Saturday, February 17, 2024

Silly After Action Report - Rebels Roost

"All I'm saying is that I don't want to be here.  When the sergeant called for volunteers I thought he said "a career move".  The soldier stopped fiddling with the recoilless rifle for a moment and peered down the barrel as if hoping to find a transfer order inside.

"Technically he wasn't lying," replied another scraping rust off a bazooka, "Where the hell did they get this stuff?  Army surplus?  Hey what did you do with all of the white phosphorous rounds?  The captain wanted those up with the tanks and the mortars by dawn."

"Do you know how heavy those things are?  I dumped them in a creek, who's gonna miss them?"   

I don't play Korean War scenarios very often.  I haven't bought the module and don't know the rules.  The reason for that is simple.  Having spent thirty years learning (or, more accurately, not learning) the rules of ASL I find myself disinclined to attempt to learn any more.  Possibly as a reaction to this aggressive laziness my regular opponent Dave has produced one Korean War scenario after another.

"This one doesn't have too many extra rules," he'll whisper seductively while flaunting a brand new sheet of cardstock designed to entice.  Finally he sent me a batch of about a dozen scenarios so with a deep sigh I surrendered to the inevitable.  We played RPT 143 - Rebel's Roost which sees a force of rather brittle Americans backed up by some wholly inadequate tanks attempting to push tough North Koreans off a hilltop.  For my sins I would command the Americans.  

To win the Americans have to clear levels 2&3 of good order North Korean MMCs.  It must be admitted that I have a decently sized force.  I have thirteen first line squads, a pair of elite 667s and two 546 second liners making up the numbers.  These are equipped with two medium machine guns, three light machine guns, a pair of 60mm mortars, three 1945 vintage bazookas and a 57mm recoilless rifle.  Four officers spearheaded by a doughty 9-2 are in command and four M-24 Chaffee tanks are present in support.  The devil is in the details, these six (with two exceptions) morale troops have an ELR of only two.  I wondered how many first line squads I would have left at the end of the game.

Dave commanding the North Koreans had twelve squads, three elite and the remainder first line.  They are commanded by a trio of leaders one of which Dave swapped out for a 10-0 commissar.  They have two light machine guns and a back breakingly heavy medium which they must have got at a Soviet garage sale.  Supporting this none too shabby force are a pair of T34-85 tanks and a 82mm mortar which threatened to make my approach to the hill a death zone.  He is also allocated six foxholes to hide in as the Americans spray their firepower around.

Here is the set up.  Dave's two tanks are on the level 3 hills.  Foolishly I thought the mortar would be there too

I made a bad mistake with my initial set up.  I set up my 9-2 officer with the two mmgs to act as a firebase, fair enough but I allocated both my elite squads to machine gun duties.  I should have deployed a first liner or even a second liner and and had each gun manned by a halfsquad.  This didn't look like an issue at the start but would come back to bite me later as I tried to make my final push and found myself short of bodies.

Dave's tanks are formidable, their guns can rip through anything I possess and their armour is pretty resilient against the sort of firepower I can bring against it.  Being unable to effectively destroy them on the first turn my aim was to shroud them in as much smoke (WP actually) as I could.  WP turned out to be a little less available than I had hoped nevertheless by firing off both mortars and the MA of all four tanks I managed to drop two WP rounds (my last) onto his tanks.  The attack could begin. 

Begin the attack did with my infantry sweeping across the valley towards his position.  I then discovered his mortar was absolutely not where I expected it to be.  My infantry charged enthusiastically into its line of sight.  With a cackle of malice Dave opened fire and broke the mortar.  The very next turn he destroyed it attempting a repair.  Luck it would appear was showering down on me.

At the end of American turn one things look good.  The hill awaits and his fearsome mortar is gone

In Dave's turn something showered down on me but it wasn't luck.  Some people might attempt to move their T-34s out of the billowing clouds of chemical laced smoke that enveloped them.  Dave sneered at such pessimists.  One of his T-34s fired out of WP at a range of 17 hexes, buttoned up with red to hit numbers.  He hit and burned one of my Chaffees before it could move.  Then he did it again, at least this one didn't burn.  My armour force had been halved in the first turn.  I raved and wept for forms sake but frankly I had been somewhat unsure of what to do with these vehicles now that they had fired off their WP and at least the decisions I had to make had been somewhat reduced.  

In my turn the remaining two tanks attempted to flee the hill, Dave caught and burnt a third and the sole survivor fled for the safety of a patch of woods where it remained trembling and trying to recover its equilibrium.  Meanwhile Dave proved that his tanks were perfectly capable of firing out of WP and hitting infantry as well which messed up my left flank a bit.

The armour battle such as it was is over but my troops have reached the hill

Despite the burning metal my infantry (with a few exceptions) had made it on to the hill and now had nothing but brush to protect them from blood crazed T-34s.  Dave's infantry for the most part huddled in their foxholes or attempted to dig more.  My mmg firegroup was doing sterling work shooting his troops out of the nearest foxhole unfortunately they simply fled back to the 10-0 commisar hiding behind the ridge who automatically rallied them.  I think I broke the same squad about four times.

With the American armour dealt with Dave moved his tanks forward slightly to menace what was obviously my main attack on the right.  Some defensive fire produced an American hero who would turn out to be Rambo on steroids (OK, Rambo on more steroids).  One T-34 still lurked in the remaining WP but the other rolled out onto the hill to menace the infantry.  

Tanks are coming out to play

I needed to get rid of the tanks and strangely I had a plan (for a given definition of "plan") and even more strangely it sort of worked (for a given definition of "worked").  I boldly moved a squad with a bazooka towards his tank still shrouded in WP, of course its defensive fire sent my boys back in bloody ruin but that was just a ruse as another squad guided by my hero moved next to them.  In the advance phase they would move in and rip the thing apart in CC.  Meanwhile I moved other troops forward to "menace" the tank in the open.  With Dave's attention nicely engaged I sent my remaining Chaffee on a death ride which resulted in it screeching to a halt a few hexes away from the rear of his T34 whereupon Dave slewed the entire tank around, rolled the necessary three to hit and killed the Chaffee before it could fire a shot.  At that point my conversation was reduced to incoherent gibbering.  Dave didn't seem to notice.

Tank killing plan partially successful

Over on the left a maniacal rate tear on the part of one of my mortars had broken the squad he had in a foxhole on level 2 and I slipped forward to occupy that to discourage a return.  I had now reached Dave's main position, hidden behind the level three hill hexes.  Here his best officer (except that damn commissar) commanded a mmg and elite squad in a foxhole with another squad nearby to act as protection.  My close combat victory had resulted in a squad and a hero standing on top of the hill staring directly down at his main defensive position.  The WP had now drifted away and a whole bunch of North Koreans took the opportunity to pour fire at them.  The squad broke of course but the hero shrugged off all fire and was still doing so when the game came to an end causing Dave no end of frustration.

But what about my tank killing plan which seemed to have faltered halfway through?  Well one of my soldiers blew the cobwebs off an old bazooka and nailed the remaining T34 through the frontal armour with a kill roll that was almost Dave-esque in its improbability.  Suddenly Dave's armour was gone.  It remained to be seen if I could capitalise. 

The North Korean armour is gone but there are a disturbing number of broken US squads

Yes, Dave's armour was gone and the remainder of his position was at my mercy, so to speak.  Another way of putting it was Dave's troops were in a perfect position to spray the poor morale Americans with fire if they dared advance.  For fire support I had two 60mm mortars and it has to be admitted that they did their best.  Spectacular rate tears were the order of the day as they impotently but frequently pounded his position.  Results were a little thinner on the ground but they certainly kept Dave on the edge of his seat.

I took advantage of the newly provided cover (a wrecked T34) to insert a squad and leader into his forward foxhole on the right.  My hero still ruled the hill.  I had hoped that the foxhole might protect my guys against the inevitable fire to come.  I was wrong and the next couple of turns would involve various American squads advancing into that foxhole and being shot out of it in the next firephase.  I was breaking his squads in the rear but they just stepped back one hex, got rallied by the commissar and rejoined the fray.

Up until this point our snipers hadn't taken any part in proceedings but Dave's now stepped up and put a bullet through the shoulder of my 9-2.  This was disheartening but not terribly serious, he was still effectively an 8-1 and three movement points don't matter when you're not going anywhere.

Tank wrecks litter the battlefield but Dave clings on to the remaining level 2 hill hexes

I tried to spread out my forces on the right so that a lucky shot wouldn't obliterate a large chunk of my force.  On the left where my "force" had been reduced to a squad and a half they simply prayed and hoped that the mortar would remove the opposition in front of them.  At this point I remembered the recoilless rifle that had been dutifully hauled around by a squad for much of the game.  Through sheer good luck this piece managed to drop a WP round on his mmg position thus at least hampering his efforts to shoot out of it.  My own sniper then targeted his 9-1 leader and wounded him in a tit for tat exchange to avenge my own wounded officer.

Things don't seem to have changed materially since the last picture

At this point I realised another mistake I had made early on.  Having held back my best leader to command the firegroup I had naturally sent all of my other officers forward to lead the attack.  What this meant was that there was nobody to rally the now quite numerous broken units piling up in between.  Of course when you have a broken morale of eight you can expect to self rally quite a few.  Or at least a few.  Or at least one or two.  One or two did indeed self rally but I felt the absence of a leader to rally the rest.  Particularly since Dave's commissar "encouraged" any broken troops back into the battle within a turn (and only killed one halfsquad along the way).  I made a comment about how I intended my mortars to shoot my troops forward and promptly broke one of them.  Karma is not just a bitch, she's a bitch with a sick sense of humour.

Things still don't seem to have changed much with the exception of a broken mortar and more American squads down

Time was starting to run out and I hadn't made any appreciable progress towards driving the rest of Dave's force off the hill.  I managed to break his elite squad manning the mmg and thought my time had come.  I then inflicted a morale check on a first line unit which promptly battle hardened into an elite squad and remanned the machine gun.  Each time I attempted to push forward those squads would break leaving me in much the same position as before but with fewer squads.  Thanks to the attentions of his commissar Dave actually wound up with more unbroken squads than I had.  

With my troops unable to cross the last hundred metres or so I gave the concession with one turn to go.  I had come close but not quite close enough.  Congratulations to Dave who stuck to a well thought out defensive plan even when it looked like things weren't going his way.  Korean War or not both Dave and I thought this was an excellent scenario with lots of fun for both players.

Two American soldiers hiding behind a tree peered out as the sounds of battle faded.

"Do you think its over?" asked one.

"One way or another," replied the other, "are you regretting dumping those WP rounds?"

"I've thought long and hard about it and the answer is no."

"What are you going to say if the captain asks?"

"The last time I saw the captain he was hiding under a bush trying to dig his way back to the States."

"That'll save Graves Registration some time."

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Travelling Pathetically - Spit Edition

 OK, so I couldn't resist that title but for the more delicate of sensitivity among you permit me to assure you that it merely relates to the Spit Bridge, the starting point for this little stroll.  Having made my way (in widely spaced stages) from the Spit Bridge back to Milsons Point I decided to complete the efffort by walking from the Spit Bridge to Manly.  As is usual when I have these bright ideas I managed to undertake it on a day when it was blazing hot but I prefer sunshine to rain particularly given my propensity for walking down creek beds and river valleys.

This was hardly striking out into the great unknown, the Spit to Manly walk is an established feature on the hiking and tourist trail and for the most part the path was only marginally less difficult than walking on a treadmill.  I pottered across the Spit Bridge and down a flight of stairs on the other side.  On the way a gave a polite greeting to a couple of guys coming the other way.  This would become a rather tedious routine.

Ducking under the Spit Bridge to start my walk

My previous walk involved a lot of walking around headlands and so will this one so as you can see originality isn't one of my besetting sins.  A couple of minutes quick walk across a neatly trimmed reserve and I was ready to plunge into the wild bushland.

Hopefully I can force my way along this narrow and overgrown track

Despite the suspiciously good condition of the track I was surrounded by greenery which took the edge off a day that was both cloudy and oppressively humid.  The path led along the water's edge (everything else being covered in suburbs) so picturesque views of the harbour or at least small parts of it were frequently dangled for my entertainment.

A small part of Sydney Harbour dangled for my entertainment

Bush and sandstone flanked my left with the harbour on my right.  You really can't avoid sandstone in Sydney unless you walk around with your eyes shut.  Despite the opinion of those who know me I don't actually do that, often.  I walked through what would be coastal forest if it extended a little further.  I was heading towards Clontarf beach.  Not that I was interested in Clontarf beach, it was just in my way.

Coastal rainforest in miniature

If you've been reading this blog for a while you're probably sick to death of lizards by now.  Not me, I will never get sick of lizards and certainly not while they're posing obligingly for photos directly in front of me.

Lizard!! 

Don't worry, there will be more lizard shots later

Having obliging photographed a frankly shamelessly self promoting lizard I moved on.  It is said that if you find a lizard in your house it symbolises something new in your life such as, for example, an unexpected reptilian house guest.  I've no idea what it means if a lizard finds a human in its house although based on my experiences with this one it means photo opportunities and the possibility of becoming the world's first reptilian influencer.

The lizard had wisely picked a sunny rock on which to expose itself but once past it the trees closed in again hemming me to the shoreline.  Small rivulets trickled down sandstone outcrops and trees fought each other for shade provision duties.  I was grateful because the earlier clouds had given up and gone home leaving the sun in undisputed possession of the field.

This is probably within spitting distance of some very expensive real estate

Little did I know it but my time in the cool forest was coming to an end.  The path I was following had taken me around Shell Cove and now deposited me on a street next to Clontarf beack.  The beach and the park attached absolutely heaved with people despite, well I'll let the photo say it for me.

Enjoy your day at the beach guys.

My usual disinclination towards crowds of people wasn't exactly helped by the prospect that they had spent much of the day splashing around in sewage.  I hastily made my way through the park and hit the track on the other side.

Here a distinct change in vegetation greeted me.  Whereas the first part of my walk had been through cool semi rainforest type surrounds now I was climbing rugged terrain (there were steps) and the surrounding bush was of a hardier, scrubbier variety.  It also provided less protection from the sun.  Having successfully navigated Clontarf Beach I was now walking around or at least in the general vicinity of Dobroyd Head.  

Spindly trees and bushes with teeth would become more prevalent from now on

Now considerably above the waterline I traipsed across Dobroyd Head, I was now walking through endangered heath land which I had encountered before at North Head.  As with North Head the local authorities had laid down a raised walking path so we didn't sully the earth with the touch of our boots.  The area had a somewhat charred look due to some fires last year apparently but there was plenty of green among the black although undergrowth was still a little lacking.

The sound of birdsong drew me towards a bush by the side of the path.  I stared for a while, there was a round sort of leafy, twiggy thing.  Could this be a bird nest?  I peered closer and a bird flew out and almost hit me in the face.  I stumbled back reflecting in my panic that "killed after an encounter with a finch" would be an embarrassing thing to put on one's obituary.  Fortunately I recovered before I tumbled the eighteen inches or so to the heathland below.

A bird nest, I know this because a bird flew out of it

Gasping after my brush with death I stumbled on in a daze.  Tourists were becoming more and more prevalent.  In fact they were all over the damned place.  I gave a gritted smile and polite greetings to those I passed and as a consequence probably engaged in more conversation than I had all week.  I passed one large group of tourists with the obligatory greetings but then headed down a side path to see some Aboriginal rock carvings.  As a result when I returned to the main path I had to go through all the greetings a second time when I passed them again.  I don't want you to think I'm in any way misanthropic I'm as fond of my fellow human as the next man, as long as the next man is my Father, its just that I rather like wandering alone and this was turning into something akin to a social event.  On the other hand given the views one could hardly blame them.

Aforementioned views

As I went along muttering anti tourist curses under my breath the landscape changed from "somewhat charred" to "distinctly charred".  Ashy soil was more in evidence than undergrowth and the surviving vegetation still had a rather shellshocked appearance.

Distinctly charred

I was actually heading towards somewhat familiar territory.  On the other side of Dobroyd Head was Balgowlah Heights and Forty Baskets Beach a place where I lived briefly in a youth that was not so much misspent as simply spent.  Winding my way down towards the waterline again I obviously passed the bushfire zone and entered lusher, wetter climes more akin to the vegetation I'd encountered at the beginning of my walk.  Once again I encountered a gaggle of tourists but this time I really couldn't blame them for gathering because a lizard was proudly posing on a bridge over a small creek and was surrounded by eager photographers.

Doing its best Smaug impersonation

Despite the writing on the bridge on the left I've no idea if this is an Eastern Water Dragon but I checked wikipedia and the colouring seems to match.  Let's face it, David Attenborough I am not.

This is a completely different lizard I encountered a little further along




Glutted on lizards I made my way through the reserve that surrounds Forty Baskets Beach and then along the shoreline itself for a while.  That wasn't my choice, the track ended at the shoreline with a distinct hint that surely I could find my own way for a little while before picking up the track again at the other end.

Aforementioned shoreline

And for no reason at all, a pelican

That was the end of the bush part of the bushwalk.  Ahead of me lay a kilometre or two of walking through well sculpted shoreline parks until finally I reached my destination.  The most common sight along that last stretch were signs everywhere telling people to keep their dogs on a lead to help protect the penguins.  I looked quite closely but I didn't see a single penguin.  I suppose it's possible the last one was savaged to death by a dog yesterday.  Once I arrived in Manly there was nothing else to do except buy coffee and catch a ferry home.  I could have joined friends who were apparently in a bar about a hundred metres from where I turned up but I didn't find that out until I got home by at which point I wasn't going to turn around and go back.

Monday, January 29, 2024

A Wretched Cavalcade of Failure and Despair

 It occurs to me that the above could be the title of my autobiography but I have set my sights somewhat more narrowly in order to give a brief account of my performance at CanCon this year.  I use the term performance in much the same way as a drunken mother in law's behaviour at a family barbecue is referred to as a "performance".  

I rolled out of bed on the Friday when those parts of our nation that are so inclined celebrate it's existence.  Here I reacquainted myself with a couple of friends who had been selected, by me, to drive me to and from the venue this year.  After a quick breakfast consisting largely of protein and carbohydrates (definitely not the breakfast of champions in my case) we headed to the EPIC Centre which hosts the gaming convention which is where our modest little tournament is played out.

Yangtze Doodle

After some perfunctory greetings we sat down to do battle.  I was introduced to each of my opponents over the course of three days but their names all blended into an incoherent symphony of misery so I shall just say that first up I played some guy.  The first scenario was Yangtze Doodle which pitted a group of culturally offended Chinese against a bunch of Japanese invaders.  Some Chinese set up in a village while a group of Japanese try to drive them out.  Another group of Japanese set up in a different village while some other Chinese try and drive them out.  In the middle of this military push me pull you is a bridge, for some reason the shining beacon that both sides are prepared to spill blood to obtain.  I had the Chinese.

My troops in the village awaited the oncoming Japanese while the Japanese in the village awaited my oncoming Chinese.  By the end of the first turn three quarters of my village garrison were dead or irretrievably broken thanks to my inability to roll less than ten on a morale check.  That was pretty much the end of the game.  I did indeed fight my way into the other village but his other force pretty much unopposed wandered up to the bridge and had a picnic while my troops poured out their blood for a few houses.

The Badger's Breath

In this one I commanded a group of Canadians in late war western Europe.  They were attempting to prevent the escape of a fleeing group of German paratroopers.  The Germans are well gunned up with a trio of StuGs and some weird arse antiaircraft gun mounted on a Czech tank chassis but they could be no match for my elite Canadians with a carrier, a Sherman, a mortar and a Sherman Firefly, definitely the queen of this particular battlefield.  Although style points have to go to my Badger.  The Badger was a variant of the Ram Kangaroo which was itself a variant of the Ram tank which was itself developed on the hull of the American M3.  Suffice it to say it was a tank chassis with a monstrous flamethrower attached.

The Germans had to attack across a valley and the quickest way to reach said valley was over a ridge.  I set up my mortar and the Sherman to cover the ridge while my Firefly guarded the flank and the Badger lurked behind the trees at the Canadian end of the valley to fry those who approached.  My opponent, some other guy, played right into my hands.  His StuGs crested the ridge and parked in my line of sight while his infantry plowed forward under the watchful gaze of my mortar crew.  It was now that I learned something about my supposedly elite Canadians; they couldn't hit the side of a barn from inside the barn.  Having failed all my defensive fire shots and then all of my subsequent prep fire shots I had to watch as his StuGs required just one shot to kill my Sherman and disperse the troops manning the mortar.  Utterly unopposed his troops and StuGs raced across the valley to where my Badger and remaining troops waited in horror.

It wasn't all bad news, the Badger fried a squad and a half of German troops so thoroughly they became air pollution and my Firefly killed a StuG and the AA tank as well as taking out a couple of infantry squads.  Unfortunately the smoke from the burning vehicles provided enough cover for the rest of his forces to get through.  This game was at least hard fought but I lost it in the final turn.

Backstabbing Paratroopers

With nothing but misery in my first days gaming I mustered my personal resources and resolved to do better the next day.   The next day saw me pitted against a different guy playing Backstabbing Paratroopers which saw a (not very large) collection of Soviet paratroopers and partisans trying to prevent a somewhat larger group of Germans from capturing some village buildings.  I had a board to defend whereas the Germans could pick their spot and throw their entire force against it.  Pick their spot the Germans did.  I was actually quite pleased with my performance in this one as my troops retreated under far heavier firepower and managed to hold the Germans off for quite some time.  Not as it turned out long enough however and my opponent grabbed the required buildings in the final turn.

Blackjack is Back

OK, I do remember my opponent in this one because it was Richard Weilly who is a frequent opponent.  It's early 1945, snow covers the ground and any sensible German is learning English and trying to pretend they've never heard of the Russian front.  For my sins I commanded some of the Germans yet to get the memo.  My force was, shall we say, mixed with some hotshot 658 SS squads and some deeply suspect 447 SS squads making up the numbers.  Yet another StuG graced my OB as did two Panthers which surprised me by surviving the battle.  Rich had the Americans with a pair of gyro stabilised Shermans, a couple of other Shermans and an M26 Pershing, truly the Panther's equal if not its superior.  Backing up this plethora of armour was a host of elite infantry looking to push their way through a rather tatty German defence.

For a while I was hopeful in this one as Richard's dice did to him what mine had done to me in earlier scenarios.  He got no smoke, couldn't pass a morale check and only by being very reticent with his tanks did his armour survive the first couple of turns.  Eventually of course the dice evened out and I hadn't really been able to inflict sufficient (read, any) casualties on him.  Slowed but not stopped Richard deployed massive firepower to gradually crush my troops and inch forward.  Despite the presence of all the tanks their contribution was rather muted, a silly move cost me my StuG and Richard dropped a Sherman into the cellar of a building he drove in to but for the most part the tanks acted as fleets in being, preventing the other from interfering.  With my infantry shot to pieces with very little by way of reply Richard was able to swarm down one side of the board to victory.

I Have No Idea What I Played on Sunday

By this time my brain was so lacerated with defeat that I could have been playing monopoly.  The scenario was one of the ones that used the Sparrow Force map and pitted Australian's against Japanese in Timor.  Here's a tip, if you want to win a scenario don't play the scenario designer.  I took the Australians in this one and advanced boldly forward hampered only by the predilection of my elite and first line troops to flee for the rear if the Japanese so much as shouted "Bang!" near them.  By halfway through I was ready to concede but my opponent, tournament organiser and scenario designer Andy Rogers persuaded me to continue.  Blinking away tears I did so.  Things did even up and I swept through capturing all but one of the buildings I needed but too much time had been lost and the final turn saw a desperate charge through the open to try and capture the final required building.  It was messy, the ground turned red.

After this final humility lesson I slunk off by myself until it was time to leave.  It was a profoundly depressing experience leavened only by good company, enjoyable meals and a pleasant ride home.  OK, I guess it wasn't too bad really.  Also Lake George had water in it which is always worth seeing.  Andy organised a great tournament and did an excellent job of herding the collection of cats he had been foisted with.  As for me, ordinarily I would be playing Dave Wilson my usual opponent on Monday night but by mutual agreement we put it off for a week.  Dave so he could get some rest and me so I could find a reason to live.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Travelling Wearily

 “I need to leave at a decent time this evening,” I announced to my work colleagues flaunting an economy class ticket on one of our shabbier domestic airlines (which, to be fair is all of them).  I waited for the gasps of envy but strangely they didn’t come.  Nevertheless by dint of hard work and a collaborative team effort (I let everyone else do the work) I managed to slip the corporate chains and flee my office in plenty of time for my flight.


Which is probably why the airline waited until I had actually arrived at the airport before cheerfully informing me that my flight would be an hour and a half late.  Assuming it turned up at all.  With suddenly far too much time on my hands I looked around for something to do.  Ten seconds later I gave up.  I have in the past been, shall we say, a gnats critical of Sydney’s international terminal but I realise I was wrong.  It is a glittering beacon of excitement and hope by comparison with its low rent domestic cousin.

If the international terminal is like a badly lit shopping mall (it is) then the domestic terminal is like a badly lit DFO which has fifty thousand items that no one on god’s earth would ever want piled haphazardly all over the floor but ran out of the one thing you wanted half an hour ago.

I dined on something spectacularly overpriced.  I’m not entirely sure what it was but I think it had bacon in it.  That’s a pretty safe bet, most of the things I eat have bacon in them even, occasionally, the cereal.  After what for want of a better term I shall call dinner I found a bar where in return for spending half my disposable cash on a glass of wine I was permitted to sit and watch the tennis. Aryna Sabalenka was playing Coco Gauff and with the exception of the tennis racquets it bore a remarkable similarity to certain dreams I have.  The grunting, screaming, sweating and low level cursing in Belarusian were all familiar at any rate.

Having enjoyed the “tennis” for a while I headed off to find my departure gate.  The corridor narrowed as I walked along, the lights flickered, the brushed concrete changed to exposed brick and when I saw my first skeleton chained to a wall I knew I was getting close.  Eventually I arrived at what appeared to be a run down cow shed.  It was attached to the terminal but one got the impression that this was only because the terminal couldn’t get up and walk away.  I swear there were goats grazing outside.

Here I waited until a bus pulled up.  A couple of dozen passengers including me hesitated for a moment not daring to hope that the time had finally come.  Eventually the sole airline employee present informed us that if we wanted to get on the plane then getting the bus was an essential first step.

The bus swept us past rows of large planes.  Then it swept us past a bunch of smaller planes.  Finally it pulled up beside the powered metal tube that would take us to Canberra.  I could tell right away why the flight was delayed, they were waiting for the Airfix glue to dry.  If you stuck wings on our bus you would have a larger and more plausible aircraft.  Still we were here now and the driver seemed disinclined to let us stay on the bus so with varying degrees of reluctance we boarded our petite princess of the sky.

I had gained a window seat in return for indicating my readiness to help in an emergency by pushing out the emergency exit I was sitting next to.  I didn’t realise said exit weighed over ten kilograms and that I was effectively being asked to tear off a chunk of the plane and hurl it into the night while terror stricken passengers trampled me to mush in their frantic attempts to preserve their worthless lives for a few more seconds by throwing themselves bodily through the hole I had just created.

The flight attendant shambled his way through a safety announcement while apologising and pointing out he was very tired and should have been off duty two hours ago.   I hope the same couldn’t be said for the pilot.  Eventually they wound up the elastic and the plane trundled towards the runway only twenty minutes late.  That is twenty minutes later than the hour and a half it was already late.

Ten minutes later we were still trundling towards the runway and I started to suspect the pilot was going to drive us to Canberra.  The flight attendant explained between yawns that there was a build up of flights trying to land and we had to wait for space on the runway.  I’m not sure why, a decently sized slingshot could have launched this plane into the sky.  Eventually a narrow window appeared and we made a mad dash for the runway before anyone else could land on it.  I doubt if we used a tenth of the runway before our little plane was airborne and rattling towards Canberra.  The flight attendant shambled around with a bottle of water and some random cookies.  These were labelled refreshments but could well have been the remnants of his packed lunch.  He forgot what one of the types of cookies was despite only having a choice of two.

As we neared Canberra we hit some turbulence which would probably have gone unnoticed on a 747 but which made our aerial steed plunge like a bronco.  I gazed at the emergency exit and wondered if I should get a head start on the plane dismantling.  I underestimated our narrow tube’s toughness however and it erupted out the other side of the turbulence and plonked us on the ground at Canberra with nary a bruise.  I patted the aeroplane on the fuselage on my way out and told it I had always had faith in it.  It called me a liar and threatened legal action for sexual harassment.  Next time I take the train.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

A Date With Destiny

The time is almost upon me.  The time when I gird my loins and square my shoulders, or possibly square my loins and gird my shoulders, and head for the centralised collection of Work for the Dole programs that is our national capital.  Here I and a select handful like me will meet amongst a horde of crazed hobbyists, crazed role players and the just generally crazed to participate in a wargaming competition which I'm sure you will all agree is a thoroughly sane way to spend a long weekend.

We will sit in our corner of the convention centre looking out at the great unwashed (and definitely undeodorised) mob and reflect smugly on how different we are from these losers who devote vast amounts of time and money to these childish and trivial entertainments.  Then we'll go back to our war go bang bang game which largely consists of cardboard counters and a rulebook and which none of us has spent less than ten thousand dollars on and counting.

Yes CanCon is upon us again.  The Australia Day (or whatever) long weekend is the signal for me to head in the direction of Canberra in the company of those of my acquaintances who can still tolerate my presence for two and a half days of hard fought competition against Australia's best*.  Actually the number of my acquaintances who can still tolerate my presence is apparently none since I am flying to Canberra alone.  However once there I shall meet up with fellow cardboard molesters Dave Wilson and Mark McGilchrist who between them will be transporting me to the competition venue (they don't know this yet, I like to keep it a surprise).

Traditionally I have done well at this tournament.  I have turned up and frequently got through two or three turns of the game before screaming about how everything is rigged and hurling my dice at the ceiling or, on one or two occasions, my opponent.  I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times concerned fellow gamers have had to coax me in off window ledges as a result of poor play.  Mind you the number of times amused fellow gamers have gathered around shouting "jump, jump, jump" has now reached a level where I can no longer consider it a coincidence.

OK, I haven't done terribly well at this tournament.  I never do terribly well at tournaments because I'm not a particularly good player.  What I have to hope for is some spectacular pieces of dice related good fortune fall my way thus enabling those who deserve victory to be crushed beneath my chariot wheels.  This happened once at a competition I attended in America.  I was matched with a genuinely superb player and the look of absolute outrage on his face as I diced and bullshitted my way to a victory kept me warm for many nights to come. 

Once the dust has settled and the medication has started to take effect I shall of cause give a brief update of the games played and results gained and post it on this blog if only because I'm afraid that the thing is becoming a bushwalking blog by default.  It's useful to remind people that I have two strange hobbies that no sane person would contemplate.  I call that having a balanced personality.  Others refer to it as "suffering from multiple conditions".

*"best" being defined as "those who bothered to turn up"

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Travelling Pathetically - Unfinished Business Edition

 Back in the early mists of time when life was easy and Covid merely a bat sandwich at a Wuhan biological warfare facility I walked around Mosman.  At the time I was intending to walk from the Spit Bridge back along the harbour foreshore and wind up at the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Sadly my less than robust body failed me and after fourteen kilometres of wandering through the hot sun I limped and staggered to a halt while still in Mosman.  It really is quite a large suburb.  Since that time a sense of incompleteness has nagged at me.  It nagged at me so badly that a mere three years later I decided that the time had come to finish this walk and make my way boldly from Mosman to Milsons Point.

In deference to my habit of wandering around random bits of semi-wilderness I had been given a shirt for Christmas specifically designed for hikers.  It apparently whicked away the sweat that was an inevitable consequence of such activity leaving the walker comfortable and ready to proceed.  The shirt was a miracle, it did indeed whick away the sweat and then deposited it on my body giving me the distinct impression that I was walking in a bath.  I am gradually getting if not more professional then at least more professionally equipped.

Starting from Mosman meant getting to Mosman which, since I was walking along the foreshore, meant taking a ferry.  I turned up at Circular Quay to find my noble (and arguably seaworthy) vessel sheltering in the shadow of the CelebrityEDGE.  The CelebrityEDGE is a gargantuan cruise liner whose name manages to be both flatulent and fatuous at the same time.  If I encounter a celebrity edge I'm likely to push them off.

The CelebrityEDGE. Surely there are better ways to spread disease.

We sailed out of the CelebrityEDGE's long shadow and entered the more picturesque parts of the harbour (ie those bits not occupied by the CelebrityEDGE).  It was a pleasant trip to Manly, the sun was shining and the ferry didn't sink.  Soon I was making my way along a harbourside carpark enroute to a walking track that would take me at least part of the way towards Milsons Point.  I took a photo of Mosman Bay for no better reason than it was the starting point of my walk.

Mosman Bay because it was there and didn't move when I photographed it

Behind Mosman Bay Marina is the path that would take me at least to Cremorne Point.  After that there would be a certain amount of making it up as I went along.  The path followed the shoreline because if it did anything else it would bump into peoples houses.  As with my previous walk in Greenwich the "bush" is essentially a fringe between the shore and the nearest place people could build houses.  To my left the land sloped down to the harbour adorned with trees, plants and all of the usual accoutrements of bushland.  To my right aforementioned houses loomed to basically inform the bush that flat land was off limits.

A path through the bush trying hard to pretend there isn't a house 50 metres away

 

It was hardly plunging through the wilderness, the path was sealed for much of the journey but if you looked left instead of right you saw the harbour peeking through the trees and you could imagine yourself in pristine nature.  At least you could if you imagined that pristine nature could nevertheless provide sealed walking paths and periodic signs imploring you to be kind to the little bit of bushland that was left.

If you looked left...

To the right was evidence of what had happened to the remainder of the bush.  Large, handsome homes that were built at a time when wealth was if not synonymous with good taste then at least synonymous with being prepared to hire good taste.

And on the right.

The paucity of the bushland didn't seem to concern its inhabitants however.  I stepped off the path for a moment to investigate a small dirt trail that actually just circled around a tree and came back and encountered a lizard sunning itself.  It was more than happy to pose for photographs.  Incidentally there was no information as to why this particular tree got a path all to itself.  Possibly its there simply to encourage people to take photos of the lizards.

OK, I seem to be developing a lizard fetish

My unnatural lizard urges temporarily sated I plunged on pausing only to take a shot of the Clare McIntyre memorial fungus (well mushroom really) that popped up out of nowhere.  I should really rename this blog "Shooting Lizards and Fungi".

As far as I'm concerned mushrooms, toadstools and fungi are all pretty much the same

The path widened out into a small park with the occasional bench and tree placed for decorative purposes (as opposed to growing because that's simply what they do).  A couple of people disported themselves on the flattish grass and there was a brush turkey wandering around because of course there was.  I'm starting to suspect that there are only two brush turkeys in Sydney and they just keep following me around.

OK Shooting Lizards, Fungi and Brush Turkeys

I was now walking through or at least adjacent to the Lex & Ruby Graham Gardens.  In case you hadn't worked it out the likelihood of a strip of bushland along the shore being left untouched for the last two hundred years is pretty low.  The bush that grows there now is primarily what started growing after we stopped killing everything in sight.  A lot of the escarpment was used in the traditional manner, ie we tossed our rubbish there and generally it looks a lot better now that it probably did a hundred years ago.  Part of the reason for this is Lex & Ruby Graham.  Lex Graham was bathing in the harbour when a bulb floated by.  On a whim he plucked it out of the sea and planted it in a convenient bit of dirt.  To his amazement the thing took root and started to grow.  Inspired, Lex and his wife Ruby started cleaning up the escarpment in the immediate vicinity (thousands of bricks, a washing machine and tons of other crap) and planting other things in the hopes they would follow the bulbs example.  They did and in the process the Grahams transformed what was essentially a rubbish tip into a bit of bushland.  Not likely to be the original plants occupying the area but I think we can agree that any plants are probably an improvement over bricks and a washing machine.  A path leads through the garden down to the shore where there is a small rock pool where Lex was disporting himself when the critical bulb made its appearance.

I took this path myself and got almost to the water's edge but was prevented from getting any further by the back of another individual sitting gazing out at the water.  The reason for his obstructionism became plain when his (wife, partner, former primary school teacher) hauled herself naked from the water.  At that point I got a phone call from my parents because the situation couldn't get any more awkward so why not. At least I was able to concentrate of the phone call while she got dressed and they made their departure.  I ran into them a couple more times over the course of my walk but we didn't stop and reminisce. 

On a slightly more suitable for work note I took a photo of a small but handsome sandstone cliff I passed by on my way to not actually seeing the rock pool.  I made my way along it for a bit but the path petered out so I returned to the more established route.

A small overhang

   
Random garden photo #1


Random garden photo #2

Setting back out along the path I came across Cremorne Reserve, a parklike area (ok, its a park) where all pretense of bushland peters out.  Instead I walked along beside sculpted grass adorned with people picnicking and doing all of the other things people do for recreation at the seaside.  I walked to the end of Cremorne Reserve and with that the walking trail I had been following came to an end.  The remainder of my journey would be suburban with brief intervals where parks had intruded into the wealthy's grasp of the foreshore.

I was essentially doing a point to point.  From Cremorne Point I made my way to Kurraba Point.  Once at Kurraba Point Neutral Bay and Kirribilli Point exercised their siren song on me.  Panting in the heat I stumbled down suburban streets (and frequently up suburban streets when I realised I had been reading the map upside down) snatching rare opportunities to reintroduce myself to the coast line and the occasional piece of well disciplined greenery.

This is either Kurraba or Kirribilli Point, they were all starting to blur together by this stage

I saw Admiralty House which is the Sydney residence of the Governor General and Kirribilli House which is the Sydney residence of the Prime Minister.  Despite these handsome dwellings both are forced to spend a lot of their time in Canberra.  I imagine each of them sitting in their respective offices in our nation's capital staring at photos of Admiralty and Kirribilli Houses and weeping gently to themselves.  I was tempted to take photos but decided I didn't want to explain myself to the AFP so you're going to have to google them like ordinary people.

I did wander down to Kirribilli ferry wharf to take a photo of such of the shoreline as presented itself to me.  Then I wandered away again because there was one more point on my agenda.

The shoreline at Kirribilli.

The harbour bridge had been an increasingly intrusive presence as I headed towards it.  Now I could hardly avoid it because I was walking straight towards it.  Milsons Point my final destination loomed and the bridge showed me the way.

Getting closer

Finally I stumbled into Milsons Point, the shade of the bridge above me.  I gazed across the harbour and got definite confirmation that my journey was over.  Yes, there it was the damned CelebrityEDGE.  A photo of its rear seemed an appropriate bookend to my walk and the sight of it's rear is reassuring because it gives the impression it might be leaving.

Please go away

With a little time before my ferry I wandered around Luna Park (because it was there and so was I).  People were dragging kids around and sweating in the sun pretending they were having a good time.  Or possibly they were having a good time and it was the heat exhaustion making me cynical.  Either way Luna Park has one thing going for it.  You can't see the CelebrityEDGE from there.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Human Semi-Interaction

 I have been trotting around random patches of bush in Sydney for the last few years now.  In between pestering lizards and photographing fungi I occasionally meet other human beings.  No, that's not correct.  In between pestering lizards and photographing fungi I occasionally pass other human beings.  They rarely impact my consciousness for any longer than it takes to step politely out of their way and I'm sure that my own intrusion into their awareness is similarly minimal.

However it occurs to me that it might be helpful to record the types of people that one might encounter on such trips for the information of others.  I do this out of a selfless desire to educate and inform and not at all because after fourteen odd years (and some of them have been very odd) I have completely run out of original ideas for this blog.  Please enjoy the brief anthropological survey below and reflect on the amazing diversity of our species.

Bushwalkers;

Let's get this one out of the way right off the bat.  Of course the bulk of people I encounter are bushwalkers.  After all what else are we all doing here?  Bushwalkers fall into two basic types which I have designated the bushwalker superior and the bushwalker inferior.

The bushwalker superior is a noble beast.  It strides through its domain as if by right.  Boots adorn its feet, a pack rests comfortably upon its back, there is a hat to protect its brain case from the scorching solar rays and in extreme cases a pole is held in each hand officially to aid mobility but in actual fact to assist in brutal dominance battles within the pack.  One glance at this creature is enough to tell you that it probably uses those poles when it walks down to the shops for a bottle of milk.  Sometimes alone, sometimes in a small group these creatures have no love for the bush.  Rather it is a hated rival against which they measure their strength seeking glory and prestige on a battlefield no one but themselves would bother turning up to.

If you encounter these beings in the wild nod politely or mutter a greeting and step respectfully to the side to allow them passage.  They will return your greetings as etiquette demands and your stepping respectfully to the side will impress them with your good manners and minimise the danger of them accidentally sticking a walking pole through your shoe.

The bushwalker inferior is a much less impressive specimen.  I am one of these myself.  We wander aimlessly along bush tracks pausing for photos, accidentally treading on lizards and generally reducing the noble art of bushwalking to a pathetic farce.  The appearance of the bushwalker inferior is a mocking copy of its noble cousin.  Something adorns our feet, they may be boots but they're just as likely to be tennis shoes.  Our water bottles were purchased from a convenience store on the day of the walk because once again we forgot to prepare in advance.  Hiking gear consists largely of clothing slightly too casual to be worn to a wedding.  At best a cap will cover our thinning hair and at worst we stagger along half dead from heat exhaustion.  We do not carry fucking walking poles!  Quite a lot of us (from my experience) are middle aged to elderly Asians taking a constitutional.  We will return your greeting with enthusiasm and might even stop to chat for a couple of minutes if you're so inclined, anything to put off the moment when we have to start walking again.  The main difference between us and the bushwalker superior is that the latter likes the exercise while we like the location.

Picnickers;

Depending on where you walk you might not encounter this particular specimen.  Obviously they tend to gravitate to areas that are flat enough to lay down a blanket and where the children are less likely to fall off a cliff if left unsupervised for thirty seconds.  If like me you take your walks in areas essentially surrounded by suburbs then you will encounter this type more often as ragged bits of bushland quite frequently abut neatly mowed reserves and parks where people drag their families in the desperate hope that a change of scenery will somehow render their presence a little more tolerable.  Another term for picnic incidentally is "collective punishment".

If you encounter picnickers while on your walk whatever you do don't interact with them.  They're already having the worst day of their lives and the sudden appearance of a sweaty, wild eyed, half mad stranger from nearby bushland in close proximity to the most vulnerable members of their family is not likely to incline them to welcome your arrival.  If you have a camera then in the name of god do not take any photos until these wretched endurers of the outdoors are safely in your rear.  Otherwise you may find that the next type of people you encounter are of a law enforcement variety.

Locals;

These are people who live quite near whatever native remnant you're currently soiling with your presence.  The paths that you are recreating along are simply footpaths to them, a means of getting from one spot to another within their immediate neighbourhood.  And because it is their immediate neighbourhood they tend to react in much the same way as you would if a complete stranger suddenly wandered into your backyard.  They're not fans of bushwalking or bushwalkers at least as far as it pertains to their particular locality.  Don't talk to these people, they will stab you.

There are two types of locals; wealthy locals and not wealthy locals.  Female wealthy locals have plastic surgery and greyhounds.  Male wealthy locals have women who have plastic surgery and greyhounds.  As you can see a fear of being stabbed is not the only reason to give these a wide berth.  Wealthy locals are quite common as the type of suburbs that have attractive pieces of bush in close proximity to them tend to be occupied by higher income brackets.

Not wealthy locals occupy areas where the bushland exists simply because the property developers haven't finished bulldozing it yet.  Or possibly a small patch was simply not economically viable to destroy.  These people tend to mind their own business and it would be a very good idea if you did the same.  I encountered a group of four such on one occasion.  Well actually I encountered a group of two as the other two fled into the bush on my approach and didn't come out until after I had passed along.  I had a polite but stilted conversation with the two who apparently didn't have outstanding warrants but both sides were visibly relieved when I made my excuses and departed as swiftly as possible.  One of them was carrying a shovel for reasons I was far too sensible to ask about.

Bushland Regenerators;

Yes I know that sounds rather like a reverse vajazzle but in actual fact these noble defenders of the bush are part of the reason why anything green still grows in the Sydney region.  Where ever you walk you will encounter signs discreetly informing you that this or that local bush care group is lovingly tending to the patch of ground you are clumping over, nurturing native plants, removing noxious weeds, cleaning up rubbish and trying to persuade storm water to flow to less environmentally sensitive areas.  These people are heroes.  They are also invisible.  While evidence of their presence in the form of the above mentioned signs abounds not once have I actually seen such a person tugging out a noxious weed or telling encouraging stories to some delicate native plant tentatively reestablishing itself in an area that used to be a toxic waste dump.  I can only assume that they do the bulk of their work at night.  I honestly don't know how you might communicate with these and can only suggest that a ouija board might be your best bet.

Mountain Bikers;

Fuck those guys!

 I hope that the above is of help to you in identifying the various subgroups of humanity you may encounter as you crash helplessly through the bush.  Just remember, they're probably not as scared of you as you are of them.