Friday, 20 February 2009

Are we going backwards?

In which Ephraim Gadsby assesses whether he is coming or going and if a school-boy error has been made on the way to the Smoking Room at his Club.
Cover dated March 2009

There's a strange sensation that one can occasionally experience on the London Underground. It last happened to me on the way back from the club a few weeks ago. One was on the last train home, gazing at the schematic of the route helpfully displayed above the doors while trying to avoid eye contact with the ruffians on the opposite seat. Despite their precariously perched chequered caps, they seemed unable to cope with the sporty Glen Urquhart of one's new suit without voicing serious misgivings. Having located the previous station, one's eyes followed the purple line toward the front of the train and clocked the name of the next station-stop. Only it wasn't. When the carriage jolted to rest and the sliding doors slid, in the split second before fellow passengers did the mind-the-gap, one saw not the expected station but rather another and in an instant one suspected the impossible; that despite being certain that one had boarded the correct train, one was not going forward as one had hoped but rather backwards, away from one's destination, away from one's cocoa and bed and towards an uncomfortable journey home on the Night Bus service. But one wasn't. It was just that one had misread the map, made the quite frankly school boy error of not orientating before consulting, and as a result thought one was going when one know really one was coming.
And it was with much the same sort of sense of confusion that one witnessed the sudden arrival at the club this week of plastic figures. One's initial response was that the hobby was going backwards. Young Ephraim was always to be found on the nursery floor, surrounded by seas of Airfix 1/72nd plastics, Matchbox vehicles and wooden-brick bunkers. One cut one's wargaming teeth on them, often quite literally. But as the golden locks of childhood were replaced by the short-back-and-sides of adolescence, so the grey Confederates and sand-coloured Africa Korp were replaced by silvery 15mm leads; individual castings lovingly selected from typed mail-order lists and purchased by Postal Order. Thank you Nanny. Now, of course, The Gadsby Collection is all painted 28mm alloy figures. Acres of them.
My assessment of this plastic invasion as a retrograde step received further support when one jokingly asked if they were to be painted in enamels, only to be told, “No, they'll be dipped of course.” And this was from a fellow widely acknowledged by those who care as one of the country's top painting types. Unbelievable. In the days when when one still turned back the old cuff, tucked in the tie and slapped a bit of paint about, 'Dip' was known as Yacht Varnish. Its bullet-proof and somewhat muddy effects were soon abandoned by all right thinking chaps who swiftly mastered the more artistic approaches of 'layering', glazing and the double whammy of gloss then matt varnish. Still reeling from the shock, (or was it the chemical cloud of so much varnish and poly cement?) the tin hat was put on the whole unpleasant experience when one noticed an enthusiastic club member garnishing a dipped, plastic figure's base with 'basing material' from a pot that the fellow had actually paid for! The very same 'basing material' that the club car park is covered in! Sorry to repeat, but unbelievable.
As readers will appreciate, this was all far too much for a forward thinking modernist like oneself and an emergency Martini was required. While enjoying a follow up 'sports' Martini, the old brain started the process of reorientation. Perhaps plastics were the future of the hobby? Maybe Ephraim had made the school boy error, assuming plastics were, well, for school boys? They certainly make consumption easy. There are chaps at the clubs in possession of plastic ACW armies that, were they to take the field at once, would require two of the longer refectory tables to accommodate the battle line. Impressive, but in the words of my old house master, just because you can doesn't mean you should. What about the quality? Well, according to some rigorous market research canvassing a wide spectrum of right-thinking chaps, the consensus, by show of hands in the bar, was that there is one set of absolute howlers out there but that the main contenders are all really rather good. In fact, Club Shouter, The Duke de PF, declared the sprue of Perry's Napoleonic French Infantry that he was waving about to be, rather appropriately, 'le dernier cri.' After brief inspection one had to agree; as 'cri's go these were indeed the dernier. As are the the Victrix British Infantry. So, a couple of box sets of these fellows might be an idea, just to try mind you. Might even break the crusts on a few paint pots, see if the old Gadsby magic is still there. You can keep your yacht varnish though.
With that resolved, thoughts returned once again to the nursery days and memories of battles of old. In particular one remembers a clash of epic proportions when the might of the Roman Empire and its ACW Confederate allies clashed with across the carpet with a federation of Ancient Britons, elements of the 8th Army and Robin Hood and most of his Merry Men. After raging all day, the battle was eventually brought to conclusion by the Roman Commander's cunning use of some plastic dinosaurs that had been discovered under the day-bed. That and the gong sounding for tea.

1 comment:

  1. well the old yacht varnish has it's uses, but I wouldn't use it on proper wargames figures like Napoleonics, it's ok for rough old WWI figs though ;-)