested in such things, I went down to Lauder with my friend Jack the Hat. Good show - much better than I expected. My photos are pretty much random - just stuff that appealed to me as I passed; there was a fantastic amount on display.

Classic cars are great things for someone else to own. I loved the 1934 Alvis Silver Eagle, for example, but the owner told me how much it had cost to restore it, what the maintenance costs were, and how few miles a year he gets to drive it. Bear in mind that he has to drive it to shows on a trailer, towed by his Land Rover, and that in terms of modern motoring it will be consistently outdragged at the traffic lights by nuns driving Nissan Micras, and you start to build up a picture of the reality. For me, classic cars are great things for other people to own and cherish, so that I can go and gawp at them, take pictures and ask damn-fool questions.

Any number of MGs - very nice - I don't know much about the pre-war
 ones, but I enjoy looking at them

VW Karmann-Ghia

Jenson? - think so - Ferguson system 4WD and everything

Ugly ugly - 1960s Ford Corsair - when I was at university, my landlord had one of these. 

I know that one - that's a 1954 MG type TF...

Yes, that's the thermometer on the radiator, so you can see when it's boiling - of course,
 when it boils, there will be so much steam you won't be able to see it

Morris 8

1934 Alvis "Silver Eagle" - now you're talking - dicky seat and everything - no,
of course I wouldn't want one - I'm pretty mad, but not as mad as that.

Bristol 401 - classy 1950 sports saloon built by the Bristol aeroplane company - engine
and inspiration ex BMW (the rights to the BMW 327 engine were acquired by the Bristol
company after WW2). These look impressive, and have a sort of cult following, but
were heavy and not very powerful.

Left-hand-drive Jaguar E-Type - present owner imported this one from California, and
now keeps it in Dunbar, on the Scottish North Sea coast - he says the thing just started
to rust like crazy after he got it, and he has to keep it in a ventilated cocoon - don't know
if he gets the air from California.

Shelby Cobra - complete with racing numbers - right...

Now this is interesting - it's a kit car, but it doesn't look like one, and the build
quality is superb. This is a Royale Sabre, about 10 years old, and the running
gear is all Ford Sierra, which doesn't sound too exciting, but spares are readily
available and it goes nicely. Has the look and the vibe of a 1930s BMW - quite
like this. Not those crass wheels though - if you're going to do this you should
fit proper Borranis, or pierced alloys like the old BMW/Bristol/Frazer Nash
ones. Come to think of it, a set of Borranis might be worth as much as the car...