Sunday, April 30, 2023

Travelling Hopefully - Following a Donkey Up a Hill Edition

 Our whirlwind tour of Morocco’s political centre complete we dragged bellies full of couscous back to the railway station where we crammed a first class carriage at a ratio of about 60% luggage to 40% humanity and sped off to Meknes.  What can I say about Meknes?  Many things but not now because at the moment it was just a shopping stop and an opportunity for us to test the suspension of the local taxis as we headed towards Moulay Idriss.  MI is a hilltop village which can lay a decent claim to being the birthplace of modern Morocco.

Many years ago one Moulay Idris, a great grandson of the prophet Muhammad turned up here and stayed.  The locals had been introduced to Islam some time previously but since the introduction had been effected by a bunch of Arabs waving swords it hadn’t really stuck.  The Moroccans didn’t really have a problem with Islam but they had a distinct disinclination to accept sword waving Arabs.  Said Arabs were escorted politely to the door, those that survived anyway.

Moulay Idriss arrived alone, introduced himself as a descendant of the Prophet and politely asked the locals if they would mind if he stayed.  This approach at least had the advantage of subtlety and the locals not only allowed him to stay but appointed him as their leader and sealed the deal with a marriage to the daughter of the previous chief.  He went on to found the Idrissid Dynasty, the first Moslem dynasty of Morocco.  His mausoleum in the village of Moulay Idriss is now a site of pilgrimage for Moroccans.

And also for tourists.  The location of the village dates from a time when easy access to farming land and fresh water was somewhat less important than being able to get early warning of the next batch of heavily armed psychopaths who might appear over the horizon.

The streets are too narrow for cars, some of them appear too narrow for people, and if you lie down on them you’ll roll to the bottom.  Unless you hit a donkey coming the other way.  Don’t hit a donkey coming the other way.

The taxis dropped us and our luggage on the outskirts of the village where donkeys (and their associated humans) were waiting to take our luggage to our place of rest.  The donkeys got there before us despite the fact that they didn’t seem to be hurrying.

Luggage free we struggled up what must for want of a better word be called a street.  It was essentially a gap where the houses didn’t quite join up.  Moulay Idriss is a lot of up and down but mostly up.  Our guest house was an amazing, beautifully decorated, multi storey building which didn’t look like much at all from the outside.  

Sadly we couldn’t see the mausoleum as it is attached to a mosque but we went on a walking tour of the village which involved a lot of up and down, mostly up.  From the highest point (essentially somebody’s front porch) we got an amazing view over the countryside and incidentally an explanation for why the village was built here in the first place.

A small girl demanded to know if I was Moroccan.  I told her I came from Australia.  With the assistance of one of my travelling companions who spoke a little French we managed to inform her that Australia was an island a long way away.

“Oh, near Turkey,” she suggested.  We agreed she was probably right.  She then hit us up for spare change which, with a certain degree of reluctance on her part, we persuaded her to share with her sister.  After having recovered to a certain extent from the climb we returned via the local market which was still jumping despite it being about nine o’clock at night by this stage.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Travelling Hopefully - Rabat and Others Edition

 I met my fellow travellers that evening and our guide attempted to explain what was going to happen while the owners of the hotel undertook renovations possibly in the next room.  Over the drilling he managed to convey that we would be catching a train the next day and that it would be wise to be on time as Rabat was quite a walk.  Since I had inadvertently done about half that journey yesterday I was in no mood to repeat the process and presented myself the next day about an hour before I needed to.

After an hour’s waiting we were on our way.  Bags were hurled in the general direction of taxis and we followed with enthusiasm if only so we didn’t lose sight of our luggage.  With minutes to spare the taxis spat us out at Gare Casa Port, Casablanca’s main railway station.  We scratched, clawed and bit our way onto the train and settled down for a peaceful journey to Rabat.

Rabat is the capital of Morocco and was a very different city to Casablanca, the taxis were a different colour for one thing.  By promising to buy food later we persuaded a local cafe to store our bags.  It’s a good thing we didn’t store them at an organ bank or we might have left missing bits of ourselves.

With luggage safely under the protection of vendors of light meals we set out on a walking tour of Rabat.  The main street was handsome and we took photos of Morocco’s rather understated parliament building before heading towards the real attraction.

It is axiomatic that when you’re on a tour any building erected in the last century or so is by definition uninteresting.  Therefore we headed to the most geriatric part of the city to gaze in wide eyed wonder at buildings whose principal claim to fame was the fact that they had been built several centuries ago and hadn’t fallen down yet.

The buildings it had to be admitted were indeed impressive.  Rabat started off life as a military camp and while there were lots of tiny shops and houses there was also a great deal of massive walls, gates and cannon positions all of it overlooking the harbour that any would be invader would have had to land at unless they decided to walk.

Once all this (and some rather handsome gardens) had been admired we headed back towards the cafe stopping off to not visit King Mohammed V’s mausoleum.   King Mohammed V is a national hero in Morocco as it was during his reign that Morocco threw out the French occupiers and became a truly independent nation again.  The French selected him from amongst his brothers to be a puppet king because he didn’t appear all that smart.  It turned out he was simply too smart to let the French know he was smart.  He fostered and nourished the revolt that persuaded the French to leave.

We did see the outside of the mausoleum which was impressive enough and wandered around an incomplete mosque.  The mosque was started a long time ago but its patron died and his heirs decided they had other things they wanted to spend his money on so it was never finished.  This would be the closest I would get to a mosque on the entire trip as there is a law in Morocco preventing non-believers from entering mosques.  The only exception being the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca and even that (as I learnt painfully) has to be on an arranged tour.

This structure is unusual as mosques normally welcome all comers except during Ramadan.  The reason goes back to the French.  During the French occupation soldiers had the unpleasant habit of essentially treating mosques as playgrounds and clumped all through in their dirty boots.  The locals were incensed and in an attempt to mollify the natives the French authorities placed a blanket ban on any non Muslim entering a mosque.  The law was still in place at independence and simply hasn’t been removed much to the confusion of our guide who bemoaned his inability to show them off to us.

With a whirlwind tour of Rabat thus completed we sat down to lunch to ransom our luggage.  We were informed that on Fridays most Moroccans ate couscous.  Guess what we ate?

Friday, April 28, 2023

Travelling Hopefully -Casablanca Edition

 I was sitting in an aeroplane at Gatwick just prior to departure when a guy stuck his head through the still open door and said “Is this your bag?”

It was indeed and its absence from the plane’s cargo hold was a matter of some concern.  Fortunately it was reintroduced to its rightful location and somewhat to my surprise everything went smoothly.  Air Portugal tossed me into the air, bounced me off Lisbon and dropped me in Casablanca without a hitch.  My transfer picked me up and deposited me in the middle of town next to my hotel. In fact everything went so smoothly that I spent the rest of the night in a state of advanced paranoia waiting for the other shoe to drop but eventually I just had to accept that something I had arranged had worked flawlessly for a change.

Lonely Planet struggles to find anything good to say about Casablanca.  Not that there is anything wrong with the city.  It’s just that Casablanca is the commercial and financial hub of Morocco, tourism isn’t really what they do.  However I have a high opinion of the city for one simple reason.  There are cats everywhere in Casablanca (a trend which has been followed in every Moroccan city I’ve seen so far).  I was having lunch downtown when I saw a cat which had been sleeping in the street being chased off by a local which I thought was rather mean until I realised it was sleeping on the light rail path and the light rail had actually stopped to wait until it got out of the way.

Aside from a light rail system so simple even I could use it the big attraction in Casablanca is the King Hassan II Mosque.  Sadly if you want to see inside it you have to go on an organised tour.  Even more sadly I didn’t realise that until after I got to the mosque.

Getting to the mosque was simple if you’re a semi functional adult who can read a map.  Sadly I don’t fit into either of those categories.  I decided to walk to the mosque, it didn’t seem far and indeed it wasn’t.  However if you take a wrong turn and consistently misread a map you can wind up walking for an hour and a half in the wrong direction through the docks of Casablanca.  Guess what I did?  Eventually I turned around and retraced virtually all of my steps (the wrong turn had been at the start of my journey).  I finally staggered up to the mosque more dead than alive to be greeted with the knowledge that I couldn’t get in.  I took a few defiant photos then found a taxi driver and wept at his feet until he agreed to take me back to my hotel.

As tourist destinations go Casablanca may be less than impressive but then I’m a less than impressive tourist.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Travelling Hopefully - Pimlico for Some Reason

I stepped out of my hotel to take in the sights of Pimlico.  My only for doing this was that it was convenient to my hotel and I’d already done Belgravia.

Pimlico is quiet (at least on a Tuesday morning) and I wandered cheerfully through streets full of old or, if you’re British, quite new houses.  Apparently Pimlico was a lower rent equivalent to Belgravia but the buildings were well designed and are now quite desirable in themselves.  Many of the buildings had plaques out the front and I stopped to read them.  Mostly what they said was “bicycles chained to these railings will be removed.”

I did have a destination in mind.  A particular cafe that promised pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.  Readers may be surprised to learn that I found it.  I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn I managed to circumnavigate virtually the entire of Pimlico first.

I managed to get down to the river (past yet another street named “Grosvenor”) but was prevented from getting to the edge by a very large puddle.  Apparently the Thames was leaking.

Down near the Thames is Churchill Gardens which despite the name is apparently a housing estate.  It looks very nice so I’m not surprised that they didn’t build many more in that style.   Turning my back on the river (although I did peer suspiciously over my shoulder a few times) I plunged back into the depths of Pimlico until I found the cafe where I did indeed have my pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.

At this point you may be struggling with the suspense and excitement of my journey.  So far all I have done is wander around Westminster in a jet lag addled haze.  Well don’t worry because I’m almost up to the Moroccan part of my trip.  But first, Chelsea!

Giddy with my Pimlico triumph I strolled down to the National Army Museum in Chelsea.  Chelsea is currently under renovation.  Either that or it’s playing host to a scaffolder’s convention.  Handsome old buildings lurked behind steel piping and planks.  At least I assume they were handsome old buildings, scaffolding can hide a multitude of sins.  Nevertheless having gone through Belgravia and Pimlico I’m going to assume the British didn’t change their building style to ten year old wattle and daub one suburb along.

The army museum did quite a decent job of compressing about four centuries of history into a handful of rooms.  I don’t want to say they skipped anything because  It’s entirely likely that I just missed it.  The museum focused much of its attention on the experiences of the soldiers themselves which seems entirely fair if a little surprising.

With a better knowledge and appreciation of the British army or at the very least a decent photo of a Bren carrier I made my way through the scaffolding of Chelsea and back to my hotel.  That afternoon I went and looked at Buckingham Palace because it was just down the road and it seemed silly not to.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Travelling Hopefully - Self Promoting Squirrel Edition

 The next day was bright and clear, unfortunately I wasn’t.  Despite more than twelve hours of sleep I was still somewhat vague and fuzzy.  Still I was in much better shape than yesterday which was good as I was due to meet work colleagues for lunch.  For the morning though I decided to go back and take a non-delirious look at Hyde Park.

I trotted back up various streets that all seemed to be named Grosvenor until I reached the park and headed for the Serpentine.  As I approached the lake I was greeted by signs forbidding off leash dogs and feeding the birds.  I pushed past a bunch of off leash dogs and made my way to where a group of people were feeding the birds.

This did allow me to take photos of swans, geese and other less easily identifiable birds that had gathered for an illicit feast.  According to the signs the rationale behind not feeding the birds was due to the danger of bird flu being transmitted if the birds all congregated together.  So presumably I may be one of the last people to see any birds at all in Hyde Park.

Have you ever seen a swan’s feet?  They are huge.  The rest of the swan is a decent size as well of course but their feet are amazing.  However there is only a certain amount of entertainment value to be gained from looking at swan feet and after a decent interval I headed on down the lake.

What I was really hoping for was the opportunity to photograph a squirrel.  I had seen a couple the previous day but my mental state had not been up to the challenge of coordinating a camera.  Along the way I paused for what could possibly be the most revolting cup of coffee I have ever drunk.

By now my journey down the Serpentine had reached the boundary with Kensington Gardens and I abandoned the water briefly to get past a bridge.  On my way back to the waterside a squirrel obligingly stepped out from some bushes and posed for photos.  It did this so blatantly that I couldn’t help suspecting it was paid a retainer by the park authorities for doing this in front of keen but lazy tourists.

I took many photos of the obliging squirrel and then headed back to my hotel.  The clear day of an hour or so ago had degenerated into grey skies and drizzle.

I walked through Kensington on my way back, at least I did if all of the signs saying Kensington were anything to go by.  Having gained a, probably unwarranted, measure of confidence I didn’t just retrace my steps but wandered through Belgravia checking out the embassies.  The Turkish embassy had armed police at the door and the Italian embassy looked a little shabby (insofar as a large elegant building in Belgravia can look shabby).  I took a photo of the Luxembourg embassy but didn’t push my luck by trying the same with the Turkish one.  By the time I got back to my hotel there was barely time to come down from my squirrel induced high and prepare for lunch.

My employers have their London offices in a modest but elegant building in Monument.  By a brilliant piece of organisation my hotel sat on the same tube line and I caught a train virtually door to door.

I got off at Monument station and the first thing I saw was the eponymous monument.  It is huge.  In fact it is so huge that the best vantage point to see it from would probably be about a quarter of a mile away if it wasn’t for the fact that you’d have to demolish a decent chunk of London to do so.

The monument commemorates the Great Fire of London (presumably the victims and not the fire itself) and was apparently designed with input from Sir Christopher Wren.  Having almost dislocated my neck trying to see the top I wandered about thirty seconds down the street and met my London colleagues.

A pleasant pub lunch was had marred only by the fact that my brain was disintegrating almost visibly.  By the time it came to say goodbye I was in a similar zombified state as the previous day.  Conner, one of my colleagues, suggested I walk back to my hotel along the river bank as getting sunshine is a good way to deal with jet lag.  I wasn’t sure at this point if I could make it back to the tube station so I thanked him for the suggestion and declined.

And then I did it anyway.  At least I wound up wandering alongside the Thames and I presume that was the reason.  I didn’t make it back to my hotel.  I got as far as the Temple and turned inland through the grounds.  The buildings were impressive, the gardens well tended but my overwhelming impression was “what the hell is this place?”  I think it has something to do with lawyers.

The sunshine that was supposed to be curing my jet lag was obscured by all the clouds and rain so I fled to my room for the remainder of the day.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Travelling Hopefully - London Daze

 I arrived in London as invigorated as all hell and taut as a bowstring a state that lasted for a good sixty seconds after which my mental and physical state took a bit of nose dive.  

I say I arrived in London, actually I arrived at Heathrow.  At this point the airline told me I was on my own.  I changed money, bought coffee and procured a train ticket to Paddington.  This was not because I wanted to go to Paddington, that’s just where the train stopped.  My hotel was actually close to Victoria station which a quick glance at a map on my phone seemed to be within reasonable walking distance.

It is an indication of my mental state that I actually thought this was a good idea.  I shouldered my kitbag and set off through the mean streets of Paddington.  A couple of minutes later I turned around and started walking in the right direction. 

“This could be worse,” I thought.  “It could be raining.”

It started to rain.

“Fuck” I thought.  But I was committed now and on I trudged.  I entered Kensington Gardens which was in my way and stumbled through meadows and trees.  My morale was raised when I saw a squirrel (I am pathetically easy to please).  At some point Kensington Gardens became Hyde Park but I don’t recall going through passport control.

Large swans stopped me from walking straight into the Serpentine.  I stopped off at a lakeside cafe where I swapped purchasing a cup of hot chocolate for the opportunity to use their toilet.  I didn’t quite put it like that at the counter of course.

Recharged with hot chocolate I continued on my way.  Eventually I ran out of Hyde Park and wound up on one of several streets in the vicinity called Grosvenor.  I followed it hopefully and to my delight (and no little surprise) I wound up at Victoria station with my hotel lurking modestly next door.

Now I was faced with another problem.  Despite blundering around various parts of inner London wilderness I had managed to turn up at my hotel more than four hours before I could check in.  I repaired to the station where I spent a productive hour or two trying to stay awake while a vast number of people milled around me.  

Many of these people were football fans decked out in the blue and white colours of Brighton.  The fans ran the full gamut from a respectably dressed man with a modest dab of blue and white on his cheek to others who looked like they had looted a bunting shop on the way in.  Their singing helped keep me awake and for that I thank them (Brighton lost btw).

Finally I could stand no more.  With two hours still to go until I could check in I presented myself at the hotel and threw myself weeping at the receptionist’s feet.  Possibly to get this bedraggled, hysterical man out of their reception area they kindly let my into my room.  

A shower and a change of clothes transformed me from an exhausted, physical wreck into a clean exhausted physical wreck in different clothes.  I popped out for pasta (as you do) and tried to wait for darkness.  I went to bed at five pm and slept for thirteen hours.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Travelling Hopefully - Invigorating and Toned Edition

 How many blog entries can I do before my holiday actually starts?  Hopefully by the time you read this I will have arrived in London and started to knock some of the fog out of my brain.  So far the closest I’ve come to London is San Francisco and brain fog abounds.

Changing planes in San Francisco was surprisingly trouble free.  Yes I needed to get off the plane, go through passport control, collect my luggage, drop my luggage off, walk around a corner and go through passport control again all to essentially wind up about three hundred yards from where I started.  On the other hand this all took quite a refreshingly short period of time.  Incidentally I said yards rather than metres in deference to the fact that the Americans still cling to the imperial measurements of their erstwhile colonial overlords despite the fact that said overlords ditched it themselves more than half a century ago.

My swift passage through America’s layers of border security did leave me with an embarrassingly large amount of time on my hands.  My head was drooping and my eyes were hanging out so I repaired to the lounge for food and shelter and thus pseudo refreshed I stumbled towards another aircraft that promised to take me to Britain.

Fortunately when it came to pseudo refreshment my aircraft had the last word.  In the toilet was a bottle of something calling itself “face mist”.  According to the bottle it “invigorates and tones”.  You know as opposed to just getting your face mildly damp.  I sprayed some on every time I went to the bathroom and by the end of the flight I was hopping about the plane like a baboon while the stewards tried to catch me with nets.  As for taut, the skin of my face looked like it had been stretched over a skull a size too big.  Which was unfortunate as the rest of my skin, unaffected by the face only mist, still looked like it had been flung haphazardly over a skeleton a couple of sizes too small.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Travelling Hopefully - Air Travel Edition

 And so it begins.  I arrived at Sydney’s Temple of Gloom about fifteen hours before my flight.  This might seem like a bit of overkill even in this not quite post-Covid era but I had my reasons.  Specifically I had booked myself into a convenient hotel so that I could sleep in on the day of my departure (I woke up early) and so when I forgot something I would have time to go back and get it.  As it so happened I forgot nothing (well nothing I’ve noticed so far).  After a brief reconnaissance mission I settled down in the aforementioned convenient hotel to wait for morning.

When I say “convenient” I mean if I opened a window I would have been able to pat the planes as they came in to land.  I ate an overpriced hamburger and then at the hotel’s less than discreet urging I headed up to the rooftop bar to enjoy a drink and look at aeroplanes.  It’s amazing how grown up an essentially childish pursuit can seem if you just add alcohol.  Next up play-doh and vodka shots.

I didn’t actually order alcohol, I wanted coffee.  The harassed peon behind the bar informed me my coffee would take twenty minutes as he was all alone with a batch of cocktails to make.

By the time my coffee arrived I had quite got over the view and was chatting to (and possibly up) a Fijian guy named Jade who was waiting for the airline that employed him to fly him home.  He had spent the last three days working in Orange.  His opinion of Australia?


One day I will book a flight that leaves from a gate convenient to the security screening.  Today was not that day.  Instead having subjected myself and my possessions to electronic violation (the second best kind of violation) I then set out on the long gruelling journey to the departure gate.  Desperate families begged for food as I passed and jackals slunk away from the bodies of those who hadn’t made it.  The only thing preventing me from committing my body to God is a lingering suspicion as to what he might do with it.  I have definitely got to find a better class of deity to worship.  Actually my god is fine, just sacrifice when you’ve got a moment (and a victim) and don’t worry about any tedious moral strictures.  It’s just if you commit your body to him you’d better be sure you’ve finished using it.

After a long and arduous journey I made it to the departure gate and rested in preparation for the long and arduous journey to San Francisco which in turn would only be a prelude to the long and arduous journey to London.  Once in London I can see about getting to Morocco.  Seriously we have got to move Australia closer to the rest of the world.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Travelling Hopefully - Giddy Anticipation Edition

 Finally after more time than I care to remember I am going to shake the dust of this country from my boots and cover them in the dust of another country.  In a few days time all things being equal I shall mount a metal steed and thunder over oceans towards a distant customs post.  Sadly that customs post will be in America.

"Ah, Neil is going to America," you say.

Wrong, Neil is going to Morocco via Britain.  Unfortunately the plane I have entrusted this journey pauses in San Francisco.  Which is sufficient excuse for the American government to hit me up for a little cash and subject me to its border control procedures.  Assuming I survive I will get on another plane aimed at London where the UK equivalent of Homeland Security will hopefully let me in.

London seems like an odd place to start a holiday in Morocco but its nowhere near as odd as trying to start it in Sydney.  After a couple of days of jetlag recovery I mount the pride of Portugal who have contracted to deliver me to Casablanca (via Lisbon) in time to meet my tour of the ancient, history steeped land of Morocco.  I know nothing about the ancient, history steeped land of Morocco but hopefully the gaps in my knowledge will be filled by the time I leave.  Then Portuguese pilots will whisk me back to London from where I will mount another plane to take me to Gibraltar.

Given Gibraltar's geographic location you might think it would be simpler to just fly straight from Morocco to Gibraltar.  You would be wrong.  You can't fly straight from Morocco to Gibraltar without going through London first.  There used to be a ferry but it got cancelled during covid and apparently hasn't started up again yet.  It would actually be quicker to swim from Morocco to Gibraltar than fly but that would require a level of either fitness or desperation that I am unable to produce so a London stop off is required.  Having soaked up everything that Gibraltar can offer I fly back to London to catch a train to Penzance.

"Ah, Neil is going to Cornwall," you say.

Wrong, Neil is going to the Scilly Isles (which technically are part of Cornwall so congratulations, what do you want, a medal or a chest to pin it on?).  The Scilly Isles are off the coast of Cornwall (and each other) and some relaxing time will be had in what is supposed to be quite a quiet and charming patch of the world.  Penzance is just where the helicopter to the Scilly Isles leaves from.  On the way back to London I'm stopping off in Dartmoor because, well you do don't you.

If by this stage you are suspecting that I select my travel destinations largely at random you wouldn't be entirely wrong.  In fact you would be entirely right.  Which is why I have managed to visit Zanzibar, St Pierre, Luxembourg and Newfoundland along with somewhat better known geographic locations.  I'm still annoyed at missing out on Liechtenstein.

The real reason for the Morocco trip is because I had bold plans for a significant West African holiday (Gabon has a railway I would like to ride on) but after my health issues last year I decided to ease myself back into the foreign travel game with destinations that aren't guaranteed to kill you on the spot.  If things go well (ie I don't collapse physically) I may try something a little more strenuous next time.  Or possibly I'll go to Liechtenstein.  I don't entirely know why Gibraltar or the Scilly Isles, they were just semi convenient to Morocco or rather they were semi convenient to London which is semi convenient to Morocco.  Besides I've always had a fondness for small remote jurisdictions.  I have this tendency to travel to places that most people only register their company for tax (and in the case of Gibraltar money laundering) purposes.  Hanging out at the rock after a semi strenuous few weeks in Morocco will be just the recharge I need to face the grueling challenge of the Scilly Isles.

Principally the grueling challenge of the Scilly Isles was getting there.  There is a ferry which refused to take my booking.  There are flights which contrived to be fully booked on the days I wanted to travel.  Finally in exchange for my handing over sufficient money to keep a small country afloat a helicopter pilot agreed to at least get me within shouting distance of the place.  After the effort of getting there came the equally grueling challenge of finding somewhere to stay.  I'm staying a week and will be using three different hotels.  I don't know if I will enjoy the holiday but my luggage is going to have a hell of a time.  I'm hoping to sleep on the train from London to Penzance.

Finally back in London I get to relax (sleep) for a couple more days before flying back home supposedly rested and refreshed.  I'll settle for alive.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Ute Stripping in Tasmania

"I have news," announced my Tasmanian correspondent breathlessly.

"Oh good," I said vaguely looking around desperately to see where the voice was coming from.  It was true that my tech support had enabled internet connectivity on a wide variety of devices in my home but they hadn't bothered to tell me what they were.  I cooked some toast the other day and accidentally irradiated parts of Greenland.  It wasn't very good toast either.

Eventually I found my correspondent's features peering out of a small screen that had been inserted into my electric toothbrush.  I mustered up what I hoped could pass as a look of interest.

"What's your news?" I asked.

"I was contacted by the police the other day."

I nodded understandingly, it really was only a matter of time.

"Do you need me to post bail?"

"They weren't arresting me you idiot.  If they ever did that I'd rat you out so fast your head would spin.  No they found my father's ute."

"Was it missing?"

"It was stolen a bit ago.  The police spotted it from a helicopter."

"They certainly pull out all the stops for car theft in Tasmania."

My correspondent informed me that the police hadn't actually been looking for her father's car.  They had been doing something else entirely when they looked out of the window of the helicopter and saw a whole bunch of cars in a chunk of bushland not overly serviced by roads.  As to what they were actually doing the police kept a discreet silence.  However possessing a "two birds, one stone" philosophy they sent an officer to look over the cars and in due course invited my correspondent out to the scene of, well not the crime exactly but the crime's aftermath.

Apparently what the car thieves had been doing is taking the cars out to this spot in the bush which involved driving up a rather steep escarpment.  They stripped the top side of the car and then, utilising the steep angle, tipped the thing onto its roof so they could strip the underside.  They were apparently only partway through the ute belonging to my correspondent's father and as the only person under eighty in her family who could drive a manual she was invited to come out and collect it.

There was no mention of arrests or suspects, basically what the police had was a bunch of cars that were now cluttering up a portion of Tasmania's otherwise pristine bush.  Contacting relatives of the owner was as much a responsibility shifting tactic as a service to the community.  Given that getting to this particular piece of bush involved driving through a rather dodgy section of inhabited Tasmania (and likely the home of the car thieves in question) my correspondent grabbed the fittest ex soldier she could find at short notice and set out on a vehicle retrieval mission.

I must admit I was excited to hear what happened next.  In my minds eye I envisioned something like a cross between a bush rally and a scene from Mad Max as my correspondent drove maniacally through the wilderness while her soldier companion manned a machine gun hastily welded to the roof of the ute to drive of ravening gangs of car thieves.  The reality was a sad anticlimax but having got this far I can't really finish the blog entry without telling you about it.

My correspondent turned up on the scene waving a set of keys to be informed by the police that the ute had been partially stripped but she was free to take what was left home.  Or to put it another way the police were inviting her to drive a partially dismantled car along a rough bush track down a steep escarpment where the slightest mistake (or mechanical failure) would likely lead to a messy death.  She politely declined.  The police seemed a little disappointed.

However the disappointment of the police was as nothing to the disappointment of me.

"Do you mean to tell me you bottled out of driving the ute back?" I demanded in outrage.  "Think what a blog entry that would have made.  As it is I've got to make do with this rubbish."

My correspondent indicated that my gruesome murder would make a suitably exciting blog entry and that furthermore she would be happy to write it herself.  I told her I'd get back to her.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Silly After Action Report - The Wolves Last Tooth

 Lochagos Theo Tellisavalos had gathered his men for a quick briefing.  He did this rather a lot and it is a testimony to the resilience of the Greek soldier that so far they had put up with it.

"We must all be on our guard," the lochagos announced.  "I have heard that we are about to be attacked by the Wolves of Tuscany."

"Isn't that a football team?" asked one of the soldiers reluctantly in attendance.

"No," replied Tellisavalos, "they're an Italian infantry division and with such a name they must be quite a ferocious one.  Every man must be ready to fight to the death for the honour of Greece."

The lochagos' speech was interrupted by one of the sentries.

"There's a bunch of guys outside, they look lost."

The Greek soldiers pressed forward and saw a ragged group of rather desperate looking men shambling through the snow arguing with each other.  One of them was holding a damp tourist map of Albania and was looking around anxiously for landmarks.  At least some of them carried rifles so they might have been soldiers although heavily armed derelicts was also an option.

"Those are the Wolves of Tuscany," muttered one soldier, 'they look more like the Puppies of Calabria."

"I have to admit this is a little disappointing," replied Tellisavalos.  "Still, get to your positions we've got to stop them.  I figure this will take about five minutes."

In revenge for his defeat opposite my Italians Dave served up MP1 - The Wolves Last Tooth for my delectation.  As it was my turn to defend I would take command of the stalwart Greeks nobly fighting off the wretched Italian invader.  An indication of exactly how wretched these invaders of Greece are is the fact that the fighting is taking place in Albania.  Having been rushed to the front with no artillery, directions, maps or briefing the Wolves of Tuscany division got completely lost and promptly wandered into the Greek lines where about half of them were captured.  The remainder did a quick u-turn and are now attempting to find their way through the Greeks back to currently Italian soil.  I command the Greek soldiers attempting to bring the Wolves to heel. 

To do the heeling I have two groups of soldiers, six squads of green troops plus an lmg and 7-0 leader (representing ELAS militia) and six first line squads with another lmg and 8-1 leader (representing regulars of the Greek 15th division).  With these forces I had to throw a cordon across two boards that the Italians would be unable to penetrate.  The militia could only set up on board 47 and the regulars could only set up on board 41.  For some reason I was given a single foxhole.

Entering onto the board are the remnants of the Wolves of Tuscany commanded by Dave.  They have one objective, get the hell out of Dodge.  The Italians win by exiting 7CVP of non-crew infantry off the South East edges of the board; they enter of course on the North.  The Italians have eight first line squads and are led, somewhat improbably, by a 9-2 and a 9-1.  They have two light machine guns and one medium plus a 45mm mortar.  Wait a minute, did I say "non-crew infantry"?  Indeed I did because where would an Italian scenario be without a couple of L3s to round out the numbers.

Dave's principle advantage is that he can direct his attack at one specific location while the bulk of my defenders are scattered hither and yon.  Whatever was directly in his way would have to hold long enough for the remainder of my force to slush through the snow and reinforce. 

Below is my set up.  I thought Dave would try and work his way through the woods rather than risk the open ground on board 41.  As it turned out I was wrong and the bulk of my defence was flatfooted from the start.  Don't worry about the foxhole, it wasn't anywhere useful.  The Italian markers note the area Dave has to exit between.

Italians will be entering on the left

Dave eschewed the protection of the forest and instead advanced his entire force onto board 41 facing the green ELAS troops.  The short range of said troops and the dearth of support weapons meant that his forces made it across the bulk of the open ground without issue (something thirty seconds thought would have told me).

End of Italian turn 1. Spearheaded by the mighty L3s the Wolves surge forward

Fortunately the sheer distance Dave's troops had to cover meant he couldn't win the game on turn one.  Which was fortunate as there was precious little else to stop him.  I had a green squad with an lmg and 7-0 leader up on the hill which achieved nothing before being broken by accurate Italian musketry.  In my turn I rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic and sent out increasingly hysterical calls to the remainder of my force for assistance.

 The Greek first turn saw the death of the broken squad and the 7-0 reduced to wounded impotence.  Meanwhile troops of the 15th squelched through the snow bringing the promise of assistance to the Green ELAS troops left alone to face Italian fury.  Dave now had some decisions to make.  He had obviously tagged the bottom right corner as his exit location and having committed couldn't really change his mind now.  This meant he had to get over a wooded hill (defended largely by dummy stacks but he didn't know that) or take the road around which would bring him into closer proximity to my remaining ELAS militia men and the reinforcing regulars of the 15th.  For the L3s the road was the only sensible way to go, for the rest he chose a bit of both but with the road favoured.

To cover his flank he decided to clear out the couple of squads I had in the centre.  I had placed these in the completely erroneous hope they might prevent a much larger Italian force from charging toward the exit (I really don't know why but I'll give myself the benefit of the doubt and say it made sense at the time).  This they obviously failed to do but now they came into their own as speed bumps delaying a portion of Dave's force while my other troops knocked the snow off their boots and upper lips and prepared to intervene.

A portion of Dave's troops are trying to take out my centre "force".  Meanwhile rough terrain and some implausible threat displays on my part have limited his journey over the hill

Panting and somewhat frostbitten my troops began to take their places on my flank while improbably a squad or so of green troops plus some dummies still barred passage over the hill.  One of Dave's L3s broke its MA thus reducing his mobile machine gun support to one a fact for which I was grateful since I had precisely one weapon which could at least notionally deal with the armoured threat.

Despite the growing force on his flank Dave wasn't in too bad a position.  He only had to exit 7CVP for the win and I was uneasily aware of the fact that his damn 9-2 constituted three of them all by itself.

End of Greek turn two. 

Due no doubt entirely to my heroic defence on the hill (which consisted largely of hiding and then getting in his way) Dave decided to divert the bulk of his troops to creeping up the gully which split my defences on the hill.  This worked but took time.  Meanwhile he had swept away the pair of green squads which had garrisoned the centre but now needed to leave a couple of squads there to protect his flank from the vengeance crazed troopers of the 15th coming slightly belatedly to the rescue.

Halfway through the game.  My gallant hill defenders have been forced back to the last line of resistance.

I was pressing forward on the flank.  I took out an Italian squad in CC and started to menace his flank guard.  All this seems impressive but the truth is that Dave had enough troops on the hill for the win and with my defenders there now reduced to a single green squad (plus some dummies) the writing appeared to be on the wall.  To add insult to injury Dave repaired the MA of his L3 and now had both of them waiting to fend off any rush to reinforce the hill.  It is true that a couple of Italian squads now whimpered in the rear, unlikely to rally and another was stone dead but it didn't seem like enough.

In his fifth turn Dave made his move.  He announced the intention of serious action with the ceremonial malfunctioning of one of his L3s machine guns (the same one that broke previously, definitely a Friday job that one).  With the appropriate ritual performed he pointed his forces at the south western corner of the board.  Historically the remnants of the Wolves shambled and stumbled their way to a sort of victory.  It wouldn't be so easy this time.  A pair of green squads barred the way to his troops on the hill while the men of the 15th really had the bit between their teeth (and the spurs on their heels but that has nothing to do with this scenario) and were dealing with his flankers apace.  An Italian squad threw up their hands when a Greek half squad waved a woolly jacket in their direction (deception; the Greeks needed all the warm clothing they could get).

Dave is pushing towards the exit covered by his L3s

Dave tried racing a squad down the road only to be pinned in the street.  Nevertheless my hill defence consisting as it did largely of fakery was in severe danger and my reinforcements were not near enough.  It would all depend on two green squads to stop a pile of Italians exiting.  Dave exited a squad and a leader for four VP.  There simply wasn't anything I could do about it.  He then pushed a squad and his 9-2 into close combat with the sole green squad that stood in their path.  These unlikely heroes held the line or considering that the "line" consisted of them alone it might be more accurate to say they held the dot.  He had one more squad which managed to avoid the fire of my only other squad in the vicinity and exit for 6 VP total.  One more point would do it but my gallant green heroes saved the day.  The game ended with the 9-2 and squad still held in melee and one of my first line squads attacking an L3 in CC just for fun.

Somehow I have managed to win at the end


It has to be said it was pure luck at the end that gave me the win.  Dave rolled poorly in the last couple of close combat rounds despite having a negative 2 modifier to his attacks.  Still as readers of this blog will attest I am in no way averse to undeserved wins.  Many thanks to Dave for the game and a lesson.  Only I do better with Italians!

"We've done it," shouted Lochagos Tellisavalas punching the air in triumph.  Everywhere bedraggled Italian soldiers were throwing up their arms and throwing down their weapons.  A couple of the more confused did it the other way round.  Tapping a nearby soldier on the shoulder Tellisavalas pointed at one of the Italian tanks still rattling its way forward.

"Quickly man, attack that."

"Why, we've won the scenario."

"I want a souvenir."

"I'll buy you a postcard."