January is hardly out, and the show circuit picks up again. I went to York and Fantizan, and enjoyed both, even if a miner’s helmet would have helped negotiate the Stygian gloom of the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall. York was the first outing for Warhammer ECW, which sold very well, for the Foundry Paints range, which prompted much discussion, for yet more WWII gems from AB, and a chance to see what traders and gamers had been working on over the winter. Fantizan was notable for some good games, including David Imrie’s Monster Hunt, and an excellent trade presence. Games Workshop and Forgeworld were showing off, respectively, the latest Lord of the Rings pieces (the Balrog is rather tasty) and resin works of art for Warhammer (with prices to ponder), Vendel had painted examples of their unusual (but welcome) take on fantasy stalwarts, Ainsty had some stunning industrial terrain, and WestWind had more releases in their wonderful Gothic Horror line (yes, I cracked again). What was evident at both shows was an affirmation that the hobby is in great shape, there were enthusiastic and wide ranging product announcements wherever I went, and for once my ‘wants list’ grew with hasty additions, rather than shrinking with purchases.
Apart from the hobby’s conspicuous current attraction to matters ECW and Tolkien, interest in the Black Brunswickers seems to be riding high. Having made the cover of Wargames Illustrated, the hobby equivalent of Playboy, with a supporting article to boot, surely their star is in the ascendant again? And judging by the number of Waterloo contingents being bought and painted, we soon won’t be able to move for them. Almost all of this is down, of course, to the Perry Miniatures range of 28mm masterpieces. Having saved my pennies over Christmas, I now have one of each figure, except the awaited limbers, and am almost lost for words. Yes, they are among my favourite units, yes they are pedigree Perry, but the combination is mightily impressive nevertheless. And in the character figures and the horses, they have once again improved on even their high standards. With samurai already out, and talk of woodland indians and Dutch Belgians to come, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Painting continues apace. I can’t remember being this productive for such a sustained period. Well, at least since the Seventies, when I used to paint in the cupboard under the stairs for what seemed like my entire waking life. Goodness knows how many brain cells I lost in there, unwittingly sniffing noxious glues, solvents and fillers, and licking my turps laden brush to a point without the slightest concern. Who knows, I might have been one of Britain’s great minds by now! Anyway, the latest brush targets are the first of the abovementioned Brunswickers, another ten Sassanid cavalry (I should have around sixty when I finish), and more Moors (!). I am rather taken by these earlyish Gripping Beast figures, and apart from their occasionally large hands and the need to replace the horses, they are some of the nicest figures I have worked on – largely I suspect because of the colour combinations I can get away with. I have also been having great fun creating exotic flags and standards.
So to quantify matters, I have been knocking out about fifteen to twenty finished (as in cleaned, painted, based, flagged, photographed and uploaded to the web) figures per month, and a tank or two to boot. This is, for me, impressive. Compared to prolific others, it is pathetic. But I am pleased, even if it does mark the still growing unpainted pile as a true lifetime’s work. Perhaps the pleasure is because I now have two extra strings to my hobby bow: a firm commitment to these little chaps, and a Plan. I may write about The Plan elsewhere, even though it is little more than a route map for categorising and painting the unpainted, but the key factor has been the commitment. I will own up here and say I have dabbled too wide and for too long; in other modelling ventures, and even in other hobbies. And while I will continue to dabble, and definitely keep an eye on related fields, I have now focussed down to the point where I know that this is my main hobby for the foreseeable future. Or at least until the failing eyeballs force me into the bowls club.
John Boadle and I spent an interesting, if hectic, day at the Warley model railway show recently. This is the ‘big one’ as far as that hobby is concerned, managing to fill a hall at the NEC, and is attended by thousands of eager modellers and over a hundred traders. Both John and I were looking for scenic items and inspiration, which were found in abundant variety, and I was scouting for 1/43rd scale ‘props’ for my 1/48th HLBSC ultra-moderns and forthcoming Napoleonics. Also, it was an unexpected pleasure to see Martyn Welch demonstrating his sublime weathering skills, because he truly is the master of this difficult but rewarding technique. You can see a few colour pictures in his Art of Weathering book, but apart from that, like Bill Horan and Bill Gaskin, his quality work is sadly not yet present on the web. The reason I mention the show, apart from the usual crossover benefits and aforementioned scenery, is that there were lots of kids there. Lots. The same trend is noted at Fantizan, but less so at Partizan. Once again, I started thinking about what gets the youngsters interested – subject matter, access channels, upbringing, school, popular media, books, comics? We cast around for answers, while Games Workshop and the model railway hobby has them already (and presumably know what they are!). What is clear is that our hobby does not have an equivalent to Thomas the Tank Engine, but then neither does Workshop.
It is a long time since I have much to comment about on television. In fact, with my cynical hat on, it could be argued that the programming is so poor now, it is all a plot to drive us to digital which seems to be more of the same, but, er, digital. Me, I could probably go for DVD, radio and computer games and forego the small screen altogether, were it not for the likes of The Sopranos, The Office, The Blue Planet and Channel 5’s baseball coverage. But Band of Brothers was at worst very watchable, and at times excellent. If it did nothing but make one think about tactics compared to game systems, the wisdom and necessity of leaving elite units in the front line, the problems of supply, and the sheer boredom and hell of combat, then it succeeded. But of course it was much more than that, and images of those tanks rumbling into action, the snowy silence and bombardment in the Ardennes, of the street fighting, and the D Day drop will stay with me for a long time.
So, to the long awaited movie, Lord of the Rings. Considering what could have gone wrong, I have to say it was very good indeed. Almost nothing jarred in the whole three hours, which was quite a feat given the usual levels of cinematic licence. I have subsequently heard fans of the book protesting at the liberties taken, perhaps a little too much. If I am going to nit pick (and why break the habit of a lifetime), I would say pacing was the main issue. There seemed to be a lot of rushing from key point to key point, while I see the book as very much a geographical adventure – so I’d have preferred more scenery and ‘transitions’. But curiously, like Harry Potter, it makes 180 minutes fly by. Again on pacing, I did wonder why Bree was given short shrift, having ‘built’ the village. Oddly that is an area in which my book memory has not changed in favour of the film.
On the good side, I thought the ‘recap’ start sequence the best part, and I feel we can look forward to some stirring battle scenes in The Two Towers. The Shire was well done, the fireworks excellent, and the escape to Rivendell was just about perfect. The jury is out on the synchronised swordplay routines. I also really enjoyed the Moria and Saruman’s mines sequences. For me, it answered some lore questions, and raised others, like how did Gandalf get his staff back? And if they can do magic of remote avalanche inducing power, how comes Gandalf can’t conjure up a simple bridge in Moria? Also I found some of the dialogue a bit ‘predictable Sword & Sorcery’ and the music was definitely not John Williams, but the cardinal sin was …. no Barrow Wights! Otherwise, it was beautifully shot, it captured the atmosphere, the casting was good in all respects apart from Gimli (is he Welsh or Scots? And why is he either?) and Elrond (who looks like a car salesman). But the bottom line, that precludes it being even a 9/10, is that it wasn’t that involving for some reason – perhaps because I knew the plot! That didn’t stop me seeing it again and looking forward to Part II. Recommended.