Wargamer’s Notebook 33

It is not often I get the chance to include meaningful links between paragraphs. But this time there are two, so watch carefully for them. It has been a busy month. No shows that spring to mind, but a number of people went along to Derby, St Helens and Aston, and returned positive reports. I may be wrong, but based on my last visit Derby is still ‘huge trade presence, loads of poor competition games’ in my mind, and until that changes I’ll choose Colours every time. Otherwise nothing until Essen and then SELWG which by my clock is, umm, tomorrow. I seem to be running behind, so off to the EuroStar immediately after writing this.

I am embarrassed. I warbled on last time about 20mm WWII figures and for some odd reason I’d forgotten all about the Foundry range. Excited, nay quivering, I called up the web site and saw the horrible word ‘Discontinued’. Warghhh. Mortified, I spoke to the ever helpful Neville Carre who was able to rustle up quite a few samples from the bin-ends that remain. I like them, a lot in most cases. The tank crews are very nice indeed, where else can you get Indian Vickers crews?, and I also have a few more paras to add to Kampfgruppe Sigmaringen. I wonder if we started a ‘Please Bring Back the 20mm Range’ campaign, it would have any effect? I doubt it somehow. And anyway, we have a new 28mm range coming along to overfill the gap – German Parachutists and Home Guard – which of course might bear a passing resemblance to a famous TV show. I have seen the pictures of these figures, and they look great, but 28mm is, well, not a proper WWII scale is it? I know First Corps, FAA and Battle Honours would disagree, but this sort of stuff is ingrained. In case of lawsuits, I do have my tongue in my cheek, I am just surprised that the period can support 1/300th, 15mm, 20mm (all in large numbers) and now a noticeable move to 28mm. For skirmish games I can see nothing better than 28mm, and I have some buildings. But no tanks or vehicles or oil drums. And why is it years since I have seen a 54mm WWII game?

Staying with Foundry, they have been very busy. In fact, worryingly so. I have to say that my recent highlight has been the Landsknecht artillery crews and the excellent field gun. I have added these to my Citadel and Old Glory figures, built up a couple of mortars, and some lighter pieces using Flagship Games’ lovely Dureresque gunne barrels – the whole battery looks great. I am a happy man. I also rather liked the Gendarmes, and rumour has it that there will be Landsknecht mounted command soon. This is good news, as I am currently using a Workshop figure and I am not keen on their huge horses. Finally, I have quite a few of the latest Pirate packs and have to say that while there are some very nice figures, surely the women can’t all have been that ill-favoured in the looks department? Or ‘Heavily Beaten with the Ugly Stick’ as a non-PC gentleman recently observed. Perhaps Will Hannah needs to get out more?

So, I’ve made all these tanks up. Even painted a few of them, and now they need transfers. Not decals you’ll note, but transfers. The trendy view is that you spray your entire model in gloss varnish, put the transfers on, and then spray again with matt or satin. Blow that. I have a bad (and doubtless unfounded) case of varniphobia, and a lingering fear that spraying anything onto my lovely matt paint will muck it up for good. And then when I looked, I couldn’t find any decent 1/76 transfer sheets anyway – most companies seem to be revising their range. I’d appreciate a steer if you know better. The lasting memory of building my twelve Shermans many years ago was making up a star stencil out of 10thou plastikard, lovingly painting one onto every tank, only to be told that they needed a circle round them or something trivial. But they looked good! So I thought, wouldn’t it be a great idea if someone did tiny little etched brass stencils so that you could stipple the stars and crosses and numbers onto your tanks, or hand paint a few if that was more appropriate. And what do I find at EuroMilitaire? ScaleLink’s range of etched brass 1/76 insignia stencils. Great stuff, and good value too. The only problem seems to be that you have to clean them off quickly, or otherwise paint will build up, but the results (if you can be bothered to align the fiddly numbers) are very impressive.

Interestingly, the 4D Modelshop (more in a moment) provide a service by which you can provide any suitable artwork and they will etch you the sheet. This is not inexpensive, and I have yet to try it out, but the quality is there (they make trees and architectural models, for Thomas the Tank Engine amongst others!) and I do have some projects in mind – perhaps Russian turret slogans for starters? 4D is an interesting shop, stuck in what you would think is a purely financial district, but which encompasses a lot of design and modelling students from the local university and of course hobbyists. I had no idea it was there… You won’t find many kits here, but you will find just about every conceivable raw material, paint, glue and tool – from that high density blue foam, through wood strip and ply, to jeweller’s g-clamps. You can find the 4D Modelshop at 151 City Road (Old Street tube), London EC1, Tel: 020 7293 1996 and they have a CD Rom catalogue which is very useful.

Model shops, and their demise, were much discussed at a recent book launch which I attended on behalf of WI. I didn’t want to go, I mean one can easily get bored with too much free drink and schmoozing, but I struggled through. The book is Airfix: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Greatest Plastic Kits in The World, by Arthur Ward (Harper Collins, £20) and it is absolutely superb (even if the title is a little jingoistic, if one considers a certain Mr Tamiya!). There were lots of enthusiastic people discussing Airfix trivia, much talk of ‘Two Bob’ Series One kits, of a unifying hobby for thirtysomethings (and older), and a sense that I am not alone in finding the Blohm & Voss asymmetric plane a wonderful concept and kit. I mingled (as one does) and the chat was much the same throughout, swapping stories and seeing kits one had either forgotten, had a life-moulding story attached to, built lovingly or exploded with a firework. Contrary to my expectations, the author is my age, not an old buffer, and he delivered a good, funny and honest speech – admitting that most of his kits had been burned or crushed in ‘difficult garden operations’. The book is wonderful – one of those where you turn the pages and devour the pictures and text, which is largely anecdotal but nevertheless fascinating. In fact, being the sort of anal completist I am, having seen the wide selection of packaging art I wanted to see the LOT! I rarely have a feel for marketing successes, but I can’t help think that this might sell very well. Nostalgic stuff and deserving of the Siggins Medal for Publishing Excellence.

Anyway, model shops. I actually thought they had all but died as a breed, and I had been trooping into London to visit 4D, Hannants at Colindale, HobbyStores in Camden, or Beatties in Holborn (a pale shadow of its heyday) in the belief that was pretty much it for the capital. A recent ‘nostalgia night’, often induced by old school mates meeting up and partaking of cold drinks, revealed no less than seven good model shops within bus or cycling distance twenty years ago, let alone those in central London. All have now gone, replaced by a variety of restaurants and building societies or in one case Walthamstow Central’s bus turning circle! But what clearly happened, and I have Stephen Hawking working to verify this theory, is that all the little model shops didn’t disappear. They simply changed form, re-combined their matter, and coalesced into the Harrow Model Shop. This is a shrine that is worth making a pilgrimage to (or even leaving a preposition at the end of a sentence for). A throwback to an earlier age, staffed with knowledgeable people (with just the right amount of self-important waffle), and with stock, old and new, spanning three rambling and disorgnised departments – just as it should be. It is a fantastic place, and busy too. It is a shop to be marvelled at, to spend an afternoon in, and to find all those things you thought had gone the way of platform shoes and high waisted loon pants. Harrow on the Hill tube, take a card with a serious credit limit, or someone to restrain you.