Wednesday 31 July 2013

Spitfires over Duxford

On Sunday I took the whole family to the Imperial War Museum Duxford for the Spitfires and Merlin's event. Its not a full on air show but there were five spitfires on display which took to the sky at various points during the day. I'm not an overly patriotic fellow (far too quixotic for all that nationalistic nonsense) but you'd have to be a pretty cold hearted Englishman not to feel a little stirring of pride when you see and hear a Spitfire roaring overhead. As usual I took far too many photo's and its taken a couple of days for me to work through and edit them down to a small number of shots, the best of which are shared here.

The Mk. IX 'Grace' Spitfire (ML407)
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX (MH434)
Spitfire Mk.XIVe (MV268)
Spitfire Mk.XIVe (MV268)
Supermarine Spitfire IX (MH434)
The Mk. IX 'Grace' Spitfire (ML407)
Into the Blue - Supermarine Spitfire IX (MH434)
We had a great day although from a photography point of view I found the weather quite challenging. The light levels were changing constantly, there was lots of very white cloud to make correct exposure difficult and a very strong gusty wind which made holding a telephoto lens steady very difficult indeed! Despite this I'm pretty happy with the pictures I captured and of course I got to see these beautiful machines dance across the sky where they belong. 

Tuesday 30 July 2013

Airfix Model Workshop

I don't know about you but when I was a kid it was common for parents to buy their children Airfix or Revell kits of aircraft or such like to build. For a while though it seemed as if this sort of present had gone out of fashion in favour of toys with a much more 'instant' appeal. But lots of plastics companies (especially Armourfast and Airfix) have cottoned onto the clever idea of hosting free model workshops at game shows or living history events. I suspect that for many of the kids taking part this will be their first encounter with a traditional model kit and (guiltily) I have to admit that's certainly true for both my children. 

On Sunday I took the whole family to Duxford, and as in previous years Airfix were there offering a chance for kids (and their parents) to build a model for free, and even paint it if they wanted to. We arrived quite early to get a good parking spot so we had a couple of hours to kill before any of the flying displays started and so decided to head over to the Airfix stand to build ourselves a model aeroplane. 

The Young Padawan carefully clips a small part from the sprue. She did most of the work herself, I just 'interpreted' the instructions and helped with the fiddly bits. 

Both daughters (and my eldest's boyfriend) built a model and were kept happily amused for nearly an hour. 
She went on to paint her finished model and was even given a box to bring it home in. Not bad considering this very kit was being sold for £8.00 in the museum shop!
I haven't done a lot of modelling or painting over the last few weeks but this was a nice chance to 'indulge' myself while also passing on a few skills to the kids. 

Monday 29 July 2013

Picking up history on Tower Beach

Wow, what an exhausting weekend. Its been another hot one here in the South East of England and I'm not best designed for walking around in 100% humidity! This weekend is the first of the kids Summer Break and as always we are trying to fill it with interesting things for them to do. Of course if Mrs BigLee and I also enjoy it, then that's a bonus...

The first activity of the weekend was mainly aimed at my youngest daughter who has developed a keen interest in history (I wonder where she got that from?). Every year the City of London Archaeological Society runs an open day outside the Tower of London and part of this event involves opening the riverbank to the public to look for evidence from London's busy and varied past. We knew she would love the idea of getting muddy on her own Archaeological dig and we were not disappointed. 

No metal detectors are allowed on the shoreline but visitors are encouraged to 'field walk' the beach looking for artifacts laying on the surface. Lots of stuff is washed up here and in the past visitors have found everything from Medieval pottery to Roman Coins. We didn't quite have the same luck but did find a Medieval Roof tile, a part of a Victorian Marmalade Jar and lots of clay pipe probably dating from the 17th and 18th Century. 

There was also a huge amount of bone to be found. Once upon a time there were lots of slaughter houses along the river and all the waste products got dumped in the nearest 'drain' (ie the Thames). Most of these industries moved away in the mid 18th century but the refuse from that period can still be found in huge quantities. We found well preserved bone from Cows, Pigs and Sheep and the Young Padawan was fascinated by it all (as were all the kids there). None of it is of huge importance to archaeologists but its presence helps illustrate a period in the rivers history in a way that no text book could adequately do, and I'm pretty sure its a lesson all the kids there will remember with ease.  

Of course its hard for the history of this location not to impress all the adults present as well. I'm a born and bred Londoner and know the city pretty well, but its not every day you get to see Traitors Gate from the other side, or see the shrapnel damage caused to the embankment from a near miss during the Blitz. 

We finished the day off with a river-bus ride back to Greenwich where we had a quick look at the newly restored Cutty Sark (an 18thC Tea Clipper) before catching the train home. 

On Sunday we had another day out but I'll post pictures from that in a day or two when I have had a chance to sort through my pictures. 

Friday 26 July 2013

Well trained SWMBO

It's been a very quite week from a gaming and painting point of view. I've been on a training course for a few days so I've been a bit out of the loop as far as the Internet is concerned. By the time I have got in at the end of the day I haven't really felt like doing anything except fall asleep in front of the TV (or maybe that's just me getting old!). And this weekend is also going to be pretty busy, as we have two day trips planned now that the kids are on their summer break from school. I'm not moaning mind you, one trip is an archaeology day at the Tower of London and the other is the Spitfires and Merlins event at IWM Duxford on Sunday. I'll be posting pictures next week and if I'm lucky I might even get some painting done!

Anyway one highlight of the week was a mystery present from the wife... we both like browsing in charity shops as these are often the best place to find cheap books. I picked up a book for my Brother-in-law last weekend for just £0.50p that was originally priced at £7.99! I have often found great books at ridiculously low prices and although the selection is random and sometimes limited, you can often find some great stuff in these shops. And of course the named charity benefits from this exchange as well. So I got home earlier in the week and my wife handed me this largish package in a bag but it wasn't a book. Inside was one of the old Citadel Battlemats that used to retail between £15-18 and she bought for just £3.00. The Mat was in its box and looks like it has never even been used. So someone else's act of generosity has resulted in a bargain for me and a donation to the British Heart Foundation charity. 

That's a 'win win' scenario IMHO and proof that my lovely wife knows what makes me tick. I have her well trained! 

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Satire or just another Stereotype?

Our hobby often gets wrongly maligned and insulted by those on the outside, in the so called 'real world'.  Its a sad fact that articles mocking the hobby or stereotyping its participants appear with tedious regularity. I've been a Wargamer and Roleplayer for over 30 years now and the phenomenon of 'jocks' picking on 'geeks' has never really gone away, even as society has supposedly become more enlightened and tolerant. That's not to say that 'geek culture' hasn't become more mainstream over the years but despite this there are still plenty of journalists out there that feel the need to portray wargamers as weird loners still living at home with their parents. Unfortunately there are also a few writers who have come from within the hobby that have also joined this narrow minded and facile band of hacks.

So what has prompted this little outburst of mine? This article in the Telegraph prompted one blogger (Porky's Expanse!) to rightly refer to it as a "joke piece" (read his full his post here). As this subject often gets me worked up I decided to leave this comment:

"This reads to me as a satirical piece, poking fun at David Cameron's sudden evangelical zeal for the populist anti-internet porn bandwagon. The problem is that some readers, including some wargamers, don't get that this is satire and have read this as a genuine attack on the hobby (just read some of the comments below the article on the Telegraph website). 

I fear that the net effect of articles like this reinforces stereotypes, marginalises players and damages the wider hobby (which, btw, is worth tens of millions to the economy)."

I guess what hacks me off the most is that this journalist probably thinks he's being very clever, juxtaposing geek culture and politics in a mildly humorous fashion, and personalising the article by referencing his own involvement in the hobby. Clearly he's not nearly as clever as he thinks he is because by personalising his article in this way he has managed to turn this into an attack on the hobby and on the person he used to be (before he became an idiot and a journalist). Many people will read his article and see it as a weak attempt at satire, but a lot more will subconsciously (or even overtly) see this as a vindication of the harmful clichés they so desperately cling to. 

Mockery isn't 'harmless' because it reinforces prejudice, marginalises people, suppresses creativity, stifles enterprise and lowers self worth. This is why so many Bloggers go to great lengths to remain anonymous, using nicknames or pseudonyms instead of their real names. I totally understand their decision, and its one that we all have to make based on our personal circumstances, but its still a sad state of affairs when gamers must suppress who they are because the people around them are still influenced by derogatory stereotypes.

I've written about this subject many times before (notably here and here) and sadly will no doubt do so again in the future, but as you have probably guessed by now I feel pretty strongly about this. I'm fed up of our hobby being the butt of shallow and pointless jibes and anyone that enjoys that hobby being labelled as socially retarded losers. The real losers are those people that live ordinary dull boring lives with 'regular' hobbies, shackled by conformity, devoid of curiosity, stifling any hint of creativity.  I have met thousands of gamers over the last three decades and every one has been passionate, talented, inquisitive, creative and generous. These are the stereotypes we should be reading about, not that other puerile rubbish.

Come over to the Dark Side losers, we have cookies.

Battleground General: El Alamein 1942

I've just been playing an intriguing game book from the new Battleground General series by Pen and Sword. Written by Jon Sutherland and Diane Canwell these books will be very familiar in format to a certain generation of gamers who grew up with the Fighting Fantasy books of Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson back in the 80's and 90's. The Battleground General books however require no record keeping , no dice or the need to record hit points like their old fantasy cousins. Instead this series is focused purely on the tactical decisions of the reader in conducting the course of the battle concerned.

The idea is that these books put the reader "in command of the forces engaged in some of history's most famous battles. Your tactical skill and ability to make the right command decision will be tested at every turn of the page." The reader can play as either Montgomery or Rommel with the book divided into two halves which are dedicated to the tactical situation faced by each side. Each decision made by the commander usually presents two or three new options which must be weighed and considered and which in turn lead to further options. Each command decision decides the course of the battle based either on actual historical events or logical extrapolations based on what might have happened. 

This is an intriguing concept and one that I think would appeal to many wargamers but I felt that more detail could have been built into the book to make the key decision points more detailed. I played both Montgomery and Rommel twice each with each 'game' lasting about 20-25 minutes. I felt that this could have been easily expanded to provide more tactical choices for the player. As it was I felt that there were only two outcomes to each game - victory or defeat - with no shades in between. I still enjoyed this book, and fellow Reject David has lent me the Arnhem 1944 book in this series, but this is definitely a concept that needs a little more work to bring out the full potential of the game.

Monday 22 July 2013

War and Peace Revival 2013

The War and Peace show has been running for 30 years at the Hop Farm in Kent but this year it has changed venue and changed its name. Its now at RAF Westenhanger (Folkstone Racecourse) and is now called War and Peace Revival. I decided I wanted to miss the weekend rush and booked the Friday off work for my run down to Folkstone with my Brother-in-Law for another day of Tanks, Trucks and Geekery. As usual I shot hundreds of pictures but this time I tried (honest) to focus my camera on unique or interesting vehicles rather than shooting wildly at anything that moved. So here is a selection of my pictures:

This suspect looking character filled the Guard hut

German truck with twin mounted Anti Aircraft MG's in the back. 
Volkswagen Kübelwagen
The Universal Carrier was effectively obsolete by 1940 but still saw service throughout the war as there was no suitable alternative. 
Russian T34/85
M36 Jackson
M8 Greyhound Armoured Car
Ford Canada FAT (1943)
Austin K2 Ambulance
Allis-Chalmers M4 Artillery Tractor
Ferret Mk 2/3 Scout Car
Another T34/85
White M3A1 Scout Car
M5 Stuart
M4A2 Sherman
M18 Hellcatm (76mm GMC)
Pontiac M76 Otter
Replica Panzer III
Replica Sturmgeschütz (StuG) assault gun
The 'Battle' set in the Main Arena
German Reenactor's advance
One US reenactor has a  'John Wayne' moment

M4A2 Sherman
The M36 Jackson
Universal Carrier
M5 Stuart
Challenger 1

There are plenty more pictures HERE although I am still in the process of labelling them. 

Friday 19 July 2013

Heading off to War and Peace

I've booked today off work and will be driving down to Folkstone in Kent for the revamped War and Peace Show. This is its first year at the new venue and I'm eager to see how it changes the nature of the show. I expect the close proximity of the Channel tunnel rail link to the venue will increase the number of overseas visitors and apparently over the weekend trains will be stopping at Westenhanger station especially for show! 

One of my pictures from War & Peace 2012 - A34 Comet
Another shot from last year - T34
I'm only going for one day this year but I may get a chance to meet up with a few people in and around the Model Hall which I'm told will be on the ground floor of the Main Grandstand. Anyway I'll be going camera in hand as always and will do my best to post a 'few' pictures as soon as I can. 

Thursday 18 July 2013

War in the Desert by James Lucas

War in the Desert: The 8th Army at El Alamein by James Lucas is another one of those books that I think should be 'required reading ' for anyone interested in the North Africa campaign. I bought this copy from David Crook back in February along with several other books on North Africa and I have finally been able to give it the attention it deserves. 

Like most books of this type it starts conventionally enough by looking at the background to the North Africa campaign and how the forces aligned against each other came to this barren wasteland. Neither side saw the territory they fought for as of any real value, but both realised that victory here would have huge strategic significance to the course of the war. Churchill saw this theatre as vital to protecting imperial interests in the middle and far east, in particular the Suez Canal. Hitler had his eyes firmly set on the oilfields of the region which would fuel his own campaigns and deal a huge blow to the Allied war effort at the same time. However while Churchill was acutely aware of the danger of German success in this region, Hitler was never really committed to this 'side show', even after sending the Afrikakorp to support the Italians. 

The real story of this book begins with the First Battle of Alamein under Auchinleck. This was a battle in which the British (Commonwealth) army finally showed it could do more than just be defeated and retreat. It held its ground against the supposedly invincible Rommel and bought itself some time to reorganise and rebuild. Meanwhile the Afrikakorp was exhausted, materially depleted and as always lacking in fuel. Both sides now dug in and started extending minefields and defensive lines. This stalemate was just what the British needed as their supplies continued to flow into the region in much greater volumes than those available to the Axis forces. The more time that passed the greater would be the British advantage in any battles to come, all that was needed now was for a leader that could take this revitalised force and give it a victory. 

I've always felt that Auchinleck was treated a little unfairly when he was replaced by Montgomery (Churchill's first choice, General Gott, was killed within days of his appointment) but for the first time upon reading this book I realised what a breath of fresh air Monty was to 8th Army. From the moment of his appointment there was to be no more talk about retreat. Montgomery knew he would have all the resources he needed to beat Rommel, but only if his offensive was patiently and meticulously planned out. He also knew that political expedience (ie pressure from Churchill) was no way to fight a war and his offensive would take place when his army was ready, and not a day before. 

The central part of the book then looked at the huge preparations that took place once Monty had taken command. The training was intensive and focused on turning 8th Army into a professional fighting force that could beat the enemy in front of them. More importantly the training was used to make the men of 8th Army believe they could beat the Afrikakorp. Many of the first hand accounts mentioned in this part of the book say that by the time the offensive started the Infantry, Artillerymen and Tankers of the army were eager to get at the enemy and see the job done. 

The last half of the book concentrates on the Plan, the roles of the different elements in the army and of course the battle itself. Many books look at the Battle of Alamein as one single complex battle, flitting from one event to another in Chronological order. I've always found this very confusing but in this book Lucas looks at each section of the front line separately. This makes it much easier to understand the units involved, their local objectives, how the plans unfolded in reality and how the successes and setbacks in each section related to the the rest of the battle and the decision making processes of the commanders.

As with the best history books the dry historical facts are broken up with first hand accounts that highlight particular events or viewpoints, like flashbacks in a movie. First published in 1982, 40 years after the battle, War in the Desert benefits hugely from the authors use of interviews of participants in the Alamein battles. Thirty years on many of these old soldiers have passed on and new books on these events have to rely almost solely on diaries and official documents. While these sources give plenty of detail it can be hard to get a real 'feel' for what it was like to take part and this book has plenty of this first hand experience woven into its page making it a gripping read. 

Finally its worth mentioning the excellent illustrations and photo's that support the written account. There are a series of maps throughout the latter half of the book that clearly illustrate the shifting front lines, the areas of attacks and which divisions were involved and where they were. Taken together they have provided me with probably my clearest understanding yet of this hugely complicated battle. There are also several very detailed maps for specific actions that have given me plenty of ideas for wargaming. 

There are still plenty of copies of this book available second hand on-line and if you are interested in this battle (or the North Africa campaign in general) then you will find this an excellent and very interesting read. 

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Arms and Armour - 1st ed edition (1982)
Language: English