28 December 2016

A Christmas Week Letter from Stollen. . .

Another interesting image that features a Volontaires de Saxe lancer.

Well, it's a quiet late morning here at Totleigh-in-the-Wold.  The Young Master and Grand Duchess have gone to the Science Museum after a breakfast of sausage, eggs, and toast with French orange marmalade fixed by yours truly.  I'm freshly showered, dressed, and back down here in Zum Stollenkeller with another mug of coffee pondering the battle of toy soldiers that I will set up for myself on my table later this afternoon as part of the ongoing struggle between The Grand Duchy of Stollen, ruled by the bumbling Grand Duke Irwin-Amadeus II, and its mortal enemy the neighboring Electorate of Zichenau, ruled by the  fractious and conniving Princess Antonia III with, never far away, her dastardly paramour, that most notorious of mercenary-adventurers, one General Phillipe de Latte, who is always ready to do her bidding.  Stay tuned for photographs once the battle is set up and unfolds.


More so at this time of year than others, my mind always turns to the old Letter from America program by Alistair Cooke that aired on the BBC World Service for decades before finally ceasing in, perhaps late 2003, when failing health became an issue for Mr. Cooke.  I first became "acquainted" with him in the early 1970s when his TV program Alistair Cooke's America first aired on PBS here in the United States.  Since I had begun to express an interest in history at about five or six, my parents allowed me to stay up after my usual 8pm bedtime one evening a week to watch the hour-long show.  We had the accompanying book floating around our shelves at home for many years until it disappeared during one of several moves in my childhood. 

Ten years later, as a teenager, I once more stumbled across Mr. Cooke when my maternal grandmother purchased a tabletop radio that had shortwave bands on the dial and the World Service soon turned up via the old Caribbean Relay Station on Antigua and another in Sackville, New Brunswick.  I routinely heard Letter from America late on Saturday evenings and again midday on Sundays for about the next 20 years when Mr. Cooke talked about all manner of things American for roughly 15 minutes: people, places, current affairs, politics, etc.  As far as I am concerned, he has never been equaled.  Somehow, although my wife might argue, various programs on National Public Radio (NPR) don't quite manage it assuming that is even a conscious goal of whoever might be in charge of programming.   Probably not.  I, for one, miss ol' Alistair, and he has always been someone I would have liked to invite to dinner, to listen to his stories and observations along with personalities like The First Duke of Wellington, Quentin Crisp, Steve Allen, Gloria Steinem, Derek Jacobi, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Michael Caine, and George Harrison among others.


Those six Minden / Fife & Drum Prussian limber teams that have sat on my painting table since late summer are -- drumroll, please -- almost finished!  Just a few more dabs of acrylic "brass" paint, and they'll be ready for glossing and some minor terrain features on the bases.  I'll share a photograph or two once that is done.  Then, I'll feel free to move onto painting those four addition drummers and new pairs of Minden Austrian and Prussian standard bearers to replace the old single MiniFig standard bearers in my existing line infantry regiments.  Afterwards, it will be time to embark on the 2017 cavalry project in earnest.  By my reckoning, I've got about 150 castings -- well, 150 horses and 150 riders of various types -- grouped into five, two-squadron regiments to get through.  These include two variants of cuirassiers, dragoons, hussars, and lancers.  Needless to say, it's going to be a busy year at the painting table!  However, if I keep my focus and drive, it just might be doable before this time next year.  Cross your fingers and toes! 


The plastic toy soldiers that Santa Claus brought to the Young Master this year were, the elves tell me, sourced from two places.  The "American Revolution's" bags of infantry and artillery come from Americana Souvenirs and Gifts of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania but were, apparently, produced in China.  The elf foreman, who supervised the third shift at Santa's Workshop this year, also confessed when we spoke on the phone yesterday that his fulfillment team put in a special call to our local Hobby Lobby to procure three bags of these.  The cavalry, on the other hand, is by Armies in Plastic, purchased from Amazon, and they match the infantry and artillery figures remarkably well in size and proportion.  The Young Master seems pleased and has already mentioned that he would like more soldiers for larger battles at some point.  Good boy!


But back to the tabletop cavalry for a moment.  Yours truly is now pondering HOW in the world I will manage to get through those 150 cavalry figures now in the leadpile.  Um. . .  Good question!  I guess (??!!) by relying as much as is possible and practical on thin stains washes of oils and acrylics over various undercoats as has become my usual way of painting figures during the last several years with limited details picked out with acrylic hobby paints.  With a white undercoat (or yellows, tans, and light browns for horses), the method yields bright colors and a reasonably neat tabletop standard of painting that I can live with.  However, I'd be pleased to learn about your suggestions for painting large numbers of cavalry in a reasonable amount of time since I am always on the lookout for new ways of doing old things more efficiently and effectively.  In particular where the time-consuming and tedious painting of reins and bridles is concerned.  Any suggestions?


Finally, I hear the mail-lady's truck approaching from down the street outside, and that might mean a couple of late Christmas gifts, courtesy of ol' Mom and Step-Dad.  Books on Frederick the Great, the War of Austrian Succession, and a couple of Featherstone reprints edited by John Curry as well as a set of Just William books by Richmal Crompton.  The latter are for me rather than the Young Master.  What can I say?  My reading tastes are wide-ranging, and these are the kinds of (mis-) adventures I wish I'd enjoyed more of as a boy.  They are fun reading now as a middle-aged so and so in any case, and I might just read them to the Young Master once we finish with the set of Encyclopedia Brown mysteries that we began reading at bedtime last night.  My mother read many of these to my sister and I when we were children, so this is also a pleasantly nostalgic walk down memory lane. 


Otherwise, the sun is shining, the house is blissfully still, and, at least in my tiny corner of it, all is right with the world.  I hope those of you who drop by The Grand Duchy of Stollen today also enjoy an equally idle, peaceful, and, perhaps, toy soldierly Christmas Wednesday.

-- Stokes

And the 2016 Dresdner Stollen, baked a day or two before Christmas by The Grand Duchess, who uses a German cookbook, so it's about as authentic as you  can get.  Absolutely delightful with a mug of fresh, strong coffee, and the Young Master likes it too, so, sadly, very little is left at this point.


Fitz-Badger said...

Sounds excellent all around! Here's wishing you all a happy new year!

nobby said...

Is the chap in green wearing a Phrygian hat blown backward by the breeze?

MSFoy said...

Great post, Stokes - loved it.

When you finally assemble your Van Loon style dinner, I'd be very interested to know how Wellington and Crisp hit it off...

Alistair Cooke - a one-off and a much missed institution.

All the best for the New Year!

Prince Lupus said...

Thanks for the reminder about much loved and much missed Alastair Cooke. I do recommend reading Just William aloud. My lad, and wife, loved it.

Conrad Kinch said...

What a glorious day.

Wellington Man said...

Alastair Cooke and, indeed, much of the rest of BBC Radio 4's output was something I started listening to from about the age of 8, sitting in the kitchen and watching my mother make Sunday lunch. He'll always be associated with warmth, flour and lovely cooking smells to me. Thank heavens for the BBC radio podcasts, is all I can say, or Sundays in New Zealand would be intolerable.

I am in awe of your painting ambitions and wish you God's speed, Stokes!

Best regards, WM

Robbie Rodiss said...

Painting plastic figures is a little bit different from painting RSM. I am currently painting 54mm medieval figures and the following may help a little. Obviously was the figures in warm soapy water to get rid of the oil that will be on them from when they were producded.
I was advised to spray the figures with a clear spry used to prep coloured car bumpers, apparently it gives added toughness. Then when they are dry, spray them with a white undercoat used to prep car repairs.
When dry I use acrylics and have found for horses that a wash with a dip or the Valejo wash gives a decent look, for minimum effort. I am certain you will do them proud, but do gloss varnish the figures, it helps with the overall look.
Anyway, Happy New Year to you and your family.


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