16 December 2017

Another (Slightly Unusual) Seasonal Image. . .

 Kitties anticipating Christmas Dinner being prepared by Mother over the fire.  What's not to like?


A bit more snow fell in the night, and the car (mine that is) must be cleared off later so that the three of us can drive up north for a late lunch/early dinner at one of the several German restaurants in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

I was so pleasantly and delightfully worn out after two hours on skis yesterday afternoon that I did not get to painting table last night but spent time sipping  gluehwein with the Grand Duchess before the fire following the Young Master's bedtime.  The ski-tour itself was amazing.  I was the only one at the park.  It was absolutely silent save for the occasional breeze, a creaking bough or two, and the almost imperceptible sound of the snow itself falling from the sky.  The circuit around the park's perimeter through several wooded loops and up and down several rises and a few actual hills is about 3-4km.  I went around three times in two hours with several pauses to catch my breath and take in the silent majesty of the winter landscape.

My mind cleared rapidly of anything pressing as I plodded along, and eventually got back into the schuss-schuss-schuss-schuss rhythm of the classic diagonal stride.  And that mental clarity -- or void? -- is why I do it.  Exercise followed by complete freedom from and lack of stress, which all of us need more of in the 21st century I'd wager.

-- Stokes


And a quick phone shot taken during yesterday's nearby jaunt on my skis.

15 December 2017

It's Getting to Be That Time. . .


No, not quite a painting update on The Heroes of Boucharde, but rather the second of several seasonal images.  Long-time grand Duchy of Stollen visitors -- and it is now over 11 years since this blog began its rather circuitous route. . .  ostensibly a blog about wargaming plus the soldiers and scenery that go with it, but covering an awful lot of non-hobby territory in the meantime -- might recall my fondness for Victorian, Edwardian, and Wilhelmine images of Father Christmas/Santa Claus.  I'm getting into gear a bit late this year, but with only ten days to go until the Christmas Season starts in earnest, there's no time like the present.  As usual, pun unintended.  Ask the Grand Duchess.  I cannot seem to help myself. 

At any rate, I am especially fond of depictions that feature Father Christmas in robes that are not the ubiquitous red.  This blue caught my eye instantly as I was wasting time last week, avoiding actual work here at home, by scouring the web for suitably Christmasy images.  Funny how that happens.

Fear not!  Another Heroes of Boucharde painting update to follow later today after breakfast  at our favorite local quick-n-greasy breakfast  place, skiing around the corner from the house at an area park (we had quite a bit of snow here in Mid-Michigan on Wednesday), followed a hot shower.   It's Friday at last.  Happy Weekend everyone!

-- Stokes



Yours truly earlier this morning on the way to our local breakfast haunt with the Grand Duchess.  Eggs, ham, and hashed brown potatoes that are to die for along with a bottomless cup of coffee.  And now I will ski some of that off.

13 December 2017

The Heroes of Boucharde: Evening Three. . .

The heroes at this point.  Still some work to do, and a few of the inevitable touch-ups, but not too shabby if I do so say so myself.  The guy in the dark blue coat and the one to his far right in the mustard pants are really starting to resemble Richard Harris and Kirk Douglas at this point.  Don't you think?


Another hour or so on this, the third evening of brushwork on The Heroes of Boucharde.  Painting so far has been with my usual mixed media approach.  Winsor & Newton Griffin alkyd oil thinned with a drop or two of Winsor & Newton Liquin 'Fine Detail' thinner for the flesh and black areas.  Ral Partha and Citadel hobby acrylic washes elsewhere on the figures have been achieved using tiny dabs of paint and a drop of Liquitex Flow Enhancer.  White stockings and shirtsleeves are simply several thinned applications of white over an undercoat of gray acrylic.  

Tomorrow evening, dark brown bases and musket stocks plus firelocks as well as brass buckles on the shoes.  I might do the latter first while my enthusiasm is still high and my hand steady before fatigue and frustration lead to mistakes that have to be fixed later.  If things go well and fairly rapidly, I might tackle some limited terrain work on the figure bases once the dark brown acrylic is dry.

-- Stokes



A Next Day P.S. 
 
Painting so far has been quick and fun.  The quality of the raw materials, in other words the figures, really helps.  It is difficult to paint badly when using miniatures as nice as Fife & Drum, Minden, and Crann Tara for example.  RSM95 and Eureka run a close second.  Just apply your base coat of choice, and away you go!

11 December 2017

The Painting Gears Are Creaking Back into Motion. . .

Fleshtone wash is all done.  A black wash over gray will follow for the shoes and tricornes, and then the real fun can start.

Not much to look at just yet, but I managed to snatch a relaxing 30 minutes or so to apply a wash of fast-drying Winsor & Newton alkyd oil fleshtone last night between about 9-9:30pm.  This evening, after a day of errands and some work-related administrative 'paperwork' (actually paperless and on my laptop, but just as interesting, which is to say it absolutely is not interesting. . .  anything but in fact.), I'll return to undercoat eventual black areas in gray and then apply a black wash.  

Once that is done, a gray undercoat to the shirt areas and then a wash or two of white on top.  Then, it will simply be a random mix of browns, tans, and maybe a bit of dark blue or dark green for the remaining clothing since these figures are armed civilians.  I'll conclude with the musket stocks, barrels, firelocks, and brass buckles on the shoes.  And then it will be time to get back to those pesky flags.

************


On yet another unrelated and seasonal note, let me say that I enjoy Christmas music every December.  Both traditional English and German carols as well many of the poppier tunes from the last 65-70 years.  Everything from Frank Sinatra, to Bing Crosby and the much missed David Bowie, Vince Guaraldi, Judy Garland, McCartney, Mel Torme, Nat Cole, et al.  But good God is there a lot of terrible, saccharine schlock clogging the airwaves at this time of year too.  

To wit, I submit for your review The Christmas Shoes, a fairly recent addition to the annual collective Christmas aural ouvre, a song that I do my level best to avoid hearing  -- at all -- each year.  Sadly, I was unavoidably Christmas Shoes'ed a short while ago, and I may very well need a stiff drink and a couple of aspirin to steady myself.  Others may lap it up, but to me, and while I get the intended message behind the song, it is the most contrived, soppy piece of I don't know what.  Ugh!  Apparently, a TV dramatization with Rob Lowe was produced a few years later back during the early 2000s after the song's initial appearance on the holiday airwaves. 

************


I will conclude, on a more cheerful and less contrarian note, with a traditional image of Father Christmas.  Each year, I cull from the internet a bunch of Victorian, Edwardian, and Welhelmine images, which resonate with me more than the traditional Coca-Cola version of Santa Claus, which seems to have taken over virtually everywhere in the 21st century.  For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my own gradual slippage ever farther into crotchety decrepitude and even irrelevance, I prefer the quieter, more somber images from a bygone age long before even I was born.  In my defense, my own mother has always maintained that I am, in some ways, an old soul, so there you are.

Ok.  No more Monday morning procrastination.  It's time to brave the dreaded. . .   POST OFFICE!

-- Stokes




09 December 2017

Well, Here We Are. . .

The four Minden (or is it Fife and Drum?) armed civilians in question just after their initial base coat of white acrylic gesso.  In the morning, they'll get a second followed by a thin wash of alkyd oil fleshtone during Sunday afternoon.


Here we are.  Already it is December 9th, and I have gotten myself into a friendly painting challenge with some wargaming friends and acquaintances, the usual suspects around the globe, who have led me unwittingly down the garden path before.  You'd think that I would have learned by this time, but these guys are a wily and downright fast crowd.  As my dear old mother, bless her, once warned, no good will come of it.  "They'll be the ruin of you yet, son.  How about something safer, like stamp collecting?"

In any case, I decided to keep things manageable this time, and I have pledged to paint just the four figures above for my planned Heroes of ? scenario (based on Steve Hezzlewood's and John Ray's Bouchard Raid) AND to finish the darn flags on those pairs of replacement standard bearers for my existing regiments of line infantry.  I must double-check to be sure, but I believe the self-imposed deadline is Christmas Eve.  More on this as things develop.  But actually getting my seat back into the painting chair this evening is a start after about two months of little to no hobby activity feels like a huge victory in and of itself.

************


In completely unrelated news, although the Grand Duchess is away until tomorrow evening, the Young Master and I made the best of things in her absence.  We boys enjoyed a delightfully quiet and relaxed Saturday here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold as light snow fell intermittently all day.  Most of our time was spent down here in Zum Stollenkeller where he sketched, built with Legos, blocks, and tinker toys, and communed with the cats, who milled nearby most of the day, curious, seeking affection, purring and yet seemingly disinterested and noncommittal in that way that only cats are.  Meanwhile, ol' Dad puttered around nearby on the computer and elsewhere unless I was fixing lunch and later dinner for the two of us in the kitchen.  We also enjoyed classical and some Christmas music online as we worked.

Father and son also enjoyed an illicit mid-afternoon gingerbread cookie break -- Not a peep to Mom! -- feasting on several of the various Christmas cookies baked by the Young Master and his mother last Sunday afternoon.  In a word, the day was delightful and reinforced my opinion that the best family time is totally free and unstructured time together at home, to alternately do your own thing and come together as your respective paths for the day converge, diverge, and reconverge several times during the waking hours.  

We concluded the day, just before bedtime this evening, with two chapters from one of Paul's new books starring Geronimo Stilton, a mouse who is also a newspaper editor and solves, as near as I can tell, various mysteries with the assistance of his private-eye friend Hercule, who is also a mouse.  Eight-year-old Paul reads quite well on his own by now, but he still enjoys story time with Dad before bed most evenings, which seems kind of nice.  Someday, he won't want to do stuff like this anymore, so I am happy to continue going along with certain aspects of childhood, like bedtime stories, for as long as they last.

************


Finally, we don't quite have enough snow on the ground yet here in Mid-Michigan for skiing, but the three of us have our trusty cross-country (Nordic) skis lined up and waiting by the back door along with the old-fashioned wooden toboggan for three.  Winter and Christmas may come in earnest anytime now as far as I am concerned.

-- Stokes




There is nothing quite so magical, to me, as the first snowfall of the winter season.  This was the sight that greeted us from our front step at about 9:30 this morning.

03 December 2017

The Heroes of. . . Boucharde??!!

One of the theater lobby posters used to promote the film in question at the time of its release 50+ years ago.  I actually have an original framed and hanging down here in Zum Stollenkeller.  My stepdad and I found it almost 30 years ago while digging through a stack of vintage movie posters in the basement of a junk shop in the Squirrel Hill Neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.



Kirk Douglas and the late Ulla Jacobsson.  the shape of her face and cheekbones clearly made an impression on the 11-year-old Stokes when I first watched the movie on TV late one Saturday night during Christmas Vacation 1977-78.  Remember when TV stations used to feature late-night movies?  Anyway, I now realize how similar the facial structure of the Grand Duchess, who is also of Swedish extraction, is to Ms. Jacobsson's.  Funny how the oddest things stay with you in one way or another.


Looking for something a little different to do during the upcoming Christmas break, I reread Steve Hezzlewood's 'The Boucharde Raid' yesterday (Saturday) afternoon.  I have always meant to give the scenario a try since first reading this particular issue of Military Modelling (actually the special wargame supplement with a dark blue cover) years ago.  

Now, I don't know about you, but whenever I read about a historical battle, or even a made-up scenario for a wargame, I always have a conversation of sorts with myself internally.  Kind of along these lines.  "Hmmm.  How might I spruce things up, personalize this particular scenario a bit, and make it fit into my own ongoing campaign narrative?" 

Dangerous thinking, right?  But of course!  You know precisely what I mean though.  Here is what I came up with.  


A similar raid to blow up an arsenal/powder magazine as in Hezzlewood and John Ray's small game of long ago, but make the location a bit more remote and the terrain a bit more rugged.  Kind of along the lines of the operations by the Norwegian resistance at the Vemork facility outside Rjukan, Norway during World War II.  But without the snow and skis. 

In addition, I plan to substitute four companies of dreaded Croats commanded by one (you guessed it) Major Frick (played by Anton Diffring in the movie) for the real life German defenders, and instead of the small party of Norwegian resistance raiders charged with blowing up the target, I'll use two or three green-coated jaegers with one engineer officer attached to handle the demolition.  I've already got two battalions of painted Croats in the collection, and there are some armed Minden civilians in the leadpile that might be just the thing for the latter.  I think I can paint up a few of them fairly quickly well in advance of the Christmas period.

There are still some details to work out, but the planned game will be an homage of sorts to the raid on the heavy water factory outside the town of Rjukan in southern Norway plus the 1965 Anthony Mann cinematic dramatization of those events.  Of course, his film departs considerably from what actually happened, but The Heroes of Telemark remains one of my all-time wartime adventure favorites right up there with Where Eagles Dare.  


Sadly, my own game will feature neither figures of Richard Harris and Kirk Douglas on skis, nor the fetching Ulla Jacobsson dressed in a highly flattering  Norwegian ski sweater for that matter, but there we are.  Stay tuned for more details as this small solo affair takes shape.
 

-- Stokes


The former Norsk Hydro Electrolysis Production Plant at Vemork, Norwat just a steep 11km up the road from Rjukan.  The building in the foreground was demolished in 1977, but there has been an interesting museum on the sabotage operations during the Second World War and another on the industrialization of Norway and the emerging working class during the early 20th century in the hydroelectric plant just beyond since the mid-1990s.  I visited in the summer of '96 and walked the distance from town and back to see the place and visit the museum as it existed at the time.  Had an interesting conversation (in Norwegian, thank you very much) with a couple of the young guys behind the admissions and refreshment counter.  Like so much of the Telemark region, the area is beautiful and very remote still.  I have read recently that the basement rooms of the building destroyed in 1977 have recently been excavated and found to be largely intact.  Plans are afoot to create a museum in this space that will be devoted entirely to the use of heavy water by the Germans to develop an atomic bomb as well as the various operations by the Norwegian resistance, aided by  Great Britain and the U.S., to stop the production of heavy water, which apparently was a byproduct of the fertilizer production that took place here in the 1930s before the war.

23 November 2017

Happy U.S. Thanksgiving from The Grand Duchy of Stollen!!!


Not much happening on the hobby front here today since it's all hands on deck to prepare for our evening meal, but I did want to post a quick message to wish U.S. citizens everywhere, or anyone else who might have been roped in, a Happy Thanksgiving!  

Hopefully, I can find some time during this long holiday weekend to sit down to the painting table and work on getting those new infantry standards finished.  These have only been in progress since last January, you know.

-- Stokes

10 November 2017

Veterans' Day (Armistice Day) 2017. . .

Yes, that's a German helmet atop the cross.


As a child, our nearest neighbors were Harrison and Florence Terrell, who lived across the lane from my maternal grandparents' place in rural southeastern Pennsylvania.  They were a generation older than my grandparents, Philadelphia Quakers, who had bought a place in the country sometime during the 1940s, to spend the weekends.  We visited their house often as children along with our grandmother, who was close to Mrs. Terrell.  

Mr. Terrell was an attorney, smoked a pipe, and always had a chessboard set up in his den, where he conducted play by mail games against various Philadelphia-area friends and acquaintances.  He was friendly without being overly so -- as seems to be the case with too many people in 2017 -- talked with ease about a variety of topics to both children and adults, and occasionally asked me to walk the perimeter of (some of) their property (they owned virtually the entire mountaintop at that time) to check the traps with him.  Mr. Terrell believed firmly in keeping down "the vermin,"  as he referred to certain animals, with a small bore shotgun and traps.  A contradiction of sorts, but there you are. 

Anyway, when he was a younger man, and although Quakers are pacifists, Mr. Terrell was drafted shortly after the United States entered the 1914-1918 war.  As unlikely as it seems, he answered the call and soon found himself somewhere in France in the midst of things.

I always meant to ask him about his experiences, but as a child you don't necessarily understand that people who have been through war might not want to talk about what they may have seen and done.  My own grandfather, an anti-aircraft gunner first, later a glider pilot and paratrooper during the 1939-1945 war, once quietly advised me not to ask Mr. Terrell about his time in France, so I did not.  

The two men may have shared their wartime experiences with each other at some point, but that is idle speculation on my part.  It might simply have been that, as a former soldier himself, my grandfather had a silent understanding with Mr. Terrell.  Like so much else about the world, and war itself to be frank, I simply don't know.

But as  a child, I idolized both Mr. Terrell and my grandfather, so I decided at eight or nine to let the matter rest.  I think of both men often but especially on days like today, Veterans' Day as we call it here in the United States.  At the same time, it is important to realize that families in other countries -- those who might have been on the wrong ideological side -- have also lost sons, daughters, and other family members in war. . .  soldiers, sailors, airmen, and civilians. 

As interesting as military history is, and as much fun as toy soldiers provide, war in whatever form it takes must surely be an awful thing to those who experience it first hand as combatants as well as those who are touched by it in some other way.  Somehow, though, that observation seems like an vast understatement, which simply cannot address the sheer magnitude, horror, and tragedy that war is in any form and by any name.

-- Stokes



P.S.

Well, it seems I am a day ahead of myself, whatever that might mean.  But the thoughts and sentiments remain.

05 November 2017

Slow Tinkering with Flags and Flag Bearers. . .


  Standards apparently carried by the Baden-Durlach Regiment  during the mid-18th century (courtesy of Kronoskaf).


Nothing to show quite yet, but the Young Master and I spent a delightful couple of hours tinkering with our respective projects (soldiers for father and tinker toys for son) here in Zum Stollenkeller yesterday (Saturday) afternoon.  The two cats ping-ponged between us purring, vying for, and enjoying attention from the both of us enjoying the experience thoroughly based on the feline gazes and playful behavior.  

I can say that I finally got around to attaching and styling the various LARGE paper flags to those Minden replacement Prussian and Austrian standard bearers that I've been fooling with painfully s-l-o-w-l-y since last winter.  They're going to look really good once finished if you'll pardon the blatant self-promotion.  

There are, of course, many different and effective ways "to do" flags out there, but I've really gotten the hang of making pretty convincing representations using plain old white printer paper,  a thin coating of PVA white glue like Elmer's, and then a bit of patience and care to finesse the limp paper into various furls and folds as the glue dries.  I typically follow by painting carefully over the computer printer inks to prevent later fading and make the flags match my own figure painting style more closely.  A wargamerly paint by numbers if you will.  It's tedious at times, but when the stars align, the results are pretty darn good.

You can put a slightly smaller piece of aluminum foil between the two halves of your flags to help maintain the desired furls and folds as your glue dries, and I have done so in the past.  When this particular method works, it really works well and results in very realistic looking flags.  But, it means an added layer of glue and another layer of material all of which must be aligned without getting any glue on your fingertips as you work to get everything just so before your glue dries.  As the song goes, it don't come easy.

This time, in the interest of speed and relative ease, I skipped the foil layer step. However, the various now dried-into-place flags still seem to look pretty good on inspection this morning.  They have indeed maintained their painstakingly applied furls and folds, so that part of the process is finished.

One final flag tip.  If you furl your flags just right, you can hide at least some of the complex and busy devices and coats of arms at the center, which speeds the later painting process immeasurably.

But I am getting ahead of myself just a bit.  Some touching up on the figures themselves first, then careful painting over the computer printer ink colors, some clear varnish, and the new figures will at last be able to assume their place with existing line infantry regiments before too much longer.  They are due to take over from their rather squat MiniFig predecessors, who have done yeoman's work until now.  It will then be time to add some additional standard and guidon bearers to my existing cavalry units since I would like each squadron to include one.

-- Stokes


 The Grand Duke and the Young Master at just eight and almost 51 respectively.  We spent late Saturday morning working on models of engine valves and pistons with one of the books Paul received for his recent eighth birthday.  He has lately expressed an interest in how engines function, and this is an area I know nothing about (beyond checking and adding the occasional quart oil and filling the gas tank as needed), so these joint projects provide interesting education for both of us.

01 November 2017

The Magazines Have Arrived!!!

The front cover of issue #1.

Kinda quiet here lately as work and real life continue their relentless assault on available free time (and the necessary calm, uncluttered mind) for wargamerly pursuits.  But.  The first dozen issues of the old Practical Wargamer arrived in the mail yesterday.  Hurrah!  Thanks to G. B. in the U.K.   Very rapid postal transit and well-packaged, so the 27 to 30-year old magazines arrived in fine shape.  

But what about the content?  In a word very good to excellent.  The photographs are, admittedly, not as prominent or, frankly, photoshopped as we have become accustomed to, but the articles!  Text heavy, interesting pieces by many familiar names in the hobby, both past and present, including a number of big guns, some still with us, others now departed.  Definitely worth the wait, and what a shame the magazine isn't still around.   Without doubt, I place it right up there with most issues of Battlesgames (to which PW seems closest in spirit), early issues of Miniature Wargames, and the first few issues of Wargames Illustrated.  

Haven't picked up an issue of the latter in more than 10 years, but it definitely had lost something by the late 1990s.  And to be frank, as much as I miss the independent Battlegames, things were never really the same after it was absorbed into Miniature Wargames, as published by Atlantic (I was always a bit anxious following that particular hiccup), to say nothing of the publisher after that.  

The other shoe did, in fact drop, not too long after when long-time MWBG helmsman Henry Hyde moved on to greener pastures.  The first issue or two of MW under new direction, and before my subscription ran out, just didn't quite scratch the historical miniatures hobby itch as well in my view.  Only my two pennoth, of course, but I felt as though the magazine lost its focus, and my will to write and submit something for possible publication dried up with it.  Take all of that with a grain of salt.  I probably don't have any idea what I'm talking about.  And maybe things have stabilized for the magazine in the time since?  Perhaps it has once again found its red thread, or raison d'ĂȘtre?

But back to Practical Wargamer!  I delayed looking at anything until  my own bedtime just following the Young Master's, who was out trick-or-treating in the neighborhood with the Grand Duchess in tow for a couple of hours early on Halloween Night.  After the usual pajamas, tooth-brushing followed by flossing, and bedtime reading together with said Young Master, I later spent a delightful two hours curled up in bed, paging through issues #1-#12 of Practical Wargamer and then reading a few shorter articles more closely before the ol' eyelids grew heavy, and I turned out the bedside lamp.  Can't wait to repeat the exercise this evening, but hopefully I'll manage to stay awake for a while longer.  What a windfall!  

Before turning to more serious matters that actually pay the bills (it is 11:40am Wednesday morning here, and I am on campus waiting for my next class to start), I will leave you with this observation.  It was quite interesting to peruse old advertisements for figures in 1987, '88, '89, and '90 and take note of figure prices then versus prices for metal figures now.  Even Battle Honours Napoleonic unit, brigade, and division prices seem downright cheap by 2017 standards.  

I mention these figures specifically because they were what I coveted most all those years ago.  I think continuously rising metal prices -- the rise of the internet, increasing popularity of digital gaming, the rise of mobile phones (like an incurable disease, these infect virtually everyone), the phenomenon of and now the palpable need for instant gratification, short (-er) attention spans, etc. notwithstanding -- are a major factor in why so many fewer young potential miniature wargamers enter the historical side of hobby now versus, say, the halcyon days of the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.  Even the better sets of plastics on the market, while less expensive than metal figures, are not exactly cheap if enough are purchased for an actual "army" of, say, reinforced brigade size (4-6 infantry units, a cavalry formation or two, and some artillery).  Again, just a randomly passing thought.  Discuss! 

-- Stokes


P.S.

Still enjoying these magazines several days later.  So much to read and think about.  Consideable bang for your buck with these old Practical Wargamer magazines, even thirty-odd years on.  Imagine my surprise to turn the page in one issue from 1989 or '90 and see a group photograph of several wargamers that included future bloggerati Robbie Rodiss and Colin Ashton, whose blogs I routinely enjoy in 2017.  Another little bit of fun that has come from seeing these magazines for the first time.

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