Friday, November 28, 2014

Therapeutic Chewing

I saw an ad the other day offering thirty three helpful tips to improve your mood.  One of these electronically delivered pearls of wisdom was the advice to chew gum.  Apparently the rhythmic action calms the nerves and promotes feelings of well being, as well as tooth decay and quite possibly cancer.  Everything gives you cancer nowadays, even the fermented unicorn semen I rub into my skin to preserve its youthful appearance comes with a discreet warning label.  Although I believe it is warning the unicorns.

Chewing gum as a therapeutic tool seems a little low tech but there is nothing like rotting teeth and a permanently aching jaw to take your mind off that pesky paranoid schizophrenia and let's face it, its probably better than lithium.  Never swallow something that explodes on contact with air.  Chewing gum is also something you can do on your own.  This is probably its most significant therapeutic value.  The principal problem with most forms of therapy is that they require the presence of a therapist.  There is nothing like having a total stranger avidly hanging on my every word to discourage me from opening up about my problems.

Another friendly piece of advice was to get some more sun.  There was some mention of vitamin D and its supposed benefits but it does seem that rotten teeth and melanomas are the price we will have to pay for a well balanced mental state.  I do have to admit that there does seem to be something in this.  Just the other day I was lying back, basking in the sun, manoeuvring chewing gum between my three remaining teeth and chatting idly to the voices in my head and I can't tell you when I've felt more relaxed.  At least until the police arrived and told me to get off the road, and put some clothes on.

So chewing gum and sunshine appear to be excellent therapeutic tools but for those of you who want something a little more permanent I have taken the liberty of compiling a brief collection of suggestions of my own which should help your overall well being without actually having to chew anything (except the carpets if you're so minded).

Firstly; talk to yourself, a lot, especially in public.  Despite my comment in the previous paragraph I don't actually hear voices.  This is because no matter how many voices I have in my head they can't get a word in edgeways.  Also if you talk to yourself you will find that people back away from you, avoid you in the street and generally leave you alone.  This is very important for your mental health because of all the things guaranteed to drive you insane, other people comes top of the list.

Secondly; be rich.  I can't stress how important this is.  There are very few instances of extremely wealthy people being insane.  Things that would be considered insane were the perpetrator poor become charming eccentricities if you have the capacity to buy a city with pocket change.  Perhaps the only genuine cases of rich people being mentally ill is when the alternative is being declared competent to stand trial.

Finally; if you are so genuinely, gobsmackingly insane that the simple act of walking out of your house is enough to cause people to scream and phone the authorities try and convey the impression that you're doing it deliberately.  Yes, people will be annoyed, even infuriated, but you will be amazed at how much people will put up with, albeit grudgingly, if they think you know what you're doing.  It helps if you get a job that allows you to get away with behaving like a loon.  Politics is good, religion is better but the best possible occupation to have is comedian.  Then your behaviour becomes an act and people will pay good money to watch your mental disintegration.  This incidentally is the only reason I can think of for why Russell Brand isn't locked up in a room with soft walls.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Aren't We Done With the Camping Yet? Part 3

It wouldn't be a proper camping trip without rain.  The rain arrived on cue the next morning after a hearty breakfast of berocca and fried things.  The sky was a wall of grey, the rain pelted down.  Glumly but with a sense of the intrinsic rightness of the situation we broke the camp in the pouring rain and packed away all of the tents to moulder damply in their bags.  We had a large number of umbrellas which did a sterling job of not keeping us dry as we pulled our makeshift settlement apart.

With everything packed away there was the option of standing in the rain or leaving, so we left.  We went back to reception for the worst cup of coffee I have ever drunk in my life.  The poor girl at the combined coffee, food, icecream, snack stand was besieged with customers so one of the other employees came to give her a hand.  Sadly this woman was obviously more at home dealing with horses and since she didn't know how to operate a coffee machine things slowed down even more as her overworked colleague attempted to give her a crash course in coffee making while also serving customers.  This worked out about as well as you might expect and I sat down to enjoy a cup of hot milk and water with coffee grounds floating in it.  For the only time in my life I took a two thirds full cup of coffee and threw it in the bin.

Now that we were wet, our things were wet, the children were irritated and we were committed to leaving the sky cleared up and it turned into a beautiful day.  Putting a brave face on things we posed for a group photograph which will probably become a crucial piece of evidence in any future trial.  Everyone looks happy except me.  I look slightly depraved and definitely untrustworthy.  They say the camera never lies but does it have to be quite so obvious?

This was the farewell as we were going our separate ways.  Natali was going to a retreat for her South East Asian studies group.  They were discussing coal seam gas although whether they were discussing how to find it, extract it or market it I didn't discover.  Idette took her children and a lot of soggy camping equipment back to her place which left Jason with the pleasant task of driving Tony, Jasmyn and me home.  Tony and Jasmyn were easy enough but driving me home turned out to be a little problematic as half the streets in Sydney seemed to be closed for some reason or other.  At some point during these proceedings I pointed out that there was a light rail stop two minutes walk from Tony's house that I could have used to get home.  Jason was very kind and didn't hurl me from a moving vehicle.

I arrived home to discover that in my haste to leave on Friday I had inadvertently left my freezer door open with the result of which that the contents were on the point of crawling out and making a valiant bid for freedom.  I rounded up the runaways, threw everything in the bin and went out for coffee.  Just to emphasise the point I bought a bag of coffee to take home with me.

I would like to stress to Natali that we did not stop at KFC (or any other similarly inappropriate fast food joint) for lunch on the way home but the very mention of it was sufficient to trigger something in my mind so I went there for dinner instead.  I had very little choice, all the food that was in my house was currently banging on the inside of a garbage bin demanding to be released.  I think we're going to Treachery for our next camping trip although whether they're mad enough to invite me again is very much open for debate.  If they do invite me I should at least try and remember that I own an air mattress.

Camping, Optimism, Experience Etc Etc Part 2

The next day dawned grey and cool with a promise of rain.  It is a measure of the previous days heat that this actually seemed delightful.  Morning also saw the arrival of the final member of our little crew.  Tony works for one of those large financial institutions that you tend to only hear about when they accidentally sodomise the world's economy to death or are slapped over the wrist by a regulator for facilitating the last twenty years of terrorist financing.  Suffice it to say if his employer was a human being it would be locked up in an institution for the criminally insane.  It is also quite demanding on its employees which is why Tony flew from Perth to Sydney the previous night so that he could drive to Glenworth Valley on Saturday morning.

We greeted him with scorn.  The reason is simple.  We had asked him to "bring a couple of bottle of wine".  Now you or I on being given that instruction would know to load the car up with as much alcohol as humanely possible and then fill the baby bottles with mouthwash.  Tony brought precisely two bottles of wine.  This was barely enough to persuade the children to go to bed at a reasonable hour (four o'clock in the afternoon) and certainly not enough to keep five adults from murdering each other around the camp fire.  Still in the traditional human way we dealt with this problem by ignoring it until it was almost too late and blaming the person who had after all followed his instructions to the letter.

With Tony now attached we made our way to the horse pestering area where Natali and Idette were engaged in standing next to a stationary horse on which sat one of the children.  The horse was a special one chosen particularly to be ridden by humans that only came up to its knee and had never been on a horse before.  That is not only did it not rear, toss or gallop it didn't move much at all without a great deal of persuasion.  On the occasions that it did move it seemed to move only so that we could heave a sigh of exasperation when it stopped moving again after three steps.  This is called "having fun with the children".  I suspect the horse was having fun with the adults.

Having given the children a brief introduction to the equestrian lifestyle we wandered up to the combined, reception, cafe, souvenir stand, horse centre to grab a snack.  It was at this point that I realised I had actually been to Glenworth Valley before.  Specifically I had come horse riding here some years ago back when I had a life. Yes, believe it or not I too know what it is like to have a large muscular beast between my thighs, our sweat mingling together as we strain silently towards a mutually satisfactory conclusion.  I'm sorry, I seem to have lost track a little, all I meant to say was that despite the fact that my "experimental years" are behind me I thoroughly understand why Natali and Idette wanted to go horse riding.

Essentially they wanted to go horse riding because it meant that Jason, Tony and myself would have to look after the children for a couple of hours.  This we agreed to do.  In the event it wasn't too difficult.  Tony went to sleep (jetlag was his excuse) and Jason stared innocently into the middle distance so I took the children off to play.  Entertaining the children turned out to be reasonably easy,  basically I stood back and let them entertain themselves.  There was a dust covered little hummock that they took great delight in climbing to the top of and then either jumping off or sliding down.  My supervision was limited to pointing out the large jagged rock at the bottom and advising that they do their best to avoid it.  This they successfully did.  I returned with as many children as I set out with which is the principal requirement and so covered in dust that Jason took them down to the creek for his share of the childminding.  When they returned the dust had been skilfully replaced with mud.  In my defence I would point out that Jason is an actual parent whereas I was making it up as I went along (dust; rookie mistake, it brushes straight off).

The rest of the afternoon passed with little but the clap of unsuccessful attempts to kill flies to break the silence.  I managed to finish most of the biography of Augustus I brought with me while Jason failed to drown the children in the creek.  Finally, after dinner came the moment we had been dreading.  How were we going to share two bottles of wine between five people.  At this point the neighbouring campers came to our aid.  They pointed out that there was a bottle shop no more than fifteen minutes drive, well twenty minutes drive or half an hour max, from our current location.  I don't drive, Jason, Tony and Natali had enjoyed such wine as we possessed.  All eyes turned to Idette.  Nobly she rose to the challenge.  She and Natali would fetch wine she proclaimed if we would clean the children's teeth and get them ready for bed.  By this stage we would have agreed to surgically extract their teeth and polish them individually then put the kids into a medically induced coma if somebody was going to deliver wine at the end of it.

At some point we had fetched wood and Tony made an awesome fire but he got little credit because we still hadn't forgiven him for screwing up the wine situation so badly in the first place.  We lit it rather early which meant that by the time it got dark we were discussing whether we should fetch more wood.  Unfortunately it was dark but the fire survived longer than us.  We sat around the fire, drank wine, some of us smoked cigars (Tony & me) and we talked about the sort of things that friends can talk about when they're sober but they feel slightly awkward about doing so.  After which we went to bed.  I have it on the authority of everyone else that I snored.

Camping - The Triumph of Optimism Over Experience Part 1

One of the traditional definitions of insanity is to do the same thing again and expect a different result.  With that as an introduction let me tell you about my latest camping trip.  I have friends who enjoy camping, or at least they do it quite a bit so I presume they enjoy it.  Despite the fact that the last camping we went on together turned into a brutal death match between us, maniacal stingrays and kleptomaniac wallabies I was invited to join them.  Presumably because humour is a little thin on the ground at camping sites.

My friends had kindly provided me with a tent and an air mattress.  When the subject of the air mattress was raised it was pointed out to me that they had given me an air mattress the last time we had gone camping.  This is true they had.  It had been sitting in my closet ever since and I had spent a fair bit of time wondering what on earth it was and how I acquired it.  For some reason it never occurred to me to take it out and look at it so it stayed in my closet when I went camping.

I packed a bag, acquired a sleeping bag and purchased every organic sausage in the supermarket.  Thus prepared I set off in the stinking heat.  My first stop was Newtown where I purchased the aforementioned sausages and the last drinkable cup of coffee I would enjoy until Sunday afternoon.  Fully equipped for a life under canvas (or polyurethane) I travelled to Chatswood, the Penrith of the lower north shore.  In both Newtown and Chatswood I was able to admire the way the public spaces had been designed so that all of the seating was placed to ensure the users were untroubled by either shade or shelter from the rain.  I huddled in a stairwell to avoid the sun.

Chatswood doesn't have a railway station, dear me no.  Chatswood has a transport interchange.  This is a multimodal transport hub where buses, trains and cars coincide to provide a seamless commuter experience.  This hub is then squeezed into an area about two thirds of the size it needs to be to actually be useful, the end result is that the contents of arriving trains are vomited into what looks suspiciously like an alley undergoing construction work.  I suspect it was an alley undergoing construction work.

Some time later I met up with my friends and we headed off for Glenworth Valley, our destination for the weekend.  Glenworth Valley is an hours drive north of Sydney.  On a Friday afternoon it is an hours drive north of Sydney plus another hour sitting in traffic trying to drive north of Sydney.

How can I describe Glenworth Valley?  Imagine charming bushland, spreading trees, overgrown trails wending through the bush, open ground for camping and childrens soccer matches, a sparkling stream trickling through.  Then bury the lot ankle deep in horse shit.  This is Glenworth Valley where one can kayak, fish, camp, quadbike or ride horses.  There are a large number of horses on standby should you get the urge to ride.  It is here that we would set up our tents for our brief sylvan idyll.

Arriving at reception we stepped forth, screamed in pain and fled back into the car sucking our burnt bits.  Did I mention it was stinking hot?  Getting out of the car was like jumping into a furnace but there was nothing for it.  Now psychologically prepared we slunk out of the car and made our way to reception.  The atmosphere of Glenworth Valley hit us immediately.  Specifically it was the atmosphere of a very large number of horses in close proximity on a day where the temperature hit 40 degrees.  The atmosphere hit us, stabbed us, pummelled us.  You could have picked up bits of that atmosphere and beaten people to death with it.  Fortunately the camping area was somewhat removed from the horse store.

Since the weather was scorching and the earth very dry I politely asked if there was a total fire ban.  I was met with a blank look.  I explained what a total fire ban was with the assistance of some impromptu sketches and a small role playing exercise with the seven year old son of two of my friends.  The girl at reception's expression cleared and she nodded understanding.  "I don't know," was her answer but in an effort to be helpful she tried to find out.  Some ten minutes of phoning and wandering back and forth later and she presented us with the news that there wasn't a total fire ban but in light of the weather we should probably be careful lighting a fire.  Bolstered with this helpful advice we made our way to the camping spot.

Carefully selecting the choicest (and only) available spot we disgorged camping equipment.  Some time later another car carrying more friends arrived and disgorged more camping equipment.  There were seven of us in total; Jason and Idette and their children Jake and Abigail.  Also Natali and her daughter Jasmyn.  Plus me.  Coming tomorrow would be the final piece in our camping jigsaw Tony, Natali's husband.  In the meantime we erected tents and commented to each other on how hot it was.

Child minding was taken care of by a nine month old girl in the neighbouring camp who exercised a fascination on Jasmyn and a bunch of soccer playing boys who entertained Jake.  This left us with Abigail but she was quiet for the most part to the point where I can't actually remember if we took her with us when we left.  Presumably one of her parents was paying a little more attention.

As the sun went down and the evening cooled we opened a bottle or two of wine (seriously, we only brought two bottles) and chatted idly until it was time to go to bed all the while mounting a desperate (and ultimately unsuccessful) campaign against the flies that turned up every time we ate, or moved or breathed.  I also chased off a bush turkey that was engaged in pilfering the neighbours camp and was in the process of making off with one of the nine month old's cuddly toys.  The next day would be a horse laden thrillfest but for now we crawled into our little portable homes and went to sleep.

Monday, November 10, 2014

I Would Like to be Able to Sing or at Least Write a Decent Haiku

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers girdled round:
And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
One of the great things about having writing as a hobby is that there have been so many brilliant writers in the past that it is very easy to rip off some of their genius if your own scanty reserves of talent and creativity fail you.  I can't write poetry to save my life but I can copy Coleridge with the best of them.  Another handy thing is that many brilliant writers are dead and can't object to their work being hijacked for a rather silly little blog.
For a long time I didn't really "get" poetry.  My attitude tended somewhat towards "If you have something to say then just say it for God's sake".  There was some attempt to introduce me to poetry at school.  At least I can think of no other reason for the occasion shred of Keats and Larkin that bounces around inside my head without any point of reference.  I certainly didn't seek them out.  Poetry has never had the hold on me that it has on many others, I think it's because the structure of the poem is as important as the words themselves.
I rather suspect you have to be in some way musical to have an appreciation of poetry and musical is something I am not.  I can't carry a tune in a bucket and even rhythm frequently escapes my notice.  There is music and songs I like but even with my favourites I am utterly incapable of seeing the words written on a page and translating them into music in my head.  The same applies to poetry.  If the words are good enough I will enjoy it but the author could have achieved the same result with a finely crafted paragraph.  Rendering the idea in the form of a poem doesn't do anything extra for me.
And I think the intention is that there should be something extra.  The crafting of the poem itself should add to the actual content to produce something more than simply the sum of its words.  At least I think it should, otherwise why not just write a paragraph.  Whatever this something extra is escapes me.  The only two poets I know are Keats and Larkin.  Keats is the one who died of tuberculosis, Larkin is the one who didn't.  From the extract above you might think I know Coleridge but in actual fact Kubla Khan is the only poem of his I know and I have H. Rider Haggard to thank for that.  He referenced "Alph the sacred river" in one of his books (I think it was Allan Quartermain) that I read as a child and I was sufficiently struck by the term to mention it to my mother who responded by quoting the first stanza of the poem which is the only one most people can remember anyway.
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
I actually love this poem but again its the language (and the subject material) that appeal to me rather than the fact of its being poetry.  I am quite fond of haikus or at least the English approximation of same.  Partially this is because they're short but mainly its because they have very specific rules.  I would never claim to be able to write a good (or even adequate) haiku but I can more or less follow the rules.  For example;
opium dreaming
nurturing beauty with love
warlord takes his ease
That fulfills most of the requirements for an English language haiku and it might not be good but unlike Kubla Khan it is my very own.
I've always wanted to be able to sing, and I remember a friend of my parents attempting to teach the youthful me the rudiments of the piano and staring in disbelief when I couldn't really recognise one note from another.  It was all very well for her, she was musical.  So is my mother but that talent seems to have skipped a generation (along with her literary skill, talent at painting and my father's practical ability to do pretty much anything that requires straight lines, coherent planning and attention to detail).  I don't necessarily want to be able to sing professionally but it would be nice to give voice to my favourite songs without birds falling from the trees and mothers hurrying their infants indoors.  Possibly if I could sing I would also appreciate poetry a little more.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Newtown Festival

I wandered along to the Newtown Festival today.  I really don't know why, I've gone for the last few years and each time I wonder why I go.  I'm sure there isn't anything particularly wrong with the festival but there is only so much you can do when there are only four different places to shop at.  There are heaps of stalls but pretty much without exception they will be;

1) henna tattooing
2) jewellery made from bits of odds and ends
3) "tribal" clothing which indicates that every tribe on the planet spent most of their time tie dying pastel colours onto lengths of cheesecloth
4) T-shirts

That's pretty much it.  There were also food stalls, live music and the inevitable Chinese massage people.  OK, I liked the Chinese massage.  Not so much for the massage itself as for the skillful way they upsold me from a twenty dollar head and shoulders job to a fifty dollar full back massage.  I went up to one of the food stalls but they were charging $9 for a hot dog so I went away again.

The live music might be a drawcard for some but I must admit I have got past the stage of being prepared to sit in the sun and listen to strange music for several hours on the offchance that some of it is good.  Some of it probably will be good, almost certainly some of it will be bad and I could be sitting in the shade drinking coffee.  I used to pop along to the festival looking for Christmas presents for my family however I think I've exhausted their patience with homemade jewellery and amusingly captioned t-shirts (and I'm not game to try the henna tattooing or tribal clothing on them).  This year they had a jumping castle for the kids which certainly didn't smell as bad as the pony rides they had last year.  Obviously the organisers are trying to make it a family friendly affair.

Families certainly responded, there were families everywhere and everywhere there weren't families there were other people.  Walking along was an extended exercise in jostling.  I think the most frequent words out of my mouth were "Excuse me" which I needn't have bothered with as the person I was saying it to was invariably being jostled by somebody else by the time I got the words out.  Still that's the whole point behind a festival.  Getting a large number of people into close proximity all of whom are enjoying themselves sufficiently so that they don't feel the need to respond with violence.  On that count it must be counted a success.

Although I must confess I'm getting a little creeped out by the preparations.  The first time I went to the festival I just walked into the park.  Now they have erected a fence around the entire park and have security personnel checking your bags as you go in.  Considering the population density inside the fencing its starting to get a slight concentration camp feel about it, albeit one that provides henna tattooing.

And this is the real reason that I keep coming to the festival.  I'm waiting for the inevitable year when they have erected guard towers and searchlights as well.

For When Cheap and Shabby is More Than Enough

The Byzantine emperor Nikephoros Phokas (charmingly nicknamed "the White Death of the Saracens") used to sleep on the floor of his palace wrapped in a panther skin.  What the unfortunate panther might have wrapped itself in to keep out the cold history has failed to record.  The panther skin actually saved his life at one point.  A group of conspirators entered the imperial bedchamber intent on murder and were dumbfounded to see the emperor's bed unslept in.  Unfortunately a convenient servant pointed out the panther skin with a suspiciously emperor shaped lump in it and the conspirators hacked and bludgeoned him to death.  So when I say the panther skin saved his life I really mean it saved his life for about two and a half minutes after which he suffered a rather horrible death.

Still, two and a half minutes isn't nothing.  You can do a lot in two and a half minutes or at least you can if you don't waste all the time sleeping.  So if you're concerned that you might be murdered in your bed obviously a panther skin is the way to go.  It will at least give you time to sit up, rub your eyes and say "Who the hell are you?"  Which isn't much in the way of last words but certainly beats an oblivious snore.

With this in mind I journeyed to my local purveyor of ridiculously cheap stuff (I think it was a K-Mart but I might be lying) to purchase a sleeping bag.  I looked for panther skins but apparently you just can't get them any more, even panthers aren't finding it as easy as they used to.  There were some second hand ones but the attendants couldn't guarantee that they hadn't been ground zero for a horrible regicide so I stuck to sleeping bags.

Rugged outdoors people buy sleeping bags so they can hike to Everest base camp (hi Amanda) or invade Afghanistan.  I bought a sleeping bag because I want to take a train ride.  Getting out of hand as these ambitions usually do the train ride has now snowballed into hotel stays, foreign travel and a safari to see those animals that have not yet been made into imperial duvets.  Hence the need for a sleeping bag.  Somewhat closer to home (in both the physical and temporal senses) I also need it to go camping next weekend.

I find it difficult to believe that my friends invited me to go camping again after last time.  I find it almost impossible to believe I said yes.  Still, camping I am going and therefore a sleeping bag is required.  Since I only need the sleeping bag twice and on both occasions in a reasonably pleasant (not to say hot) climate minor details like quality, durability and insulation were rather less important than they might be to someone who, for example, cared in the slightest.  Fortunately for cheap and shabby goods I had come to the right place.

Having come to the right place I then had to navigate my way around it which proved to be somewhat more difficult than I thought.  The signs in the store were an absolute education.  They weren't actually very helpful but they were just helpful enough so that you didn't look around for staff to guide you.  Which was good because there weren't any.  I believe the purpose of the signs was to provide a veneer of helpfulness so you don't stomp out of the store in disgust but simultaneously force you to wander amongst various aisles where you might find something else you would like to purchase as well.  Honestly, has anyone gone to K-Mart and left with only the item they intended to buy?  I bought some socks and a pair of what I'm going to call pyjama pants despite the fact that in my experience pyjamas usually come with tops as well.

I needed new pyjamas (technically I still do) but the pyjama selection was not what I expected.  Apparently nobody who is a size smaller than "bloated hippopotamus" wears pyjamas nowadays.  I must admit I very rarely wear them to bed.  Pyjamas are what I wear around the house to symbolise that I don't intend to go out again that evening, or afternoon or occasionally, morning.  The socks just happened to be hanging on a hook I had to pass on my search for a sleeping bag.  But who doesn't need socks, right?

I eventually found the sleeping bags near the sports section.  I had only been in the store for an hour by that stage so I felt quite pleased with myself.  There was a selection (a better selection than there was for pyjamas anyway) and I could choose between those that would keep me snug in glacial conditions to those that wouldn't.  All at the bargain basement price of $15.  My friend Amanda who is going to Everest base camp paid $180 for her sleeping bag and it was on sale.  Mine was full price but shall we say that if I wanted to go to Everest I might be better off with a panther skin.  Also I could wrap myself in it and do yeti impersonations in the middle of the night.  At this point Amanda is probably pleased I'm going to Africa.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Another Silly After Action Report

In September 1943 the Italian government had ditched Mussolini and was attempting to extricate itself from World War 2 without warning the Germans while simultaneously trying to extract as much advantage for themselves as possible from the Allies for changing sides.  They brought to this endeavour all of the efficiency and professionalism which had been a hallmark of their involvement in the conflict to date.  Eventually the Allies tired of their prevarication and simply announced the Italian surrender to the world.  At which point the Italian government gave a high pitched squeal and fled for the hills.  Naturally they didn't bother to leave any instructions for their administration or army on what to do should their erstwhile German allies ask them to explain themselves.

Somewhat typically the Germans were better prepared for the Italian surrender than the Italians were and as soon as the word was announced German units in Italy moved to disarm the Italian army and occupy important points throughout the country.  Utterly confused and without any direction the Italian army for the most part accepted German demands for surrender and a good number of them simply went home.  One major exception was the city of Rome itself where the Germans didn't have any troops conveniently to hand.  The 2nd Paratroop division was based south of Rome and was ordered north to seize the Eternal City.  Standing (or at least, slouching) in its way was the 21st Grenadiers of Sardinia division.  Which is why on the 8th of September elements of the grenadiers chemical mortar battalion (strangely bereft of both chemicals and mortars) who were notionally guarding a fuel depot in the town of Mezzocamino southwest of Rome watched with polite interest as a large group of heavily armed, battle hungry fallschirmjager deployed in front of them in the gathering twilight.  This is ASL Scenario AP26; Flea Circus.  I shall command the Italians and Ivan Kent the vengeful Germans.

Note: I lost this one.  I didn't just lose it, I was crushed without mercy.  Outwitted, out manoeuvred and outfought.  For those for whom this is enough you can stop reading now.  Anybody who wants the entire tale of woe can continue.

The victory conditions were simple.  At the end of the game the Italians had to have an unbroken MMC in the fuel depot in the north of the town.  Thus the Germans had to seize the depot completely and stop any Italians sneaking back in.  For the record the fuel depot is the large building towards the bottom of the map above.  The Germans set up at the top of the board and have to make their way through, hopefully heroic, Italian resistance to the depot.  The Italians are hampered by the fact that they cannot fire on the Germans without passing a special pin check until a German unit has fired, made smoke or moved next to an Italian one. 

To take the depot Ivan had eleven squads of elite German paratroopers with a pair of light machine guns, a panzerschreck and a dismantled medium machine gun (which I don't think he even bothered assembling).  These troops have good firepower, high morale and assault fire bonuses which would crush me in close fighting.  To hold off the Germans I had one elite Italian squad, five normal squads plus a pair of light machine guns, a heavy machine gun and a 20mm anti aircraft gun.  I also had eighteen factors of mines which would prove very useful.  Halfway through the game I would get reinforcements in the form of two more elite squads, three bersaglieri squads and a pair of L6/40 light tanks if I could survive until then.

My plan was to set up the bulk of my force forward to cover Ivan's approaches and force him to move next to me thus freeing me up to open fire.  I also set up to cover the village in the hopes of making Ivan move through the open ground you see on the right.  My plan worked brilliantly, this is exactly what happened.  Unfortunately there was a certain "stopping the Germans" component which was implied and that didn't go so well.

I had a squad with a light machine gun in each of the large stone buildings in the village.  The rest of my scanty force was scattered across the board so that Ivan would find it difficult to move without becoming adjacent.  There was a gap I couldn't cover amongst the brush and orchards on the right so I placed a minefield in the area in the hopes of doing some damage.  The other two minefields I placed in trees near the fuel depot.  The anti aircraft gun I placed on the road next to the depot which was silly as I should have put it on the hill across the river.  A half squad with the heavy machine gun was placed in the rear covering the left hand road but conveniently placed to scuttle across to the fuel depot at need.  I also had a stack of dummies trying to look menacingly.

The first turn went quite well.  Ivan set up exclusively on the right as I had hoped and barrelled his troops towards the open ground.  He encountered my troops on the first turn to I was free to shoot.  He also sent a probing half squad straight into my minefield.  The ensuing morale check caused him to battle harden into fanatics, not so good.  However getting cocky with his newly increased morale he moved out of the minefield and the subsequent morale check promptly broke the half squad.  Towards the centre he moved some troops to deal with the rest of my forward line.

From the (somewhat blurry) picture above you can see my problem.  Ivan's troops are poised to pour through on my right while my guys are rather poorly placed to stop them.  Ivan essentially encircled and destroyed the troops in the north while the bulk of his force charged across the open ground  towards the fuel depot.  I did get in some shots.  I broke a squad and his best officer at one point but the flood went on.  I couldn't muster enough firepower to inflict any serious damage and the speed of his advance made it difficult for me to pull my troops in the village back to defend the depot which was part of my original plan.  By difficult I mean, impossible.  The picture below shows Ivan tying down my village troops while others skirt the riverbank to approach the depot.

The minefields proved to be my best defence breaking another squad as it attempted to flank on my left and causing Ivan some nervousness as he probed for the remaining field.

By turn three when my reinforcements arrived Ivan was massing in the woods to the right of the depot and I gasped in relief as my little tanks trundled forwards.  Sadly one of them promptly broke its main armament trying to shoot.  Still now I had some protection.  The infantry hopped into the gully and made its way towards the depot.  Alas to no avail.  A combination of good morale and relentless pressing meant that Ivan could shrug off most of my small firepower attacks and on those occasions when I did muster some decent firepower the results were unimpressive to say the least.  Conversely my few successes came from ridiculously low odds attacks.  Having weathered three consecutive shots from my AA gun Ivan then moved some troops through a one residual firepower in the woods and lost a squad.  Deciding to sacrifice my broken tank I trundled it right next to the half squad with the panzerschreck (Ivan disdained to shoot at such a helpless target) and fired the machine gun for a 1+1 attack into the woods which broke everything in the hex.  Ivan then attempted to fire his panzerschreck at my other tank from inside a building and promptly broke his own squad which then died for failure to rout.

Such faint gleams of hope couldn't conceal the fact that by turn four Ivan had swamped the factory (my heavy machinegun proving useless at keeping them out) and wiped out my remaining defenders while my reinforcing infantry were still trudging up the gully.  I had one final chance as I saw it.  It had five fresh squads and a tank adjacent to the depot.  I would freeze Ivan's troops in the nearest depot hex with the tank in bypass and then assault in.  Perhaps with luck at the end of the game I would still have a toehold.  No sooner had the idea formed in my mind than Ivan moved one of his remaining squads across the road to reinforce the factory, I took a shot at it which resulted in the squad going berserk.  Charging towards my remaining tank they tore it apart with their bare hands.  Now I had a depot full of paratroops and nothing to cover and attack by a smaller number of less capable squads.  At that point I surrendered.  There were still two full turns to go but there was no way I was going to get in and if I did there was no way I was going to survive.

Ivan played with skill, I didn't.  Which pretty much tells you all you need to know.  Sigh, the cup of defeat is bitter indeed.  Much thanks to Ivan for a lesson in tactics, hopefully I will crush you like a bug next time we meet.  No offense.