Thursday, May 28, 2015


I have it from a reliable source (I saw it on an episode of QI) that kiwifruit cost more than their weight in aviation fuel to fly to Europe although it wasn't mentioned whether that was first class or economy.  The inference being, of course, that either people in Europe should repent of their insane, kiwifruit guzzling lifestyle or that the kiwifruit themselves should start investigating domestic holiday options.

To me the entire kiwifruit situation raises a far more serious question.  If irreplaceable hydrocarbons can be burnt so that Europeans can have something not particularly nice to put on their fruitsalad; if vast quantities of natural resources can be torn from the environment, slaughtering animals and plant life and befouling the air solely so kiwifruit can make an appearance somewhere kiwifruit were never meant to be then why the hell does my supermarket keep running out of chives?

Honestly, what is so difficult about chives?  Compared with kiwifruit chives wax mightily upon the earth.  Short of Antarctica there are few places they won't grow.  If we can develop a transcontinental airbridge apparently for the sole purpose of shunting a few kiwifruit around is it really too much trouble to throw a few bundles of chives on a truck and get them to my local supermarket.

It's an insult to the dead!  To build our civilisation we have blazed a path of destruction across the natural world.  We have bulldozed forests, slaughtered animals, poisoned rivers and the very air itself.  And for what?  The shades of those we killed will raise their voices in an anguished cry to the heavens, "All this and you can't even put chives in a supermarket!  Did we die in vain?  Say it isn't so!"

Chives are important to me.  By sprinkling a handful on my peas I can claim to eat two vegetable serves with my evening meal (three if you count crisps).  Yet time and again I turn up at my local supermarket to find the chives rack unaccountably empty.  I sometimes wonder if someone is hoarding them against a future shortage or possibly manipulating the market so they can make a fortune in chive futures trading.

Even if we can't grow chives in this country (and we totally can) it shouldn't be beyond our abilities to throw a few bags onto the empty planes returning to New Zealand for more kiwifruit.  If all else failed we could fly them out by private jet.  At the very least this would stop people fretting about how much jet fuel we waste on kiwifruit.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Happy Hallmark Day

It's Mother's Day this Sunday apparently.  I don't know this because of heavy handed hint dropping from my maternal progenitor and I'm not even going to pretend that I might have remembered it myself.  Fortunately I was rescued from the swamp of ignorance by the tireless efforts of pretty much every single commercial enterprise on the planet all of them attempting to persuade me to purchase their products as a gift for my mother.  So far I've got her a close in weapons system and a do it yourself trepanning kit.  I'm sure she'll be pleased.

Mother's Day is quite a recent tradition as traditions go.  Normally something has to hang around for several centuries before we dignify it with the title "tradition" thus giving us an excuse to keep doing it.  At this point we pretty much have to continue with it because the only other alternative is to publicly admit that our ancestors were gopher brained halfwits.  But Mother's Day is modern, barely a century old.  It started, of course, in America which can be forgiven for having new traditions as it hasn't been around long enough to get any old ones.  President Woodrow Wilson officially inaugurated it in 1914.  Considering the decisions being made by the leaders of the rest of the world in 1914 Mother's Day seems thoroughly sensible, or at least harmless, by comparison.

President Wilson may have signed the paper but the driving force for Mother's Day was one Anna Jarvis from West Virginia who wanted to honour her own mother and by extension all others.  She lobbied, advocated and just plain pestered until first her own state and then the rest of the country took it on board.

Others who took it on board were greetings card companies, chocolate manufacturers and sellers of flowers everywhere much to the horror of its creator as she saw her simple expression of love and gratitude transformed into the most crassly commercialised celebration of the year after Christmas.  Poor Anna Jarvis spent the rest of her life campaigning against the commercialisation and exploitation of Mother's Day.  A measure of her success can be found in the fact that Hallmark makes about a gajillion dollars a year out of Mother's Day and Anna Jarvis died childless and alone in a sanatorium.  Its never pretty watching idealism collide with reality.

Back to the present day and my mother has found the ideal way to celebrate Mother's Day by contriving to put several thousand miles between her and her offspring.  She will be enroute to a cruise on the Danube River at around about the time I would normally be making a guilt laden phonecall to explain why I had forgotten it was Mother's Day again.  I wish her loads of riverine fun and heartfelt thanks for letting me off the hook.  Just one of the countless things I have to be grateful to my Mother for.  Her presents can be opened when she gets back.  Although I have to admit I'm getting a little uncertain about my purchases.  The weapons system will no doubt come in handy the next time I drop by unannounced but let's face it, she needs a trepanning kit like she needs a hole in the head.

And surely you must have seen that joke coming from the first paragraph.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Another Silly After Action Report

In 1942 Mussolini called Hitler excitedly to tell him that he was sending Italy's crack alpine troops to Russia.  Hitler responded in the way you do when your "special" child gives you a present.  He smiled politely, patted Mussolini on the head and sent the alpine corps to the flattest part of Russia he could find.

Unfortunately for the Alpini this happened to be the steppe land in the vicinity of Stalingrad.  To visualise this territory in the Winter of 1942 it is necessary to imagine a vast featureless expanse.  Then imagine several more vast featureless expanses and stitch them together, cover the lot with snow and add a couple of million vengeful, heavily armed Russians.  See that small black dot somewhere in the middle?  That's the Alpini.

The Italians had watched with polite curiosity while the Red Army had destroyed the Romanian and Hungarian armies on their flanks and then had just enough time to take a deep breath before the tide flooded over them as well.  For those who inexplicably survived the initial onslaught there was the choice between surrendering to the Russians or trudging on foot through the Russian steppe in the middle of a Russian Winter surrounded by battle hungry soldiers who were, yes, Russian in the hopes of making it back to wherever their German allies had managed to patch a front line back together.

In January 1943 some of the exponents of Option B staggered into the village of Chertkovo where a mixed German/Italian garrison was not exactly pleased to suddenly become the centre of Soviet attention.  This is ASL scenario AP19, Winter of Their Discontent.  Here I shall command the Axis forces as they attempt to hold off an onrushing Soviet horde determined to serve them with an eviction notice.  Ivan Kent will command the aforementioned evictors.  The winner would be the one with the greatest number of victory points at the end.  Victory points were awarded one per building hex (giving a total of approximately eighty to be won) in addition to the usual points for killing enemies.  Additionally the Axis (me) could purchase reinforcing units at the price of conceding victory points in exchange.  It was mandatory to purchase at least fifteen points worth.  Conversely the Soviets (Ivan) could concede some victory points for the opportunity to permit some of their forces to enter on the north (right) flank thus opening up the possibility of cutting off and surrounding the defenders.  The end result of all this buggering around was that it was very difficult to figure out who was winning at any given stage without more mathematics than I'm usually capable of applying.

My at start force wasn't terribly impressive, a mixed bag of twelve Italian squads ranging from elite (adequate) to conscript (wretched), two German manned 50L anti tank guns, an Italian 75mm antiaircraft gun (but now to be used against tanks) plus a heavy machine gun a few officers and a couple of Soviet antitank rifles they picked up at a garage sale somewhere along their retreat.  Ivan had a force of fifteen squads (four elite and eleven first line), a pair of medium machine guns, a couple more antitank rifles and some pretty good officers.  He also had five tanks, three T-34s and a pair of smaller but not to be sneezed at T-70s.

My plan was as follows;  Ivan's force was impressive but he got no reinforcements.  What he started with was all he had.  I spent up big on reinforcements (sacrificing lots of victory points to do so) to gain six extra German squads, three Italian squads and two PzIVF2 tanks.  This reckless expenditure handed Ivan a distinct advantage but it meant that if my at start force could somehow hang on then my reinforcements would provide sufficient strength to push back his now (hopefully) depleted force.  Of course that meant that my initial forces would have to weather the storm and somehow protect the reinforcement area. 

The playing area was effectively divided into two zones.  In the left and centre a line of stone buildings behind a road formed an natural barrier and I placed the bulk of my infantry, the hmg and both 50L guns in these buildings.  Ahead of this line a handful of conscripts formed speedbumps so that Ivan would hopefully have to take a little time to get through them.  The right was the danger area in my opinion.  Here there were only a spattering of largely wooden buildings, a little forest and scrub and behind that clear firing zones to my reinforcement area.  To protect this I placed squads in a couple of likely buildings, hid an elite half squad (with an atr) in the woods and hid the 75mm (the only gun I possessed which had a good chance of taking out the T-34s) in some adjacent scrubland.  Another squad with an officer and lmg were placed close enough to reinforce should that become necessary.  It became necessary immediately.  Below is a rather blurry picture of my intial deployment, apologies for the quality, I suck.

OK, Ivan sets up on the right of the picture (which I can't rotate for some reason) stone buildings are at the top, vulnerable right flank is at the bottom
Ivan took me by surprise. I was expecting him to spend some victory points to get a flanking force on my right but the scale of it horrified me.  He deployed all three T-34s plus three elite squads, an officer and a demolition charge and sent the lot of it towards the two units in the bottom left of the picture you see above.  Action exploded immediately, I was fortunate enough to break one of his squads despite it hiding underneath a tank, I revealed my halfsquad to try an immobilise one of his tanks with the atr and when that failed felt I had no choice but to reveal my 75mm gun (which was pointing the wrong way).  Still I said a quick prayer and racked it around to shoot up a tank at pointblank range.  I managed to immobilise the lead tank just short of where it would be able to crucify my reinforcements.  Ivan threw his elite squads at my halfsquad and the guncrew and here my halfsquad showed his mettle.  A high firepower shot from adjacent troops produced a morale check which I passed with snakeeyes.  Heat of battle results are problematic for Italians at best but this time my guys battlehardened (becoming fanatic) and generated a hero as well.  With the shooting done Ivan jumped into close combat with both the halfsquad (and hero) and the guncrew.  Encouraged by the hero (who would pay the ultimate price) the half squad wiped out its opponents in close combat and my gun crew casualty reduced its attacking squad without any harm to itself.  Suddenly Ivan was down two and a half squads and had an immobilised tank.

But the bloodshed didn't end there.  Desperately get my 75mm back in action I moved up my sole reserve in this area, a squad, leader and lmg and plunged into the melee.  Naturally after my heroics with the guncrew alone this massive force couldn't hurt a hair on Ivan's head.  Ivan rendered the entire business moot when the immobilised tank swung its gun around and slaughtered everybody in the hex including his own men.  Under fire from another tank and Ivan's surviving infantry my elite halfsquad finally succumbed but Ivan's attack was looking decidedly dusty and it looked even worse when one of his mobile tanks broke its main armament.  Perhaps for this reason he largely abandoned the right flank and used the two mobile T-34s to assist his infantry in clearing up my outlying defenders before aiming at the buildings on my left.  Below is a slightly better picture of the struggle on the right.

Broken guns, immobilised tanks and melees.  The concealed stack near the melee would soon plunge in to its death.

While the opening two turns were a welter of blood and metal on the right the action on the left was somewhat understated.  Ivan had about eight squads here plus a pair of medium machine guns and his two T-70 tanks but he also knew he was facing an as yet unbroken defensive line hidden in stone buildings.  He hastened slowly, picking off a couple of outlying defenders and gradually working his way forward to the road from where he could fire on my troops.  His attempt to support them with a T-70 came to an end when it drove into the line of sight of one of my 50L guns which blew it up in a spectacular ball of flame and smoke.  Despite this and the occasional broken squad he managed to get the bulk of his force into jump off positions for a major assault unharmed.  Over on the right his tank assisted infantry had cleared out most of the rest of my speedbumps (although one conscript squad proved remarkably resilient) and now they (and the tanks) were threatening the right of my building line.

A word about our dice rolling before we go any further.  Spread across the game both Ivan's and my dice were average.  Which is to say we rolled either four, three, snakeeyes or eleven or twelve for pretty much every roll.  There were so many snipers going off it sounded like volley fire and the only way we managed to avoid triggering the snipers was when we broke our own weapons.  There was one turn when the bulk of the action consisted of our forces  throwing bits of malfunctioning support weapon at each other.

Despite this Ivan had started to get a stranglehold on my building defensive line.  He was pushing from the right (malfunctioning tank armament permitting) and was bulking up on the left, which is when I managed to break my heavy machine gun twice in the course of two turns.  Ivan responded by breaking the main armament of both his mobile T-34s (he did repair one of them).  His other T-70 turned up to help and was promptly destroyed by my other 50L although it had to reveal itself adjacent to a T-34 to do so.  Life expectancy, poor.

Now however my reinforcements were coming on in strength and rolling towards the battlefield.  Seeing the need for a quick ending Ivan took his heart in his hands and dashed a group of squads across the road into the teeth of a squad and lmg stack I had positioned for this occurrence.  Naturally I simultaneously cowered and broke the lmg and suddenly Ivan was around both my flanks.  The grinding down of my defences could truly begin but alas (for Ivan, I was quite chuffed) it had come just too late.  My reinforcements were now on the edge of the battlefield and with them were the PzIVs.  His left flankers beat up my defenders and grabbed a couple more buildings but were then shot to bits by a combination of tank and infantry fire.  Over on the right where he had been positioned to take some more ground I sneaked my other tank up behind a T-34 and destroyed it from the rear.  With, heavy casualties to his infantry, his only mobile tank bereft of main armament and a sea of Italian and German arms and legs to wade through Ivan conceded.  He could have fought on and stretched the game out for a turn or two but barring ridiculous luck (of which we had both had too much to expect any more) I would be able to roll over the top of him and regain my lost buildings.

Much thanks to Ivan for the game which was genuinely exciting with so many twists in fortune it seemed like a soap opera with bullets (I must pitch that to HBO) and a rare victory for me.