Thursday, September 29, 2022

Domestic Bliss

 I stared out at the uniformly grey skies with disapproval.  A long weekend was approaching and the weather was being distinctly uncooperative.  At least it was being distinctly uncooperative if you had planned to go out over the weekend.  For those of us whose plans extended more in a lying languidly on a couch direction it wasn't bad at all.  So why the disapproval in my stare?  If the weather was poor none of my flatmates would go out either and I would be stuck with them all weekend.  I extended my stare of disfavour to the platypus.

"Surely you enjoy weather like this?  Shouldn't you be paddling down a stream somewhere?"

"Shouldn't you be at work?"

"I withdraw my question."

"I hate weather like this," said the plague doctor.  "Do you know how difficult it is to get bat guano ash when the damn stuff won't catch fire?"

"I'm getting increasingly uncertain about putting you in charge of my recovery," I noted.

"Nonsense, your humours have never been so well balanced.  And your black bile is way down."

"What does that have to do with cancer?"

"It's good news whatever star sign you are?"

"And I'm getting pretty sick of all the leeches."

"Have you tried them with garlic?" asked the spider.

"What are you even doing here?  I thought you were nocturnal."

"I am, this is just a late night."

"It's 2pm in the afternoon."

"Okay a very late night."

"Where's the puffin, I'll be he'd enjoy this weather."

"He's passed out on the kitchen floor in a pool of cleaning fluid," replied the spider.

"Oh god, has he ODed again?"

"No, he slipped on it and banged his head."

"I didn't hear anything, when did that happen?"


"Should we go and see if he's all right?"

A brief vote was taken.  An objection was lodged, a recount was made, an amendment to our constitution suggested and a threat of bloody insurrection was defused.  Eventually we approached the kitchen.  The puffin was had recovered consciousness but was suffering from dizzy spells, wild mood swings, hallucinations and fits of paranoia.

"He needs psychiatric help," I muttered.

"He needs bleeding," countered the plague doctor.

"If all that meant you needed psychiatric help you would have been committed years ago," pointed out the platypus a little unnecessarily in my opinion.

"My mental state is just fine," responded with dignity.

"Brave words from a man conducting a conversation with a bunch of plush toys," retorted the puffin.  I began regretting coming to see if he was all right.  I took charge.

"Right you lot.  I'm sick of being cooped up here with you.  I want you all out of here for the weekend.  I don't care where you go or what you do but I don't want to see you before Tuesday."  I looked around to find that I had been addressing an empty room.  The spider was curled up on my pillow asleep and the platypus and the plague doctor were in the lounge room arguing over the TV remote.  Bizarrely since neither of them knew how to use it.  The puffin was on the phone to his dealer trying to trade his body for a box of Omo.  I gave up, besides it was almost time for my latest dose of leeches.  Perhaps I would try them with garlic this time.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Travelling Pathetically - North Head Edition

 Normally I go on my bushwalks alone.  This isn't due to some manic streak of isolationism, rather its due to the fact that the only person I know who periodically hurls herself at the great outdoors for fun happens to live in Tasmania.  Or so I thought.  As it happens two of my more geographically convenient friends also enjoy a wander through the bush.  After approximately eighteen months of coordination attempts we finally agreed to meet yesterday and walk around the Manly dam area.  A barbecue was promised to the survivors.

One of my friends lives in Freshwater (note for the elderly, Freshwater is what Harbord calls itself now that the property values have risen) which was a convenient jumping off point so we turned up for a couple of hours traipsing amongst trees.  Sadly upon arrival we were informed that the track around Manly dam was so waterlogged that we would need a boat so it was decided to walk around North Head instead.  I also learned that there was a definite time limit attached to the walk as there were various football games this afternoon which were the real reason for the barbecue.  I pointed out I wasn't interested in football, they pointed out they would happily abandon me to the elements if I didn't keep up.

Speaking of elements they were providing a much better reason to wrap the walking up as quickly as possible.  A grey sky was rapidly turning to black and rain threatened.  Since this walk involves two other people I feel obliged to introduce them as quickly as possible.  They say a person can be judged by the quality of his friends so without further ado permit me to introduce a semi retired merchant banker and borderline psychopath (that is he's standing just over the border looking back) and a property developer who lives up to the standards of ethics and integrity one would expect of someone in his profession.  

I rarely bushwalk with others and it rapidly became obvious why.  The moaning, carping and complaining were outrageous.  Frankly I don't know how they put up with me.  With leaden skies above and a moisture laden wind promising to rapidly become more moisture than wind we set off.  Almost immediately I stopped to take a photo.


The photo I stopped to take

When I looked around after taking the aforementioned photo I realised I was alone.  Catching up with my friends I mentioned that I liked to stop to take photos from time to time.  They replied that they didn't.  In fact the presence of my camera was greeted with something akin to disbelief.  Didn't I have a phone?  Why was I taking photos?  Do I do that sort of thing often?  At this point its probably worth pointing out that they never read this blog which is why I feel completely comfortable in trashing their reputation with the descriptions I provided above.

We continued climbing up to the top of North Head at a pace it must be admitted that was faster than I'm used to.  My friends essentially bushwalk for reasons of fitness and probably would be just as happy walking through a housing estate.  Nevertheless the property developer made an effort to point out things he thought would be of interest to me such as the abandoned gun emplacements and the convict built wall which date from North Head's time as a military installation.

A convict built wall, probably

The long history of a military presence is the reason why we still have such a generous chunk of semi undisturbed bushland so close to Sydney.  Even the most enthusiastic property developer will have difficulty selling houses sitting under a rain of artillery shells.  Now the military have left and somehow a conservation group managed to get in before anybody else noticed.  They now protect and reintroduce native wildlife that had previously been eradicated from the area.  Despite this noble work the most visible sign of their presence is references to an animal they are eagerly trying to deintroduce.  Signs everywhere warn of traps, baits and other methods of attempting to rid the area of foxes.  They must be having some success, I didn't see a single fox on the entire walk.

The day, as noted, was grey and heading towards rain (quite rapidly as it happened) which was the ideal weather for the terrain.  This wasn't an area of tall standing trees but rather scrub, bush, low trees and quite a lot of water.  Hanging swamps abounded (walkways had been thoughtfully placed so that we didn't get our shoes wet although one suspects they're trying to protect the swamp more than us) and a general air of bleak desolation (of which I am quite fond) abounded.

There is very little to stop the water falling into the sea

Of course no area is so desolate that it isn't habit for the occasional brush turkey.  I'm becoming more and more fond of these birds.  They are rapidly becoming the new ibis.  One considerately posed for a photo but turned its security on me when I asked for an autograph.

A brush turkey and, surrounding it, brush

I fled the brush turkey's security which at least enabled me to catch up with my companions who had as usual steamed ahead.  Of course context is everything.  If either of them had a blog they would no doubt be recounting tales of a vigorous walk spoiled by a whiny laggard sniveling and stopping to take photos of fungus.  Speaking of fungus...

The Clare McIntyre memorial fungus

Now that we had reached something like the top of North Head a terrain of grasses, weeds, stubby bushes and glistening water stretched out before us.  Something else that stretched out before us was the metal grating we were obviously expected to walk on.  I trotted along behind my, well companions isn't quite the right word at this point.  We came to a spot where the metal grating had sunk into the swamp and a second metal grating had been dropped on top of it.  This excited more interest from my comp... associates than any of the scenery or surrounding views as they discussed whether it was cheaper to simply drop another grating on top of the original as opposed to taking the first one away.  I took the opportunity to gasp for breath and photograph something more interesting, pretty much anything in fact (although I did include some grating for the sake of balance).

Swamp with added grating

On one of the more solid pieces of ground we examined a gun position which had once housed a 9.4 inch artillery piece but doesn't anymore.  Others were examining it too and one of those had a takeaway coffee cup in his hand.  Politely I asked where he got the coffee and was directed to a small restaurant about ten minutes down the road.  There was much eye rolling but eventually my friends agreed that I would be slightly less irritating if I wasn't crazed with caffeine withdrawal and we popped in for a coffee.  At least I did.  I was the only one with any money, I asked if they wanted anything and was greeted with a chorus of refusals that lasted until I had paid for my coffee at which point they changed their minds.  A cinnamon scroll was divided between the three of us (yes, I'm cheap) and we headed back to the grey outdoors.

Music assailed us as we headed forth and we proceeded in some confusion until we reached a fenced off area from which the aforementioned aural assault emanated.  Within the fencing were rows of chairs already damp and soon to be totally soaked and a stage.  There were no performers on the stage and no audience although the music indicated that preparations were being made for both.  The property developer seemed keen to chat with an individual who came out to talk to us so myself and the merchant banker headed off in disgust until we remembered that he was the only one who knew which way we were supposed to be going.  Reluctantly we waited for him to rejoin us and then continued on our somewhat disfunctional way.

Soon we were back among hanging swamps and I was happy.  I was also conducting a low grade mutiny by maliciously pausing to take photos of things.  This would have worked better as a protest if it had caused the others to slow down even slightly.

More swamp

 As it was we were wrapping up our walk, the property developer having essentially led us in a huge loop back towards the carpark where we had begun.  Along the way I took photos of flowers.  I justify this by saying I would have done so anyway.

Flower, or possibly an eyestalk
More flowers

And one more fungus to be good on

With the carpark achieved we got into the car literally thirty seconds before it started pouring down with rain.  The others exuded an air of smug justification while I just sat and muttered under my breath.  In my defence I probably would have been doing that anyway.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Silly After Action Report - The Cost of Non-Compliance

 Hauptmann Gerhard von Glockenspiel wiped the sweat from his brow and watched as elements of the division settled into clutches of houses.  Beside him the crew of a 105mm artillery piece prepared a hasty emplacement.  The last few days had been a whirlwind of fighting, advancing and more fighting.  Von Glockenspiel was exhausted and things weren't helped by the presence of Leutnant Schrecklich who seemed to spend every waking moment giving a running commentary on the shortcomings of the Soviet Union and how worthless their army was.  He was at it again now, his nasal voice whining through the air like a bullet gratuitously informing such soldiers who had been unable to escape of the ineptitude of their opponent.  Suddenly the irritating voice took on a note of triumph which only served to make it more unbearable.

"See what did I tell you?" crowed Schrecklich.  "Look at those clowns, they're retreating in completely the wrong direction."

Von Glockenspiel turned to the gun crew. 

"Got any armour piercing for that piece?"

"A few crates arrived yesterday."

"Dust them off."

Reluctantly he joined Schrecklich at his vantage point on the hill.  The leutnant was chortling at the waves of infantry and armour rushing towards them.

"What idiots, they can't know we're here." 

"Well when they arrive be sure to give them directions."

"What are you going to do?"

"I'm just going for tinkle," replied von Glockenspiel.

Given my somewhat dubious tank skills I wanted to play an armour heavy scenario and came up with this one WO22 - The Cost of Non-Compliance.  Here a rather powerful force of Soviets are counterattacking the 11th Panzer in the early days of Operation Barbarossa.  Dave took command of the Soviets attacking against their better judgment on the "suggestion" of their political commissars.  I would lead elements of the 11th Panzer unexpectedly on the defensive.  ROAR has this one as somewhat pro-German so we gave the Soviets the balance (an extra T34-M41) and I set about preparing a defense.

To win the Soviets have to control at least five stone buildings on board 76 while having more mobile AFV with functioning main armament than the Germans.  Each extra stone building above five counts as one such AFV for the victory conditions.  It has to be admitted that I misread the victory conditions completely overlooking that second sentence.  Apparently thirty years experience playing this game has done nothing for my attention to detail.

Barrelling forward on the attack Dave has thirteen tanks (two KV-1s, three T-34s and a collection of lesser vehicles) plus fourteen first line infantry squads equipped with five lmgs and led by three officers.  Standing somewhat incompetently on the defence I have eight first line squads also led by three officers with an mmg, three light machine guns a pair of antitank rifles and a 50mm mortar.  To take on the tanks I have two 37mm antitank guns (handy against the light Soviet armour but virtually useless against the KV-1s and T-34s) and a single 105mm artillery piece.  Additionally I have a PzIIIF and a PzIIF both of which have similar issues taking on the Soviet beasts.  On turn three I get an additional four tanks as reinforcements; three more PzIIIs and an early model PzIV.

At start

Above is the at start set up.  The 105 is of course on the hill on the left where it can cover the whole battlefield.  The mortar is right behind it with a couple of squads with the mmg and my best leader in the buildings nearby.  Over on the right I have set up the rest of my infantry based mainly around another clutch of buildings with a 37mm gun in one of the buildings and my PzIII hunkered down behind a hedge trying to look small.  The other 37mm gun is hidden in the centre grainfield.  Basically I have set up two strong points which are capable of taking the centre under fire should Dave choose to go that way.  I intended to defend for a turn or two and then fall back to the victory locations.  Things didn't really go to plan.  Dave weighted virtually his entire force to the right and rushed forward to close with my guys who should really have run for their lives at the first sight of them.

Dave's force headed towards the right and centre while only token forces attacked on the left.  My 105 gained a shock result on a KV-1 that was the backbone of these "token" forces while over on the right things went very rapidly from bad to worse.  With T34s leading to shield his thinner skinned vehicles Dave armoured assaulted his infantry forward and was very rapidly threatening my forces in the buildings.  Fire from antitank rifles and my PzIII didn't manage to achieve any results and soon I had a vast force of infantry and armour up in my face.

End of Soviet turn 1

Two platoons of tanks were threatening my right while a third platoon was rolling up through the centre.  Over on the left I had things well in hand and I hoped I might be able to hang on for a while on the right.  Technically I suppose I did.  In my turn a combination of machine gun and mortar fire managed to carve up most of his infantry on the left and allowed me to pull back some of the troops there in the direction of the town.  At least part of the fall back defence was working.  In an act of staggering recklessness I rolled my PzII down off the hill and hoping and praying that the KV-1 wouldn't recover I started to menace (for a generous definition of the term) the rear of his forces on the left.  On the right my PzIII went up in flames serving to effectively blind some of my defenders while my AT gun in the grain revealed himself but achieved nothing.  His day was coming however.

End of German turn 1.  Believe it or not the PzII would survive until the end of the game

Turn two saw a spectacular flurry of action.  The shocked KV-1 on the left recovered but rather than reduce the reckless PzII to scrap it passed its independent movement die roll to join its companions a little further forward which was convenient as my 105 managed to destroy one of the T-26 tanks that had been lurking around taking potshots at it while my mmg team and mortar managed to break most of the accompanying infantry.

Over on the right saw a flurry of activity as well as Dave pushed forward using his tanks and the newly created smoke from a burning PzIII to provide him with some cover.  In fact he didn't just push forward, he swung a platoon of tanks around to the right under the muzzle of my antitank gun which proved incapable of hitting anything before it was forced to concentrate on milling hordes of infantry.  A moment of delight came when a T-34 rolled past a concealed squad and I managed to street fight it into immobility.

In the centre my other 37mm had its moment of glory when it went on a mini rate tear and took out two light tanks leaving the leading KV-1 alone.  Undaunted that tank rolled on over my 37mm which would take no further part in proceedings.  On the right though were the seeds of my undoing.  He had managed to move a couple of tank platoons past my defences and in the next turns would slip some infantry past as well.  The surviving defenders would acquit themselves well taking out a tank and a couple of squads in a melee that raged for several turns but the takeaway was that none of my troops on the right would escape back to defend the town.  The path lay open for Dave and his remaining infantry.

Dave has taken losses but the seeds of my defeat have been sown

Although it wasn't immediately apparent I was well on the way to losing the scenario (I would say "spoiler alert" but you probably guessed that before you started reading).  I must confess I was focussed on killing his armour and was also slightly insane.  At least that is the best explanation I can come up with for what I did with my PzII.  For reasons best explained by my therapist ("You're an imbecile") I rolled that inoffensive little tank up directly behind his leftmost platoon which, may I remind you included a KV-1 now returned to full operational status.  I'm not sure what I was thinking and even if I did know I doubt it would help.  To make matters (admittedly only slightly) worse the crew from one of his destroyed tanks attacked the PzII in close combat fortunately to no avail.

A brief moment of glory for my 37mm crew before being crushed by a KV-1

Fortunately for me the KV-1 was engaged in a duel with my 105mm which continued with a complete lack of harm on both sides until the KV-1 broke its MA.  Over on the right Dave committed three squads and a tank to take out my gun crew in the building (now bolstered by my remaining squad and an 8-1 leader) while the rest skirted the fracas and headed for the town.  My stay behinds were true heroes.  Over the course of the next couple of turns they would destroy the tank and all three Soviet squads but by the time they were finished it was the back end of turn five and Dave's remaining infantry were swarming all over the town.

The melee on the right would continue for the rest of the game.

With the objective in sight Dave filtered his troops into the town.  Since I only had a pair of squads to oppose him that wasn't terribly difficult.  Bringing up his remaining armour in support cost him casualties including a KV-1 knocked out by a critical hit from the 105 but enabled him to hide the survivors behind buildings.  I had comfortably won the armour duel (mainly by hiding my reinforcing tanks where he couldn't see them) but it availed for naught as Dave's remaining troops swiftly occupied much valuable real estate in the town and my skimpy infantry could do little to stop them.  It isn't entirely true to say I lost the game due to my misreading of the victory conditions.  I lost the game when half my infantry force was trapped and either killed or otherwise occupied on the right side of the battlefield meaning I couldn't adequately garrison the town.  Facing only a pair of squads meant that Dave could sneak into buildings out of my line of sight.  The only reason it took so long is because Dave misread the victory conditions as well and thought he needed far more buildings than he did.

Endgame, Dave has three fully functional AFVs to my four but has a plethora of buildings

Despite various rule reading cock ups both Dave and I enjoyed this game.  It's supposed to be unbalanced on ROAR but giving the extra tank to the Soviets seems to even it up nicely although it probably helps if the Germans are commanded by an idiot.  Many thanks to Dave for the game I shall try, and probably fail, to gain revenge in our next game.

Von Glockenspiel raised his eyes above the windowsill and looked around cautiously.  Wrecked tanks dotted the landscape but the Soviet troops were busy cleaning out a few pockets of resistance in the town and had little time for bypassed survivors.  Tragically leutnant Schrecklich had survived the battle as well although he didn't seem to be in great shape.  Rocking back and forward he was muttering, 

"But they were retreating," over and over again.

"Sure," replied von Glockenspiel.  "If they retreat any further they'll find themselves in Berlin."

Saturday, September 10, 2022


 They said I was mad.  They said I was deluded.  They said I was a wretched good for nothing degenerate who was an embarrassment to my family in particular and the human race in general.  To be fair it was only my self esteem counselor who said that.  I'm thinking of getting rid of him but every time I broach the subject he threatens suicide.  Now however I can laugh at such criticism, albeit with a touch of hysteria, for my orchid has flowered.

Several years ago during one of the periodic location reshuffles my firm undergoes to maintain a healthy sense of uncertainty and dread amongst its employees we were presented with small flowering orchids as a sort of "welcome to your new home until the next reshuffle" gift.  Time passed and so did most of the orchids.  My orchid however clung to life like an octopus with a muscle spasm.  Despite neglect, recycled air, lack of direct sunlight and frequent swearing it survived and when the small pot it was provided with proved inadequate it extruded tentacles that are now in serious danger of taking over my entire workspace.  In short it gave every evidence of being determined to survive except one.  It was flowering when I got it but since that time it has not flowered since.  

It actually looks like an octopus wearing a wreath

I obediently followed the care guide which was provided with the orchid (it consisted of "water occasionally") and I was pleased to see that the orchid repaid me by not dying.  However flowers were there none.  Eventually as the years rolled by I stopped expecting flowers and took what comfort I could from the fact that the plant was starting to look more and more like the face hugger creature from Alien.

Roots (at least I presume they're roots) exploded out of the small pot and made their way along my workstation.  I can't help wondering if this is one of those orchids that normally clings to trees rather than growing in the ground.  I should repot the thing I suppose but I'm terrified of moving it in case I break whatever magic keeps it clinging to life.  If nothing else it encourages me not to fall asleep at my desk as I'm afraid I'll wake covered in roots with the orchid sucking the life out of me.  My employers would probably hope there are other reasons why I wouldn't fall asleep at my desk but whatever works I say.

This is actually a different photo

Purple white flowers now adorn what was in truth a rather battered looking orchid and a series of buds promise more on the way.  Little work has been achieved in our team over the last fortnight or so as I insist on demanding that everybody who passes pay homage to the orchid (and indirectly myself for my amazing care).  I like to think of it as a team building exercise.  Certainly all of my colleagues are united in increasingly desperate attempts to get me to shut up about the damned orchid already.

The same orchid from a different angle


I doubt if I will ever get to Nero Wolfe standards of orchid rearing, not least because I don't intend to try but I have to confess I am quite ridiculously pleased about the fact that it appears to be not only surviving but in a somewhat disheveled way actually thriving.  So pleased in fact that I wrote an entire blog entry about it.