Monday, December 30, 2019

Wentworth Park

Wentworth Park isn't a suburb it's just a park. Nevertheless it apparently rates its own light rail station. To be fair its a pretty decent sized park.  There are cricketing nets, playing fields, a greyhound track and a large expanse of open grassland where people can come and picnic on warm days, ie when the temperature is several degrees lower than it was on the day I visited.  The light rail actually crosses the park on one of those brick viaducts that reduce local historians to damp pantied ecstasy and, more practically, provide impromptu urinals for people going home from the pub and places to sleep for the local homeless.  The park reaches almost to the waters edge but fortunately there is a series of buildings so that picnickers, sportspeople and the homeless aren't irritated by those pesky harbour views that the people who live in the surrounding flats just have to put up with.

Until recently the park was also the home ground of the Balmain Tigers Football Club.  The club's colours were black and gold as is traditional for sporting teams from the Balmain area.  The club's mascot was the tiger as is also traditional for sporting teams from the Balmain area.  There seems to have been a certain lack of imagination displayed here as is traditional for sporting teams etc etc. The football club's traditions stretch all the way back to 1986 when a British expat noticed the lack of a football team in his area and decided to start one without giving any consideration as to why Balmain had managed to survive over a century of existence without one.  Despite a pretty impressive winning tradition in the lower divisions of the Sydney competition (Sydney has a football competition with actual divisions?) the club was told in 2019 that's its presence was no longer required and that British expats should go back to getting drunk on Bondi Beach where they belong.  Despite the yawning gap left by the absence of the Balmain Tigers Wentworth Park seems to be flourishing on cricket practice and running undernourished dogs in circles.  It is actually an impressively large piece of open ground only a mile from the city.  So large in fact that I decided to leave it and find somewhere smaller. 

The light rail station is surrounded by a thin band of trees and a thick band of apartment complexes that seem to have been designed to prove that high density living can be done with style and taste if the builders think that those purchasing the apartments are likely to be wealthy.  The trees are apparently provided by a volunteer group whose motto is "returning the bush to the city".  They do this by apparently sticking a tree on every piece of open space capable of holding one.  Where there isn't room for a tree they dump a shopping trolley instead.  Although it is possible that these two activities are undertaken by different groups.

I strolled past the trees and shopping trolleys enjoying the interplay of light and shade in the area.  The light is provided by the sun currently clawing its way through a haze of smoke particles so thick that I didn't notice it until I put out my cigarette and realised that the air quality, if anything, got worse.  The shade is provided by vast quantities of concrete twining the area in a Daliesque fashion. The reason for that is because this is where several of the impressive motorways that connect the region are grafted onto Sydney City's nineteenth century streetscape.  This has worked about as well as surgically attaching an octopus tentacle to a person's torso.  You probably get marks for simply achieving it at all.

Past the tortured concrete and handsome apartment blocks with names like Harbour Mill and Private Property - Residents Only one comes to what is either the back end of Ultimo or the front end of Pyrmont and the far more manageably sized Fig Lane Park which has a small open space, some trees and the appropriate sign telling you not to behave in a socially irresponsible manner and to give thanks to the city council for not allowing property developers to build on absolutely every inch of available space.  I burnt some incense and sacrificed a white bull to the genius of the council and moved on to an even more modest park about a block down the road.  There was another sign demanding homage to the council but I had run out of bulls.

The road I was moving down, incidentally was Jones Street.  I was familiar with the other end of this street because my father used to work there for what was at the time the city's most prestigious newspaper (and is now a wretched adjunct to a second rate television station) but this end was new to me.  Once I got away from immediate proximity to the harbour the classy looking apartment blocks petered out to be replaced by older blocks of flats (not apartments, flats) and even some old terrace houses, relics of Sydney's heritage, which for some unaccountable reason hadn't been demolished.  The buildings may be old but I'm sure the prices are right up to date.  I could have gone further but the day was very hot, I was lathered in sweat and also I couldn't be bothered.  So I went back to the light rail station past more randomly installed trees and abandoned shopping trolleys and made my way to somewhere I could get coffee.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

This Should be Brief but Interesting

I hadn't expected to hear from my Tasmanian correspondent again before Christmas.  The last time I had seen her she had been attempting to "prepare" her Christmas turkey and the turkey looked like it was winning.  In fact a more accurate statement might be "I hadn't expected to hear from my Tasmanian correspondent again."  So my surprise when her face, admittedly adorned with scratches and sticking plaster, popped up on my screen was so complete that I almost choked on my ball gag.

"Is this a good time?" she asked.  I hastily disentangled myself from my, ahem, Christmas decorations and indicated that I would be with her as soon as I could possibly could.  After a brief but expensive interlude I invited her to give me the latest news from points south.

"I'm getting into aquaponics," she announced.

"Aquaponics?  Isn't that something to do with fish?" I asked while I googled frantically.

It is indeed.  Aquaponics, apparently involves keeping a bunch of fish in one tub and a bunch of plants in the other.  The plants are watered and fed by pumping the water from the fish tank into the plant tank.  Lest the fish feel a little dehydrated the water is then pumped back again before they start gasping for breath.  Essentially you create a fish/plants feedback loop so that both plants and fish can flourish without too much effort on your part.  Something that takes even less effort is not doing it at all.

While I'm fully supportive of my correspondents efforts to diversify her skill set there were a couple of points which, for the benefit of the fish, I thought needed raising.

"You kill fish," I said. "Your nickname is the mad goldfish butcher of old Hobart town.  What maniac would entrust you with the lives of fish?"

As it turns out the sort of maniac who would take a turtle to Canberra in a bucket.  He is moving to that ill omened city and while his turtle is making the journey with him his aquaponics set apparently required more buckets than he was prepared to purchase.  Thus he has granted the whole set up (two bathtubs, some plants, some piping and a bunch of very doomed fish) to my correspondent to do with as she wishes.  She in turn has promised to do her best to keep the fish alive or at least not actively kill them.  I wonder if she included her dogs in that promise.

The dogs, my correspondent agreed, would be difficult.  Fortunately the one big enough to get into the bathtub with the fish is dopey and amiable whereas the one that would cheerfully go on a piscine killing spree tomorrow is too small to get in.  This at least is my correspondents fond hope.  I could see half a dozen ways that could go horribly wrong and that's even before you factor in her children who combine an artless, childish curiosity with a streak of cold blooded ruthlessness that can give me the creeps even at several hundred kilometres distance.

Still the set up, the plants, the fish and most importantly, the water have all arrived and been installed in various unoccupied parts of my correspondents back yard.  The plants are apparently succulents.  Succulents can best be described as lazy cacti.  They don't have spikes and they don't grow in deserts and once the fish are all dead they won't be growing in my correspondents back yard either.  Speaking of dead fish the below photo was taken just a few hours after everything was installed and I think can be considered the writing on the wall.

Yep, definitely doomed.
In the meantime my correspondent is currently enjoying that brief period between fish acquisition and fish death.  In the longer term the most that can be hoped for is that the whole setup provides the basis for a particularly gruesome science project at school and a couple of cheap meals for the dogs.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Didn't We Do This Last Year?

The signs are all there.  Christmas is definitely coming.  In my block of flats someone has wrapped a bright red strand on tinsel the entire three stories of the stairwell.  It looks like a tapeworm in drag.  The traditionally flatulent perfume commercials have been polluting the television for those who have no time to buy Christmas presents and no inclination to think of what the recipient wants.

Still on the television vomit inducingly twee commercials referencing Santa and gifts (but very rarely Jesus Christ or the salvation of mankind) have been attempting to persuade us that the vast supermarket chains that spend the rest of the year driving farmers into bankruptcy and underpaying their employees are actually offshore subsidiaries of Santa's Elves Incorporated.  Which is nonsense, Santa gets his stuff made in sweatshops in Bangladesh and Cambodia.  Finally my place of employment is preparing to shut down for the holiday period.  What this means is that I still have to do my job but that nobody is around to answer my questions.

Suffused with Christmas spirit (or possibly day drinking) I put in a call to my Tasmanian correspondent.  She was rolling around on the kitchen floor attempting to bludgeon a turkey to death with a gin bottle.  Apparently her turkey cooking last year had been sufficiently successful for a repeat performance to be demanded.  After attempting to get her attention once or twice I gave up and connected with my tech support.

They at least were making an effort to get into the festive spirit; they were passed out drunk on the floor.  A plastic Christmas tree was on fire in a corner of the room and tinsel had been strewn around apparently by firing it out of a cannon.  An automated warning was sounding but I don't speak Belarusian and all I could get was something about a coolant leak.  Hopefully their air conditioning is up and running before the weather warms up.

Finally I tried getting in touch with my New Zealand correspondent.  He's been harder to get hold of lately and not just because he's in New Zealand.  When I demanded an explanation he asked who I was and how I got his number.  I did manage to get through to him on this occasion but all he said was,

"Dear god, the sheep are massing," followed by some unpleasant gurgling noises which I'm putting down to the plumbing.

I have to admit the evidence of my little blog team all enjoying Christmas in their separate ways made me feel nostalgic.  I took comfort from the fact that the closest of them is several hundred miles away from me.  I shall celebrate Christmas in my usual fashion, turning up on the doorstep of such relatives as haven't moved far enough away to avoid my turning up on their doorstep.  There we shall enjoy the socially mandated family time and gift giving and if anybody survives will make insincere statements about how delightful it was and "we must do this more often" before we retreat pale and shaking into our dens to await the new year.


If Jubilee Park light rail station is at the back end of Glebe then the station that at least notionally services the suburb itself can best be described as being at the even backer end of Glebe.  Glebe sprawls and drapes over a low rise and down to Blackwattle Bay.  The busy centre of the suburb is on Glebe Point Road which runs along the rise.  Back down at sea level Glebe light rail station clings to the edge of the mainland looking wistfully up at the collection of flats, heritage buildings shops and houses which form the bulk of the suburb.

Glebe light rail station did once have a particular use for me.  It happened to be about two minutes walk from the home of friends of mine who lived in Glebe.  Recently, however, they moved across town without telling me.  This makes perfect sense because if friends and relatives are going to turn up on your doorstep anyway there seems to be little point in moving.  What it does mean though is that I was going to have to find something else of interest if I wanted this blog entry to be more than two paragraphs long.

With my options wide open I hopped off the light rail, went down some stairs and halted just before I walked out into traffic.  Across the rather busy road was the Glebe foreshore and beyond that Blackwattle Bay itself.  Back in my long distant and sadly not misspent enough youth I once came to a gaming convention at a school that was occupying a rather choice piece of bay side land here.  Time has moved on and the site of the school is now occupied by what announces itself as a secondary college whatever that is.  In case the prospect of harbourside education didn't fill you with excitement a sign pointed the way to Glebe rowing club.  It is a measure of my desperation that I decided that was a good enough destination and I set off eager to see people clambering into long narrow boats and dipping oars into what, with a certain generosity of spirit, I shall designate as water.

Sadly there were no boats in the water when I turned up at the rowing club although there was one up on the wharf getting a rub down and a bag of hay before being put back into the shed.  However a sign invited me to enjoy the Glebe foreshore and a wooden walkway ran along side the salty liquid to facilitate said enjoyment.  Enjoy it I did.  The day was warm, I hadn't dressed inappropriately for once and despite my earlier snarky comment the water was clear enough to see the cans and chip packets resting on the bottom.  I eagerly scanned the water as I strolled along and was rewarded with the sight of a fish.  Then another and another.  There was actually quite a bunch of fish perhaps not quite a school of fish but definitely a secondary college of fish.  Also if I walked along looking at the water I didn't have to look up and see the cement works which stood as a defiant rock against the tide of gentrification sweeping what used to be quite a grotty area.  Having enjoyed my waterside stroll and congratulated the fish on their sheer survivability I recrossed the road and plunged into the inhabited part of Glebe.

One of the genuine pleasures I've had in travelling to these light rail stations has been finding small patches of quiet peace literally within shouting distance of busy roads and everything that accompanies a major city.  I walked along a narrow street with a sandstone cliff on one side and a line of trees on the other.  It was cool, it was quiet, you could hear birdsong.  It didn't really matter that the "cliff" had been cut into the sandstone to make the road and there was a house about twenty feet above my head or that the trees lined the light rail line which meant about ten feet of greenery at best.  Quietness and solitude is best enjoyed when its voluntary.  The thought of living somewhere genuinely quiet and solitary fills me with horror but peace, quiet and leafy green in the immediate proximity of concrete and public transport delights me.

Speaking of public transport I eschewed the light rail and climbed the hill to Glebe Point Road to catch a bus home.  I had just missed the bus I wanted but fortunately the traffic was so heavy that I caught up with it a couple of stops further along.  That's my idea of escaping to the country.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Depeche a la Mode

Normally its pretty quiet at our wargaming club.  We come together over our shared enjoyment of games, not out of some innate desire to bond with fellow humans.  Conversation is limited to the bare minimum required to set up the game and, of course, the soul destroying trash talking as we try and mentally defeat our opponents before the game even begins.  Apart from that the only noises are howls of triumph and the occasional fit of hysterical sobbing.  I'll leave it to your imagination to determine what side of that particular ledger I tend to appear on.

So it came as something of a surprise when one of my fellow gamers approached me and initiated a conversation.  In his defence he's a friend of mine (I can say that because he hasn't yet taken out a restraining order) and so the unexpected lurch into chat could be forgiven.  As I recall the conversation went something like this;

Friend:  You're a fan of Depeche Mode aren't you?

Me:        Not really

Friend:   Do you want a ticket?

Me:        To Depeche Mode?

Friend:   No.

To be honest I frequently have conversations like this but they usually take place inside my head.  This was the first occasion when another human being was involved.  As it happened my friend had acquired a ticket to a Depeche Mode tribute show and to avoid it he had decided to temporarily flee the country.  This left him with the problem of what to do with the ticket.  Enter Neil to take one for the team.  I thought about what I usually do on Saturday nights (watch ancient horror movies on community television) and decided that going to a Depeche Mode tribute show might be of at least equal interest.

Depeche Mode is a band that were around when I was a teenager and I was, vaguely, aware of their existence.  With my fan credentials thus established I made my way to the venue and mingled with a bunch of other people for whom watching a group of people imitate a band from thirty odd years ago was the definition of an exciting Saturday night.  Most of them were roughly my age but were dressed as they would have thirty odd years ago squeezing their bodies into shredded denim and skin tight pvc (ok, actually that was just me).

Did you know that red bull does bitter lemon now?  I do because they were charging $7 a can for the stuff at the venue.  It wasn't bad, not quite what I'm used to because instead of quinine the bitter flavour is provided by Jamaican quassia which is perhaps better known as an insecticide.  Feeling both refreshed and mosquito free I trotted upstairs to the performance area for an evening of electronic synth pop.  I have no idea what that is I just read it off their wikipedia page.

The performance area was appropriately dark with various minions fumbling around on stage hopefully hooking everything up correctly.  It amazes me there aren't more inadvertent electrocutions at concerts.  Eventually, fashionably late of course, not technical people wandered onto the stage and music ensued.  This wasn't the Depeche Mode tribute band but rather the warm up act.  Everybody was very kind and listened politely, some of them even applauded.  The band seemed rather overwhelmed, possibly every performance that doesn't end with a beer can to the head is a good one. 

To pass the time once the warm up band had wandered off to their other jobs in the janitorial field eighties music was played over the sound system.  This was very well received by the audience (including me) to the point that when a song was cut off part way through because the band was ready there was such a howl of protest that they put it back on again.  Eventually though the band (Strangelove by name) managed to squeeze themselves onto the stage and, taking a chance, killed the sound system and replaced it with what I assume were Depeche Mode tracks.

Unfortunately at this point fourteen dollars worth of bitter lemon was catching up with me and my departure for the bathroom pretty much coincided with the appearance of the group I had notionally come to see.  In front of the urinal I couldn't help noticing that I was getting wet.  The automatic flush mechanism was working so enthusiastically that it was hurling small droplets of what, unfortunately, was not entirely water back onto me.  I had little choice but to endure this until I was finished.  Fortunately I was wearing dark clothing.  After my impromptu golden shower (definitely the best kind) I returned to the performance area where Strangelove were working themselves into the electronic synth pop equivalent of a frenzy.

Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves and in truth so did I.  I wasn't familiar with a lot of Depeche Mode's work but I was surprised at the number of songs I did know (thank you eighties compilation albums) and the band seemed to have their delivery nailed.  Certainly they nailed it to the satisfaction of a tone deaf fifty year old with only the vaguest knowledge of Depeche Mode and I can't say better than that.  The band played for the best part of two hours and you could stay and drink at the venue for a while after that.  I didn't stay, at present my endurance is not great and I was pushing the limit of collapsing onto the floor as it was (which would have been embarrassing on two bitter lemons).  Instead I popped into Newtown for coffee and lemon meringue pie just before the cafe closed at midnight.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Jubilee Park

It took me a while to get around to this one for various illness and laziness related reasons but finally I managed to get along to the next station on what is, for the moment, Sydney's only light rail line.  The trip from Rozelle Bay takes us past what used to be parks but now seem to be construction sites for various road works.  Bare earth with clumps of trees tied up in orange tape (to prevent them straying at night) predominates on the harbour side until we roll over a brick viaduct to reach Jubilee Park.  The viaduct itself is apparently of great heritage significance and the subject of much adulation among people who admire such things.  I'm not sure why, humans have been putting one brick on top of another since before Roman times although admittedly the Romans didn't run a railway along the top.

Jubilee Park is at the back end of Glebe and provides a handy border between the houses and apartment blocks of Glebe and the Parramatta River.  Hint, if your feet are getting wet you've strayed too far.  The park provides a pleasant expanse where people can drag their children when they're too young to have iPhones and set up stalls to sell things to each other.  There's also a cricket pitch right next to the station so you can watch all of the "action" without leaving the platform.  A match was in progress when I arrived and I spent a few enjoyable minutes watching the game but I couldn't help thinking there was something missing.  After some reflection I realised that I normally watch cricket on television.  For me I'm afraid the game isn't the same without a pair of overpaid halfwits spouting banalities for my amusement.

Since Jubilee Park was there and so was I walking through it was, if not a good idea, at least the one that required the least mental effort.  Leaving the commentary free cricket behind I ploughed ahead eschewing organised sport for disorganised sport as various people kicked a ball roughly in each other's direction.  Further ahead there was simple disorganisation as groups of people were setting up stalls, presumably to sell things to each other.  I didn't stop to find out but turned my back on the green of the park and headed inland towards the asphalt and concrete of the city.

I headed inland for about fifty metres until I found a street that would take me back to the light rail station.  I was struggling to think of something to do, when I remembered a conversation held some weeks back with a work colleague who had pointed out that the Tramsheds were in that general area.  The Tramsheds were, well, tramsheds.  Or at least they had been tramsheds back in the days when Sydney had had trams.  Sydney doesn't have trams now it has light rail instead.  Eleven whole kilometres of it stretching from Central to Dulwich Hill.  Some three billion dollars later and its second light rail line is apparently almost ready to go.  What this means is that the tramsheds were redundant.  For years they sat derelict until five years ago they were redeveloped although first the redevelopers had to chase out a bunch of trams that had been left inside and forgotten.

Once the mechanical vermin had been disposed of and the more offensive of the graffiti cleaned up the place was subjected to an "adaptive reuse" which is a flatulent way of saying "renovation".  The place was adaptively reused in a sympathetic and harmonious way whatever that means.  I think it means the place still looks largely like a tramshed.  In case you had any doubt it has the word "Tramsheds" in big letters at the entrance.

So what was this decaying piece of Sydney's transport heritage adaptively reused as?  Basically its a food court and shopping mall.  Here you can dine at very expensive versions of the sort of places you grab your lunch from if (like me) you work in the city and do food shopping for up market equivalents of stuff you can get from your local supermarket.  It was the "wild caught, sustainably sourced" fish that got me.  How do you sustainably source a fish?  Only kill it a bit?  The chunks of fish I saw were definitely not going to be frolicking in the oceans again any time soon.  Possibly because I had eaten before setting out on my journey I saw no reason to avail myself of the only service the Tramsheds seems to offer so I left and caught the light rail into the city on a futile birthday present search.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Silly After Action Report - Getting Bogged Down

Bogging!  That's what could possibly go wrong.

With their immediate opponents swept away Mike attempted to move his armoured cars to find new victims.  Rather foolishly he tried to drive his centre car over the wall.  It bogged.  His other armoured car was in bypass and could only exit into a wire hex.  It did so and it promptly bogged as well.  That wasn't really bad luck.  The bad luck came next turn when he tried to free them and promptly immobilised both vehicles.

Things had reached a bit of an impasse in the north.  Mike had broken into the northern victory building but I had kept a toehold by the simple expedient of refusing to fight him.  Instead I skulked, slunk and generally did everything I could except fight to keep a presence in the building.  Mike's trouble was he had committed hard on the left and didn't have the necessary troop numbers to force me to stand and fight.  At the end of the game I still had a single squad there that I don't believe fired a shot the entire game having spent most of its time in smoke or under concealment counters.


 It was down in the southern victory building (which I had foolishly thought secure) that the game would be decided.  The left building was Mikes, the surviving (broken) squad had surrendered and Mike, rather cruelly, wiped out the 9-1 in CC although this hero did take a Japanese half squad with him.  To do so however Mike had moved a squad which until that time had a LOS down the road which allowed me to pull some troops back into that southern building.  Not a moment too soon.

Mike was desperate to take out my 75mm guns so he could roll his tankettes around to assist.  He did manage to break the crew of the gun on the right but its crew heroically self rallied and resumed their position.  His own gun was still banging away with cheerful impotence but at least its crew could tell their kids they contributed.

The south is crumbling

Artillery failing to do the job on my left hand gun he brought up his surviving squad from the south to winkle them out with the bayonet while he brought his forces from the left hand building to challenge for the southern location as well.  Over the next couple of turns he tiptoed these troops forward with little loss and then with only a hex or so to move launched them in banzai charges at my defenders at a range which would ensure that his troops wouldn't die of heart attacks before they succeeded.  At the same time he managed to break the left hand guncrew with infantry fire and my defenses were almost bare. 

I had had two squads and an 8-1 leader in the victory building.  After the close combats from the banzai charges were resolved I had one squad.  Unlike the other building Mike had the forces to make hiding not particularly viable.  I had a squad capable of reinforcing, an elite squad that had been trying (and obviously failing) to hold off his southern troops.  Unfortunately it would have to cross a road now covered by the tankettes that Mike had brought around but I had no choice.  They dashed across the road giving Mike's lead tank a 1-2 shot.  I boxcarred the subsequent morale check thus transforming my elite squad into a broken, first line half squad.  Mike then fired on it again and a snakes on the morale check resulted in a elite, unbroken half squad.  More importantly though it was still in the road rather than pushing into the building.  The only other reinforcement I could add was broken immediately after it arrived.  It self rallied and was promptly broken again.  One squad was all I was going to be permitted to have.

There is one Italian squad in the southern building, its a little difficult to see because its holding a Japanese lmg.
With time running low and the left hand gun out of the way Mike decided to bite the bullet and bring up his tankettes.  His fear of my gun proved unjustified as it bounced 75mm shells off the lead tankettes armour but he had left it just too late. The tankettes couldn't get into position in time but honestly it didn't seem like they'd be needed.  He had a pair of squads and a 9-1 leader in the southern building against a single squad of mine.  Surely if firepower failed close combat would see him through.  He didn't even need to kill them, a casualty reduction would put me below the two squad minimum I had to maintain.  Up in the northern building my surviving unbroken squad fled along the first floor pursued by vengeful Japanese who couldn't quite catch them.

The final turn rolled around and Mike tried his last.  He managed to send a reinforcing squad towards the south but my sole piece of defensive fire pinned them.  With me clinging onto one corner of the victory building by my eyelids Mike couldn't quite get his entire force into CC.  He managed to send in one squad which I killed and in doing so won the game by the slimmest of margins.  I can't express how important those elite Italian squads are.  Elite Italians are the only ones who aren't lax and against second line Japanese troops they have a firepower advantage as well.  It isn't often the Italians actually have the edge in close combat (or anywhere else).  This was a tough game with high casualties on both sides and for about five of its six turns I was sure I had lost it.  Thanks very much to Mike for the game.  The next time he plays Japanese troops I'm sure he'll want proper first line boys.

The end and a thoroughly implausible victory
Capitano Carburetta looked around at the building, still improbably Italian.  The windows were shattered, spent cartridges littered the floors, part of the ceiling had collapsed and the walls were pockmarked with bullets and splattered with blood.  Upstairs the defeated Japanese were avenging their loss by hacking up the fixtures with their bayonets.

"I don't know if we won," said Carburetta to the soldier hiding under the couch next to him, "but I'm pretty sure we're not getting our security deposit back."

Silly After Action Report - Italian Concession Edition

Capitano Falti Carburetta stretched lazily and wandered out on to the balcony.  It was another beautiful day in Tianjin, the loveliness of the weather only slightly marred by a large number of flabby, middle aged men in Japanese army uniforms who were asthmatically surrounding the Italian concession.  As Carburetta watched a group of Italian marines dragged an anti aircraft gun into the middle of the road and piled a few rocks around it.  Satisfied with their "defences" the marines manned the gun and pretended to be invisible

A soldier dashed up to him clutching a piece of paper.

"Good news sir, the war's over.  We've surrendered."

"Turn the paper over," suggested Carburetta.  The man did so and his face fell.

"And we've declared war on Germany?  Oh dear god!  Hey, what are all those Japanese doing?"

"What do you think?"

"Are we really going to fight them?" asked the soldier his face going paler than the sheet of paper in his hand.

"Not really, this is largely a hypothetical scenario," replied Carburetta checking to make sure that his pistol and emergency white flag were in place.

"Does that mean we can only be hypothetically killed?"

"If only it were that simple."

So finally here it is; Scenario LFT245 - Ciao Cina.  A riveting tale of combat, heroism and sacrifice that didn't really happen in two action packed installments.

If you've ever wondered why the Italian armed forces performed so poorly in World War II the answer would appear to be because their finest troops were deployed to garrison a minor economic concession in Tianjin, China.  Not only does this mix of first line and elite troops have a plethora of automatic weapons including a heavy machine gun and three mediums but they also have a pair of 75mm anti aircraft guns.  As if that wasn't enough they have armour support, admittedly in the form of a pair of the decrepit armoured cars that have been serving me with varying degrees of inadequacy in my last couple of Italian scenarios.  These mighty machines of death and a surprisingly motivated Italian garrison are mine to command.

Opposite them Mike Sexton commands what can most kindly be described as "not the Emperor's finest".  A second line formation, flabby from occupation duty, replete with overage reservists and reluctant Korean conscripts.  Nevertheless today is their opportunity to cover themselves with glory.  In addition to a pair of medium machine guns and a trio of 50mm mortars these Bento Box Banzai Boys have a couple of artillery pieces to shoot themselves forward, a pair of armoured cars even larger and clunkier than mine and three tiny tankettes thus giving them armoured superiority for a generous definition of both those words.  Furthermore they have what at first sight appears to be an oversized shoebox but on closer inspection turns out to be a Daihatsu landing craft capable of depositing the, no doubt, blood crazed soldiers of the emperor in my rear via the river.

I have fourteen squads (nine elite and five first line) with which to defend the only three buildings in China that the Italians apparently care about.  Mike's seventeen second line squads have to push them out.  The Italians win by keeping two unbroken (non conscript) squads in the buildings as long as the Japanese haven't captured more than one of them.  By extrapolation that means that capturing two is a Japanese win.

I'm not sure I should bother mentioning my plan as it fell to pieces pretty much on turn one.  I stacked the victory building on the left with significant firepower including the hmg and an mmg manned by elite squads.  The forward building on the right was deemed expendable (after a long and ferocious defence of course) while the survivors would conduct a skillful retreat to the rear victory building for a desperate last stand.  In my rear a few squads stood guard to protect against any troops who might land from the river and the AA guns set up on the road where they could prevent his armour circling around behind.  My own armoured cars I split up to assist in the defence.

At set up, Mike's tankettes are preparing to enter on the left
Things didn't start well for the Italians.  In fact "not well" would be a much better description of how things started for the Italians.  Sneering at my firepower the doughty (or should that be doughy) soldiers of the emperor pushed through the forest on the left and plunged into the leftmost victory building.  Over the course of the next couple of turns they would butcher and bayonet their way through my defenders without my being able to do much about it.  His tankettes rolled up to help positioning themselves behind a convenient wall and starting the most pathetic gun duel in history with my defending armoured car.  We proved virtually incapable of hitting each other and when we did hit we achieved nothing still it kept them busy and provided employment for the munitions workers back home and that's the important thing.  More significantly a couple of squads drove out an outlying defender on the left and chased him all the way back to the victory building.

In the centre his 70mm artillery piece dropped a smoke round on my rear defences while his troops sidled crabwise across my front looking for a way forward.  The reason for this less than enthusiastic advance was because none of Mike's mortars turned out to possess any smoke or WP rounds and the appeal of charging out into flying metal failed to impress itself on his troops.  Besides it didn't really seem that they needed to.  Mike rolled one of his armoured cars forward behind a wall and started another duel with my other armoured car.  In defiance of rational probability this actually had a result when he shot my antique vehicle to pieces.  His other armoured car came on on the right shepherding forward some flankers who started threatening the forward building on the right.  Finally, despite the presence of battlecrazed defenders his landing craft managed to unload a pair of squads in my rear which would keep them occupied for several turns.

Things have only just started and they're not looking great
Things proceeded to get worse with great alacrity.  On the left Mike continued his sweep through the victory building.  Things weren't helped when my armoured car broke its MA.  Not that it was achieving anything but its threat level was significantly reduced.  In the centre another smoke round choked the defenders in the forward victory building while those of my forward defenders who hadn't already surrendered fled for its rather dubious security.  With the left building (and an hmg and mmg) definitely gone suddenly holding this unloveable structure became terribly important.  But holding it seemed problematic when Mike poured in troops, including both his mmg crews and a 9-1 leader with little in the way of defence from my choking and out of position troops.  To make matters worse he rolled his other armoured car forward to sleaze some of the building defenders.  This decision would come back to bite him later.

Definitely doomed

  Meanwhile over on the left the mopping up of the last remnants of my force in the victory building there proceeded apace.  Along the way Mike collected enough Italian support weapons to open a shop.  To provide some totally unneeded assistance he had brought in a pair of squads with an lmg on the left who sneaked behind my armoured car and blew it apart at point blank range.  My armour was gone.

The only ray of light was in the south where his troops who had landed from the river were being ably held up by my defenders down there (I even killed a squad in CC) until Mike realised he could just go around them.  Mike wanted to roll his tankettes around to the south but feared to do so while my 75mm guns ruled the street.  He had pushed one of his own guns along the road and this was engaged in a duel with one of mine where Japanese and Italian gunners competed to see who could miss the other the most.

Things looked bad for me.  On the left the victory building was "garrisoned" by a broken squad and a 9-1 officer while Japanese soldiers relentlessly hunted them down.  His capture of the support weapons in that building had enabled him to set up fire positions down the streets I would need to cross if I wanted to reinforce or evactuate the other two victory buildings and he now had a total of five AFVs unchallenged by any remaining Italian armour.  Mike seemed to have this in the bag, what could possibly go wrong?

Tune in next time to find out what could possibly go wrong. 

Travelling Hopefully - Bookshop Edition

There was a Jamaican festival on the next day which featured various Jamaican themed stuff.  At least I presume it did what with it being a Jamaican festival and all.  It would seem a little silly for it to feature Croatian themed stuff, although it would have the advantage of surprise.  I mention the above because there was a vague inclination on our part to attend said festival.  The day, however, was just as damp, cold and rainy as its predecessor and we decided a Jamaican festival would not perhaps be at its best in such conditions (although a Croatian festival would probably fit right in).  So we went to Carlton instead.

The original intention behind going to Carlton was to see a movie but the movie we wanted to see wasn't showing and as we attempted to coordinate another movie between the three of us it slowly became apparent that none of us actually wanted to go to the movies.  With movies and rarely to be experienced cultural insights crossed off the list of things we might want to do today I suggested we just go to cafes and bookshops.  It is an indication of the dearth of options that this suggestion was actually taken up.

Fortunately Carlton has cafes and a bookshop.  Indeed Lygon Street seems to be an endless stretch of cafes spilling out onto the streets and greatly inconveniencing both pedestrians and the local homeless who have few places left to set up shop.  We wandered past multiple cafes occupied by the sort of people who looked as though they would be enjoying their café experience more if the weather was better and plunged into the nearest bookshop where I bought half of it.  I even bought a book for my friend despite the fact that I lent him a book ten years ago and not only has he not returned it he hasn't even read it.

After book shopping we invoked the café clause of the "café and bookshop" agreement for a bite to eat.  The very attractive waitress turned up her nose at the books I had bought and focused her attention on my two companions.  Honestly I needn't have come to Melbourne at all.  Suiting actions to thoughts I imposed, once again, on my host for a lift to the airport.  In contrast to Sydney Melbourne airport managed to get me out of their city with smooth efficiency.  So much efficiency in fact that you might suspect they wanted me to leave. Much thanks to Morgan for letting me stay and to Rafferty for cooking a delicious breakfast.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Travelling Hopefully - Rain and Mist (aka Melbourne) Edition

So I did eventually get to Melbourne.  I flew for an hour and a half to encounter a 25 degree temperature difference.  I huddled and shivered my way over to the waiting car, apologised profusely and then huddled and shivered my way to an identical car which had the advantage of being driven by a friend of mine.

With him at the wheel I had an opportunity to see what the northern suburbs of Melbourne look like at night.  Dark!  That’s what they’ve like at night.  Well except for the street lights, the traffic lights, the headlights and the cheery glow emanating from the rude huts of the local peasantry.  OK it was pretty bright really but it would have been dark if all the lights had been turned off.  As we approached the house I was greeted by a cacophony of howls, barks and scrabbling.

“Dogs,” explained my friend.  I hadn’t actually thought it was his housemate but I suppose it was good to clear the air from the start.

Once inside with unpacking completed and the dogs reduced to only mild levels of hysteria we made our plans for the evening.  Cinnamon whisky was the first decision, bed was the second.  The next day Melbourne could reveal itself in all its glory.

The next day Melbourne revealed itself in all its glory which is to say it was cold, damp and overcast.  That changed later in the day, it started to rain as well.  I went back to bed.  When I arose later that day I had to accept that Melbourne had made its decision and I would just have to live with it.

Melbourne has (according to Melbourne) a vibrant cafe culture so we wandered along to Fitzroy where we could have breakfast and indulge in a little people watching.  Predominately we watched small numbers of people hastily scurrying about whatever tasks had driven them out of bed.  Once in the cafe I watched a waitress and a waiter flirt with my friend while they forgot my drinks order.  So far Melbourne seems a lot like Sydney.

In the afternoon I had been promised a treat.  My two hosts drove me out to the Dandenong Ranges for sightseeing and scones with jam and cream.  The Dandenongs are north of Melbourne and are small mountains or possibly vigorous hills.  They're wooded, lushly green and overall a visually appealing place to spend the afternoon.  We drove to a lookout where we gazed down on to occasional patches of Melbourne and large expanses of mist.  For this we paid seven dollars which was a high price to pay for mist but, we all agreed, perfectly acceptable since it permitted us to use their toilets.  After enjoying the view and the facilities we stopped off at a beautiful, unspoiled tourist trap and enjoyed the promised scones with jam and cream.  Once back at the house we decided that 10.30 was quite late enough to go to bed on a Saturday night.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Hopefully Travelling

I planned to drop into Melbourne to visit a friend.  A rather modest and unassuming ambition l think you’ll agree.  As soon as I made the arrangements I discovered that this harmless little jaunt had angered some malign god.  I don’t know which one, most of the gods I know are as choice a collection of petty minded psychopaths as you’re ever likely to meet outside a children’s birthday party.  First I was visited with a plague of kidney stones (believe me two counts as a plague).  When I insisted on hobbling towards the airport clutching painkillers and whimpering to myself my airline of choice suddenly discovered its aircraft had more cracks than crazy paving.  When I turned up at the airport waving an industrial sized roll of duct tape the increasingly frustrated deity played its final card; industrial action among the aircraft wranglers.  The flight schedule was in chaos as aircraft romped unattended in the fields.

I, however, am undaunted; so far my flight has been cancelled, rescheduled and then delayed but with any luck I should make it to Melbourne before I’m due back at work on Monday.  Pretty much the only thing that can still go wrong is if a meteorite hits the airport so I’m cautiously optimistic although I am keeping one eye on the sky.

In the meantime I’m taking advantage of the time I’m spending in this low rent Limbo by amusing myself with toilet advertisements.  As I rinsed my hands a display informed me of the importance of prostate cancer testing kits.  I almost expected to see a dispenser.  Just the thing to while away those tedious ours while they get a noose around your aircraft’s nose and lead it to the departure gate.  I do all my important medical testing at the airport, you’re probably the same.

Once the advertising was sure I had sorted out my prostate cancer it changed to a more hopeful message informing me I could marry who and when I wanted.  Unfortunately it also said forced marriage was illegal.  One of those two statements must be inaccurate.  I put my upcoming nuptials on hold and decided to eat chocolate instead.  I can actually see the advertising looking through its records for a promotion for a type 2 diabetes testing kit.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Silly After Action Report

Commissar Ioseb Goulashvili scribbled his signature at the bottom of the document.  So far he had successfully purged two thirds of the company and was confident that soon all unreliable elements would be removed from the couple of dozen or so men who were left.  The company commander walked in frowning.  Goulashvili made a note of his defeatist attitude.

"Did you order the bakery set on fire?" asked the company commander.

"I did," replied Goulashvili.  "The soldiers will fight better once they rid themselves of bourgeois notions like breakfast and nutrition.  What do you think about my recommendation to introduce commissars, propaganda officers and reeducation personnel down to section level?"

"That would leave us with only about two actual riflemen per section."

"Perfect, execute one and put the other under surveillance.  Was there anything else?"

"Just several thousand Finns attacking us.  We think they were attracted by the smell of baking bread.  Incidentally you have an interesting name, were you born in Georgia?"

"No, South Carolina."

I know I promised Ciao Cina as the next scenario but there was an unexpected delay.  Instead Dave
Wilson and I are going back to where it all began with ASL Scenario #1 Fighting Withdrawal.  Here I shall command such of the 131st Border Battalian as haven't already succumbed to Commissar Goulashvili's attempts at reeducation as they try and fend off a pack of vengeance crazed Finns ably commanded by Dave.  There are no fancy frills like tanks or artillery pieces in this scenario.  Just infantry squads and the odd support weapon.  I command fourteen squads of first line Soviet infantry led by three officers (one of which I swapped out for a 9-0 commissar).  Fire support is provided by a machine gun, two light machine guns and two actual fires spreading smoke and flames across the battlefield.

I decided on an up front defence garrisoning the buildings across the road from Dave's set up area with the bulk of my force.  I also place a couple of units on the flanks and in the rear, these were the "flee for the exit" guys while hopefully the rest of my boys could hold off the ravening Finns.  I made a slight screw up as I had forgotten that my two hidden squads could set up anywhere on the board.  Traditionally they are deep in the rear so that they can exit quickly but mine were forward bolstering the front lines.

Dave had set up the bulk of his force opposite mine but also had a decent flanking force on his left (my right) which would give me headaches as my brilliant deployment hadn't given me anything to counter it.  Dave commenced by opportunity firing monstrous stacks of Finns and sending halfsquads out to bounce my concealed units.  I hate this tactic (except when I do it) as it helps to ruin my fondly imagined plans.  It didn't do Dave a lot of good though as his Finns proved incapable of shooting straight.  Nevertheless I took the hint and pulled my front liners back and shuffled forward a few concealed units in their place.

While the bulk of his force got bogged down attempting to shoot through buildings to get at my defenders he sent his flankers forward protected by stone walls and an increasing amount of smoke as the fires really took hold in the town.  I had placed a couple of squads along with a 7-0 in the rear of my set up.  These were my designated exit material but with Dave's flankers pounding through the smoke they were rapidly redesignated as delaying troops.  And delay they did.  It can't be claimed that they inflicted significant casualties on Dave's troops (I'm not sure I can claim they inflicted any casualties on Dave's troops) but they managed to pull back keeping lines of sight to the convenient open ground hexes and forcing caution on the part of their pursuers.

Over on my left he tried a little flanking as well but a hidden squad with an lmg carved up his troops as they charged boldly down the road and things settled back to the grind of fighting his way through the buildings.  Grind they did.  Slowly and painfully the Finns fought their way through my defenders, mainly by tooth and claw.  The gutters ran red with blood (and Commisar Goulashvili's hair dye) while I tried to simultaneously pull troops back to form a new defensive line and stop Dave from overwhelming the defensive line I already had.  A fortuitous close combat netted me a halfsquads worth of prisoners and I promptly raced them rearward.  This scenario is so old that the SSRs haven't yet started to say things like "prisoners do not count double".

While an increasingly frenzied series of close combats were going on in the centre the remainder of the town was rapidly catching fire and his flankers pushed forward, apparently unconcerned by the fact that the bulk of their compadres were tied up some way in the rear.  Just ahead of them my flank defenders skipped out of reach (but close enough to pose a threat) so that he couldn't just charge down the road.

Eventually Dave pushed me from the last of my forward positions and the couple of Soviet squads who had survived the carnage snuggled behind a stone wall, the last decent defensible terrain that wasn't actually burning to the ground, and waited for the end.  To my surprise my boys survived another turn behind the wall although the Finns were using their numbers to infiltrate past their flanks.  With two turns to go it was all over.  Dave counted up the distance between his most forward troops and the edge of the board and realised he couldn't make it.  My boys had skulked and scurried and, above all, survived loads of high firepower shots from the attacking Finns and had pulled off a win with time to spare.

Somewhat blurry but the Finns are nowhere near the exit

In fairness Dave's shooting was dreadful.  He says I diced him but actually he diced himself.  My dice were average but his had apparently developed a visceral hatred of their owner.  Having said that it was only his fire shots that were poor.  Once he herded his Finns into close combat they slaughtered with a will but that's a slow way to do it when your 20+2, 16+1 prep fire stacks achieve no result whatsoever.

The smoke grimed remnants of the 131st Border Battalion stood to attention as General Slugabed stumbled up to them reeking of vodka and waving medals.  His largely incoherent speech of praise was punctuated by hiccoughs and one awkward vomiting fit.  Nevertheless with the assistance of his aides the general managed to pin medals onto the newly minted heroes with only a couple of fatalities.  With the ceremony over the newly decorated survivors reported to the makeshift field gulag Commissar Goulashvili had set up on the charred remains of the bakery.  After all there was always the possibility a few crumbs had survived.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Good Speech, Now Time to go to Work

Greta Thunberg recently addressed a meeting of the United Nations on the subject of climate change. At least I presume it was on the subject of climate change, I don't have the full transcript in front of me and naturally the media focused on those bits where she was essentially tearing the assembled representatives a new one.  Various conservative pundits have lined up to criticise her but I can't help feeling there's a certain amount of jealousy involved there.  Having the opportunity to front the UN and lambast it for inadequacy, failure and general uselessness must be pretty close to their wet dream.  It's quite the achievement for Greta as well, previously a teenage girl had to get shot in the face before she got an opportunity like that.

Greta's activism and particularly her speech have had two very predictable results.  She has been canonised as a saint by those who support her and vilified by those opposed, so far so normal.  There are a couple of points that I would make.  Whatever Greta Thunberg may achieve in the way of climate change abatement she hasn't done it yet.  Nor has what she has done so far got her any appreciable distance towards that goal.  Her challenge now is not to berate a roomful of largely irrelevant deadbeats but to persuade seven thousand million people that things have got to change.

Because this is how things change.  Individuals may lead movements but the movement has to be there for them to lead.  The population at large decides and governments and corporations will go along with it the first to protect their jobs and the second to protect their profits.  It will take a while and is largely incremental.  There won't be a light bulb moment but if all goes well Greta will wake up one day to find the world has fundamentally changed while still feeling thoroughly familiar.  To do this people need to be informed and they need to be concerned.  What they don't need is to be terrified.  Terrified people do not make good decisions.  You don't terrify people so that they make good decisions, you terrify them so they will obey your orders no matter what the quality of the decision.

It seems to be axiomatic in climate activist circles that the only thing that can save us is massive government intervention and sacrifice on the part of the general population.  Wrong and wrong.  The only thing massive government intervention has ever successfully produced is an equally massive body count.  Government action will be needed of course, but to codify what the people have already decided and, where necessary, to punish the outliers who transgress.  Still less is sacrifice a useful tool.  Sacrifice implies that we have done something wrong and must be punished.

We haven't done anything wrong.  We have built a staggeringly successful civilisation that has lifted a portion of the world's population (including me) to unheard of levels of health and comfort while simultaneously holding up a signpost to guide those who haven't yet got there.  Along the way there were some unintended consequences one of which is what concerns Greta Thunberg (and many others of course).  There are almost certainly other consequences that we won't even notice for another century or so.  However when we address those consequences we will do it with a spectacular array of scientific and technical tools to assist us.  The creations of this self same civilisation.  The hour may be late but I wouldn't bet against us.

One of the frequent jibes made against climate activists by their (usually right wing) opponents is that they are essentially using the issue as a false flag operation to propagate a leftist political agenda.  Which is rather like the pot calling the kettle black (please note however that both pot and kettle are black). I don't actually believe this charge but what I do believe is that when people consider a problem they immediately fall back a on solution that conforms with what they would want done anyway (as I did above).  Hence calls for massive government intervention and sacrifice.

Incidentally when I say we shouldn't sacrifice I don't mean we shouldn't change.  We will have to come up with different, better, more sustainable ways of doing things to keep our society and improve our comfort levels without inadvertently cooking the planet.  The challenge for those who wish to lead us towards this goal is to find those ways and convince us of both their necessity and convenience.

For Greta Thunberg the work has just begun.  She's done the fun part of the job but the hard work is still ahead.  She is passionate, dedicated and, according to reports, quite ferociously intelligent.  Good, she'll need all of that.  She will also need to learn how to speak to people more important than the representatives at the UN (pretty much anyone comes to mind).  She'll need to teach and set an example, guide and persuade.  It will be difficult, it will take time and if she's successful its quite possible nobody will notice at least not until somebody looks back from a hundred years into the future and realises that we didn't die after all.  The speech to the UN was dramatic but telling a bunch of grown ups that they've ruined her life doesn't make her a saviour.  It just makes her a teenager.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Good and Bad News for Dolphins but Mainly Bad

"Forgive me father for I have sinned, it has been thirteen days since my last blog post."

"You're forgiven," replied my father.  "Also, who gave you our number?"

Despite the absence of your scribe to record events the world has kept staggering on approaching the inevitable heat death of the universe with, by this stage, a certain amount of anticipation.  Along the way a teenager lambasted various politicians for destroying her future (after that performance she'd better hope she's right), some Americans decided to impeach their president (for seeking help to discredit a political opponent who has proved perfectly capable of discrediting himself) and the British government became even more of a slobbering farce than it was the previous day (due to all sorts of things but basically boiled down to the fact that the only people qualified to arrange Brexit would rather drown their children in the bath whereas all the politicians in favour of Brexit would be intellectually challenged running a bath) oh and dolphins in the English Channel have unacceptably high levels of PCBs.

I was astounded; given that the English Channel is made up of approximately equal parts oil slicks and discarded condoms I couldn't believe that dolphins lived in the thing at all.  The fact that dolphins with such a low rent address have health issues is somewhat more believable.  PCBs are, ok, I've no idea what they are but apparently they're some sort of chemically thing that we used to pump into the environment for kicks.  They have bad impacts on living things, particularly larger living things.  At this point its probably a good thing elephants aren't aquatic.  Dolphins unfortunately are one of the larger living things PCBs have a bad impact on.

Apparently it mucks about with a dolphins ability to reproduce. It's also passed from mother to child so even if a dolphin does manage to reproduce (and since we still have dolphins presumably some do) that is no guarantee that the next generation will be blessed with the splishy splash of tiny flippers.  If we really want to guarantee dolphin survival (I'm going out on a limb and assuming most people do) then we have to get rid of the PCBs.  Unfortunately there's a problem, we stopped pumping PCBs into the water system decades ago.  The PCBs currently causing the problem date from prior to our stopping and are actually in the dolphins themselves thus making them a little difficult to get rid of.  At least they're difficult to get rid of if you want a live dolphin population at the end of the exercise.  If not set up a few dolphin blenders and get to work.

PCBs are only one of the problems facing the dolphins.  Being an apex predator may seem cool if your sole experience with such things is watching The Lion King but what it actually means is that essentially the dolphins are landfill for every piece of crap in the foodchain.  Dolphins in the channel have so much mercury in them that they actually hover several feet above the waves on hot days.  They contain so many pesticides that grating a dolphin over your fields would be an effective way of protecting your crops and this is before we even get to the PCBs.

If we ever succeed in completely cleaning up the oceans we're going to have to accept that a lot of the larger sea life probably no longer meets health and safety standards.  There are two positive things to come out the above somewhat depressing survey.  Firstly we still have dolphins which shows a remarkable amount of resilience.  Secondly the presence of this cocktail of chemical death will hopefully persuade people not to eat them.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Silly After Action Report

Captain Hiroki Yabadabadu peered down the railway line.  In the distance he could see a small group of dark skinned men clustered around a mortar.

"Who the hell are they?" he muttered.

"Gurkhas," replied Colonel Matsu.  "Yet another example of English colonialism enslaving the Asian races.  In the emperor's name we will crush them."

"So we're going to attack?"

"Sort of, we'll send the Burmese first to catch bullets.  It's the least they can do since we're liberating them."

"Are you sure we can rely on the Burmese?"

"It's possible death against the Gurkhas as opposed to certain death right here.  If they object we'll liberate them from breathing.  Do you have a concern?"

"I'm just not sure its wise to place a lot of faith in people who plan their battles with the assistance of an astrologer.  It would have been better to go in before dawn but apparently 2.15pm on a day with an "r" in it was the most propitious time."

"All the more reason to let them go first."

So (briefly) leaving the Italians behind Mike Sexton and I decided to play AP 91 - Parting Shots which features a group of Gurkhas given the thankless task of making the British retreat from Burma look like slightly less of a shambling disaster than it actually was.  A dice roll gave Mike the subcontinental supermen while I took command of a bunch of Japanese generously engaged in spreading the Greater South East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere to a part of South East Asia from which prosperity was conspicuously absent.  For comedy relief the Japanese have a couple of squads of Burmese "soldiers" attached.

Victory is gained by the side which amasses the most victory points as represented by a combination of bodycount and control of multihex buildings. Light jungle is in effect and all buildings are wooden.  There's also an embanked railway running the length of the theatre doing little except forcing Mike and I to look up the hillock rules which I'm reasonably certain we got more or less right, ish.  Mike has six elite squads and an equal number of halfsquads, a pair of 51mm mortars and a single light machine gun the whole commanded by some reasonably capable officers.  Late in the day he's reinforced by another squad, lmg and leader carted around in an IP carrier.

I have ten squads evenly divided between elite and first line plus a pair of elite halfsquads, two 50mm mortars and two lmgs.  Three sword wielding egomaniacs are present to urge their hapless charges forward.  Also present are two partisan squads, a lmg and a distinctly sub par officer represent collaborationist Burmese forces.  Their principal role is as guides, helping their Japanese masters, sorry, liberators through the jungle.  The set up rules require my entire force to be clustered around the railway line because soldiers naturally gravitate to places where its easy to see and kill them.  Below is the at start set up showing my unimaginative clump of forces and Mike's troops waiting to give them a kukri lesson.  I'm sorry, that joke was bad even for this blog.

Set up
My first job was to breach Mike's forward line and I dipped into traditional Japanese tactics (charging madly at the enemy) to do so.  I had a pair of half squads up on the railway line, all jokes about Burmese bullet catchers notwithstanding the job of these guys was to die usefully for the emperor.  I weighted my attack to my right.  Here I placed all of my elite squads, both lmgs, a halfsquad with a mortar and a pair of leaders.  A 9-1 led a stack of two squads and lmgs with a Burmese squad attached to guide them through the jungle.  On the left side of the railway track were my first line squads, another mortar team and my final leader.  Stacked with the leader and his boys was the other Burmese squad.  Mike had set up one of his mortars to fire straight down the railway line and discourage exactly what I was about to do.  He must have mistaken me for someone who cares about the lives of his troops.

My first turn was disturbingly successful.  A halfsquad charged madly down the railway line cheerfully ignoring a rain of mortar bombs and bounced one of the concealed units adjacent.  Defensive fire broke him (and a subsequent mortar round would kill him) but his work was done. Another halfsquad did the same to the other rail line adjacent unit and actually survived.  That achieved I pushed my main stacks through the jungle to close up with the revealed units.  One squad I sent into CC with a halfsquad.  It was half successful, both Gurkhas and Japanese use hand to hand which makes close combat a spectacularly bloody affair.  I killed his half squad but in return he casualty reduced my squad so CVP were even.  In better news advancing fire broke the full squad he had on the right of the railway line opening up a lot of space for my Japanese to exploit.

End of my turn 1

Mike decided skulking was the better part of valour so the principal thing that happened in his first turn was my assembling of my mortars (smoke, for the purposes of). My second turn consisted of consolidating the gains I had made and moving up to where I could launch the second stage of my attack, hopefully behind a shroud of smoke.  I pushed a halfsquad forward to strip his remaining forward unit on the left of concealment.  He took his shot and striped a squad but in return I managed to pin him.  With half the population of Japan bearing down on him Mike decided to voluntarily break and get the hell out of Dodge.  Probably the best idea and it wasn't really Mike's fault that the gutless bastards didn't rally for the remainder of the game.  Over on the right some well placed defensive fire broke another of his units that fled yelping to the back of the building.

End of my turn 2
Turn three rolled around and I was ready to launch my main attack.  Over on the left an impressive looking stack garrisoned the forward multihex building.  I was certain (correctly) that it would be an lmg equipped squad guided by a high quality leader.  That's why I have mortars.  The mortar crew on the left reached for the WP shells only to find they'd left them in Thailand.  Fortunately they had been less careless with the smoke rounds and I managed to blanket his position with enough smoke to blind them.  On a side note Mike is in much the same position himself courtesy of Indonesian forest fires.  My happy experience with smoke came to an end at that point.  I had intended to use my mortar on the right to drop some smoke to cover my approach to the multihex building immediately to my front.  Unfortunately these clowns had left both their smoke and their WP behind.  Somebody's going to get it in the neck, with a sword, once this scenario is over.  With his most potent force choking I raced a halfsquad around into the building behind them.  I could babble about blocking rout paths but actually for some reason I had forgotten that I actually needed to control the building before I could claim the victory points.  Fortunately Mike had more immediate things to worry about.  I also sent a halfsquad plunging forward to capture unoccupied buildings in Mike's rear.

With smoke unavailable on the right I fell back on more traditional methods.  I herded the Burmese out into the open where Mike's defensive fire broke both leader and squad.  With Mike's defenders thus distracted I pushed troops forward near the railway line and snuggled a concealed stack up near his remaining forward defenders on the right.  Close combat was my friend for once (ok 2-1 odds with a -1 leader) and I had cleared him away from the railway line while his remaining troops on the right would have to run across open ground swept by fire if they wanted to get back to the building.  On the far left I pushed my striped squad forward to keep his brokies under DM.  This they achieved but in return found themselves under fire from Mike's other mortar.  A snake eyes on the ensuing morale check resulted in them going berserk. 

End of my turn 3
With his third turn Mike was getting desperate.  Things had gone to hell on the right and he felt the time had come for extreme measures.  He dropped concealment and fired on my adjacent stack without result.  I was very tempted to keep concealment but I had two squads and a leader for a 16+1 shot at his remaining force.  I took the shot and broke the leader.  Unfortunately the squad rolled snakes and generated a hero to replace him.  But then desperation drove Mike to the extreme.  His hero led the remaining squad into close combat against two squads and a leader.  If he was successful it might swing his fortunes.  He wasn't successful and promptly lost his last squad  on the right hand side of the board and his newly minted hero into the bargain.

It was pretty much over at this point.  Mike had taken appalling casualties while mine had been almost embarrassingly light.  Not even his vapourising of my berserk squad as they charged madly across open ground could alter that.  We played another turn in case a miracle happened but it didn't and Mike graciously conceded while I ungraciously gloated.  In retrospect Mike feels he set up his forward defenders a little too far forward and I tend to agree.  I was able to move up and beat them without the rest of his force being able to intervene then, largely unharmed I was able to move against the rest.  Mike noted that I didn't launch a banzai charge which surprised him.  I tried to make it look as though this was some cunning tactic on my part but the simple fact is I can never remember how the damn things work.  Much thanks to Mike for the game.  Our next outing will involve my favourite (Italians) and Mike's favourite (PTO) with LFT's Ciao China.

Captain Yabadabadu looked around with a sense of satisfaction.  It was all over bar the shouting and of course the massacring.  He saluted as the colonel approached.

"Well done captain.  We've liberated the Gurkhas with extreme prejudice."

"Extreme prejudice is what we're good at sir."

"Did any of the Burmese survive?"

"Actually, all of them."

Colonel Matsu blinked, "Really?  Have their astrologer report to my planning staff immediately."


Sunday, September 8, 2019

Here it Comes, There it Goes

Big news in cetacean circles.  A new species of whale has been discovered!  Unfortunately its been discovered off the coast of Japan which must be rather like discovering a new species of tiger outside a Chinese medicine shop.  Still at present researchers and professional whale pesterers of all stripes are currently enjoying that brief period of excitement between the whale's discovery and its almost inevitable extinction.

According to an expert at a Japanese natural history museum (and co-owner of the Happy Harpoon seafood restaurant) the new species is about six to seven metres long, dark in colour and goes well with lotus root and bamboo shoots.  The species was first noticed some time ago by local whalers but in an attempt to avoid the bitter demarcation disputes which have long characterised oceanic studies the whalers restricted themselves to just harpooning them and left the naming to the scientific community.

It is, of course, totally inaccurate to speak of a "new" species of whale.  This particular type of whale (Berardius Minimus if you're interested) has no doubt been swimming the oceans for as long as any other type.  It's just that it's taken this long for it to come to the attention of any human being whose immediate reaction wasn't to carve it up for sushi.  In fact the whales might have maintained their anonymity indefinitely if they had been somewhat better at navigation.  Despite the comments of local whalers the scientific community didn't really notice them until they tripped over a half dozen or so that had attempted to swim up a beach.

Suddenly the world was stunned to hear that there was a new species of whale, or at least there was until the only six specimens known to science died on a Japanese beach.  Meanwhile the whalers rolled their eyes, sharpened their harpoons and decided it probably wasn't worth mentioning the giant kraken they encountered the other week.

The appearance, however brief, of previously undiscovered whales has made the usual people giddy with excitement.  Various marine scientists have gone on the record to point out that it just goes to show how much there is still to learn about our oceans and how terribly thrilling it all is.  At least there is still a lot to learn about our oceans if you don't speak to fishermen.  I rather suspect that this omission is deliberate.  It must get a little tedious if every time you announce the discovery of a new species some grubby tramp in a pullover and heavy boots who probably didn't even go to university points out that he's been catching, frying and eating this new discovery for years.

For now though let us join with the scientists and revel in the fact that there are still things to discover and animals not yet known.  No doubt the bodies of the six whales will be examined from all angles to see if there's anything else that can be learnt about this new species.  Look out for the breathless announcement that they've discovered a new species of aquatic plastic bag that lives in the whale's stomache.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

What Happened to Just Exposing them on Hilltops?

My Tasmanian correspondent let slip, in the course of casual conversation the other day, that she plans to murder her children.  This comment was met with gasps of horror and outrage from both myself and my tech support.  I decried the tragic waste of young human life while my tech support decried the tragic waste of saleable commodities.

Somewhat snippily my correspondent pointed out that infanticide was a traditional part of Tasmanian culture and I was imposing colonialist-oppressor cultural values on a helpless society.  She may also have called me racist.  Since my correspondent comes from roughly the same pasty coloured stock as myself I found that last a little much.  However since my colleagues have no fewer than five equal opportunity complaints against me revolving around what I thought were quite harmless comments on race, gender, religious affiliation and cattle herding I decided not to take chances.

Apologising profusely I invited her to tell me more to alleviate my ignorance and broaden my understanding of ways other than my own.  Perhaps there were lessons I could learn.  After a pro forma accusation of cultural appropriation my correspondent complied.

At some point in the life of each Tasmanian child (generally when their parents finally lose patience) they are encouraged to engage in certain activities; playing in traffic, annoying strange dogs, firearm handling, pestering poisonous reptiles etc.  The intention is to winnow out those less suited for the rough and tumble of adult life although it is considered bad form to simply bludgeon your children to death with a seal club.  If the child should survive they will have learnt vital skills that will help them survive when, as adults, they try to kill their own children.

My correspondent has decided to fulfill her cultural imperative by taking her children bushwalking.  This seems almost disturbingly survivable but this is no ordinary bushwalk.  This is the Three Capes Bushwalk.  Four days and three nights out in the wilderness, living hand to mouth while trekking over rugged terrain from one cape to another.  There are in fact only two capes but anyone who has any familiarity with Tasmania's education system will be impressed that they got as close as they did.

My correspondent will be dragging both her recalcitrant offspring along on this thinly disguised death march.  They will huddle in the open, live on trail mix and take in the wonders of the great outdoors.  The mortality rate should be impressively high.

But it remains to be seen if my correspondent's children will even live to get to the starting point.  To prepare them for the horrors to come she recently purchased her children a wobble board.  Visions of Rolf Harris floated in my head but apparently this is some sort of thing you attempt to balance on to strengthen your ankles and lateral muscles prior to putting them to test in the great outdoors.  Unfortunately so far her children have shown a distressing tendency to fall off the thing into the waiting maws of the family dogs which have camped out around it looking for an easy meal.  This may actually be the best result for my correspondent.  I have met her children and I'm reasonably confident that if she takes them out into the wilderness they will be the ones returning not her.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

If There Isn't A Smoke Machine and a Wire Thylacine it Isn't Art

My Tasmanian correspondent has been somewhat absent of late and I felt obliged to speak to her about this with some firmness.  To her credit she acknowledged her error and promised improvement in the future.  As a sign that there were no hard feelings as soon as I had apologised she undid the cable ties and permitted me to seek medical attention.

Finally she did file a report on recent events in the Jaime & Cersei theme park she calls her home state.  Unfortunately it didn't make much sense.  It consisted of a series of dot points as follows;
  • Wire thylacine
  • Underground dungeon
  • Smoke machine
  • London marathon
  • Painting stripes on her dog
  • Plague of turtles
I turned the page over in case there was an explanation written on the back.  There wasn't, the only thing written on the back was the first page of a restraining order taken out against one of her children for bringing a baseball bat to a soccer match.  Somewhat nervously I contacted her for a clarification.

"Honestly," she sighed, "Gracie beats up one eight year old and suddenly everybody overreacts."

"Not that," I replied, "the stuff on the other side."

It turns out that she recently attended a sort of art thingy.  Said thingy took place in darkened cells underneath a former council chambers in an undisclosed location in Hobart.  Wire thylacines hung from the ceiling and a guy was simulating running the London marathon on a treadmill in a corner.  The air was full of artificially generated smoke which was periodically split by spotlights persuading whoever was trapped in the glare to spout poetry.  It was an art exhibition, it doesn't have to make sense.

My correspondent thoroughly enjoyed herself right up to the point when the artificial smoke set off the very real smoke detectors in the building above prompting a sudden evacuation of the venue mid performance.  The performance carried on in the carpark outside and everybody agreed that the addition of the icy rain that they had all gone inside to avoid merely heightened the experience.

The presence of the wire thylacines sparked an idea in my correspondent's head.  She has two dogs.  The average intelligence of one of them can be indicated by the fact that it recently tried to eat an echidna.  The other, however, has a distinctly thylacinic look about it.  My correspondent intends to paint stripes on its back and then take it bushwalking near some appropriately gullible people.  The ensuing excitement complete with blurry photos should bring Tasmania to a state of near paralysis.  More precisely it should bring Tasmania to a state even nearer to paralysis than is usual.

As plans go its a good one.  For some reason Australians have this weird fixation on the thylacine.  None of the other animals we drove to extinction have quite excited our imagination as much as this one.  Its basically a stripy dog and it has to be said that its extinction doesn't seem to have done anything any harm (except the thylacine obviously) but you can't walk past an ornamental hedge in this country without someone claiming a thylacine lives inside it.

As I said its a good plan with one glaring exception.  There didn't seem to be any rational reason for her to do it at all.  Her explanation wasn't entirely helpful.  Partly there was the giggle factor which made perfect sense but her other reason was to distract attention from the turtles.  Somebody had been arrested with a turtle and was now facing the full force of Tasmanian law which in the case of chelonians appeared to two hundred lashes and banishment to a bleak isolated island beyond the fringes of civilisation.  The woman in question claimed to have found the turtle by the side of the road, as you do.

The Tasmanian government is like most governments, it would dearly like to concrete over pretty much the entire island and get rid of all that pesky nature stuff.  However they also have a couple of bizarre quirks.  I've already mentioned that simply whispering the word "fox" into a Tasmanian's ear will prompt the government to mobilise everything from the boy scouts to paramilitary death squads to rid the state of this ecological vandal.  Apparently the turtle is another red flag animal that must not be permitted into the state on pain of death.  They are rapacious predators although the only evidence my correspondent could provide to substantiate this was an anecdotal account of a turtle eating a goldfish.

In the meantime I've decided not to bother my correspondent for further copy.  At least not until the medication kicks in.