Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Travelling Hopefully - Aimless Wandering Edition

 Melbourne beckoned me.  Well that's what I'm claiming.  It certainly didn't say go away, at least not in a language that I understood.  Any restraining order applications to the contrary are a pack of damned lies.  The CBD circuit of the city is served by a free historic tram which rattles around while a voice over points out all of the sights you could have seen if you had been looking a few minutes ago when the tram went past them.  I hopped on this tram and set out to discover Melbourne.

I got as far as Flinders Street Station where trains came and went cunningly concealed by the same sort of renovation works which have managed to make Sydney's major train station more of an obstacle course than a transport hub.  Still there I was in the heart of Melbourne; handsome sandstone buildings loomed up at every turn, trams frolicked in the Autumn sun and lane way after lane way was crammed with people eating things.  A sign directed me towards Federation Square, rather foolishly I followed it.

Federation Square is a modern open space surrounded by, well to be honest I'm not sure what it was surrounded by because most of it appeared to be closed.  "Square" is also an interesting term for a space that appears to have be designed by a spider with a cocaine addiction.  It was indeed open and some people were taking advantage of the openness to hang around.  There didn't seem to be much else to do.

Out of sheer perversity I wandered around Federation Square until I reached the river.  I assume I left the square at some point.  Having reached the river and seeing no point in returning I strolled along the bank with the water (I assume it was water) at my side my calm interrupted only by the fact that most of Melbourne seemed to be jogging in the opposite direction.  After a while I gave up, turned around and followed them at which point most of them disappeared.

Melbourne of course has galleries, museums, churches and handsome public buildings because these are the marks of a major city.  Without them Melbourne would just be South Albury.  I acknowledged them as necessary indicators of global citydom but didn't feel any particular obligation to pander to Melbourne's megalomaniacal delusions of relevance by visiting any of them.  Instead I went to Carlton Gardens.  

Carlton Gardens sits just outside the centre of the CBD and (according to Visit Melbourne website) are home to a variety of animals.  Presumably the variety of animals that has learnt to live on garbage and thrown away food.  Brush tail possums, ducks, tawny frogmouths and kookaburras are just some of the animals I didn't see as I wandered through.  I did see plane trees.  It is difficult to miss the plane trees because unlike the animals they don't move very fast.

The plane trees lined a path inhabited by people taking wedding photos amongst the plane trees while the weather got greyer and more ominous by the second.  I glanced uneasily at the sky (to be fair the look it gave me wasn't any happier) and hurried on.  After I had hurried for a moment I remembered that I wasn't really going anywhere so haste seemed irrelevant despite the weather.  I slowed to a stroll and to that I attribute the fact that I didn't walk into the Exhibition Building when it leapt out from behind a plane tree.

The Exhibition Building was built in the 1880s to house an Exhibition.  It is a perfect example of the sort of thing they were building in the 1880s.  It is white, it is large, it has a dome and a fountain out the front to let you know this is a very impressive building indeed.  They don't normally put a fountain out the front of a waste management facility.  Having encountered the building and been duly impressed by its fountainyness I left and never went back.

Melbourne has officially been done.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Travelling Hopefully - Random Cultural Experience Edition

 A full day in Melbourne extended before me.  I had no work, no games and no visiting.  Now at last I could get out and about and see a little of the city.  Or I could go to the Convention Centre in the Docklands and watch a light show.  I plumped for Option B.  Morgan's partner apparently under the mistaken impression that I have some passing interest in culture suggested that I pop along to a digital art gallery at the aforementioned convention centre and take in their van Gogh display.  

Having watched Doctor Who I have an intimate knowledge of van Gogh so I decided to take her up on her suggestion.  Besides the convention centre was within walking distance of my hotel.  The day was warm and the trams rattled invitingly as I strolled towards what appeared to be a broad mud flat but which on closer examination turned out to be the Yarra River.  Crossing the bridge I headed towards the convention centre strolling along a boardwalk specifically designed for people to stroll along while taking in the sights of the mud, sorry, water.

Getting to the convention centre was the easy bit.  Navigating around inside it was a little problematic as I walked along here, up there, along a bit more, back down again, back the way I came, took a further turn, walked outside, walked back inside and eventually came to my destination approximately thirty seconds before I decided the whole thing was a cruel hoax.

With my money paid I walked in and prepared to be van Goghed out of my ever loving mind.  The entrance way was modest, introducing us to van Gogh (apparently he was a painter)  and a 3-D reproduction of a painting of his lodgings so that one could take a selfie in van Gogh's bedroom if one was so inclined.  I decided I wasn't and moved on.  On took me to a space roughly the size of an aircraft hanger.  There were seats dotted about in case the journey through the space took it out of you.  Also dotted about the place were people currently being immersed in van Gogh.  And immersed we were.  Across the walls and the floor were digital renderings of van Gogh's paintings, a visual surround of his work as it were.  On selected billboards were brief captions identifying the paintings currently engulfing you along with quotes from van Gogh himself.

Walking was actually a little difficult as the swirling paintings made it more than a little difficult to determine which way was up on occasion but it definitely helped get inside van Gogh's head.  Particularly if you're susceptible to epilepsy.

In fact the display was marvellous, it was a brilliant if slightly disorienting presentation of van Gogh's art dancing around you as you made your way (perhaps a little unsteadily) around the space.  If you wanted a little time out from visual overload you could repair to the sunflower room and wander through (wait for it) a mass of sunflowers.  Eventually I made my way to the far corner of the space where a cafe had been set up selling Dutch and French cafe fare and from where you could sit, sip coffee and watch van Gogh happen around you.

I did indeed sit and watch van Gogh happen around me while I sipped coffee and ate Dutch seed cake.  After which I made my way somewhat unsteadily into the open air.  Thus glutted with culture I made my way back along the mud bank in the general direction of my hotel.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Travelling Hopefully - Eating in Laneways Edition

 The inhabitants of Melbourne believe their city is quite the food Mecca.  A conclusion I assume they have come to because they eat from time to time.  I have to admit that my experience of Melbourne's allegedly famous dining has been limited of late due to the fact that the hotel I habitually stay in is closer to strip clubs (and bizarrely, law firms) than it is to the multitude of food dispensing options the city boasts.  It was for this reason that my first taste of Melbourne dining (apart from an Italian restaurant that must be the pride of Reservoir) was hotel based.  

Arriving back at my hotel at 8.30 in the evening after a hard day being humiliated in front of my peers (or at least they would be my peers if I was a little better at the game) I decided to make use of my hotel's room service option.  I scanned a dizzying array of delicious sounding dishes made my order and settled down to wait.  After an hour and a half of waiting I set forth in search of my missing nourishment.  Hotel reception claimed they couldn't find my order, then they found my order and assured me it wouldn't be too much longer.  Thus reassured I went back to my room to wait.  Just as I was about to repeat my journey to reception the food finally arrived and I settled down for a meal at about the time I would normally consider going to bed.  For some reason I didn't sleep well that night.

Still the lesson had been learned and the next night I set out in search of a laneway.  Melbourne laneways are famous, nobody from Melbourne can shut up about them.  In these laneways various sellers of food make their headquarters and people flock to have a dining experience or at least to experience dining.  More by luck than good judgement I found such a laneway.  It turns out we have similar laneways in Sydney only we call them streets and drive cars down them.

Still having found the laneway (Hardware Lane for those who care) I presented myself in front of one of the many restaurants and demanded sustenance.  After a certain, understandable hesitation they directed me to a table and fed me without further ado.  Giddy with triumph at successfully navigating the native customs and more than a little delighted that I had sufficient time for digestion before retiring to bed I made my way back to the hotel with a song in my heart and pasta in my belly.

The next day I made my way to the more central parts of Melbourne where laneways fought each other for ground space and the sheer variety of Chinese and Italian restaurants had to be seen to be believed.  Sadly when dinner time came around I was back at my hotel and repaired once again to Hardware Lane.  There were plenty of options, some weren't open and the rest of them were packed.  Fortunately at the very edge of Hardware Lane a McDonalds was perched like a vulture waiting to pick off those who simply couldn't travel the extra few steps to gastronomic salvation.  I suppose I was always going to wind up here but it was with a sense of personal defeat that I slunk in their well lit doors and ordered a burger.  The next day I did manage some excellent Middle Eastern food (not from McDonalds) so that went some way to compensate.

Sadly since I was in a more "corporate" part of the town most of the cafes closed after office hours were over and my hotel's room service proved incapable or perhaps unwilling to provide coffee after 7.30 at night.  Fortunately there was a coffee machine in my room.  Unfortunately the coffee was crap.  I drank it anyway.

Travelling Hopefully - Random Suburb Edition

 I have travelled to Melbourne a number of times and yet I have seen very little of it.  This is because I normally go for a purpose and that purpose usually involves sitting in a large room in some suburb quite removed from what could be called the more tourist specific parts of Melbourne.

And so it was that after too little sleep (thanks Qantas) I was up and alert to leave my hotel in Melbourne for a taxi ride out to the suburb of Reservoir.  The taxi driver didn't seem to believe me.  I had to spell the street name and then I had to spell Reservoir but eventually his satnav persuaded him that the place existed and with the air of a man journeying beyond the ken of civilised mortals he pointed his vehicle in roughly the right direction.

Reservoir is currently experiencing a period of growth as people look for homes not too far away from the Melbourne CBD without having to sell their organs to afford them.  As suburbs go it looked very suburb-like.  Despite an increasing level of concern on my part the taxi driver did find the place (or at least his satnav) did and he deposited me on the curb before fleeing the scene as fast as he decently could.  I looked around for my destination.  There, nestled in Edwardes Lake Park overlooking the eponymous lake was the rather handsome Reservoir Bowling Club.  Next door to that was a somewhat less handsome scout hall which would be my home in the daylight hours for the next two days.

I was here for a wargaming competition because continual failure at these events somehow doesn't dim my enthusiasm for playing in them.  I had arrived early.  I knew that because the room was empty and the sole other occupant looked a little startled to see me despite the fact that he was one of the organisers.  Once he got over his shock we exchanged greetings and then stood around waiting for somebody, anybody, else to turn up.  Eventually they did and I got my losing campaign underway.

In between games (and when I needed to slink away and weep) I went outside and wandered around the more scout hall accessible parts of the park.  Birds were in evidence, lots of birds.  In addition to the lake there was a creek and the map promised wetlands as well.  Just the sort of thing I would normally walk through however the scout hall was calling and I turned my back on the wonders of nature for the joys of having my arse handed to me in a sack by my gaming comrades.

Lest you think that this suburb journey was an aberration once the competition was over and I retired covered in whatever the opposite of glory is I did it again the next day.  I have a friend who amuses me by moving to a different suburb of Melbourne whenever he hears I'm coming for a visit.  I had threatened a visit on a couple of occasions which didn't come off due to covid with the result that he had wandered around random dwellings in Melbourne for no good reason.  Now he was living in Pascoe Vale.  No, I've never heard of it either.

"Where the hell is Pascoe Vale?" I asked.

"Just catch the tram to the end of the line."

"Which tram?"

"The one that stops right next to your hotel."

Surprisingly this was a feat of navigation even I could manage and the next day I rattled and dinged my way through Melbourne's inner suburbs.  I had been promised bacon and eggs so I was looking forward to our reunion with enthusiasm.  As if to dampen said enthusiasm my friend (who I shall call Morgan because that's his name) texted me while I was on the way informing me that he hadn't been able to source any milk and I would have to have soy milk in my coffee.  In a brief but I think eloquently crafted text I informed him exactly what he could do with soy milk.

Despite this I didn't turn around and return to my hotel.  After all I had been on the tram for twenty minutes and I was nothing if not resilient.  That previous statement is true by the way you just have to think about it for a moment.  Alighting from the tram I gazed around at another piece of Melbourne suburbia.  There were shops that weren't open (hence the lack of milk) and dwellings, citizens for the use of.  Standing outside the front of one reasonably handsome dwelling literally across the road from the tram stop was Morgan.  He certainly hadn't been lying about the convenience.

This is the point at which any halfway competent travel writer would tell you a little about Pascoe Vale.  It has a tram stop.  There you go.  I spent most of the day lounging around inside the house catching up, introducing myself to his partner and generally outstaying my welcome.  This latter I did so effectively that in a desperate attempt to get rid of me Morgan offered to drive me back to my hotel or indeed anywhere that wasn't his house.  Also he had a delivery to make which was on the way.

I had now spent three days in Melbourne and had seen a microscopic amount of precisely two suburbs.  The next day I promised myself would be different.  Strangely it was.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Silly After Action Report - Always Ready

 Lieutenant Ren Tenten peered at the bunker that the captain was enthusiastically displaying with a certain amount of concern.

"We'll have a medium machine gun in here of course," droned the captain.  "When the Americans come they will be cut to pieces on our magnificent bunker line."

"Unless they go around it," muttered Tenten.

"What was that?" demanded the captain, he was getting more than a little sick of his eager young lieutenant with his enthusiasm for tactics and his reluctance to bludgeon soldiers to death for insubordination.  

"The bunker is excellent and will no doubt slaughter any Americans who charge directly for it.  But what happens if they go around it?"

The captain honestly couldn't understand why you wouldn't charge headlong at a bunker and get slaughtered.  He did however, notice that more than one soldier seemed to be paying attention to the lieutenants words.  It was time for a little morale boosting and reassurance.

"Damn your eyes you worthless bastard!  If I say the Americans will charge the bunker and get slaughtered that's what they'll do."  A sudden bright thought occurred to him, "but since you have this ridiculous concern for the flanks why don't you take the punishment platoon and sit out there yourself far from the honour of battle and reflect on the shame you've brought on your family."

A burly corporal was waiting for Lieutenant Tenten when he left the bunker.

"Did you persuade the captain to mount a flank guard?"

"In a manner of speaking", replied Tenten.  "Fetch the punishment platoon and let's go."

Dave had recently acquired Action Pack XVII and wanted to try out one of the scenarios.  We settled on this one as it didn't involve the Korean War.  Here I shall command a batch of Japanese soldiers attempting to persuade the 1st US cavalry division to find somewhere else to exit the board.  Victory points are awarded to the American for exiting units but also 1 point for each 1-3-5 pillbox captured/eliminated, a mighty 3 points for each 2-3-5 pillbox and three points if there are no good order Japanese MMC in non hut buildings (the flank Lt. Tenten was so concerned about).

My defending force consists of seven squads (four first line and three second), four crews and two leaders, an awesome 10-1 and a none too shabby 9-0.  Support weapons consist of a hmg, two mmgs and two light machine guns plus a 50mm mortar, a 75mm artillery piece and four concealment counters.  To protect my troops I have four trenches and six pillboxes; two 2-3-5 and four 1-3-5.  On turn three reinforcements turn up in the form of a pair of first line squads commanded by two more 9-0s (it's feast or famine with the Japanese command structure for some reason).  They are carrying an lmg and a DC.  Dave's Americans consist of eight elite 7-4-7 squads carrying an mmg and a DC guided by an 8-1 and an 8-0.  On turn three he gets another seven elite squads led by a 9-1 and a 7-0 with a dismantled mmg and a DC.

I set the bulk of my forces up in the patch of kunai in the centre of the playing area where the pillboxes and gun could be hidden.  A pair of pillboxes (one with an lmg the other with an mmg) set up in the open to stop a simple rush southward and I set a final pillbox up HIP just outside the village.  I also had a halfsquad HIP behind it ready to sneak back into the village towards the end and hopefully deny those three VP to the Americans.  A single second line squad set up in the village itself.

Dave, of course outflanked me as I hadn't paid enough attention and set up his entire force to overwhelm the single unit I had in the village and outflank my entire pillbox line.  Below is the at start position.  I cursed my idiocy and wondered if turn one wasn't too early to concede.

That's a lot for a single 347 to stop

Things went better than I had a right to expect in the first round.  I had a halfsquad with the knee mortar hidden in the kunai who managed to inflict some pain on Dave's troops as they attempted to sweep around the light jungle.  A halfsquad ambled into my firing line and was swiftly broken but with a large number of Americans heading straight for him my boys in the village wouldn't be around much longer.  My attempts to stage a fighting withdrawal were stymied by my squad's insistence on getting pinned at every opportunity.

End US turn 1

At the end of my first turn only my squad in the village and my mortar halfsquad had revealed themselves not so much out of a desire to maintain secrecy as because they were the only ones with halfway decent firing opportunities.

Dave pushed forward and trapped my village squad but these guys survived the melee (for now) while the rest of Dave's force fondly imagining it was flanking my pillbox line pushed towards the hidden one which was the extent of my defences.  Apart from a single halfsquad who were apparently so annoyed by my mortar team that they made the extermination of said team their sole mission.

End US turn 2

In my second turn my village dwelling squad shrugged off its pin marker and slaughtered the Americans in CC.  A squad and an lmg guided by my 10-1 did the same to the halfsquad that had dared threaten my mortar team.  I was starting to get a little more hopeful.  The game is only six and a half turns long and while it is true that the bulk of my forces were out of position flanking them was definitely taking the long way round.  My forces wouldn't be out of position for long.  On turn three Dave brought his reinforcements on and eschewed subtlety for a more direct approach.  The bulk of his reinforcements edged cautiously towards the kunai but a force attempted to circle around it to the west and encountered my 75mm gun with distinctly messy consequences.

This was useful for my personal morale as my village heroes finally succumbed to overwhelming force and my hidden pillbox turned out to be a damp squib which was overrun and captured in very short order.  Dave ran troops through the village ensuring that no hidden units remained but by a miracle didn't move into the hex directly behind the pillbox where my halfsquad lurked waiting for its chance.

End of US turn 3 and the flanking maneuvre gathers pace

My meagre reinforcements arrived and I raced one squad with a leader due east to act as a block against the swelling American tide while the other moved (unnecessarily as it turned out) towards his reinforcements.

Two distinct battles emerged.  In the northwest I was cheerfully carving up his reinforcements until the remnants slunk away to rally themselves for a final push.  In the southeast Dave was hopping from pillbox to pillbox happily butchering the occupants and garnering himself victory points.  By this stage my hopes were pinned on my HIP halfsquad (which Dave walked all around but not over) and having sufficient of my centre forces left to prevent his exit.

My centre holds firm, unfortunately my rear is collapsing

By the end of American turn 5 all four of my rear pillboxes had been taken and he was eyeing the exit.  He had slowly patched his reinforcements back together and was ready for a final charge for victory.  As for me, a good chunk of my forces remained intact.  Now was the time to position myself to cover the exit location while simultaneously holding my remaining pillboxes.  Ah, it seems I didn't quite have enough forces to do both.  That could be a little awkward.  I abandoned my northernmost pillbox which turned out to be a little silly as Dave's surviving reinforcements barrelled straight towards it.

End of Japanese turn 5 the endgame begins

Things didn't turn out quite as planned.  The hmg crew which had recently abandoned the northern pillbox had to stop a couple of hexes away and frantically shoot and the reinforcements making their way towards it.  Between the hmg and the 75mm I just managed to keep them out but while a little patch of the battlefield remained forever Japanese things weren't working too well in the south.

My HIP halfsquad did indeed reveal itself and snatch a village building back, unfortunately a late running 747 was close enough to detour and slaughter them.  The Dave had to run the gauntlet for the exit.  I hurt him but not enough.  With the assistance of some well placed infantry smoke Dave managed to exit just enough troops to gain the win on the very last turn.

My halfsquad waited the entire game for this tiny moment of relevance.  It would die soon after

This was a very enjoyable game.  After a number of encounters that didn't stretch past the first couple of turns due to a combination of bad luck and appalling incompetence (perhaps a little more of the latter than the former) taking a game to the final turn seemed almost like a win to me.  It is amazing how low my standards are.

"The Americans went behind our pillboxes rather charging directly at them," noted Lieutenant Tenten with just a hint of smugness.

"They charged that one," replied the captain pointing angrily.

"There was no one in it."

"Well there should have been.  And weren't you supposed to be guarding the flank?" 

Lieutenant Tenten became very interested in picking a piece of fluff off his uniform.  He saw no reason to tell the captain the real reason his men had been too late to the battle.  As the captain stomped off the corporal approached and saluted a little nervously.

"Did you mention to the captain that we were too busy looking for pokemon to notice the Americans?"

"You know, the opportunity didn't arise."