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.

Desex Your Furniture

I powered up my computer and splashed the obligatory goats blood over the keyboard as per my tech support's instructions.  There has to be an easier way of contacting them.  The keys are getting all sticky and my apartment is full of sacrificed goat carcasses.  My tech support insists that the goats blood is absolutely vital, I'm certain it's got nothing to do with the fact that they own the biggest goat farm in Belarus.

My tech support seemed a little surprised to see me.

"How are you feeling?" they asked.

"Fine thanks," I replied a little touched by their concern.

"No headaches, dizziness, bleeding out of the orifices or indications of a genetically engineered flesh eating virus?"

"No, why?"

"Oh just curious.  What can we do for you?"

"I need help picking up a couch."

"You have a very broad definition of the term "tech support" don't you?"

"Genetically engineered flesh eating virus," I replied.

"Good point, we'll be there on Friday."

Yes after a mere ten years of couch deprivation I am finally getting a new couch to replace the old one which was kidnapped either by aliens or possibly my tech support (to the extent that those two terms aren't interchangeable).  As can be deduced by the decade long hiatus between couches I don't actually need one.  I have an armchair which has proved more than capable of supporting my weight over that period.  It has been suggested that a couch would enable me to offer guests somewhere to sit.  To which I would point out that my apartment has a perfectly functional floor and also I like to lower people's expectations before I serve them food.

Honesty compels me to admit that I haven't actually bought a couch.  Some friends are recouching their home and they asked if I would adopt the redundant one.  Sure they could send it to a couch shelter but everybody knows that most of them are euthanised within twenty four hours.  To avoid them having to tell lies to their small daughter about how their couch had gone to live on a farm and was much happier now I decided to take it in.  At least I agreed to do so once they assured me it wouldn't shed on the carpet and had already been desexed.

I know a lot of people are reluctant to neuter their furniture but it makes them a lot easier to deal with and ensures that you don't have to suddenly find homes for a clutch of unwanted footstools.  I had a friend who refused to desex her furniture and now her life is a mess.  There is literally furniture in every room of her house, you can't move without tripping over some.  Of course most of her friends have stopped visiting.  That isn't because of the furniture, we just didn't like her very much.  But it was definitely the furniture that gave us the excuse.  So please, desex your furniture unless you want to discover what your friends really think about you.  Spoiler alert; you probably don't.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Rozelle Bay

Leaving the bifurcated suburb of Lilyfield behind the light rail plunges northeast towards the river before coming to its senses and taking a sharp right turn just before they would have had to work out how to float rails on water.  The water in question is Rozelle Bay which very kindly permitted a light rail station to use its moniker without charging royalties.

The station is balanced precariously over a small park close to where Whites Creek flows into the bay. The park is big enough to contain one enormous tree and just enough grass to provide a nice border for the bike paths that seem to occupy most of the surface area.  If you want to enjoy a picnic under the tree or go for a very brief bike ride you'd better hurry up.  The local council has put up signs warning that the latest piece of congestion busting infrastructure (yet another toll road because failure repeated over and over again is in itself a form of success) involves building over the park.  This, in the council's view, is a bad thing.  It might certainly be an issue for the light rail which currently has its exit in the park.  Walking off the platform into the middle of a six lane road could have its difficulties.

For the moment though you can trot down the stairs and immerse yourself in the wonders of nature as represented by a solitary tree.  Across the road from the park is Rozelle Bay itself, don't bother going across there, they've fenced it off to stop the water escaping.  Also there are docks and places for boats to tie up.  It is, in fact, a working harbour, home to many maritime industries and small and medium sized pleasure craft. Or to put it another way, its an ugly, aesthetically displeasing mess.

However if you hop off the other side of the light rail things improve somewhat if only because you can't see Rozelle Bay.  Here we are at the back end of Annandale.  I've already mentioned the predilection of the light rail to take you to the back end of places that you would normally only see if you lived in them.  Its actually quite pleasant with trees, bushes and of course Whites Creek cutting a path to the sea (well Rozelle Bay actually).  In the background is the reassuring hum of not too distant vehicle traffic to reassure you that you are actually in the middle of the city and not stuck out in some rural hell hole.

Whites Creek is another one of those watercourses like Hawthorn Canal.  Originally natural it was concreted in the nineteenth century because apparently it was easier to do that than persuade people not to shit in something they might like to drink from later.  The result of which is that Whites "Creek" is essentially an open air drain fringed by parks (of both the recreational and car variety).  I followed the concrete course of the creek for a little while because in a fit of completely uncharacteristic preparation I had actually identified something I wanted to see in the area before I arrived.

This was Whites Creek Wetlands.  Normally, of course, a creek would be considered pretty wet land but in the case of Whites Creek huge slabs of concrete now separate the wet from the land.  This is bad for all sorts of ecological reasons that I won't go into because I don't know them.  There were naturally occurring wetlands once upon a time but that was in pre concrete times.  These wetlands are artificial, they've been deliberately created to recreate a small patch of what used to be prevalent in the area.  Wetlands are an important way of cleansing the water (I'm reading this directly off the sign here) and the creek water is now pumped through this series of shallow ponds which semi naturally filters impurities before being released back into its concrete channel to continue its journey to the bay in somewhat less toxic form.  The wetlands are drained every so often to allow authorities to clean out the pollution laden soil that is the inevitable result of the water itself getting cleaner.

As a by product of this water treatment works a small piece of something that, to the untrained eye, is indistinguishable from nature has returned.  There are reeds, bushes, insects, fish,  frogs and generally biodiversity gone mad.  It's yet another example of how easy it can be to return at least a modicum of plant and animal life to an area.  All you basically have to do is stop actively killing them.  Here we built a handful of ponds which vaguely approximated the original environment and life exploded before you could say "turtle".

And speaking of turtles there are turtles in the wetland as well.  The creators didn't introduce them, they built the wetlands and apparently turtles turned up the next day and started unpacking their bags. Presumably up until this point they'd been living in homeless shelters and sleeping rough on railway stations.  I looked out for turtles but I didn't see any, I did hear a frog but it was being shy and didn't want to pose for photographs.

Having wandered around the wetlands I looked about the place and realised I had no idea where I was or how to get anywhere useful so I followed the creek back to Rozelle Bay where the light rail station was waiting patiently for my return.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Let's Go Bowelling

Attentive readers may recall that some weeks (ok, months) ago I made mention of the fact that my nation's government had done its best to cheer me up after my fiftieth birthday by sending me a bowel cancer testing kit.  Initially I treated it the same way as I treat all unsolicited correspondence from helpful flyers from my local real estate agent informing me how much my property might be worth if I would only stop living there to court summonses.  I ignored it.

However I recently played a game of soccer at lunch time and the sheer pain and physical incapacity that resulted from twenty five odd minutes (and some of them were very odd) ambling about a soccer field were an unpleasant reminder of my own mortality and general level of decrepitude.  I fumbled about in the piles of dust choked paper that I'm pleased to call a filing system (and others are pleased to call a fire hazard) and dug out the testing kit to see if it might help me eke out a few more miserable years of existence.

I'm not entirely sure what I expected but possibly something akin to a do it yourself proctology kit.  I had vague visions of extendable probes, mirrors on sticks and possibly a jar of lubricating jelly.  This is the first time I've had such visions in a medical context.  The reality was slightly disappointing (and much less fun).  I was provided with a sort of mesh net (think of it as a sort of turd trampoline), a couple of sample bottles and an invitation to crap my heart out.  Two separate samples are required, the instructions assured me more than once that they only had to be tiny, and then you pop them in the envelope attached and drop them in the post.

The emphasis placed on the fact that the sample only needed to be small gave the distinct impression that they were used to receiving bags containing the entire contents of the testers bowels.  I'm prepared to bet that opening the mail is a job they give to the work experience kid.  I must admit that I was a little surprised at the post component.  The last time I mailed my faeces anywhere I got a visit from the police and a restraining order.  There was certainly no medical diagnosis (psychiatric evaluations don't count).

Still I have my instructions and all I have to do now is comply with them and diagnosis will apparently be on its way.  Or will it?  I can't help wondering if they're really going to inform you that you have cancer by mail.  Would they really be that blunt?  I suspect I'll get a letter if everything is all right.  If not there will probably be a discreet invitation to visit my doctor for "further tests".  He'll love that.  Although I could be wrong, possibly I'll come home one day to find the government's "Prepare your own funeral" kit sitting on my doorstep.  Which just leaves me with the question of what I'm going to do with this extendable probe and lubricating jelly.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Silly After Action Report

Two scruffy looking "soldiers" lounged in the brush and stared with mild interest at a group of their comrades who were busy attacking the brush with machetes and bayonets under the direction of an enthusiastically gesticulating Italian officer.  One of the two reached inside what we (with a certain generosity of spirit) shall call his uniform, produced a bunch of qat leaves, stuffed them in his mouth and proceeded to chew.

"What are they doing?" asked his comrade idly.

"Preparing defences I think," replied the other between chews.

The first soldier stood up and looked around at the uninviting landscape.

"Why?  Who'd want to defend this place?"

"Come to think of it who'd want to attack it?"

"West Africans, from the Gold Coast I think."

"Somebody should tell them this isn't the coast and we don't have any gold."

"Look at that guy, he's gesticulating like crazy."

"Well, look who swallowed a fucking dictionary.  Maybe he's having a fit."

"No I think he wants us to help cut up the bushes."

"Can we pretend we haven't seen him?"

"Please, they can probably see him on the moon."

So in an attempt to gain revenge for his recent defeat Mike Sexton suggested we play scenario FT229, A Push in the Bush.  Here a somewhat seedy bunch of "Italian" defenders backed by a couple of creaking armoured cars attempt to defend a not particularly desirable part of Somalia (and I just described the entire country) from the British (as represented by the Ghanaians of the Gold Coast Regiment) who for reasons not entirely clear have evinced a burning desire to evict the Italians from the least desirable colony in Africa.

As the Italian defender I have half a dozen first line squads which, by special rule, count as partisans.  These heroes are equipped with precisely one light machine gun and are led by a single 7-0 who must have drawn the short straw when unit postings were handed out.  To support this self evidently inadequate force on turn two a pair of Fiat 611 armoured cars arrive to bolster the resistance.  One of the cars carries an 8FP machine gun in the turret and the other a 37mm gun.  Both of them have a pair of machine guns sticking out of the rear.

By comparison with my infantry Mike's force are virtual supermen.  On the first turn he gets six squads of second line British (easily a match for my first line Italians) equipped with an lmg and led by an 8-1 sent out to pester the natives.  On turn two he gets another six squads these ones equipped with an anti tank rifle and led by an 8-0 (he was also sent out to pester the natives but they're less inclined to listen).  Mike's objective is to exit twelve VP off the north end of the board, collectively his force is worth twenty seven.

Again by special rule the terrain is counted as steppe (all hamada becomes brush) and there are four sand overlays doing service as particularly enthusiastic brush.  We had to place the overlays alternately, me first.  I set up one near the north edge to provide a slight barrier at the very end and another forward to provide some cover for my forces.  I weighted the brush to the east trying to channel Mike's forces west where I intended to bring on my armoured cars. 

My at start position.  A pair of squads with the lmg in the east (top).  A couple of squads plus dummies in the west.
As mentioned my plan was to hopefully channel Mike's force to the west edge of the board where they would be targets for my armoured cars.  In the east I had four squads (including a two squad/lmg/7-0 "kill" stack) to hopefully ward off any direct attack while the centre was mainly dummies.  A pair of squads in the west served as speed bumps.

This plan lasted all of one turn.  Mike obediently brought his troops on towards the western edge of the board.  My kill stack (really a mild injury stack at best) managed to break one squad but the remainder ploughed forwards towards the brush.

Mike's turn one.  My plan seems to be working.
With the exception of my mild injury stack I decided skulking was the better part of valour and return fire was minimal.  I wanted to keep Mike doubtful as to which were my real squads for as long as possible.  My intention was to fall back gradually in the east and hopefully have a fire base up there to fire west as Mike's troops conveniently trotted towards my armoured cars.  Unfortunately my plan barely survived the first turn.  Having decided he had enough forces in the west (true) he brought his reinforcements on the challenge me in the east and my fall back plan rapidly became a fall apart plan.  I didn't help matters by jumping into a close combat in the west but it seemed like a good idea at the time.  My guys were stealthy and concealed and his were CX.  I ambushed him fine but couldn't hurt him in the melee.

 Come turn two and a brown wave was sweeping towards my positions.  Thanks to my idiot CC decision my forces in the west were reduced to a single squad and I was forced to send some of my eastern force to bolster them.  Those who could fled towards the north trying to reestablish a line.  Which left my eastern forces denuded when Mike's reinforcements came calling.  I left a dummy stack to hold the front and fled rearward.  That dummy stack did sterling service, assault moving back and advancing forward and generally persuading Mike it was real.  It delayed him for a turn and forced him to prep fire units more than once when he should have been moving.

Mike is starting to move forward while my ACs lurk discreetly in the wings waiting their cue

My armoured cars arrived just as the rest of my force was essentially obliterated.  Mike reinforced the melee and wiped out my squad without taking any casualties himself whereas my guys (even the noble 7-0) proved incapable of passing morale checks.  I brought on one car where it could cover the open approach in the west and the other where it would have some decent shots at the more easterly of Mike's forces.  It also meant that it was staring directly at his squad with the atr but fortunately my sniper evinced a pathological hatred of those guys, pinning them twice and then breaking them and essentially putting them out of the game.  In the west my armoured car's first shot broke his lmg team and with his anti tank assets, at least temporarily out of the game I dared to feel a trickle of hope.

Two armoured cars, a squad and a dummy stack stand between me and defeat
That trickle of hope ran increasingly dry over the next couple of turns.  A broken halfsquad in the east actually went berserk on a rally attempt (being partisan helped) but unfortunately it was killed before it could do any good.  Continual morale checks whittled my force down until my mild injury stack consisted of a single, broken 7-0 looking for a hole to hide in.  Along with the morale checks it was obvious that my infantry had left their rifles at home that day as they proved incapable of harming the Ghanaians as they pushed forward.  It was the armoured cars alone that held the line.  They did so boldly at first, breaking those of Mike's squads brave enough to take the van as he headed for the exit, then the machine gun armoured car broke its MA and I thought I was doomed.  I had a single 37mm gun pointing towards the enemy and Mike cheerfully started pushing forces past the emasculated car in the west.

A single armoured car is my sole weapon but time is running out and Mike has a way to go.

Did I mention that these armoured cars have a pair of rear facing machine guns?  As the final turn approached it became obvious that the only way I would stand a chance of victory was if I showed him my rear.  That sentence becomes more disturbing every time I reread it.  I manoeuvred my armoured cars to where their rear machine guns could sweep the exit area.  I couldn't stop some forces getting off and by the time Mike's last movement phase arrived he already had three exit VP. 

Mike is getting ready to leave.  Somehow I have to stop him

 He had a squad and a half plus his 8-1 in the west and four squads in the east with the movement capacity to leave the scene.  I let his half squad go (four points) and concentrated the machine gun fire of my busted AC on the squad and 8-1 leader.  I broke the leader and pinned the squad, good enough now it was all up to the other car.  Mike needed eight exit points so he had to exit off all four squads in the east.  My 37mm had acquisition on one squad so I let two others and his 8-0 leader go (nine points) and took my shot when the acquired squad made its move.  I hit it, gained no result but kept rate.  I hit it again with a critical hit but Mike's squad shrugged off the ensuing 1MC and exited (eleven points).  Now his last squad made it's run.  I had one weapon left, the rear, bow machine gun of my armoured car.  He had to run straight past it in order to get off.  I took the shot and rolled...

Snake eyes!  Mike's hopes vanished in a crimson spray as he came up one VP short.

It's all over.  Pretty much everyone is dead or fled
It really doesn't get much closer than that.  We had a lot of fun playing this game, thanks to Mike for the game and good humour when fate robbed him at the last.

A hush drifted over the battlefield.  Suddenly there was a rustling in the brush and a soldier peered out, still chewing his qat.

"I think it's over," he announced.

His comrade joined him and looked at the body strewn field.

"That looks nasty, glad we weren't involved.  You got any more qat?"

"No," lied his fellow, "Do you think we won?"

"It's a bit hard to tell.  Everybody seems to be dead.  It's tragic, African killing African at the command of our colonial masters."

"Yeah, tragic.  Wanna loot 'em?"


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Throw Out What's Useful and Recycle Your Garbage*

Don't you hate it when virtue signalling suddenly becomes too much effort?  For years now I have been dutifully tossing the more obviously recyclable components of my garbage into the yellow lidded bin provided for such purposes smugly aware that I am part of the solution not part of the problem.  Well that's not entirely true.  I never completely believed that anything I tossed in that bin would be recycled.  The important thing was not that I was doing my bit to reduce human waste but that I could claim that I was if anyone asked.

Now suddenly recycling has become a lot more difficult.  It turns out that in a lot of cases recycling was code for "dumped in a landfill in the Philippines".  Don't misunderstand me, this is a perfectly valid method of recycling, it just happens to be a rather long term method.  Honestly, check back on those landfills in a million years and I'm sure they'll be covered in trees or possibly ocean.  And now it seems that the Philippines and other "recycling centres" in the third world are becoming rather precious about what they let in to their countries.  They have decided, somewhat late in the day, that they prefer ground water that doesn't melt skin.

Possibly detecting the prevailing mood our prime minister has stepped in announcing that Australia will no longer send our garbage to other countries.  Well, there goes our most successful export industry.  What this means is that we're going to have to find something to do with it here.  Although what that will actually be seems a little up in the air at the moment.  Presumably we will continue to sort our garbage into notionally recyclable and non recyclable components and then...something.

The good thing about recycling is, as I noted above, that if you take a sufficiently long term view everything is recyclable and you don't need to do anything at all.  After all trees and animals just drop their waste wherever they like and nobody complains (unless you're me at a dog park).  Even plutonium degrades over time.

However proponents of recycling aren't likely to be interested in what the world will look like in a billion years.  They're far more interested in what it looked like two and a half centuries ago and why it doesn't look like that now.  I call that a somewhat retrograde and short termist viewpoint but it was ever thus.  Eventually I presume we will get some sort of recycling centres where chunks of garbage will be broken down into something else a little less toxic, hopefully without using up too many resources in the process.  Or at least this is the ideal.  I heard recently that one company dramatically reduced the amount of non-recyclable waste it produced in my state by the simple expedient of dumping it over the border in Queensland.

In about ten or fifteen years time there will no doubt be an inquiry into the effectiveness of our recycling processes which will reveal that we've recycled virtually nothing and incidentally we have a suspiciously large extra mountain.  There will be shock and outrage and I will dribble into my sippy cup and tell the other people in the retirement home that I always knew it would come to this.  Any arguments to the contrary would be interrupted by my weekly kerosene bath.  In the meantime I will dutifully put my pizza boxes and drink containers into the yellow topped bin in our waste disposal area.  Nobody will be able to say I wasn't doing my bit although whether I'm contributing to the solution or the problem is an open question.

*Thanks to TISM for the title.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Sicily After Action Report

Capitano Ugo Furtha turned around to address his troops to find himself looking at an empty square.

"Get back here," he shouted.  His men, half of whom had already ditched their rifles and changed into civilian dress shambled self consciously back into the square.  A number of them had managed to procure large white flags.

"What is this?" demanded Furtha.  "Defeatism?  We can't surrender yet lads, we haven't done any fighting."

"Best time," came a voice from the rear, Furtha recognised it as belonging to his most reliable sergeant.

"Do you see this crossroads?" said Furtha, pointing out the inoffensive transport link in case anyone had missed it.  "This crossroads will go down in history.  Here the Americans will be stopped!  Here they will be driven back into the sea!  Here we will forge a legend of heroism and fanatical determination!  The name Mobile Group G will be remembered by all Italians."

One of his men raised a hand, "We're actually Mobile Group B," he said apologetically.

Furtha blinked, "Are we?"

"Pretty sure," said the man, his comrades gave supporting nods.

"OK well, whoever we are we shall be remembered."  Furtha attempted to get back into his stride, "and to support us in this stern task our finest armour has been committed to our support."

Right on cue vehicle engines reverberated down the dusty street and Furtha threw out an arm in a dramatic gesture and said,

"What the fuck is that?"

A corporal examined a plate on the side of the newly arrived tank.

"It says, 'Product of France.  Good for one blitzkrieg or one humiliating surrender which ever comes first.  Non returnable.'"

Furtha sighed, "Look just get your damned rifles and hide in foxholes and buildings and stuff."

As his men moved somewhat reluctantly to their positions Furtha grabbed the arm of his sergeant.

"You got that white flag handy?"

"Yes sir."

"Good man."

So Mike Sexton asked what I would like to play and I said "Something with Italians in it" because I always do.  Then Mike suggested I pick a scenario and this one was literally the first Italian one I came to.  Mike said that was fine.  Basically, this is all Mike's fault.

So we settled down to play FrF14, Patton Breaks Loose.  Here a small group of Italians backed by a couple of second hand French tanks attempt to defend a crossroads from an onrushing horde of Americans.  By this time Italian strategy consisted of posting whatever forces hadn't deserted yet in the path of the onrushing Americans and hoping for the best.  I would take command of the gallant men and rusting tanks of Mobile Group G, sorry, B and do my best to persuade the US 3rd infantry division commanded by Mike to find another crossroads.  Even on Sicily this was hardly likely to be the only one.

To defend what is apparently the only irreplaceable 50 square metres of territory in Sicily I had three elite squads, nine first line squads with three officers (led by a 9-1) and the usual collection of breakdown prone Italian support weapons.  My real punch (to give it a term it doesn't deserve) consists of a pair of 75mm artillery pieces and a pair of MR-35 light tanks, built by the French, captured by the Germans, borrowed by the Italians and destroyed by the Americans.

Mike commands thirteen first line American squads with similar leadership to my own.  Entering on (or after) turn 1 was a T30 75mm HMC and four jeeps carrying or towing between them a pair of 37mm anti tank guns and a pair of 60mm mortars.  To win Mike has to ensure there are no Italian MMC on or adjacent to a road stretching from the south edge of the board to the next.  The terrain is split between a village in the north and open(ish) countryside in the south.  I placed the bulk of my troops behind those reassuringly strong stone walls and hoped for the best.  With morale of 6 and ELR of 1 I was hoping to survive morale checks by not taking many.

But we couldn't all hide in the village.  The guns had to set up in the south of the map and it seemed appropriate to give them a little protection as well.  Plus Mike's reinforcements came on from the south.  A motor howitzer, two mortars and two antitank guns seemed like a significant augmentation to force and it would be up to my, no doubt, heroic gun crews to stop them.  In what would be a significant move I placed one 75 on a hill covering the entry area of Mike's reinforcements.  A squad, lmg and a 7-0 would go into a foxhole nearby.

Mike's at start force begins on the hill to the east of the village and at the word of command a long line of olive green ploughed up the hill and towards the village.  Three squads and a leader peeled off to the left to deal with my forces on the hill to the south while the remainder crested the hill and started swarming down towards my defenders in the village.  First blood went to me when Mike brought on his T30 HMC as the first of his reinforcements.  My gunners up on the hill dusted off their last HEAT round and wrecked the thing.  Mike decided not to bring on the rest of his reinforcements for a bit.  Up on the hill things hadn't been quite as rosy for me.  He moved a squad into the LOS of my 9-1 guided hmg which went on a completely ineffectual rate tear.  Mike's squad passed a 2MC, then a 1MC then a normal MC and created a hero in the process.  My hmg overwhelmed with shame promptly broke down and then I destroyed it while trying to cajole it back into service.

Turn 1 or thereabouts.  After losing the HMC Mike's reinforcements decided absence was the better part of valour.
 Mechanical issues aside things weren't going too badly for me.  Mike started pushing down towards the village and his casualties started mounting.  An elite squad with an lmg that I had anchoring the northern end of my line beat up on some of his troops and one of my tanks shocked Mike as a glance at the scenario card made him think they were guns.  Down in the south things went badly for Mike as his gun destruction unit suffered some destruction of their own.  Eager to clear the path for his reinforcements Mike sent his troops forward regardless of losses.  Two full squads were transformed into two broken half squads but (ominously) one squad had survived and was now peering into the foxhole occupied by my less than enthusiastic warriors.

In the centre of the line Mike pushed forwards taking some casualties but managed to advance in CC with a forward defender.  I have to give a shout out to those guys, the ensuing melee lasted for three turns.  Meanwhile as Mike closed his casualties mounted.  Six morale troops are not the guys you want to assault stone buildings with as a general rule.

Mike is edging closer

My gallant machine gun team in the south ended with a whimper rather than a bang. Unable to take the kind of fire they had been dishing out they threw their hands up at Mike's first shot and he bagged some prisoners.  This allowed his squad and the freshly rallied half squads to focus on my gun. Feeling a little confident he brought on a jeep towing an atr and slipped it, unharmed past my position on the hill (which only had about thirty seconds to live anyway).  In the north Mike had reached a bit of an impasse.  The melee raged on and the remainder of his troops were showing a worrying tendency to break.  On my side with the hmg out of the game I brought up an mmg to replace it and sent other squads to the far north of the line which seemed the most threatened.

Which turned out to be silly as my boys up there held for another turn whereas Mike brought forward several squads a 9-1 and an hmg to the centre.  Now was the moment for armoured glory.  My second rather shop soiled renault sputtered forward and managed to break the hmg squad before it could do any harm.  Despite this he had troops poised to break through and he lunged into close combat with a squad that had managed to retain concealment having foregone multiple fire opportunities in favour of simple self preservation.

A jeep destroyed and a successful ambush!  The gods smile this day.
For possibly the first time in my experience a lax Italian squad managed to ambush its counterpart and cheerfully withdrew leaving Mike's squad in possession of no more ground than it stood on.  Close combat wasn't my friend in the south where Mike's boys wiped out my gun crew and his jeeps rolled forward ignoring the spatter of rifle fire various unemployed Italian squads sent their way.  Perhaps feeling the pinch of time Mike pushed the "taking risks with jeeps" meme a little too far.  He rolled one past the patch of wood which held both my other 75mm gun and a 45mm mortar.  The mortar blew the passengers out of the jeep which was fortunate for them as the 75 subsequently vaporised it and the 37mm gun it was towing.  

One of Mike's other jeeps dropped off a mortar and its crew and they started pounding a convenient Italian squad but Mike was feeling the pinch.  His men were breaking faster than he could rally them and he had made virtually no progress in the north.  Things weren't helped when a bazooka rocket bounced off my renault's armour (although I did break the MA shortly afterwards).

The red circle indicates the jeep sized hole in the atmosphere after I hit it with a 75mm shell
With casualties mounting and little appreciable progress made towards the objectives Mike conceded at the end of Italian turn three.  This one is tough on the Americans and I felt a little guilty when I looked at the win/loss record.  I hadn't done Mike any favours with my choice of scenario.  Still it's his choice next time so I can anticipate a total flogging.  Thanks to Mike for the game and Viva Italia!

Capitano Furtha removed the steel helmet and several pillows from his head and peered cautiously out of the foxhole.  The crossroads was still in their possession and the Americans were nowhere to be seen.
"What happened?"

"We sort of won," explained his sergeant in an embarrassed voice.


"Buggered if I know.  Can I interest you in a second hand jeep?"

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Basil the Harbinger of Doom

At what point did basil, a largely harmless and uninteresting plant, suddenly become the be all and end all of culinary achievement without which no meal, even a bowl of cornflakes, is complete?  Pasta, roasts, fried chicken, soups even icecream are considered to have their unworthy existence enhanced with the addition of basil.  Which leads me to my next question, has anybody tried these foods without basil?  Spoiler alert, they taste better.

It has to be admitted that I'm not a big fan of basil.  I think this dates back to my watching Fawlty Towers and realising that there's only one joke and it's that Basil is an idiot.  I only needed to watch one episode, all the rest was repetition.  On the other hand basil was redeemed for me as a child by my exposure to Basil Brush who was brilliant.  Despite that I wouldn't think of placing either Basil on my food.

I've never been particularly fond of basil and its almost ubiquitous presence in food is becoming irritating.  I've just come back from South East Asia where the diet is basically basil plus some other stuff.  It doesn't even have a particularly strong taste, just enough to spoil the flavour of whatever its with.  On the other hand it is useful in Chinese medicine (which seems to consist of just grinding up whatever organic matter happens to be on hand).  I'm not entirely sure what basil is supposed to cure but it probably doesn't matter.  It's traditional and cultural so whether it works or not is largely irrelevant.  On a slightly more positive note basil is also apparently an antidote to basilisk venom.

While I'm fully in favour of inoculating our children against basilisk attack I don't see the reason for putting the stuff on our food.  We don't put other medicine on food.  I'm not in the habit of grinding up oxycontin and sprinkling it on my cereal, or at least not since I got rid of that kidney stone. 

But possibly the most disturbing thing about basil is its connection with death.  In India basil is placed in the mouth of the recently departed to ensure they reach God.  Or possibly a lot of people die while eating in India and they just happened to have the basil there already.  It's sometimes a little difficult to determine what is a genuine cultural practice and what is simply an unfortunate coincidence.  In an interesting piece of parallel cultural evolution in Europe basil was placed in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey.  One can't help thinking the basil may have been of more use before they got on that coach. 

Still the connection between basil and death seems to be pretty widespread.  If you go to someone's house and they produce a delicious meal for your enjoyment examine it closely to see if there's any basil in it.  If the answer is in the affirmative well, I'm not saying they're actively trying to kill you.  Just that they seem to be almost indecently prepared for the event should it happen.  You might want to check and see if they bothered preparing a dessert.

Friday, August 2, 2019


There isn't a lot you can say about Lilyfield light rail station.  And now that I've said that there's even less.  The station itself is rather like a gloomy, ill lit cave without the appeal of being in a gloomy, ill lit cave.  The station appears to have been gouged out of the earth as it is much lower than street level.  This is actually the home of the light rail.  It used to be a goods marshalling yard which provided the builders with a lot of space, left over track and derelict buildings they could replace or repurpose.  Now this is where the light rail wranglers corral the carriages together and put them in their stable at night.

The whole works is in a semi artificial valley stretching across the base of a peninsula which juts out into the Parramatta river.  Between the light rail and the City West motorway which parallels it at this point the peninsula suburbs of Lilyfield, Balmain, Rozelle and Birchgrove are pretty much cut off from the rest of Sydney, so far there nobody seems concerned about this.  Lilyfield isn't so much cut off as cut apart with the tattered remnants clinging to both sides of the infrastructure designed to get people from somewhere else to a different somewhere else.

Ascending Orpheus like from the light rail underworld deposits you on a busy street that intersects with a busier motorway.  But if you turn right instead of left you wind up in the back areas of Lilyfield.  Surrounding the marshalling yard are fences with signs telling you essentially how great the light rail is.  One point of pride is that the light rail stations are "convenient".  The signs are a little vaguer on what the stations might be convenient to.  Possibly they're convenient to the light rail which would make a certain amount of logical sense.  Having them a mile away from the light rail would be an infrastructure screw up that even New South Wales would struggle to achieve.  Even as I type that last sentence I can hear the planning minister telling someone to "Hold my beer".

There are also banners touting the fact that they're building an awesome light rail.  Well certainly another light rail line is being built although its overall awesomeness factor has yet to be determined.  What is certain is that it doesn't actually connect with this light rail line so putting promotional banners at Lilyfield light rail station is rather like advertising the sights of Brisbane.  Not uninteresting but largely irrelevant given your current location.

If staring down at marshalling yards and train sheds isn't enough excitement for you then you can always turn left at the lift, cross the motorway and wind up in that part of Lilyfield that was severed from the remainder when the motorway went through.  The principal attraction here is an IGA supermarket which boldly proclaims in its signage that it is "How the locals like it".  No independent corroborating evidence from locals is provided to back up this unlikely claim.  A more accurate tag would probably be "What the locals have learnt to put up with" but I do agree that this isn't likely to gain acceptance as a promotional tool.

Once you have exhausted the entertainment value of the IGA (if that takes more than seven seconds you need a hobby, may I suggest thrill killing) then you're a little stuck for things to do.  Unless you're one of those people who takes a morbid fascination in staring at the homes of others the only truly productive thing you can do is walk back to the light rail station and catch a train somewhere else.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Malaya Madmen AAR Part 2

Day two was a day of Mikes.  First off I was pitted against Mike Sexton in FrF 98 - Amerikanskaya Suka.  In this scenario both sides have the opportunity to do a little attacking and a little defending.  I had the Germans trying to cling on to a batch of multihex buildings with a mediocre force until their definitely first rate reinforcements could arrive.  If the Soviets take and hold just one such building the game is theirs, as long as they also continue to hold the multihex building in their at start set up area.

The Soviets start of with five elite squads, a 9-1 and five T-34/85 tanks.  The Germans start with six second line squads, a panzerscheck and a pair of JgPzIVs plus some concealment counters to add a little doubt in the Soviet player's mind.  On turn one the Soviets receive another seven squads plus for lend lease M-10s.  The Germans receive six extra squads (including four elite) a flame thrower and not one, not two but three whole Panther tanks.  Panther tanks don't have a very good history under my command, now was the time for them to redeem themselves.

Mike allocated his onboard forces on the (his) left with the intention of ploughing through the woods and seizing the closest multihex building which would put me on the back foot.  Unfortunately he lost an entire squad in a reconnaissance in force and took a turn to push through the woods while I moved more troops into the threatened building.  In turn two he jumped into a close combat with the defenders which lasted the rest of the game.  A T-34 that wandered into the line of sight of one of my PzJgs died a lingering death starting with a possible shock that finally resulted in the tank's destruction a couple of turns later a process which kept us both entertained.

Meanwhile back at the war Mike brought on his reinforcements but kept them in the backfield where they could protect his at start building.  Possibly he feared a full blooded, Panther led German counterattack. In Mike's defence he hadn't seen what usually happens to Panthers under my command.  As it was I took advantage of the absence of Soviet pressure at the front to bolster my defences and hide my Panthers behind walls and hedges and essentially invited Mike to come and push me out.

This Mike was now ill placed to do.  Over on the left my second line boys still bravely defending the forward multihex building were reinforced by elite troops carrying a flamethrower.  I kept them handy just in case the CC didn't go my way.  With his reinforcing infantry now plodding towards the front line (the trucks that brought them having miraculously vanished into thin air the moment they unloaded) it was up to the T-34s and M-10s to place some pressure on the German line.  I had five 75mm guns waiting for them to try.  Try they did and the carnage was dreadful.  A PzJgIV did go down to an M-10 and another M-10 sneaked up behind a Panther to menace it with a rear shot but the cost was severely high in wrecked Soviet tanks.  With time pressing and most of his armour destroyed Mike conceded.  I do actually think I had this one in the bag but if not for time constraints I would happily have played another turn or two to see if Mike could pull it off.  2-1

Mike needn't have been too discouraged for Mike Reed was about to gain vengeance in the name of Mikes everywhere.  We played scenario OB 114 - Pursuing Kobayashi.  I was the eponymous Kobayashi and I can't say I enjoyed the experience overly much.  I had a distinctly second rate force alternately attempting to defend against and run away from a powerful American force ploughing through the kunai and light jungle.  Victory points were awarded for casualties inflicted and also for units exited off the north edge.  However you couldn't exit until your last player turn which means the Japanese have to hold the Americans off, fall back and finally exit while preventing the Americans from doing the same.

I had seven Japanese squads (including two conscripts) a 10-1 leader, an mmg and the usual 50mm mortar. On turn 2 I received four squads of reinforcements.  Mike had eight squads of Americans (including two elite) and four half squads with their own mortar (60mm ten more than the Japanese) a mmg and an hmg plus three officers and a DC.

Possibly I just didn't set up very well (very likely given past experience) but what with the kunai, palm trees and jungle I found it very difficult for my low firepower Japanese to inflict any casualties.  I gained precisely three casualty VP throughout the course of the game.  One when Mike boxcarred a morale check and two when he boxcarred rally attempts.  My guys were dying like flies which at least was historically correct.  I attempted a fallback defence and indeed some of my guys fell back.  The rest fell down dead.

I did manage to maintain some sort of front for a few turns as I fell back, not so much through my own efforts as because Mike carefully and skillfully manoeuvred his troops into position before blasting my guys out of their new homes.  The one area where Mike had cause for justifiable irritation was with his leadership.  I managed to wound two of his officers and break the third.  Fortunately for him his troops proved to be self starters.

Finally when my 10-1 died in a hail of bullets I realised that if I exited enough off to counter the casualty VPs Mike had amassed there would be nothing to stop his entire force exiting off in the next turn so I conceded.

On day three we had our final scenario and I was tagged to play Dave Wilson.  By Australian standards Dave and I live close enough to each other to be considered near neighbours but by Singapore standards we're so far apart that you'd need a visa in order to drop around for tea.  I approached the days gaming with eagerness.  My score was 50/50 so far, if I could beat Dave I would be into credit.  I looked at the scenario we were about to play and the grim name "Kobayashi" leapt out at me.  Oh dear Christ, again?  I think this scenario was entitled Eviscerating Kobayashi and Then Running Down His Kids With Your Car or something similar (Mopping Up Kobayashi - OB115) .  It involved a powerful American force taking on a Japanese outfit that if anything was even more wretched than the previous scenario.

I started with what I thought was a winning tactical move, I picked the Americans.  Scuttlebutt said that the game was heavily favourable to the Americans so we agreed that the printed Japanese balance (swapping out their lone mmg for an hmg) would apply.  You already know this is going to end badly for me don't you?

The Japanese can win the game automatically if they amass sixteen CVP.  The only way this will happen is if the Americans commit suicide.  Otherwise the Americans win by both capturing a village of huts on the left side of the board and clearing the Japanese away from a road on the right.

My plan was to deploy as many units as possible and essentially push forward behind a skirmish screen.  I had a 60mm mortar to drop some WP on any defenders who seemed inclined to hang around.  OK so I didn't manage to deploy any squads and it turned out that the Americans had left their WP shells back in Hawaii.  Still one has to persevere.  Casualties were high as I had to use full squads for fire drawing purposes and my attack along the road went nowhere fast.

Over on the left it was a different story.  I had committed a lot of troops (too many actually) to capturing the village and aided by a flamethrower I not only captured the village but set it on fire which certainly made counterattacks problematic.  Unfortunately this left a lot of my force stuck over on the left side of the board with a pond, marsh and swamp making it difficult for them to get across to the road.  I was reduced to attempting to filter troops through a narrow neck of jungle that Dave was cheerfully defending the crap out of.  Over on the right I did recover from my early losses and managed to push forward but with limited troops I was advancing at a rate comfortable to Dave rather than myself.  His 50mm mortar seemed to have plenty of WP (presumably they were making it from harvested bat guano) which slowed me down somewhat as did the hmg I had given him in what in retrospect seems like a fit of insane generosity.

Finally with the last turn approaching and a good third of the road out of my reach I had to concede.  Dave's motley collection fought bravely and the lack of deployment and WP hurt me but really it was loading myself up so heavily on the left which lost me the game and for that I can blame noone but myself (although I will try).  From across the empty blackness of eternity I could hear Kobayashi's ghost laughing at me.  2-3

So that was the end of it.  I'm not actually too disappointed, for someone with my win/loss record 2-3 is a pretty good result.  Definitely worthy of a participation award.  Aaron Cleavin won the tournament and I actually got a prize myself as the team I was part of won the teams portion of the competition.  I can only assume one of my teammates must have been doing the heavy lifting.

Thanks to Jackson Kwan (who couldn't be present but did a lot of the arranging of prizes and organisation) and Will Fleming who ran the tournament on the ground.  It was great to play some ASL in a new city against some people I hadn't met before.