Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Mending Fences

A low flying wombat whizzed past me just missing my head.  I ducked just in time as a wallaby cartwheeled through the air and bounced off the wall behind me.  Being a wallaby it just kept on bouncing which made it luckier than the possum which ended both its journey and its life with a sad, wet splat.

"Is this what you like?" screamed my Tasmanian correspondent in a foam flecked fury.  "If you like animals, I've got plenty more." A squirming mass of what looked like deformed worms hurtled in my direction, fortunately I recognised them as baby tiger snakes at the last minute and dove for the panic room I had installed after my correspondent's last visit.  My tech support sent me a surreptitious text.

One of our dispute resolution consultants has a clear shot

It was tempting but I decided to try negotiation, after all this was partly my fault.  It is fair to say that my Tasmanian correspondent didn't take the news that I now had a New Zealand correspondent terribly well.  The comments about deer in the previous blog entry stoked her fury until something snapped.  She was now engaged in hurling pretty much the entire animal population of Tasmania at my head.  No concession was made for rare or endangered species (and its fair to say all of them were getting rarer and more endangered by the second) and I'm pretty sure that the last thing to bounce off what was left of my furniture was one of her dogs.  Suddenly I was grateful that Mr Moo had already shuffled off this mortal coil and that her children were at school.

I attempted a note of sweet reason.
"You seriously don't need another AVO so soon after the last incident," I suggested helpfully, "and Greenpeace is going to be seriously pissed if you don't calm down soon."
Something else slammed into the wall.  I got a glimpse of a scaly tail and far too many razor sharp teeth.
"Holy shit, was that a velociraptor?"
"It was," replied my correspondent.  "Apparently your tech support have some sort of bizarre wildlife park happening down near Middleton.  They've broken loose and are causing carnage among the local population."
I put in a priority call to my tech support.
"Guys, are you genetically engineering dinosaurs in Tasmania."
"We might be," they almost admitted.  "We have big plans for them."
"A dinosaur themed amusement park?" I suggested.
"No, we were planning on them breaking loose and causing carnage among the local population.  What idiot would think of a dinosaur themed amusement park?  It just happened a little earlier than we anticipated."

On the other screen my correspondent was beating a tyrannosaurus into submission with her bare hands.  I knew what the next animal hurtling my way would be.
"Are you guys seeing this?" I asked.
"We are," they replied.  "Can we make a suggestion?"
"Try not to piss your correspondent off in future."

I made an immediate resolution to make amends with my correspondent whatever the cost.  The cost as it turns out is a trip to Tasmania next year to join her in the midnight depravity that is Dark Mofo.  I'm actually looking forward to it although the rather cruel smile on my correspondent's face when I agreed indicated I probably shouldn't be.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Birthday Greetings #77

Happy birthday to Andronikos III Palaiologos, Byzantine emperor.  He was one of the last Byzantine rulers who could claim the title emperor without people sniggering behind his back.  As a young man he inadvertently murdered his brother, caused his father to die of grief and launched a civil war against his grandfather, the reigning emperor, who perhaps understandably had decided the young man wasn't an appropriate person to inherit the imperial title.

Actually Andronikos didn't inherit the imperial title.  He beat his grandfather in a rather desultory civil war which lasted on and off for seven years and pinched the title while the old man was still alive.  In fairness it has to be pointed out that his grandfather had been a lousy emperor and there were plenty of people who apparently thought a young, reckless, murder happy degenerate might be an improvement.  Strangely they were right.

Andronikos wasn't particularly interested in running the empire.  What he liked was war, hunting and parties.  He got plenty of all three.  He was however a delegator of genius.  At least he got the credit when the person he delegated to turned out to be a genius.  One of the ambitious young men who had hitched their wagon to his star was a guy named John Kantakouzenos who turned out to be a brilliant administrator and a gifted diplomat.  Andronikos cheerfully dumped the day to day running of the empire on him while he got on with the wars.

The wars didn't exactly go well.  In fact "not well" is probably a pretty good description of how the wars went.  This wasn't entirely Andronikos' fault.  He had inherited (or rather stole) a politico-military disaster from his grandfather.  The Turks had overrun much of Asia Minor while the Serbs and Bulgarians were squabbling over which of them was going to overrun the Balkans mopping up the empire on the way through.  An attempt to halt the Turks led to a defeat in which the emperor was wounded.  After that he stuck to wars on the western side of the Sea of Marmara.  He got into a war with Bulgaria and lost.  Then the empire was invaded by Serbia.  Andronikos won that one by assassinating the Serbian commander (a turncoat Byzantine) and hustling the disorganised Serbs out of the empire before they really figured out what was going on.

While actual wars were somewhat problematic military heavy diplomacy turned out a little better (thanks largely to Kantakouzenos) and the regions of Thessaly and Epirus were restored to imperial control through a combination of sweet talking and enthusiastic sabre rattling.  These were not inconsequential gains and if Andronikos had been given time to consolidate them he might have been able to rebuild the empire as a reasonably solid state.  Unfortunately the selfish bastard chose this moment to inconveniently die of malaria.  His son was only nine years old but fortunately the loyal and capable John Kantakouzenos was there to act as regent.  You can see where this is going.  The ensuing civil war tore what was left of the empire into shreds.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Echidnas at Twenty Paces

I contacted my tech support in a positive frenzy of excitement.

"Guys, guys.  Great news!"

They responded with a negative frenzy of indifference.

"What, did somebody read your blog?  Or have you visited another damn light rail station?"

"No, well yes, to both actually.  But this is better!  I've got another correspondent!"

"How did you get another correspondent?  That means you have almost as many correspondents as you have readers."

How did I get another correspondent?  Ah well that is a long and complicated story.  Actually its short and quite simple but I have a blog to promote.

As you may know I am employed by a top rank law firm in my home country.  The term "employed" is a mutually agreed upon fiction to provide a justification for the fact that they pay me.  I have worked for them for several decades (the term "worked" is a mutually agreed upon fiction etc etc).  Until recently my immediate manager has been a tall New Zealander who used to play semi professional soccer but still refused to turn out for our corporate team.

Recently this gentleman approached his superiors and spake thusly unto them.

"My heart yearns for my homeland.  For too long I have been distant from my native shores.  I have sojourned far and learnt much and now I must return home to impart the wisdom I have gained and where my father in law has a business doing something slightly dubious to baby cows."

His superiors laughed and said,

"Go then turncoat and never darken our door again for this day has been prepared for.  Behold your replacement!  She is ready and eager to fill your shoes."

And my manager gazed upon her and said,

"You do know she's about eight months pregnant right?"

And his superiors responded,

"Oh crap!  What are you doing in a few months time?  Can you cover for her?"

Eventually agreement was reached that he would indeed cover for her if he could do so by remote control from a cattle pestering facility somewhere in New Zealand.  So my Once and Future Boss is currently buried in rural New Zealand.  Well he's in Wellington actually but I've been there and it is at least semi-rural.  In between raising his child and warding off the authorities trying to investigate exactly what his father in law is doing to those calves he will be managing us while our current manager is on maternity leave. 

To ease the mind crushing boredom of living in New Zealand he has been sending me and my Tasmanian correspondent photos of various parts of New Zealand complete with the remnants of now collapsed buildings.  Whether he's touting for their tourism industry or highlighting a lack of affordable social housing is uncertain but there was one definite result.

Stung by the appearance of a rival apparently challenging for her position my Tasmanian correspondent leapt into action.  Plunging into the bush she dragged an echidna out of its hole and forced it to pose for an increasingly humiliating series of photos and sent the results to me as proof she was doing her job.  I'd like to post the photos but legal advice has warned me that some of them are illegal and at least one is physically impossible.

My new Eastern Territories correspondent responded immediately trumping her with a tumbledown farmhouse and tales of deer wandering past which made her echidna look small, spiky and insignificant.  She stomped off threatening revenge.  I'm hoping to manipulate this latent rivalry into a white hot hatred and mine the ensuing conflict for blog material.  So far it seems to be working, echidnas and deer are being hurled back and forth across the Tasman and the last I saw my correspondents they were engaged in building various forms of siege artillery.

I will bring you further news of the incipient war between New Zealand and Tasmania as it comes to hand.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Lewisham West

How do you improve a suburb that has not one but two pieces of heritage listed sewage infrastructure?  How about a light rail station?  Yes, Lewisham proud home of the Lewisham Sewer Vent and the Lewisham Sewage Aqueduct can now add Lewisham West light rail station to what was previously a rather effluent heavy list of public attractions.

Lewisham West clings so close to the western edge of Lewisham that a relocation of six inches would require a rename to Summer Hill East.  The light rail has managed to get out of Dulwich Hill although only barely as a sign welcoming you to that suburb is a five minute walk from the station.

One of the first things you notice when you arrive is another flour mill.  For a moment I wondered if I had travelled in a complete circle and wound up back in Waratah Mills.  The Greenway persuaded me otherwise.  You remember the Greenway, that glorious strip of overgrown back yard where apparently bandicoots frolic in the afternoon sunshine.  Well it's fair to say its gone into a bit of a decline at Lewisham West.  Such of the greenway as exists seems to consist of a dumping ground for branches and bits of vegetation which appear to have been culled from elsewhere.  It would be rather as if someone had attempted to start a zoo by dumping a bunch of severed animal limbs into a pile.

Which is a pity really because the rest of the surroundings of Lewisham West station are actually rather pleasant.  Part of the flour mill has been demolished (or possibly just fallen down) and replaced by, rather handsome, new residential buildings.  A couple of the, presumably more stable, buildings have undergone the same sort of conversion that took place at Waratah Mills.  Toss in a small park and some generous open space and you have one of the least benighted modern high density residential developments I've yet encountered.

Through this precinct of modern living the canal/storm water drain/ambitious gutter I mentioned at Waratah Mills continues its well graffitied journey to the sea (river actually).  Acknowledgement of the presence of running water comes in the form of flood markers attached to one of the remaining old mill buildings.  I'm not quite sure how useful they are.  If the markers are underwater then so are you.  Still I presume it serves as a "don't say we didn't warn you" device should all of the new development disappear beneath the waves.

The first time I came to Lewisham West was a few years ago when much of the surrounds were still derelict industrial areas and building sites.  It was dull, gloomy and slightly menacing.  It was also night which didn't help.  It has to be said that things have taken a definite turn for the better.  I wandered around the park for a while until I noticed parents were pointing at me and hustling their children away so I took the hint and went into town.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Silly After Action Report - Dust and More Dust

Tenente Silvio Forghetti peered through the dust checking his men's dispositions.  Everything was blanketed in dust and a haze hung in the air, eventually he gave up.

"Men, how are your dispositions?"

"Fair to middling," replied a voice he recognised as belonging to one of his corporals.

"Are the machine guns pointed in the right direction?"

"Damned if I know sir.  It's the dust, we could be in Rome right now for all we know."

"No," disagreed Forghetti, "the traffic would be worse," he gulped a lungful of dust, "and so would the air quality.  Are the mortar crews there?"

"Yes sir," came a voice from off in the murk.

"Got your target locations bore sighted?"

"Well, we registered on some dust and hoped for the best."

"Great, that couldn't go badly wrong."

"There's something moving out there," shouted another soldier from inside a dust clogged foxhole.

Forghetti stared into the distance but saw nothing through the dust except more dust.

"What does it look like?" he asked.

"Like a bunch of really pissed off night club bouncers," replied the soldier.

"28th battalion, New Zealand division," said Forghetti.  "Wait until you see the whites of their eyes."

"So we can shoot them?"

"No, so they can see you when you surrender."

This week David Wilson and I are rocking it old school playing scenario ASL 51 - The Taking of Takrouna.  In this scenario I shall take command of the Italians defending the Tunisian village of Takrouna from David's attacking Maoris.  This couldn't possibly end badly could it?  The scenario title is probably a clue.  It isn't called The Heroic and Thoroughly Successful Defence of Takrouna is it?

To hold a piece of North Africa that I have doubts even the indigenous population was particularly fond of I have a dozen first line squads, a pair of half squads, a bunch of useless light machine guns, two crappy little 45mm mortars and a medium machine gun.  Leadership, for want of a better word, is provided by a 9-1 and an 8-0.

David's attacking force consists of six elite squads of battle hungry Maoris with a pair of half squads to make up the numbers.  Leadership is provided by an awesome 10-2 and an only slightly less immortal 9-2 plus two heroes.  A couple of light machine guns and a pair of 51mm mortars make up David's forces.  Numbers are on my side, pretty much everything else is on David's.  There's only one objective; for reasons in which sanity cannot have had much involvement the inhabitants of Takrouna built their village on the top of a cliff.  David has to punch through my, no doubt, fanatical defence, shimmy up the cliffs and take the cluster of buildings at the top.  If I somehow manage to prevent this Tenente Forghetti will get an iron cross from Rommel himself and probably a wooden cross from the graves registration unit.  A blanket of dust hangs over everything providing David with a modicum of cover and meaning my poorly armed troops are even less likely to inflict any casualties.

After having examined all of the options I just decided to surround the victory location with troops.  Man for man my boys can't match the Kiwis for firepower, range, morale or leadership.  I figured my only hope was to set out layers of troops so that David would have to wade through them all.  Hopefully by the time he reached the cliff he would be short of time to actually get up it and clear out the village at the top.  I put a squad with my 8-0 and an lmg up there to make the clearing a little harder.  I didn't put the mmg there. Yes, it's the prime location but its also about the only hex that can be seen from everywhere on the board.  I was pretty sure that one of the first things David would do was drop some mortar smoke on it and blind the occupants (correct).

Intead I set the mmg with a squad and the 9-1 up in a foxhole next to the cliff.  Then I surrounded the cliff with as many bodies as I could find.  One of the mortars went off to the left to bore sight a likely approach route (no one went that way).  The other sat back where it could hit the ridges on the right.  Below is my original set up, apologies for the crappy photos.

As you can see David will have to wade through pretty much the entire Italian army if he wants to get to Takrouna.  For a while it looked as though he didn't want to get to Takrouna.  The first turn went very swiftly as he didn't actually bring his forces on until the advance phase.  Useful for avoiding fire but it did mean that one turn had gone by without him getting appreciably closer to his goal.

David chose to bulk up in the centre and on my right, looking for a flank.  Over on my left a solitary squad with a hero was left to draw my attention.  In a sense these guys accomplished their mission.  They strode bravely forwards and since everything else was lurking under concealment counters they received a barrage of fire which CRed the squad and wounded the hero.  My left flank was safe.  Which was helpful because David threw the bulk of his force at a couple of speed bump squads I'd left out on the right.  His mortars were in the centre and did indeed drop a shroud of smoke over Takrouna itself.  This was about the last useful thing did though.  I attempted to back pedal my speedbump squads but they both wound up dying.  One in close combat and the other when the brutal Maoris refused to take a bunch of terrified Italians prisoner.

In the centre David sent forward a squad to challenge my forward defenses.  Unfortunately for him his wounded hero was incapable of climbing the difficult terrain he was presented with and spent most of the game sulking impotently.  Gunfire rang out across the battlefield as squad fired on squad.  The other thing that rang out across the battlefield were hysterical curses as the prevailing dust made it virtually impossible for either of us to hit the other.  There were a couple of breaks here and there but most of the casualties would come from close combat.

Meanwhile the relentless up and down of the terrain meant that David's flanking attack took a heck of time to get into position as they always seemed to be going down into gullies and then climbing back up the other side.  My movement was sparse.  I was hunkered down in foxholes and a thick layer of dust and I simply invited David to move forward and throw me out.

Eager for blood David plunged into what would turn out to be an epic close combat in the centre of my position.  Each of us would reinforce this battle which went on for several turns and at the end it was the Italians who emerged victorious.  I lost a pair of squads in doing so but David lost a squad and a half plus a hero so the ledger was definitely in my favour.

Over on the right his 10-2 had set up a firebase with which to pound my defences only to discover that a combination of dust, foxholes and concealment counters could reduce a 10-2 to virtual impotence.  Not that my own shots were any better.  One of my 45mm mortars spent virtually the entire game shooting at that particular kill stack without result.  With the assistance of the ever present dust David waltzed a unit through a bore sighted location and took a to hit shot with a -4 modifier without being touched.

Despite the disappointing fire results David's forces were slowly inching closer and he managed to start pushing in my front as well.  A single squad in a forward foxhole stopped him for a while but he eventually managed to butcher them and take the location for his very own.  The close combat in the dead centre raged on as we both fed troops into the mincing machine.  Finally despite the dust he managed to get a morale check on my mmg team and they promptly crumpled like wet cardboard.  Unfortunately for him he couldn't get any troops into the suddenly abandoned foxhole and the next turn I was able to reclaim the mmg.  This mmg incidentally didn't roll lower than eight for the entire game and the only thing I achieved was rolling an eleven and breaking the damn thing.  Nevertheless its presence made David nervous, until I broke it.  After that he was ok.

About halfway through.  Still plenty of arms and legs for David to get through

David finally managed to rally the halfsquad that was all that was left of the forces on my left and married them back up with his wounded hero.  In a burst of utterly misplaced confidence one of my squads left the defences and jumped into close combat.  Meanwhile on the right his troops, somewhat dizzy from all the up and down were finally starting to close up on my positions.  Simultaneously my centre started to crumble a little bit as well.  Meanwhile mortars banged away at each other with futile aggression and David managed to break the squad I had at the top of the cliff with his 10-2 kill stack.

This was terrible news as his half squad/hero combination killed the squad I sent against them and pushed on for the cliffs.  Well the half squad did, the hero still couldn't get up there.  I managed to get a replacement squad into the village just in time as David's halfsquad climbed the cliffs and jumped into CC just after they arrived.  The village was in danger but David needed more troops in there to be certain.  Unfortunately troops was what he was now desperately short of.  His kill stack was too far away and the remainder of his forces were bottled up in close combat around the cliff base.

My task was a simple one, the close combats had to continue.  I didn't have to win them but I did have to make sure David didn't.  I sent another squad and my 9-1 up through the tunnel to the village to reinforce the melee there (they arrived pinned and CX but beggars can't be choosers) while what was left of my force (not much) reinforced such tattered remnants of my defenders as hadn't already been killed in melee.  I cleared his half squad out of the village and remained alone and unchallenged at the top of the cliff.  His only other nearby squad was locked in melee with a squad and half squad of my own.  His 10-2 led kill stack looked menacing but with only one turn to go it couldn't get to the cliff and climb up in the remaining time.

End game.  I seem to have won

A victory, somewhat surprisingly for me.  At the end of the game I had four squad equivalents left, David had three.  Given the rarity of effective fire results that means a lot of brutal close combats.

Tenente Forghetti brushed dust off his uniform, out of his hair, off his hands, out of his eyes and then went back to his uniform again.  It was a little difficult to see what was going on but from the absence of swearing and screaming the battle seemed to be dying down.  A corporal emerged from the murk ten centimetres away and inadvertantly hit him in the eye while saluting.

"We've won sir," announced the corporal in tones of disbelief.

"How?" asked Forghetti clutching his eye.

"I think most of them got lost and accidentally attacked their own command post."

"That was my command post!"

"Oh!  Are you all right?  Your eye seems to be weeping."

"Wounded defending my command post."

"Well done sir, the propaganda papers will love it."