Friday, September 26, 2014

Travelling Hopefully - To Katoomba? Part 2

It wasn't my intention to actually do very much on my brief holiday.  Actually it wasn't my intention to do anything at all.  I brought a bunch of books and as far as activity was concerned it centred around sitting and reading.  Still, after coffee had been consumed I found that I had itchy feet so I started wandering.

Katoomba has a whole series of shops selling what they probably call curios and antiques and what I usually refer to as kitsch and crap.  I went through a whole series of these looking for a birthday present for my brother.  Perhaps fortunately for our future relationship I didn't find one. 

With shopping unsuccessfully completed I struck out along the main street of Katoomba, its called Katoomba Street.  I stopped when I got to Echo Point due to several hundred metres of escarpment between myself and the next piece of solid ground.  I could have made my way down via one of the walking trails but the only thing to do when you get there is come back up so I decided to cut out the middleman and stay at the top.

Looking around I was greeted by a magnificent sea of green.  It was a vast throng of Asian tourists all in matching iridescent lime green parkas.  Next to this blaze of colour the actual view faded into insignificance.  Even more of an anticlimax was the collection of tourist shops lurking around the point.  I presume somebody must buy their wares but I can't imagine who.  Certainly none of the green parka wearers were clutching stuffed kangaroos or bags of emu jerky which formed a disproportionate amount of the goods on offer.  There were natural snacks for sale promising to contain "no gluten, dairy or sugar".  This made me a little concerned as to what they actually did contain.  I didn't buy any just in case I wound up snacking on crushed puppies.

With the sun beating down on me (it was quite hot until you took off your overcoat at which point it became quite cold) I strolled back to the guesthouse.  There were many more things I could have seen but I've seen most of them before and I had a date with Field Marshal Radetzky (the guy with the march).  Back at the guesthouse I lounged around, read and occasionally interacted with some of the other guests most of whom seemed to be bushwalkers of some description.  One young Dutch lady informed me she had just done a five kilometre walk on a sprained ankle which struck me as taking dedication too far.  Still if bushwalking is what you come for sitting in an armchair reading probably strikes you as a waste of time.  Fortunately she now had a little time to recover as she was going on a restful camping holiday with her sister.  As for me, walking to the railway station on two fully functional ankles was quite sufficient.

One one occasion I took a slightly different route on my way to the shops.  I topped a rise on a street occupied by some not very interesting buildings and unexpectedly found myself with a view right out to the national park, the mountains, woods and the cliffs and it took my breath away.  A minute later I was going downhill and the view had vanished.  Just occasionally Katoomba takes a sneaky opportunity to remind you why people go there.

Travelling Hopefully - to Katoomba?

I thought I would get away for a few days.  It would be an opportunity to sleep late, do little and avoid the censure I receive when I try and do that at work.  Casting about for a not terribly distant, not terribly expensive place to practice inertia I finally decided on Katoomba.  I selected Katoomba for the very good reason that the place I wanted to stay at in Kiama was booked out.

Still Katoomba has its own attractions for the lazy, do nothing holidaymaker.  It's far enough from Sydney to make going there seem like a trip rather than a journey, its cold enough to justify staying in bed until midday and its uninteresting enough to justify not leaving your room unless you need to eat.

Before I'm besieged by a legion of Katoombaphiles outraged by this slur on their beloved home town permit me to explain.  There are many many interesting things one can get to from Katoomba.  There are the Three Sisters, Echo Point, Govett's Leap, a variety of things Scenic; railways, skyways, worlds.  There is the Blue Mountains National Park with hiking paths, bushwalks, nature treks and plant strolls and of course there are the roads and railway station that have the added benefit of taking you away from Katoomba.  Any or all of the preceding can be most conveniently enjoyed by basing yourself at Katoomba.  But let's be clear, Katoomba itself isn't really that interesting.  I can't think of a single reason to visit Katoomba for itself, which is why I went.

Packing warm clothes and a number of books I said farewell to such of my colleagues as I thought might miss me (principally the office guppy) and set forth on my journey.  It took me the best part of twenty four hours to get there because I stopped to visit friends and family on the way.  I like to get such obligations over at the beginning of holidays so I don't have to think about them thereafter.  With friends and family provided with enough of my company to probably satisfy them for the next six months I continued on my way and arrived in Katoomba on a Saturday afternoon.

I was staying at a guesthouse on 14 Lovel Street.  In a burst of imagination it had been christened the No14 Guesthouse.  I have to admit it was great.  Centrally heated with creaky stairs (some people may not see that as a plus but some people aren't me) with broad verandahs, helpful staff and a surprisingly comfortable bed.  All in all a definite score.  If it weren't for the fact that I had to eat I would probably never have left.  Unfortunately I have developed a tragic addiction to food so I had to go out occasionally.  I spotted a rather quaint looking Italian place in Katoomba and was quite disappointed when it was full at dinner time and I couldn't get a table.  I was even more disappointed the next night when I did get a table and had the opportunity to sample their cooking.

With clothes and books unpacked I was officially moved in.  So I spent the rest of the day lounging around, reading and generally unwinding to the point where I was in danger of fraying.  Then I did the only thing left to do in the circumstances; I went to bed early.

Going to bed early had the unfortunate side effect of getting up early as well.   For some reason I rose earlier every day of my holiday than I do when I go to work.  I didn't really mean to, I got up to go to the bathroom.  Then I realised I was hungry so I had breakfast.  Coffee and tooth cleaning naturally followed and by that time I was officially awake and there was nothing for it but to shower and get dressed.  This put me in a bad mood for a few hours so I went outside to bask on the sun drenched verandah with my book.  Within five minutes of my sitting down the verandah was shade drenched courtesy of a rather pushy cloud that wouldn't take no for an answer.  I sat there grimly but the cloud had more staying power than I did so I stomped up the road for elevenses.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Birthday Greetings # 44

Happy birthday to Marcus Ulpius Traianus, Roman emperor, better known (to me at any rate) as Trajan.  Trajan was living proof that being an alcoholic pederast wasn't necessarily a barrier to a successful army or political career (a truism that has received much extra proof since his time).  Trajan hailed from the Baetica region in Spain (no, I don't know where that is, I'm just reading it off wikipedia) and took enough time off from getting shitfaced with groups of well sculptured fifteen year olds to be one of the greatest of all Roman emperors.

Trajan inherited the empire from his father, a polite legal fiction which can be explained by the fact that the Roman upper classes seemed to be perennially short of offspring and as a consequence adoption was widespread even when the subject had a perfectly serviceable set of parents.  Trajan joined the army and a combination of obvious talent and a high placed father (the real one) set him on the path to promotion.  Fortunately for Trajan there seemed to be quite a lot for a skilled military commander to do.  He served in most of the empire's trouble spots and built a formidable reputation while doing so.

Back in Rome the emperor Domitian was working hard to make himself the most hated man in the empire and was achieving a fair measure of success.  Before he could quite get to the horse as consul stage however he was murdered which was both a relief and an embarrassment.  The senate were relieved because it meant the morbidly suspicious Domitian wouldn't be killing them any more but they were embarrassed because now they had to find another emperor.  They settled on a guy named Nerva for reasons which must have been clearer to them than they are to us.

Nerva was old, childless and if he had done nothing to irritate anyone this was largely because he didn't seem to have attracted anyone's attention.  Still, Nerva got the gig and settled down to rule.  It took him about fifteen minutes to really piss off the army and suddenly his rule was looking shaky.  One principal problem was the usual one that simply being hated by the senate didn't make an emperor unpopular with the population at large (indeed, it was frequently a recommendation).  The army and the mob had both been quite fond of Domitian and weren't inclined to cut his successor much slack.  Nerva hit on a bright idea to keep breath in his body little while longer.  He cast around for the most frighteningly dangerous thug in the army and adopted him.  This was our boy Trajan.  The army settled down and Nerva lived out his few remaining months without having to worry about either the succession or its premature occurrence.

With Nerva dead and safely deified Trajan took over the empire.  There was a new sheriff in town and he cleaned house.  Confiscated property belonging to Domitian's victims was returned to their families, military discipline was tightened and a whole raft of vigorous foreign policy initiatives (wars) were undertaken.  Trajan conquered the kingdom of Dacia.  A couple of years later he conquered it again, this time for keeps and converted it into the province of Dacia.  This was still in the days when war was supposed to help the economy rather than bankrupt it and Dacia had a lot of goldmines.  The loot from Trajan's Dacian campaigns paid for social programmes (certainly no less effective than the ones we have now), monument building (always good for occupying the unemployed) and improving infrastructure (this was back in the days when the government thought that was part of their job).  The most impressive evidence we have of all this is Trajan's column which is a really tall column covered in bas reliefs depicting Trajan bringing civilisation to the Dacians, a lot of it focuses on him killing them.

After Dacia the annexation of Nabataea was pretty standard stuff and the empire bulked large on the international scene.  A sudden outbreak of peace allowed Trajan to prove he was capable of doing more than just commanding armies.  The senate liked him because he pretended to respect them, the army liked him because he led them to victory (and loot) and the people liked him because they didn't really have any reason not to.  Arches were being built, animals, slaves and criminals were being butchered by the thousands in celebratory games, columns were going up all over Rome and everybody thought "well, this is a bit of all right really".  Trajan is one of the few Roman emperors whose reputation is as good today as it was back then.  After that really the only thing left to do was have a war with Parthia.

Parthia figured prominently in the Roman consciousness as being the one nation they could never really crush.  The reason was simple logistics.  Parthia was right at the end of the empire which meant the legions had to march a long way before they even got there.  Once there they had to march even further to find anything the Parthians could be bothered to defend by which time they were tired, hungry and at the end of terribly extended supply lines.  Wars with Parthia had sometimes gone well and sometimes badly but they had never been decisive.  This didn't stop Trajan getting into a war with Parthia.  The immediate cause was Parthian meddling in Armenia which the Romans considered to be within their sphere of influence.  Or it might have been because of Roman meddling in Armenia which the Parthians considered to be within their sphere of influence.

At this remove it isn't quite clear what Trajan was trying to do.  Conquer Parthia?  Awesome if successful but highly risky.  Reinforce Roman influence over Armenia?  Possibly, they'd certainly fought a bunch of other wars for this rather implausible reason.  One view is that Trajan was simply trying to push the frontier back a bit and anchor it on some viable defences.  This would be a slap down to Parthia and simultaneously make it more difficult for Parthia to make a comeback.

By this time Trajan was growing old and starting to slow down a bit.  Capable he certainly was but drinking at six o'clock in the morning will start to take its toll of your health even if your mind is left intact.  Still the war went well at first, the Parthians were beaten although not decisively.  Parthian resistance mounted, fortified cities held out in his rear and it was really really hot.  Eventually Trajan beat the Parthians sufficiently to place a puppet king on the Parthian throne but the territory he actually occupied fell short of either empire conquering dreams or even the more pragmatic "defensible positions" objective.  He might have tried a little harder but at that point the Jewish population of the empire rose in revolt and he needed his legions to put it down.  They succeeded but by the time they did Trajan was dead.

With something akin to victory (he'd certainly come out better than the Parthians) and aware that his health was failing him he started to make his way back to Italy but died enroute.  On his deathbed he adopted Hadrian as his son and heir.  At least that's what the official record states and it would be churlish to point out that the official record was written by Hadrian after the event.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

No! I'm Being Mauled to Death by a Mountain Lion, Thanks for Asking!

A few days ago I was in the office working hard to make it look like I was working hard when a colleague walked by and asked, "Are you ok?".  Well I thought I was up until she asked the question.  Since I normally consider passing a sick person on the street as an excuse for a week off work if I'm actually in the office at all I'm probably about as good as I'm going to get.  But the question threw me.  Didn't I look ok?  What was it she'd noticed that I had inexplicably missed in the forty five minutes I spend staring at my reflection each day before leaving the flat?  Oh my god!  Was I coming down with something?  Was it so obvious that people were actually enquiring about the state of my health?  Whimpering with fear I fled to the bathroom to see if I could spot any incipient signs of Ebola virus or premature Alzheimer's.

When I slunk, trembling, back to my desk wondering if I could make it to the nearest emergency ward before my final breath she patiently explained that she was asking about my mental state.  Relief flooded over me, at least I hope it was relief.  I relaxed, leaned back and started to give her a complete answer to her question.  Half an hour later I had to break off and coax her back in off the ledge; she was scaring the falcon.  At that point out of a pure desire to be helpful I asked if she was ok.  She screamed and upended the goldfish bowl over my head.

The background to all this is that a few days ago we had "Are You OK? Day" at work.  Actually that's not quite true.  In deference to the fact that thirty odd years of liberal education methods has rendered the bulk of society functionally illiterate we had "R U OK? Day".  This is a day when we are supposed to be alert to the possibility of severe psychological issues in our coworkers.  Preferably before "Bring Your Uzi to Work Day" which is next week.  A single day out of 365 has been designated to ensure that those we work with are in fact doing ok.  Apparently what they might be feeling like on the other 364 is beyond our jurisdiction.

To promote awareness of R U OK? Day posters were put up around the office which depicted a man in jeans apparently being mauled to death by a mountain lion.  Either that or it was being friendlier than two representatives of different species are decently permitted to be.  I must admit that my first thought upon seeing that poster was that if one was indeed being mauled to death by a mountain lion then one's psychological state, however dubious that might be, should probably be taking second place at least for the moment.  My second thought was "Why is he wearing pressed jeans?"

No doubt the motivation behind R U OK? Day is noble enough.  Its probably a thoroughly laudable desire to cut down on the number of sick days taken due to mental health issues with the concomitant impact on productivity.  Certainly having a third of your staff at any given moment weeping naked in a foetal position under their desks isn't going to promote team building.  But I wonder if the promoters of R U OK? Day have thought this through.

To show you care or at least, to show that you've read the poster and are thus inspired to approach a coworker to enquire about the state of their mental health seems like a useful thing to do.  However possibly due to the fact that they blew all of their budget hiring the mountain lion the poster was a little skimpy on what you might do if they answered "No!".  I'm as sympathetic to the plight of my fellow humans as the next person which is to say I don't give a crap but even if I did I'm not sure I'm qualified to give succour to someone who has taken my largely pro forma query as an opportunity to open up about their impending nervous breakdown.  Something tells me that an awkward pat on the shoulder and a muttered "there there" probably wont quite cut it.  Indeed, if their problems are serious enough you might be too busy wondering how to get yourself the hell out of the firing zone to properly focus on giving them helpful assistance.

I also can't help wondering if you talk to someone, they unburden themselves, you give whatever support you can and then they go home and commit suicide, how is that going to affect your mental health?  One suspects that if we are going to have a R U OK? Day then we should probably have another one right after it so we can talk to the people who asked the question on the first day, it might also be worth having another chat to any of the survivors from that first round of questioning as well.  Encouraging people to talk about their problems can lead to all sorts of problems.  The first being that people are encouraged to talk about their problems.

And yet.  And yet, how often have there been tragedies that could be avoided if only someone had asked that question at a psychologically critical moment?  We're not all therapists and we can't all give good advice but would you feel any better if you avoided talking to someone because you knew you were unqualified and then they went and killed themselves?  In the absence of employer funded psychiatric training for the entire staff a slightly more useful approach would be to cancel the mountain lion and put half a dozen dot points on what are probably the best things to ask or say.  This gives guidance to the impromptu counsellors and best of all gives them someone else to blame if things go horribly wrong.

Alternatively hire an actual mountain lion and train it to attack anyone looking depressed.  If nothing else this might put their other issues into perspective.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

EelQuest 2014: The Slime and the Fury!

OK, I seem to be getting a little obsessed with eels.  After my eel discussions last weekend I absolutely had to go and see some eels for myself.  Possibly to convince myself they were really there.  So today I got up early (or at least early for a Saturday) and set off on an expedition of eel discovery.  The sky was grey and a light drizzle frosted the air.  It seemed like ideal eel spotting weather.  As if I'd know.  I actually know nothing about eels but I figured that something damp and slimy might not be a fan of blazing hot days under a glorious blue sky.

So my journey began.  I set off from my home and sallied forth to where the eels gather.  I passed by Marrickville with its charming orthodox church and crashingly tasteless catholic one.  I didn't stop to pause at the Portuguese restaurants of Petersham.  Through Stanmore I journeyed without a blink and skirted the familiar entertainments of Newtown.  I passed a hospital, the usual jumble of mismatched buildings and paid no heed to the wailings of the afflicted for I was a man on a mission.  Finally there it was, Victoria Park a green arrowhead pointing at the city, total travelling time from my place - twenty minutes on the bus.

Victoria Park has a pond in it and within this pond there are eels.  At least according to a friend of mine there are.  It isn't so surprising, Victoria Park used to be a creek before it was drained.  The pond (dignified with the name Lake Hortham) is all that's left of the water.  Even the pond has been drained in the past but somehow when they put the water back the eels turned up again as well.  I've no idea where they came from our how they reach their breeding area.

I must confess I didn't really expect to see eels.  The sky was a muddy grey colour and so was the water.  The eels in the pond have a pretty similar colouring themselves.  There was a moment of excitement immediately on my arrival when a pond denizen broke the surface with an attention attracting splash but it turned out to be an ordinary fish (probably a European carp) and not worth a photo.  The eels were of a more retiring disposition.  Obviously this was going to require a little thought.  Fortunately if you want little thought I'm the man for the job,.

I repaired to the gatehouse to plot my next move.  The Gatehouse used to be the gatehouse to the park.  After that it was a toilet block, now its a cafe.  My enjoyment of the food would have been greater if I hadn't known its history.  Over bacon and eggs I developed my plan.  What eel could resist bacon and eggs?  I placed some offcuts from my plate into a napkin and wandered back to the pond.  Once there I literally cast my bread upon the waters.

The response was dramatic.  Within a second I was so deep in gulls and ducks there wasn't any room for eels.  There appeared to be a slight flaw in my plan.  I stuffed my eel bait into my pocket and stared down the avian interlopers.  They stared right back.  Eventually though they got bored of me and moved along to monster a couple of small children but I knew the moment I dropped any food in the water they would be back.

Disconsolately I trudged along the edge of the pond.  Looking down I saw an eel about twelve inches away from my foot.  It swam leisurely back and forwards, obligingly posing for photographs before vanishing into the murk.  With quickened step I walked around the pond and discovered that the place appears to be swarming with eels.  I took so many photos that my phone battery ran out.  I took a couple of videos as well.  Sadly on later review the photos weren't terribly impressive.  At most you can see a sort of eel shaped shadow in the water.  But that doesn't matter.  I saw eels!  I can't tell you how pleased I am.  Hopefully now I can put this entire eel business behind me and get back to slagging off panda bears.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Quite Eely One Morning

Last weekend I was strolling in the park with a friend.  We were basking in the afternoon chill and dodging low flying dogs when the conversation turned, as it is wont to do in such circumstances, to eels.  I wasn't aware of this but apparently there are eels everywhere, I'm expecting them to come slithering out of my taps.  There are eels in Centennial Park which I can find reasonably believeable as it used to be a swamp.  We've drained it but the ponds are still sufficiently swampesque to support an eel population.  The eels were also helped by the fact that we introduced European carp into the ponds.  Our colonial forebears had a bit of an obsession with European carp, they'd introduce them to a damp sponge if you left it unattended for five minutes but what it did in this case was provide the eels with a ready made food supply to replace the one that took a battering when we drained the swamp.  There are also eels in the botanical gardens and in Victoria Park which is a patch of ground near the CBD with a pond that has a fountain in it.  My ignorance was so great that I thought they must have been dumped there by people who had kept eels as pets.

Did you know eels are fish?  I didn't.  Having said that I'm not sure what I thought eels were.  If I thought they were anything I probably thought they were eels.  Apparently eels are multitaskers and can pull off the dual role of fish and eel without a blink.  Naturally there are eels in the Parramatta River.  Parramatta is an Aboriginal word meaning either "Wow! Look at all the eels!" or possibly "Humiliating football defeat".  There are a couple of species of moray in the harbour as well.  Frankly we appear to be hip deep in eels.

It is commonly thought that the eels in Centennial Park spend their entire lives there but this is actually not true.  The two most important parts of their life, birth and death, take place several thousand kilometres away off the coast of New Caledonia.  The reason for this is quite simple.  In keeping with its determination to make reproduction as insanely complicated as possible mother nature dictates that eels which live in ponds in Centennial Park have to mate and reproduce near New Caledonia.  Once in their lifetime the eels get the urge and leave their tranquil homes in the Sydney parklands for a long sea journey.  This was simple enough once upon a time; the swamps connected up with streams which connected up with other swamps closer to the coast which in turn connected with the sea.  Now they don't.  In the last two centuries we have built a racecourse, several suburbs and at least three golfcourses between the eel's Centennial Park home and the sea.

A lot of species would have used this as a convenient excuse to become extinct.  The giant panda for instance, lazy bastard that it is, would simply have rolled onto its belly and whined for government handouts.  Eels however are made of sterner stuff.  Slimy sterner stuff to be sure but sterner nonetheless.  Come the autumn rains the eels are off.  Swimming through the ponds, wriggling down drains and stormwater channels, underneath the racetrack and across roads and the aforementioned golf courses (no doubt making use of the water hazards where convenient).  It is true that fish can't survive out of water but the eels seem to take that as more of a statement of general principles than a strict rule.  Once through the golf courses and the suburbs they splosh into what's left of the coastal swamps and wind up near the airport.

No, they don't fly to New Caledonia although if any species could my money is on them.  The airport sticks out into Botany Bay which is the eels entry point to the ocean.  Once there they adjust their biology to handle saltwater and settle in for a relaxing three thousand kilometre swim to New Caledonia.  On arrival they breed and then die.  I don't blame them; I've been to New Caledonia, if I'd just swum three thousand kilometres and discovered that my destination was New Caledonia I'd probably give up the ghost as well.

But a new generation has been spawned and soon the waters are alive with baby eels.  Naturally scientists call them something else at this point just to prove they know more than anybody else.  Such baby eels (I refuse to pander to the scientific community) as survive all of the things that happen to feed on baby eels swim or drift south until eventually they wind up opposite Botany Bay at which point they do the entire journey in reverse finally flopping into the Centennial Park ponds where they will spend the rest of their lives until they start feeling horny.

I can't explain how impressed I am with eels right now.  Although it has to be admitted the ones in Centennial Park drew the short straw.  The eels in the Botanical Gardens just have to cross about a dozen metres of frequently damp grass to get into Sydney Harbour.  The eels in the Nepean River have it even tougher.  You might think that simply swimming down a river to the open sea was within the competence of most fish and you would be right if it wasn't for the fact that some inconsiderate bastard has built a hundred metre high dam in the way.  Eel experts refute stories of eels wriggling up the retaining wall of Warragamba Dam not because they can't do it but because it makes them a sitting target for birds.  Instead the eels swim up a small creek that flows into the river below the dam, make their way across a road and a roundabout, down a gully and finally reenter the river system above the dam.  I hope eel sex is great because frankly extinction is sounding like the sensible option by comparison.

I have never seen an eel in what for want of a better term I will call the wild.  Its hardly that since their entire environment has been bludgeoned to the point virtual non existence but it has to be said that the eels appear to be taking it in their stride.  I think a lot of other animals could learn from their example.  Humans for one.

Incidentally it may appear from my comments in this and previous blogs that I have a bit of hostility towards the giant panda.  Not true.  I think they're gorgeous.  I think they're beautiful and I hope they are with us for many centuries to come.  But it has to be admitted that they're a damn disaster as a viable species.  If pandas showed one tenth of the gumption and determination exhibited by the Centennial Park eels then we wouldn't need breeding programmes.  The only question we would have to answer about pandas is whether we could shoot enough of them to give the human population of China a fighting chance.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Birthday Greetings # 43

The third century was a good time for Roman emperors, you could get a dozen for a nickel.  Even with a turnover rate normally associated with fast food there just wasn't enough empire to satisfy them all.  This is why when our birthday boy came to the throne there was the traditional or "classic" Roman empire, there was also the "Gallic" empire consisting essentially of those bits of the empire west of Italy and there was the "Palmyrene" empire consisting of the eastern provinces which were ruled by one Queen Zenobia from the city of Palmyra.  Our boy got the bit in the middle.

So, happy birthday to Lucius Domitius Aurelianus more commonly known to us as Aurelian.  Aurelian had a traditional path to the imperial throne.  He became in turn a soldier, a commander, a trusted adviser and a murderer.  After that emperor was pretty much the only job left.  Still it took Aurelian a couple of goes before he got the tap on the shoulder.  He served the emperor Gallienus in a variety of important roles before helping Claudius remove (kill) Gallienus.  He then served Claudius in a number of even more important roles before Claudius died of what looked suspiciously like natural causes.  Quintillus the brother of the late emperor took over for just as long as it took for the army to indicate their desire for Aurelian instead.  Shortly after the death of Quintillus (I don't really need to mention how he died do I?) Aurelian settled himself in the executive suite and took command of what was left of the empire.

His first order of business was to reduce the number of Roman empires from three to a more acceptable one.  Well no, his first order of business was to defeat the various barbarians who were wandering around his chunk of the empire spitting on pavements and harassing old ladies.  Aurelian fought Goths, Vandals, and a bunch of other subcultures while simultaneously dealing with his senior officer's penchant for self promotion.  Although victorious the confidence of the Roman people had been shaken so to restore it he built a wacking great wall around the city because nothing says "I'm confident" like hiding behind stone.  With domestic matters temporarily settled he marched against the Palmyrene empire.  There wasn't a great deal of fighting (unless you were one of the ones who died in which case there was probably too much) and Zenobia and her son were paraded through the streets of Rome in chains.  One down, one to go.

Over in the Gallic empire they had been grinding through emperors at a pretty spectacular rate even considering the time and place and when Aurelian marched against them the current incumbent indicated that he would be quite happy to hand the entire mess over to Aurelian in return for a pardon and a slightly less dangerous job (almost anything would qualify).  The deal was made and when the two armies faced each other the Gallic emperor promptly deserted.  The subsequent battle didn't last long and neither did the Gallic empire.

With something vaguely approximating peace restored and the number of Roman empires down to a manageable one Aurelian tackled domestic affairs.  Oddly considering the nature of how he came to power he turned out to be a strict disciplinarian and a ruthless opponent of corruption.  He certainly improved both the army and the standard of Roman civil governance.  Unfortunately his behaviour had a couple of unintended consequences.  Firstly the mint workers of Rome rose in what must be the first revolt actuated by a desire to protect corruption.  The mint workers were used to stealing some of the silver used to make the coins and they feared an investigation by their corruption busting new emperor.  Along with some bribeable senators (a definition which applied to most of them by then) they rose and seized a chunk of Rome itself.  Aurelian counterattacked with the Urban Cohorts reinforced by the regular army and a full scale battle was fought within the city itself before Aurelian could claim that he was back in control of his own civil service.  Currency reform, not surprisingly, followed.

What about the other unintended consequence of Aurelian's anticorruption policy?  Oh, it killed him.  His personal secretary had told a lie on some minor issue and he was terrified the emperor would find out.  So he forged a list of names of people to be executed including some of the army's top commanders.  He showed it to these worthies who decided to strike first.  Aurelian was murdered as he marched his army against the Sassanid empire.  The killers didn't even have a replacement emperor ready, it wasn't so much a plot as a somewhat overenthusiastic act of self defence.  Aurelian's wife actually took over running the empire for a few months until they could find somebody to replace him.

Despite all of the events of his reign Aurelian was only emperor for six years.  There were a few other short lived seat warmers after his death (including the last guy we said happy birthday to) but Aurelian's brief reign was an indication that the chaos and disintegration of the third century was coming to an end.  Aurelian had patched the empire back together and chipped off the worst of the rust.  Others would keep the show on the road for two more centuries.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Another Silly After Action Report

In September 1939 the Germans kicked off World War 2 by invading Poland.  You see this in documentaries where approximately the first two minutes are devoted to old newsreel footage of stukas dropping from the sky, sirens ahowl and tanks bursting through hedges.  After that Poland tends to get overlooked until the documentary hits late 1944. 

Depite being relegated to the introduction to most books on the Second World War the Poles fought back hard where they could despite being neck deep in panzers and a German army desperate to avenge being slapped down the last time they tried to do something outrageously awful.  At the village of Sierakow a platoon of light tanks hooked up with a couple of regiments of uhlans in an attempt to deny the Germans the village.  This is ASL scenario SP48, Orlik and the Uhlans.  I apologise if that sounds like the name of a 1950s singing group.  "Coming up next on the Ed Sullivan Show, the smooth smooth sounds of Orlik and the Uhlans!"

As our small contribution to acknowledging the Polish involvement in World War 2 Richard Weiley and I sat down to place this scenario at Bears this afternoon.  Richard would take command of the recalcitrant Poles selfishly refusing the Germans a share in their country and I would lead the noble panzerwaffe to victory, I hoped.  To win the Germans have to advance across board 44 and seize and hold at least thirteen of the buildings on board 42.  The Poles win by stopping them.  To do the stopping the Poles have ten squads of elite infantry, two 37mm anti tank guns, a small mortar, two 75mm anti everything guns and three very small tanks one of which has a 9-2 armour leader (Lieutenant Orlik himself no less) and a radio to call in artillery support.  An anti tank rifle, medium machine gun and a trio of infantry officers round out the numbers.

To gain this little patch of lebensraum I have six Pz35(t) tanks, six Pz38(t) tanks, twelve first line squads of infantry, a trio of light machine guns, an antitank rifle of my own and a medium machine gun all commanded by three officers.

Richard set up his defence while I fetched drinks and we were ready to go.  I must admit I wasn't easy in my mind over this scenario.  I had twelve impressive tanks (captured Czech models) and decent infantry but Richard had four tank killing guns all of which set up hidden plus artillery, machine guns and his little tanks.  A broad swathe of open ground stretched before me.  Below you can see my troops lurking modestly offboard awaiting their cue.  Richard has set up the bulk of his force in the top left hand quarter of the board to defend the bulk of the buildings leaving a scattering on his flank pretty much undefended.  Or so it seems, I had no idea where his four guns and three tanks were.

Still I had to go forward and I had a plan.  Everyone of my tanks was expendable so I decided to risk them all to get my infantry forward.  Since Richard had bulked up on his left I placed most of my forces on my right and centre with a small force over to my left to capture the apparently unoccupied buildings there.

Vehicle bypass was the name of the game; my tanks roared forward seeking out his infantry positions, attempting (without much success) to drop smoke along likely firepaths and I slid into bypass on his forward locations.  My infantry, panting and puffing, raced across the open space as quickly as they could.  Richard had a significant force on the hill on my right so I ignored it and ran straight for the village itself.  Over on my left a lone halfsquad trotted to what I desperately hoped were empty buildings while those tanks not engaged in occupying his infantry made for the wheatfield which I suspected might hold hidden weaponry.

Actually I was wrong.  The wheatfield was empty and by turn two my tanks were moving through it.  Over on the left my slender forces were having an easy time moving towards unoccupied buildings without much opposition.  A couple of stacks of infantry sat in the woods behind the wheatfield but my tanks pulled the same bypass sleaze trick they had over on the right.

I was lucky, I ran into bypass in a building to discover an antitank gun in the very next hex.  Richard missed his shot and recklessly intensive fired breaking his own gun.  Two tanks that surged along the road to the village discovered his other antitank gun, one of them got killed (and burned) and the other was immobilised, fortunately in quite a convenient position.

The first turn was a mad dash but on the second my infantry were finally closing up and my tanks moved forward seeking further prey.  They found it in the doughtly Lt. Orlik who popped up adjacent to one of my tanks.  I rotated the turret, fired and very nearly hit him but the only result was that his sniper broke a recently arrived squad that I had delegated to capture my first building.  In the next turn Orlik killed another of my tanks but then my own swarmed round from the wheatfield and killed him as well.  Both 75mm guns turned out to be covering the village (and each other) in the northeast fortunately one of them promptly broke down.  In the next picture you can see my trying to consolidate my hold on the village.  I would inch my surviving tanks forward to freeze the next set of defenders in bypass while my somewhat breathless infantry dealt with each position one by one.

The next couple of turns were characterised by very slow movement and the gradual whittling down of my tank force but their sacrifices were not in vain.  I inched forward building by building letting the metal take the strain while my infantry scuttled along with as little pain as possible.  Using superior numbers on each building in turn I cleared them out in close combat.  Richard was powerful on my right but there was a road and a hedge between his forces and mine so I largely ignored them.  Both his 75mm guns broke at various stages although not before taking out more of my tanks.  Richard's sole remaining tank charged for my left flank in a quixotic attempt to snatch back a building.  Unfortunately for him the floor gave way and his tank wound up smashed in a cellar.

Over on my left the handful of forces I detailed to snatch the unattended buildings proceeded apace while the bulk of my forces (now down to about five tanks) crawled forward just quickly enough to seize a collective total of fourteen buildings by turn 5.  Now hunkered down behind stone buildings I defeated his last despairing counter attack and shook Richard's hand at the end of turn 5.  My tanks were largely scrapmetal but my infantry were securely in the buildings I needed.  I had luck, once or twice he had opportunities to kill tanks but failed the rolls, his artillery never got into the picture I managed to break his radio operator and chase him around the board for a couple of turns and the only time he did manage to get radio contact he didn't get a fire mission.  A couple of his guns breaking at important times didn't help much either, still I'm feeling quite pleased with myself at the moment.  Many thanks to Richard for the game, hopefully I didn't gloat too much.  Victory is a rare fruit.