Tuesday 29 November 2011

Two tanks: Part II

I've taken a wealth of photos to document every stage of the construction process, so duplication of this should be a comparative doddle. The pictures speak for themselves, and this commentary is pretty superfluous. The hulls currently need just a little work before I can give myself completely over to detailing. I still can't find that Predator turret ring, either! Right, let's begin. To ensure nice straight lines and structural integrity I used more Lego blocks and some 2mm plasticard offcuts. I boxed in the underside of the hull, then got to work on the hull gunner's position. Having used a sloping Lego piece on the inside, I knew that I could wrap one with plasticard and it would go perfectly on the outside of the hull. It also provided a nice flat surface for me to drill into. I selected a central spot, and then got myself a selection of weapons. Bearing in mind that my mate wants to be able to field any variant of hull gun, and that the Russ' options are Lascannon, Heavy Bolter and Heavy Flamer, I got two of each, drilled a hole in them, then inserted a length of metal rod (a spare spear from an order for some lances for WWI cavalry). Provided one has the right length, one can then slot the desired weapon into the gunner's position. Until tomorrow, friends!

Musings on the Bard

Old Bill has been in my mind a bit of late. Perhaps that recent film, in which it is claimed that he didn't write anything, and that his plays were the work of the Earl of Oxford, brought him to mind. No, I have not watched it. The idea is as boring to me as I found Macbeth. Those of you who revel in the work of that chap from Stratford are probably growling or pulling at your beards in a rage about now. How can I find the exciting, propaganda-laden plot dull? What is tedious about witches? Treachery? The madness and murder unleashed by the eponymous protagonist? All I can say is that Shakespeare clearly managed to make it all rather wearisome. But perhaps I am unkind. Did Shakespeare really screw up or have I just been unfortunate in my perceptions?

Let us begin at the beginning and then go on. Heh. Shakespeare was the author of two texts I was compelled to study in school. First was Julius Caesar and the second was the aforementioned Scottish Play. No author, I hope you agree, is at his best when mumbled by a disinterested teenager who would sooner be playing football. We cannot blame the poor chap for that. We also cannot blame him for writing in sixteenth century gobbledygook - unless we're ready to criticise Charles Stross for writing in contemporary English. What else? Well, nobody enjoys set texts in school. If you did, you have my amazement. In my experience, the surest way to cure a child of the desire to read is to tell him, "This book is a classic! We will now sit here and go slowly through it at the speed of a snail, taking two terms." When my mother was at school, she was overjoyed to find that they were to read The Wind in the Willows, which, if you have not read it, is a charming piece of literature. She promptly read the whole work again that night - my mother reads with a speed I have always been amazed by - and returned to her second English lesson of secondary school ready to discuss the story. Unhappily, what she found was that the whole was to be stretched on the rack.

It was fortunate for her that she already liked the book. In my case, I was introduced to Dickens at secondary school. Well, I had read A Christmas Carol in primary school, and we still have an audio tape of someone or other famous reading David Copperfield, but Great Expectations was my first serious introduction to a proper novel by the man. It was, as I have recounted on this blog before, excruciating. It was so dull, the characters so unlifelike, unlikeable and so limp that it became the first book I failed to finish. I would like to bolster my claim that drawing out books across two terms murders them, but I cannot honestly do so. I made a hearty effort at it, and got a hundred pages or more in, stumbled, had another go, and eventually ground to a halt somewhere between half and three-quarters of the way through. But I digress. I was talking about Bill.

So already we have against Bill three strikes that simply aren't his fault: his work is spoken by someone who is no actor, his language is often gibberish, and it is subjected to a painful, microscopic, tedious examination. They boil down to the simple fact that the plays have been wrenched from their intended position, fastened to a page and drained of all emotion. But what of plays? They were intended to be plays, after all! We went to see a production of Macbeth at the local theatre. The action had been removed to some sort of post-apocalyptic future, I think. Macbeth communicated with the doorkeeper by means of a video screen, I recall. It is hard to say whether I was already so prejudiced against the play that I gave the performers no chance or whether they did just do a pretty poor job. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt. Who would you believe, after all - a group of respected actors or some stroppy, whining teenage boy? Exactly.

That said, several of my fellows, who were less stroppy and whining, though still teenage boys, didn't care much for the production either. A few weeks ago I decided to watch Branagh's Henry V. I believe I blogged at the time on how surprised I was to have enjoyed it. I discovered we had a filmed version of Macbeth starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench. I've not stolen their honorifics; it's quite old. In fact, it's possible that we were subjected to it in school. "Subjected, Pete? Methinks you have given away your conclusion before beginning your review of this version." That is true. I gave it an hour, pressed some buttons and misread that only fifteen more minutes remained. After fifteen more minutes I realised that it had been 1:15:00 that remained, and it was now 1:00:00. I gave up in disgust and annoyance. The piece was every bit as bad as my stroppy teenage self had thought. The funny thing is that I not only like the leads, but even was quite pleased to see Ian McDiarmid in a double role as Ross and the Porter. He managed to make me enjoy the Porter's speech about drunkenness and lechery, which is the first time that has happened. In fact, if I did watch this version in school, then maybe he failed to persuade me of its merits back then.

Macbeth was a wash-out, despite my liking for the actors. The other week a friend lent me her copy of Hamlet on VHS. It's Branagh again. I've watched an hour so far, and three hours remain. I'm quite enjoying it. Admittedly, part of that enjoyment is remarking with pleasure on Jack Lemmon being in it, and looking forward to Charlton Heston appearing at some point, but let us seize any sign of pleasure as grounds for rejoicing. As was the case with Macbeth, there are actors I like, but in this instance I was not subjected to the play in school. As is always the case, the language is intermittently nonsensical. The Daily Telegraph was very caustic some time ago about a plan to revise Shakespeare into more contemporary language. I do not share their immediate dismissal of such a scheme. How many of us have read The Iliad from cover to cover in Greek, The Aeneid in Latin all the way through, and so on, and so on. One can pretend that Shakespeare's speech is always intelligible, but it is hollow lie. "The play's the thing" might be a motto to deliberately misapply here. Hook the children with a translation before they are compelled to read the unreadable.

Having said that, am I not now guilty of trying to foist some awful tripe on children even though I had it bad in my day? It's a tricky question. My English teachers generally loved the texts they taught. I cannot claim that of my first-year English teacher, as all we had was Kpo the Leopard, The Red Pony and Walkabout, which probably did not excite the chap terribly. Then again, he was very contemptuous of Watership Down (a childhood favourite of mine), yet managed to restrain any evidence of dislike for the three set texts. But Mr Martin loved Shakespeare. He was honestly baffled by my dislike of Macbeth. Mrs Bell seemed to enjoy Julius Caesar. I forget what Mr Edwards put us through, as all I can recall is him saying "Yarmouth" in a languid way, and that his shirts were - as was said of John Major - tucked into his underpants. No text he taught us has really stuck in my head. Maybe he forced Great Expectations on us?

The point is that they all enjoyed this stuff, yet failed to transmit that joy to me. I don't blame the majority of them for that. My first year English teacher was also my form tutor, and the chap who failed to help out in any way when I was bullied. So I probably associated the subject of English with books that bored me, spelling tests that insulted my knowledge of English (precocious little snot, wasn't I? Why ever was I bullied? :-D), and so on. It's a hard thing to transmit enthusiasm to a student who doesn't want to be there. One of my contemporaries, N, studied Hamlet at A-level, and has nowhere near so many bad opinions of the Bard's work as I do. A friend at school confided in me, when I said I was studying Julius Caesar, that she had felt it was a pretty poor example of Bill's work.

Maybe we're getting to the nub of the question here. Everyone agrees that Shakespeare is not uniform, whether one tends to think he is the bee's knees or one inclines to the feeling that much of his work is that of a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then [should be] heard no more. So we return to the question I asked back at the start. Did Shakespeare make a hash of things? Yes and no, is my prevaricating answer. I don't blame him that others mangle and mess up his work, nor that we don't really speak the same language (I don't hold it against Thucydides, either), but he's no piece of perfection, and some of his stuff is unwatchable. Anthony Trollope is an author my father loves. Mum finds his writing tedious. Dad delights in Jane Austen. I find her forced. DBC Pierre won praise for Vernon God Little some years ago, but many people didn't care for it at all. In short, some of Shakespeare is shabby, and some is still rather good. I still prefer the comic stylings of John McClane in Die Hard and Predator's Dutch to Macbeth's Porter, mind. Anyway, I'm off to watch another few hours of Hamlet - or die trying! :-D

Monday 28 November 2011

Gaudete! Two tanks on the production line!

Mum's kindly provided me with her unused -900 EeePC, so I am now back.
I have not been idle in my enforced absence. I have been working on designs for a pair of count-as-Russ for a mate in distant foreign parts. The brief was to produce something similar to the very fine Bearcat of Leonas. I am constrained by having no wheels, but my mate intends to source some and some tracks, so that's no bother. Here's the progress so far. I carved some sides out of 2mm plasticard, rounded some corners, and secured some of the old Russ track-guards to them, and glued some Lego in the middle for bracing and as a guide for later construction. I then set to work on the top parts. I bore in mind a few things here. My vehicle width would be constrained by Lego sizes. 6 blocks' width translates to c.47.5mm, so I cut my 0.5mm plasticard to a width of 48mm. I'd planned out the engine deck and driver/hull-gunner's positions already, and I knew I would tailor the angles to available Lego pieces.

This means that I can make two vehicles quickly to pretty much the same plan. I also wanted to use two spare Space Marine Predator turret rings (one has vanished in the last two days, so needs to be unearthed). I've not finally decided on the shape of the turrets, but I have settled on the size of the rings that will connect them to the hull. All this uniformity and the accompanying photos also gives my mate the option of recreating this design himself, should he decide to expand his fleet of AFVs some day. As The Beatles probably sang, "All you need is Lego!" And plasticard. And glue. And knives, files, er. On to the pictures.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Superheavy Promethium Truck

Vehicle: Clymene-class Fuel Hauler
Points Cost: 250
Type: Super-heavy tank
Structure Points: 2
BS: 3
AV: 12/12/10
Weapons and Equipment: Hull-mounted Heavy Flamer or Heavy Bolter, pintle-mounted Heavy Bolter or Heavy Flamer
Options: The Clymene is not a front-line vehicle, and so may not be given a Hunter-Killer Missile, pintle-mounted Heavy Stubber/Storm-bolter. Nor does it come with a searchlight or smoke launchers. It may be equipped with a Dozer-blade for 10 points and Camo-Netting for 20 points.
Special Rules:
i) The Promethium fuel carried by the Clymene is highly volatile. In the event of the destruction of the vehicle, refer to the Catastrophic Damage table on p.93 of the Apocalypse rulebook, and add 3 to the die result. Therefore, a roll of 1 or 2 will result in an Explosion, and a result of 3+ will result in an Apocalyptic Explosion.
ii) The Clymene is employed by the most farsighted generals of the Imperium, utilising to their utmost the resources of the Munitorum. Her presence indicates a very well-supplied army, and permits the following. A player fielding such a vehicle may choose to purchase an upgrade to the speed of his vehicles for the first turn. This represents the wealth of fuel which the Clyemene and her sisters have made available to the army. For a cost of 5 points for a Sentinel or similar, 10 points for a Chimera, Russ or similar, and 20 points for a superheavy vehicle, the following option is gained. Any vehicle that has paid the appropriate cost may move an additional D6" in the first turn only. This applies only to the first turn of the battle, and not to the first turn on which the vehicle moves (otherwise the book-keeping would be horrible!).

Clymene (her name means famous woman), those of you with a classical bent may know, was the mother of Prometheus (foresight). That is to say, Clymene bore Prometheus. My friend had suggested Epimetheus (hindsight), which is a vehicle which will make an appearance at some future date. I shall add pictures as soon as I can get to the other PC. On that note, I'm going to do my best to acquire a new laptop in short order. Until next time, dear readers!

The pictures, belated but here now. I have decided to go with a wet look for the vehicle, as though it is covered with the rain which has so mushed up the landscape. The grey gaps behind the tracks are a bit annoying, but are out of sight most of the time. I'll have to get some black spray for dealing with those areas next time.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Superfuelled Painting

 Right, let's see. I'll take you through this step by step. First, I undercoated the super with Halford's Grey primer. Then I hit the vehicle with a coat of Lada Green. Quite why Lada should have chosen a colour more evocative of military endeavour than civilian life is a topic I shall leave to historians of the USSR. Next I applied a coat of varnish, as transfers sit more easily on such a smooth surface. Unstoppably came on the transfers, helped by a generous application of a solvent (Minisol, perhaps) designed specifically to break them down a little, to weaken them, and make them happier to sit on even a rough or uneven surface. I designated the vehicle B1C, showing it to be vehicle C of the 1st company of Regiment B of SFOR (the Supply FORce). I stuck on a few eagles, hazard signs and wee bits of text to add colour. The fuel tank itself is an S90 type, er, obviously, and its factory serial number is T123647. In a word, I had a wealth of transfers to choose from, and knew this vehicle would be unique. So I chose to go wild and give it stuff from all sorts of kits. SFOR is from an AS90 kit, the serial number's from some WWII vehicle kit, B1C from another, and so on.

Having applied the transfers, I took a few comparison shots with a Chimera-sized vehicle I had to hand (which needs a good clean-up, if not redoing completely, I agree) and a Cadian officer. Having done so, I decided to try my hand at a technique I have seen in some modelling works. One applies streaks of oil paints, then brushes turpentine over the top until the streaks are invisible (I notice I haven't been wholly effective in the second picture). I then did some work on the weaponry and applied rust to the body of the vehicle. I knocked up a mud mixture from black paint, Burnt Umber paint, PVA glue, sand and some Polyfilla-style powder and some "leaves" courtesy of Antenociti. Having applied this to the tracks, I took the vehicle off to dry. I'm lucky to have access to a place I can dry the vehicle quite quickly, so I was able to apply another coat half an hour later. Finding I still had a lot of "mud" left over, I decided to knock up a base for the vehicle. Having again allowed all this to dry, I applied a gloss varnish to both, and am currently in the throes of deciding whether to leave the vehicle gloss-varnished, to suggest it is caught in a rainshower amid all the mud or to matte-varnish the parts of the vehicle not tarnished by mud. Behold the pictures. The final update should come on Monday, dear readers.

Thursday 17 November 2011

Duck! Duck! Argh! Told you twice!

Beloved reader, I introduce you now to one of my daily pastimes. Back in 2009 we started getting ducks ambling into our garden. One mother duck brought her children to eat from our yard (small birds having knocked grains to the ground). We fed her and her ducklings, because ducklings are simply adorable. Because this led them to come back time and again, I wrote at the time that I wouldn't be doing that again! It's late 2011 now, and we regularly have twenty or thirty ducks (two days ago we had about thirty-seven, yesterday morning it was thirty-one) descending on us for peanuts and bird-food. They were shy initially, but they're developing a sense of entitlement, the rotters. ;-)

They sit in the yard, outside my window, quacking, letting me know they have arrived and that food must be brought by their servants at once! They are rather adorable. Below you'll see a large female we haven't ever identified, lots of regular mallards and females, and a female white duck with a few marked offspring, the result of union with a mallard, we believe. The large female and the little white duck had male companions of their own type, but boys will be boys, and the poor dears seem to have recklessly got themselves eaten over the years. I hope you enjoy these pictures.

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