Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Another Victorian building, nearly a nasty moment, more lead, the City in miniature and a visit to Eric's Shed!

This is wargames scenery!  Inside The Shed

These days the Legatus technically works from home (I don't miss the commuting at all) but I travel to London about three times a week.  Not having an office there any more, I usually have my meetings in a selection of cafes around town.  Sometimes, though, I have a situation where I will have a meeting at, say, 10.00 and then not another one until 15.00.  So nice places to settle and do some work are useful.  Recently, I have been having meetings at a building between Regent's Park and Oxford Circus, which is pretty much terra incognita for me as I don't usually travel north of Oxford Street in London (which, to me, is where the Midlands starts).  Being between meetings in the area, which seems largely to consist of embassies, I was looking for somewhere to get a nice cup of tea.  I looked down the road and there was the familiar shape of the Langham Hotel.   I had failed to realise it was in the vicinity because I was approaching it from the north, and Regent's Park tube station, not the south as usual.

The Langham is one of my favourite London hotels and the Landau restaurant there does one of the nicest hotel breakfasts in town, such as this example I had there some time ago.  

Another Martini, C?

When I worked in the West End a few years ago the Langham was the closest big hotel to my office and I used to go to their splendid Artesian bar for Martini's with my colleague C, as they do some of the best Martini's in London.  We had a Martini club! 

The Langham Hotel after its opening

Opening in June 1865, with a gala lunch in the presence of the Prince of Wales, the Langham was really the first purpose built Grand Hotel in Europe. It cost £300,000 to build but the original backers went bust and it was sold for less than half that in 1870.  From then on, however, the hotel was a success and guests included Mark Twain, Napoleon III, Antonín Dvořák, Arturo Toscanini, Noel Coward, Emperor Haile Selassie and Wallis Simpson, to name but a few. 

The Langham in 1899

In 1889 Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde met the magazine publisher Joseph Stoddart at the Langham.  As a result they wrote, respectively, the Sign of Four and The Picture of Dorian Gray, for Stoddart's magazine Lippinscott's Monthly.  Indeed, Conan Doyle set part of The Sign of Four in the Langham.

Bomb damage at the Langham in World War 2

The hotel struggled during the depression and in World War 2 was used by the army but was damaged by bombs and had to close.  After the war the BBC, who had declined to buy the property in the thirties and built Broadcasting House across the street instead, started to rent it and bought it outright in 1965.  It housed the BBC record library and also contained recording studios (The Goon Show was recorded there). 

The proposed Norman Foster BBC Radio Centre on the site of The Langham

The BBC applied to get it demolished in 1980 and have it replaced by a hideous glass-faced Norman Foster building to be known as The BBC Radio Centre.  Fortunately, their application was turned down and in 1986 it was bought by the Ladbroke group who owned the Hilton name outside the US.  They spent £100 on refurbishing it, opening it as the Langham Hilton in 1991.  I visited it for lunch a week after its re-opening and stayed there a couple of times with my particular friend SA.  They had a particularly good Vodka bar there and if you ordered a Vodka they didn't have they would offer you a free alternative.  I never caught them out but that was before I started travelling to the Baltic States regularly and developed a much greater knowledge of the stuff.

The Langham today.  Yellow London Stock bricks, of course!

In 1998 it was sold again, to a Hong Kong based group who called themselves The Langham Group and now have a number of properties across the world.  Another £80 million of renovation took place between 2004 and 2009 to bring it up to its now splendid state.  

The Langham in Goldeneye

It has appeared in several films and the exterior stood in for the Hotel Europa in St Petersburg in the James Bond film Goldeneye (1995).

That's how you serve tea!

What I had never done was have tea there so I ventured in and discovered the original Palm Court which really originated the fashion for hotel afternoon teas 140 years ago.  And a splendid tea they still serve, although I confined myself to just a pot of tea, as it was the morning.  They have their own excellent blends and certainly serve it beautifully so I will be using the Palm Court again!

It's a bit frantic at present due to work issues which have been causing me some stress for the past six months.  Without going all TMP "here is my ghastly life" about it I have been working for the last two years on a contract for a large consultancy.  The contract came up for renewal but then was delayed so I kept getting two month extensions.  The firm I worked for (the incumbent) bid and was expected to win the contract again, thereby keeping the Legatus in lead figures.  Much to everyone's surprise, however, they didn't win and so my contract expires on 30th April.  Fortunately, after an interview, the firm that did win has decided to take me on to support them in their new contract, starting May 1st.  Phew!  Nearly a nasty moment!

Anyway, it hasn't stopped me buying figures!  I thought that logging the amount of figures I painted compared with those I bought would shame me into not ordering any more.  This was particularly brought home to me when looking for the Salute figures for my 250,000 visits Salute figure competition.  I went through boxes and boxes of figures looking for them and kept finding figures I didn't even knew I had.  No more figures, I said to myself late Thursday night!

But on Friday I came home to find a parcel from Foundry and another from North Star, however, both of which I had sort of forgotten I had ordered.  Actually, I ordered both quite recently but I am used to North Star orders taking weeks to arrive, not days, so I tend to push them out of my mind  The North Star pack contained the new Lucid Eye Steve Saleh sculpted Neanderthals (which are so nice I have already started work on them) and all the new Artizan North West Frontier Afghans.  The Foundry box had some more Victorians and some Mexican civilians in it.  Oh dear!

I went into Orc's Nest the other day to see if Warlord's new Napoleonic Peninsula British were in (they weren't) and bought a Perry Prussian cannon instead.  Most shocking, however, was the fact that the Orc's Nest lady nodded and almost smiled at me!  I worry about the Orc's Nest lady.  She looks like she wants to smile and laugh but just isn't allowed to.  At home she is probably kept in some fantasy dungeon and fed on gruel. She gazes out through the metal bars in her dank cellar from which she can glimpse a tiny part of the world.  As she sits in misery, she hopes that, perhaps, she might catch a glimpse of a butterfly to raise her crushed spirit.  I think it would make a very good opera, probably by Janáček: The Woman in the Dungeon.  Or a Disney film.  Next time I go in I will ask her her name!

I was giving a presentation to a group of overseas government staff in the Guildhall the other week.  I quite often give talks in their marketing offices, where they have a model of the City of London which is used for planning purposes.  If you want to build a new building in the Square Mile you have to commission Pipers models to make an exact replica to fit the model so City planners can check out sightlines and such.  The original model was all wooden blocks so any one which has a proper architectural model is a comparatively new building.  Some of the models represent buildings which haven't been built yet.   Like all wargamers confronted with such a model, I imagine how you could play a game on it, although the 1/500 scale might be a little challenging.  I have always wondered if the HMS Belfast model is really 1/500 or just the 1/600 Airfix kit.  There is a wargmes link with the model, however.  Pipers, the firm who built the model, were founded by John Piper who created the original 1/100 (15mm) AFV models (originally for vehicle recognition purposes for the British Army).  These are now owned and sold by QRF.  I think he did some work for Airfix too.

But now on to the highlight of last week: A visit to Eric the Shed's shed!  Eric kindly invited me to his shed which is only a few miles up the A3 from where the Legatus lives.  If you go in the other direction you get to Guildford Wargames club.  However, I don't like driving in towards London on it as the exits off can be a bit tricky and there are traffic speed cameras everywhere.  Last year the Legatus got caught by a traffic camera on the way to Games Workshop in Epsom, although the resulting fine didn't, proportionately, add much to the already horrific cost of buying a load of The Hobbit stuff.  I had to attend a naughty boy speeding course in Chessington where, interestingly, most of the other naughty people were older than me (and had been going considerably faster than my 36 mph).  Except for one local yummy mummy who I now sometimes meet up with for Sunday breakfast at Sainsbury's.  So the course wasn't a total bust.  In fact, it  was very good and it would be much better if they gave the course to people who had just passed their test rather than waiting until they transgressed.  Still, it's a nice little earner for the AA, who run the courses.

Inside The Shed

So I decided to take the scenic route to Surbiton and got lost, of course, as Eric lives in Berrylands rather than neighbouring Surbiton, really, so I got confused as I was unfamiliar with the locality.  Berrylands is known by my children as "The  Land of Poo" as there is a big sewage works next to the station.  No poo smells at Eric's, however, just delicious smells from the kitchen where Mrs Shed was cooking spaghetti Bolognese for the gamers,  What a splendid woman!  She led me up the garden path (so to speak) to The Shed!  In fact Eric has many sheds.  Who knows what is in the other ones (maybe the lady from Orc's Nest?) but The Shed itself held shelf after shelf and box after box of wargaming wonders. Some were fairly standard some, like a giant Egyptian pyramid and model pulp steamer in scale for 28mm figures, were not.  

Matt ponders the range of an Ork anti-tank gun.  Note the pulp steamer on the shelf

Anyway we were to play a game of Very British Civil War using Bolt Action rules.  It was actually set locally to the Legatus in the Ripley/Pyrford area.  I bought the first issue of Battlegames in Middle Earth in the newsagents in Ripley and got hooked on Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings as an expensive result.  I won't describe the game (Eric has a much better description of it here) but must just observe what a pleasure it was to play on such a splendid board.  My fellow gamers, Richard and Matt, were very convivial company too and one, like myself, hadn't played Bolt Action before, so I didn't look like a complete idiot (he certainly didn't).

Things were going well for us when the opposition revealed this steam-powered Ork battle wagon (as Matt observed).  A hideous duel between the Ork vehicle and one of our armoured cars ensued for many turns.

I was quite impressed with Bolt Action although the only thing I didn't like about it was the use of counters on the table.  Still, there would be ways around it, I suppose.  We had quite a lot of armoured vehicles, which I gather is not normal  The game was very close and could have gone either way, which is also a sign of good rules I think, but in the end we triumphed (just).  I had already informed Eric that I wished to be on the fascist side as one of my great uncles had been one of Oswald Mosley's bodyguard!  Another one was a leading figure in the communist party which led to entertaining Christmas discussions, according to my mother.  This, I think, leads me to my reservation about VBCW.  I don't believe that the British people in the nineteen thirties would have been stupid enough to actually get into a civil war.  They would, like my great uncles, get into loud arguments but I would like to think that we were too sensible in this country to get into the mess seen in other parts of Europe.  The advantage of having had your civil war three hundred years before, I suppose.  Can't beat nineteen thirties tanks and armoured cars, though!  You also know it's a good game when you don't take enough photographs!

So I must thank Eric (or Giles as he is really called when not running his extraordinary Shed Wars) and his friends for letting a stranger into his house and giving him such an excellent evening.  Eric has even invited me back in the future, so I obviously didn't disgrace myself too much. Two Wargames in four months!  I have now had an offer of one from the proprietor of Boot Hill Miniatures too!  Let's just hope I have some time in the complicated contract handover period over the next few months.  At least my South American trip has been postponed, thank goodness.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Paint Table Saturday and a couple of splendid Kentish women

Paint table Saturday is starting a bit late today as I had to take my son to and from rowing and my daughter to the airport so she can get back to Edinburgh University after the Easter break.  Today, the paint table is overlooked by the splendid figure of Rochester's finest Miss Kelly Ann Preston who is my current wallpaper.  The Old Bat sent me the link to this picture as she knows Miss Brook (as she is better known) cheers me up!

M (right) competing in the eighties.  What a splendid young lady she was!

I had an equally curvy secretary, M, who hailed from Rochester as well, who was a very good 400m runner, and enlivened the Legatus' life considerably back in the mid eighties.  It must be something in the water!

Although I am still working on my last three companies for the Mexican Matamoros  regiment I've decided to take a break from them today in favour of starting work on what will be a long project: the Dolores Cavalry regiment.  I have nine of these magnificent Boot Hill Miniatures figures to paint but even to achieve a 1:10 ratio I will need 20 more!   Also, in a not unusual case of "New! Shiny!"  I have the four Neanderthal's from Steve Saleh's new venture, Lucid Eye.  These are lovely miniatures indeed but very hefty.  The chief is a strapping 34mm from foot to eye.  Hopefully, Saleh will do some more so I have someone to pitch against my Copplestone cavemen.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Legatus' Quarter of a Million views win a Salute figure competion!

Well, I have been thinking of what to offer as a prize for my 250,000 views of the blog competition.  Some people paint a figure as a prize but I can't imagine anyone would want one of my blotchy efforts, especially when many people who follow this blog can really paint.  

Anyway, given the proximity to Salute, I have decided to offer one of the official Salute figures as an (unpainted) prize.  These sit around in their little bags for years afterwards and I never paint them so it's  much better to send one to someone who really wants one (perhaps because they couldn't get to Salute).  Oh and because many of you will have most of these figures, as another option I am including the War and Conquest rules free figure which is a representation of the figure on the cover of the rule book.

I will offer the winner (I'm not doing second and third prizes because I don't expect many entries) their choice of the figures I have available.

So, lets look at the potential prizes.  All the pictures are illustrative only, my figures are still bagged and unpainted.

Salute 2006  Arthur and Mordred sculpted by Mark Copplestone

Salute 2007  Glorfindel and Lord of the Nazgul from Mithril Miniatures Lord of the Rings range.

Salute 2010 a Black Scorpion girl and Robot figure sculpted by Adam Clarke

Salute 2012 A Mayan chief sculpted by Jacques-Alexandre Gillois of Miniature Studio.

Salute 2013 A plastic Jason (of the Argonauts) figure from Renedra sculpted by Steve May.

Salute 2014  D-Day Colin Maud figure based on the film The Longest Day by Michael Perry.

War and Conquest figure.

All you have to do is post a message to this blog entry and say which figure you would like if you win.  The names will go into a hat on and will be drawn by my glamorous assistant.  Actually, I don't have a glamorous assistant.  Charlotte will have gone back to Edinburgh by then so you will have to make do with the Old Bat.

The draw will be made on May 4th, Star Wars Day (and Charlotte's birthday), which will just give me time to post it before I disappear to South America.  Oh, and it doesn't matter where you live.  I will send it anywhere in the world.

Tell your friends, but you have to be a follower of the blog!  There will be another prize when I hit 150 followers!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Impressive Victorian Building

There was a recent post on Solo Wargaming in the UK's blog where, in demonstrating his new camera, Mr Wargaming in the UK displayed a picture of a splendid local museum and asked bloggers to post pictures of the most impressive Victorian building from where they live.

Now the village where I live only has about 4,000 inhabitants and only really started to grow with the arrival of the railway in 1885 so it doesn't have any impressive civic buildings.  Much of the land here then (as it still is) was Crown estate and the Crown Commissioners initially only allowed large houses to be built.  There are a number of these left, most now divided into flats, and one was my son's Prep school, but easily the most splendid of them is Pinewoods.  This is the most impressive Victorian building in the village and is just about a quarter of a mile from where I live.

Splendid Victorian entrance hall

Built in 1880 by a shipping magnate it has been extended several times but latterly had been split into three homes. Recently the owner of one part of the house bought out the other owners and combined the house into one again.

Ballroom,  Might make a good wargames room

Keeping much of its Victorian splendour, but also adding many more modern amenities it has been put up for sale.  It has 9 bedrooms, a drawing room, ballroom, study, library, 2 sitting rooms, both a family and commercial kitchen, a wine cellar, a cinema room with bar and an observatory tower with 360° views. 

Indoor pool

It also has a gym, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a sauna and a steam room plus a heli-pad, a 4 bedroom staff/guest cottage, a security guard's suite, a secure vault,  parking for 20 cars and a large landscaped garden.

Pool wing sun terrace

Outdoor pool


A very, very large fridge in the kitchen

A very large bath in one of the en-suite bathrooms

360 degree view from the tower

Parking for 20 cars

Nice TV room

The original asking price was for offers in excess of £20 million but last year the price dropped to a comparatively bargain £15 million. No one seems to know if it has sold or not but no doubt the person who owns it could afford £11,000 towel rails, as sold in our local bathroom shop.

My, rather smaller, house is just behind the trees on the far right of this picture.  Pinewoods doesn't seem to have a shed, though!  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Walls, Flash Gordon and a quarter of a million page views!

Well, this is my 11th post in April (get back to those Mexicans, you say!) which just reflects my renewed enthusiasm for painting thanks to Sofie and her Paint Table Saturday (I always work best under pressure).  I got some more done on them this morning as I woke up earlier than usual, having watched the first episode of Fargo last night (like a bloodier Twin Peaks but in the snow) and, I have to admit, having had vivid nightmares about rampaging gangs chasing me (or maybe that was too much chorizo and Rioja too late last night), I decided to get up and do a bit of painting.  Just now the light is in that awkward phase of neither one thing nor the other; too dark to shade and too light to just rely on artificial light so I thought I would just sit here and write rubbish as usual.

I keep getting dragged back into a discussion on The Miniatures Page about Warlord Games new plastic walls "for 28mm wargaming", as it says on the box.  Now these are very nice and will be useful for that distant day when I actually set up a game of my own.  I bought a box at Salute for £14.  However, without getting into all the tedious detail about them, it turns out that they are in fact exactly the same as the Italeri 1/72 set (the Warlord set actually carries the Italeri set identification number on the sprue).  Except the Italeri set is priced on their website at £8.65, most online model shops in the UK are selling it for £7.50 and Amazon has it for £5.66.  Paul Sawyer from Warlord then chipped in and said that the Warlord set is, in fact, the same price as the Italeri one and anyway we shouldn't be using Amazon but should show loyalty to  the poor manufacturer.  I have to say that I found this attitude completely arrogant; not only by lying about the supposed equality of price but then, essentially, saying that you should give Warlord top price and not save your money.  Now I bought the Warlord set because I didn't know it was identical to the Italeri one.  I never looked at the Italeri scenics as I don't do 20mm.   Most people on the forums had assumed it was an upsized version of the Italeri 1/72 set, not an identical product.   Would I pay Warlord £14 for the next set I buy?  No.  Not when I can get it at £5.66 and save £8.34.  It's not the money per se its just I didn't (not for the first time) like Sawyer's reply to a criticism.


Now, of course, Sawyer used to work as editor of White Dwarf and you might think he became tainted by the dark side when working at Games Workshop. You might think that.  I couldn't possibly comment.  However, he spins better than Adelina Sotnikova and so I was a little disappointed in the lack of imagination shown in his attempt at a rebuttal ("it's the same price").  Don't just lie and say your product is the same as something from Italeri when it's not, invent a proper excuse! I like a lot of Warlord products but for some reason Sawyer winds me up,  Nothing rational (apart from being a slimy liar (allegedly)) it's just that every time  I see an announcement of a new product I have to wade through the insincere, self-congratulatory rubbish that passes for marketing copy from them.  Every time I buy their stuff I wish I wasn't supporting this cringe-inducing PR approach.  

Anyway, that said, of course, I am contemplating buying a box of their new Peninsula war British infantry.  Fortunately, when I went into Orc's Nest last week they only had the Waterloo ones.  So I bought a Perry Prussian cannon instead, which will make a nice little project as a break from the Mexicans (but using much the same palette).  I had a conversation with Nick Futter of Boot Hill Miniatures this week and he is promising a Santa Anna in full military uniform (he already does him in civilian dress) and Mexican soldiers carrying ladders.  That's where I will spend the money I save on my walls!  Actually I have already put another order in as I need to paint a few Texians!

I've been watching the developments on North Star's Biblical range, now re-named North Star Kadesh, and they have hinted there might be Mycenaeans in the future.  I'm thinking about skirmishes from this period, rather than full blown battles, though.  I can't face painting armies which have so many chariots!  

Most exciting is that I have a wargame tomorrow at Eric the Shed's, er, shed.  It's VBCW using Bolt Action rules which I haven't played before.  I must remember  to take my glasses or I won't be able to read the rules!  He certainly has a beautiful set up so I am very much looking forward to my visit!  He sent me this picture of his board this morning.  It's got canal boats, sheep etc. and cows!  I think it will be the first wargame I will have played set in Surrey, where I live!  His is a contact that has arisen entirely because of blogs so I would echo Scott's recent paean to the wargaming blogosphere.

My BEF British

Speaking of Bolt Action I notice that Gorgon Studios continue to release figures for WW2 Norway.  I did contemplate doing this period and bought some of the lovely Mike Owen sculpted early war figures from Ian Crouch's BEF Miniatures and even started to paint them.  Then however, Warlord bought BEF (mainly for the vehicles, I suspect) and promptly stopped producing the figures, replacing them with an inferior plastic set which was too cartoon-like for me.  Evil Empire?  You might think that.  I couldn't possibly comment.  However, now there are some more British, also sculpted by Mike Owen, from Gorgon as well as Norwegians I may have to think about this again.  I'll have to see how Bolt Action plays.

The only cloud on the horizon is my total failure to avoid another trip to Colombia next month.   I will have to leave in only a couple of weeks so I will lose ten days painting! 

Having spent most of the Easter weekend listening to Classic FM's Hall of Fame (it's not a Hall of Fame, idiots, its a top 300 favourites list) I decided to go for something a bit different today.  Regular readers (more on which shortly) will know that the Legatus needs music to paint to and likes film soundtrack music to do so.  Now, nearly everyone my age has seen Mike Hodges camp classic Flash Gordon (1980).  Famously, George Lucas' failure to acquire the film rights for this resulted in him writing Star Wars instead.  It contains some of the worst acting by lead actors of anything outside nineteen seventies porn, with only Max von Sydow and an unseen Peter Wyngarde coming out of it with their reputations intact.  However, it has fantastic production design by Danilo Donati who also did many of Fellini's films, Red Sonja and designed the costumes for Bob Guccione's notorious Caligula (the Legatus once met one of the Penthouse ladies who appeared in this bizarre epic) and of course Ornella Muti.

Also on the positive side (did I mention Ornella Muti, especially when she is walking away from the camera) was Queen's first attempt at a soundtrack.  On my post on my Mexicans I opined that I didn't care for film dialogue on soundtracks but I make a sole exception for Flash Gordon, where it works well.  Now, I have, of course, the distinctive looking Queen Flash soundtrack album but there is some orchestral music on the soundtrack which wasn't written by Queen.

Did I mention Ornella Muti?

This music, which is even more apparent when watching the film, was written by Howard Blake, the British composer best know for composing the soundtrack to The Snowman and that seasonal Christmas hit I'm Walking in the Air.  Now the Legatus is always on the hunt for obscure soundtracks so was very pleased to receive today a copy of Howard Blake's orchestral score for Flash Gordon, the CDs for which which he commissioned himself in a limited edition of 1000.   And very good it is too, although I will now have to put the Queen one on as well, which means I will probably have to watch the film again tonight.  Dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum dum, dum, dum...

Nadia Cassini in Malta for Pulp (1972)

Now, talking of pulp, (not Pulp (1972) that was another (underrated) Mike Hodges film starring a luminously gorgeous Nadia Cassini) recently Craig Cartmell, who is one of the authors of In Her Majesty's Name and maintains an excellent blog supporting the game, was discussing ideas about an adaption of IHMN for a new period.  One of the favourites was a nineteen thirties pulp version which would have been perfect for the Legatus as I have a lot of Mike Owen's splendid Pulp figures and have even painted a couple.

I painted this Artizan Sky Pirate girl about seven years ago.  I wonder where the rest of them are?

Sadly, the subsequent discussions with Osprey at Salute appear to have not gone well, as there is now no likelihood of them commissioning any more IHMN supplements.  Mr Cartmell is proceeding on his own with a mystical Japanese skirmish game: Daishō.  Now I wasn't very enthusiatic about this intially, having just bought Ronin, but on further consideration the IHMN authors did such a good job on IHMN and given I have bought lots of Ronin figures and even some scenery at Salute maybe I will follow it after all!  The Legatus is quite capable of U-turns!

Finally, and if you have got this far you obviously haven't got any Mexicans to paint, I have just passed 250,000 views on this blog!  The blogging tradition seems to be to have some sort of competition to celebrate, with a prize.  Now I'm not quite sure how to do this yet.  As a fan of Eggheads I wondered about having some questions such as "how many Penthouse Pets appeared in Caligula?" or "which issue of Italian magazine Playmen did Ornella Muti appear naked in?" or "which magazine cover did a naked Nadia Cassini appear on the first issue of?" but really they are more appropriate for my other main blog which has, incidentally, just passed 8 million visits but then it is full of naked women not soldiers.  So I will think about the competition and the prize over the next couple of days and announce something at the weekend!