Please excuse the rather lengthy radio silence here at the Grand Duchy of Stollen!
Things have been exceedingly busy the last couple of months here since my last post during Easter Weekend at the start of April. Two trips to Michigan to nail down temporary housing, getting our current home in Central Illinois on the real estate market (no serious offers yet from potential buyers I fear), and preparing for the packers and movers in mid-June. By the 18th of next month, we'll be in the East Lansing area catching our collective breath for 10 days or so before heading to Berlin for seven weeks where the Grand Duchess has a summer teaching position at The Free University. However, there will also be plenty of time for us to do various kinds of sight seeing in and around the city and Brandenburg itself separately and together. But what of the blog?
Glad you asked. In the "me too" spirit, I thought I'd ease my way back into the blogging chair here at The Grand Duchy of Stollen and natter on for a bit about the things I most enjoy about the hobby of wargaming. In no particular order, here is what I like best about it:
1) The Figures
In their unpainted and painted states. There is just something fascinating about military miniatures for any period, and I've had this consuming interest since I was about four years old and leafed through a book on the subject with my father while browsing a bookstore one Saturday afternoon in 1970 or '71. That particular book just might have been one by Philip O. Stearns come to think of it.
2) The Painting
Painting the figures, flags, and related what-not is an activity that for all of its hurry up and wait frustrations is another endlessly fascinating facet of the hobby given my artistic pretensions and tendency to try new things and attempt to improve my skills and technique with each new batch of figures. I suppose it's akin to searching for the Holy Grail -- Bring out your dead! -- but half of the fun comes through trying to emulate the work in all of those great photographs that used to feature routinely way back in the 1980s in Military Modelling, Miniature Wargaming, and early issues of Wargames Illustrated. I am referring, specifically, to Doug Mason's and Peter Gilder's Napoleonics along with figures from various other eras that were painted by the likes of Phil Robinson, et al. The wonder, spectacle, and even beauty of tiny ancient, medieval, and renaissance forces arrayed across a tabletop battlefield is not lost on me even though my specific wargaming interests lie elsewhere.
3) The Reading and Book Collecting
I'm a dyed in the wool horse and musket man, and for me, it has always been late Napoleonics and, after 20 years or so, the 18th century along with the mid-19th century European wars following closely behind. Oh, and a smidgeon of early First World War on the Eastern Front too. Consuming reading militarily, politically, and socially by all counts with ample room for fictitious pursuits set against a quasi-historic backdrop, something that is, you might have guessed, right up my alley And then there are the figures, past and present, available for the various conflicts that took place during the relatively long horse and musket era.
4) The Scratch-building
The opportunity to try my hand at making various houses and scenic items is yet another feature of the hobby that keeps me going. Not much else to say other than that I love getting my hands dirty with pencil, glue, and paint as I whip up a new small batch of municipal structures every couple of years. And so far, no fingertips have been inadvertently pierced or lopped off in the process!
5) The (Occasional) Games
Ah, the BIG one! Would that I had more time for more games, either solo, or with a few like-minded enthusiasts. As I have lamented here before at The Grand Duchy of Stollen, striking the right balance between painting, gaming, and (occasionally) writing about all of it seems to be the problem. And then there is real life and work. How in the world did the late, great Donald Featherstone, a very busy gentleman in both his professional and his hobby lives, do it?
6) "The Look of the Thing"
On rare occasion, when the stars align just right, however, and a game is laid out and played, the appearance of everything on the tabletop is that mythical carrot at the end of the stick. Even with a fairly low-tech, old school kind of set-up like I and a few others have adopted in recent years. There is just a certain indefinable something about hundreds of brightly painted toy soldiers lined up in ranks and marching across a table laid out with the appropriate terrain and scenery.
7) The Daydreaming
Ah. . . another one of the delights of the wargaming hobby! You know. The thinking, the planning, the ideas, the doodles, maybe the pencil sketches, and mulling everything over after the fact. Preferably with an old-fashioned pad of paper and a pencil or favorite pen -- I have a crazy mid-blue Cross ballpoint that I use -- to jot down everything on paper and then flesh out the basic ideas in more detail.
8) The Writing
Besides, the blogging, yet one more side of the hobby I really have enjoyed has been the opportunity, once in a while, to write something for publication. A fun mental exercise as I discover and nail down exactly what it is I want to convey, and then of course there is the thrill of seeing an article appear in print several months later.
9) The People
I've met a lot of interesting, fun, and funny people via blogs and online discussion groups who share this love of military history and toy soldiers over the years. The Internet has certainly aided and abetted this aspect of the hobby. Years ago in the mid-1980s, I attended a few model soldier and wargaming events as a young rocker in the Philadelphia area including two Historicons. Chatted with a few vendors at the time when I purchased some uniform books and figures, but, as I recall, most people were either too wrapped up in their games to speak in anything more than monosyllabic grunts, or visibly rattled by my outlandish appearance at the time (big 80s rocker hair and tight, brightly colored clothes). Oh, allow youth! In any case, the online wargaming community has been a welcomed addition to the hobby for me in the years since I emerged from my grad school cave in 2004-2005 and once more began to enjoy other parts of life that were, largely, shelved when I decided to get with the program and return to school in the early 1990s.
10) The Related Travel and Sight-seeing Opportunities
Time and money permitting, my interest in military history and wargaming has been tied to a number of different visits to historic places over the years, for instance Gettysburg, Bull Run, Valley Forge, The National Army Museum in Great Britain, the Sans Souci Palace in Germany, and the Waterloo battlefield in Belgium, and so forth. Sadly we'll be knee deep loading our household possessions into a moving van for the 200th anniversary of that particular battle. Sigh. I always used to entertain fantasies for many years of returning to Brussels -- I visited the area in 1986 and again in 1990 -- for this once in a lifetime event. But you meet someone, marry, have a child, and, strangely, priorities change. . . Or get buried under a pile of stuff at the back of that metaphoric hall closet upstairs.
11) The Photography
This is a recent addition to my wargaming activities that I really enjoy. Taking pictures of newly painted batches of figures as well as the occasional encounter on the tabletop. Learning about lighting, backgrounds, exposure, aperture settings, shutter speeds, depth of field, timers, editing and cropping the "raw" photographs, and the like has been a fascinating journey thus far. I always meant to learn how to develop actual film, but the rise of digital photography sure makes things easier. Less caustic and corrosive too.
12) The Sheer Range of Possible Activities
And I don't simply mean scales, sizes, and historic eras here, but the various and sundry related branches of the wargaming hobby, something that should be readily apparent from the remarks and observations above. If you're in a painting slump, pick up a book and read about that new (or favorite) period. Need a specific battlefield feature for that tabletop refight of Leuthen you and your Seven Years War buddies around town have been planning all year? How about building it yourself with a sharp hobby knife, a metal ruler, some heavy card, balsa wood, or foamcore board, glue, and poster paints? Want to share a few photographs online of your recently finished Late Roman legion cobbled together with vintage 20mm Hinton Hunt or Greenwood & Ball figures? How about taking a bit of time and making the effort to take some (almost) professional grade pictures that will show off your handiwork to its best advantage? You see my point.
There really isn't much that I dislike about the hobby, you might be happy to learn, other than these three points:
1) The continually rising metal and by extension, figure prices. But that just sort of goes with the territory. The sheer choice and ever-expanding ranges of realistically proportioned 18th century figures, however, offset this particular issue for me. I manage to find enough extra "pocket money" to indulge myself and purchase some new figures a few times a year with my wife and son making up any omissions for birthdays and Christmas. There are, after all, many in the word who struggle to eat and exist day to day, so how can I complain in good conscience about figures and shipping charges going up every two-five years? Figure manufacturers are not just in the business to dole out scads of free stuff, you know. Come on, guys.
2) The lack of free time and how "real life" invariably and inevitably interferes with painting and staging a game or three. We need 30 hours in a day instead of a mere 24 I think.
3) Packing everything for occasional moves. Once again, you can see where I'm coming from given current events in our lives here at Stollen Central.
So, there we are. The likes far outweigh the dislikes for yours truly, and the hobby continues to entertain and engage me just like it has for the last 30+ years. No grumbling here about kids today and walking 20 miles in ten feet of snow when I was young just to buy three small bottles of hobby paints. At the very least, wargaming in all of its permutations enables me to learn new things all of the time and also practice and perfect various painting and/or hobby skills as I plod along and muddle through. Speaking broadly, then, it is one hell of a lot of fun. I only wish I could find a bit more time since the hobby helps me relax, focus my thoughts on other things for a while, and, in so doing, reduce the stresses of everyday life.
Finally, and on a completely unrelated note, the Grand Duchess and Young Master have been away for 10 days or so visiting grandparents in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., so I've had a bit more free time during the evenings than has been the case lately. As you might imagine, I have been catching up on old films noir from the 1940s and 50s -- definitely straying into less than stellar B-movie territory with a few of them -- and looking at some other kinds of movies too.
For instance, I watched an interesting film last night via YouTube, by Faeroese director Katrin Ottarsdottir, which I plan to use as part of my upcoming Scandinavian and Nordic Cinema course this fall at MSU. Bye Bye Blue Bird (1999) is an interesting (and subdued) take on the road movie genre. It is, in addition, one of the very few examples of a movie from the Faeroe Islands that I have run across. See what you think if you have a spare 90 minutes or so.