Iain (M) Banks dies aged 59

A Great picture of Banks…nicked from Neil Gaiman’s blog!

I only learned of this sad news this morning after a rather dramatic Sunday which saw me having to rush my darling wife to Ayr Hospital’s emergency room after she fell and hit her head.  A mild concussion was the result and she is fine now but it did give me rather a bad fright.  Headlining newspapers here in Scotland today the news that renowned science fiction and other genre author Iain (M) Banks has died at only 59 from cancer of the gall bladder.

This is sad news indeed as it was partially this author and his book Use of Weapons which encouraged a teenage me to aspire to writing fiction in the first place.  Also fifty nine is just too young in this day and age to die I lament all of the lost stories his great mind will now never produce.  I also took great pride in my shared Scottish identity with this author as there are not many writers of Iain Bank’s standing in Scotland these days and I had and do hope to emulate him through my own titles.  I do not have his flair for gothic humour but I we share other traits.

If you have not heard of this author’s work then I do suggest you have a look around (the given link will show you all his work) and try him out.  His novels about ‘the Culture’ especially.

Rest in Peace Iain.


Ray Harryhausen dies aged 92

Jason and the Argonauts  Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Clash of the Titans to name a few famous ones.  All films made fantastic by the stop motion work of Ray Harryhausen who died peacefully yesterday.

Harryhausen was a legend among fantasy and science fiction movie fans and I see at least five of his films a year during festive or other holidays.  In fact I know some of them off by heart.  What makes it even more sad is that his good friend Ray Bradbury died not that long ago.  An age really is ending.  Its going to be CGI over substance all the more.  Something akin to parts of the wargaming industry but that is not for now.

You Looking at me!

You can read a full obituary here and check out the clip above.  Its old, its creaky but man it’s still awesome!


Girvan Folk Festival 2013

ohn Watt & Davie Stewart, in the dance hall at the first festival – 1974. © Peter Fairbairn, Kilmaurs

It was the annual Girvan Folk Festival at the weekend and by all accounts a good time was had all around.  While I did not attend any of the two dozen or so events I do live in the very heart of the town of Girvan and this meant I was within earshot of most of the pubs and hotels which hosted the groups and bands playing their music and teaching others the skills of folk.  This was the thirty ninth festival, tinged with a hint of sadness as the instigator of the festivals Bobby Robb died last year.

In the Roxy Beer Garden 2013. © Tog Porter – Wigwam Photography

While it is no secret that Girvan has suffered in the current recession I was proud of the way that the town managed to bring in a couple of thousand visitors over a weekend and take good care of them.  This despite the diminishing in facilities in the town (don’t get me started on politics!) and weather that was thankfully mild but dull and rainy.  Listening to the music gave me free entertainment and some joy too.  It is always good to hear people having fun (my neighbours got married at the weekend too) and while I got little sleep on Saturday night I lay awake with a smile on my face while the guitars played away the wee hours.

I have heard a rumour that some people complained about the charge for a weekend in secure parking and camping in the town.  This charge being to turn away those not interested in the festival and for security, including a police presence, to keep families and others safe.   I personally think that about 35.00GBP for a family of four for a weekend pitch during an event is perfectly fine but some did not.  The security was needed after the activities of some ‘people’ (and I use the term loosely…cretins would be more accurate) last year and some property damage.  There was no trouble this year that I am aware of.

If you have an interest in Folk Music check out the website for the festival and even if you don’t do it anyway as it is worth five minutes to see all the pictures.

Perhaps my schedule will allow me to attend some of the gigs next year for the big fortieth festival in 2014.

Well done Girvan!


Salute 2013 for GBS


The Shirt and the Badge

Well that is Salute by for another year and while others have posted their reviews of the show (very few this year compared to previous years, or perhaps I am missing them) I have just got to it as its a long trek home and the wind down afterwards always takes a day or so.  So how was the show for me and for Alternative Armies?


The front of the mighty Excel Centre home of Salute 2013

Personally for me I thought that Salute 2013 was down on last year in terms of attendance and that the average spend in the trade hall was lower too.  How do I know this, well I don’t for sure but I can guess at it from the following information.  No que at the gents toilets at 1pm, only a minute’s wait for a coffee at 2pm and a virtually empty hall half an hour before the doors closed.  The crowd was never all that dense at any trade stand.  As always the Warlords were polite and helpful and the Excel staff were excellent.  The weather was lovely and the traffic shuffle out of London was easier than normal too.  Oh and I noticed some of the free plastic miniature sprue that was this year’s entry gift left laying once all the stands were broken down so I have a good half dozen of them!

For Alternative Armies it was a good day considering the above and while the total take was down on last year the overall month of promotion (which ends this Friday) was WAY up on the year before mainly due to a great pulse of SHM, Laserburn, Security Force Alpha and HOT orders on 15mm.co.uk.  So all in all it was a super top month for the company.

I did not purchase anything this year at Salute which is odd and for once I did not get offered any freebies either (not a lot of give away for me awwww!) but it was kind of my plan as what I did want to do with my wargaming budget this month and what I got for doing Salute was to get a brand new wargaming table.   So no new rulebooks, figures or terrain but I did get the table TODAY and its a beauty but more on that in another posting.


A photo for the Typhon demo game 2013

I have also decided that I will not be doing any more demo games at wargame conventions myself as I did not get to play Typhon myself at all.  My attention was taken up with conversations, hand shaking and other duties.  It seems my infamy is too great just to toss the dice all day anymore.  Thank though to Craig Andrews of Barking Irons and Orcs in the Webbe fame for fielding the Typhon game four times in the afternoon.

Eve Hallow attended Salute for the first time this year and he did an excellent post about it too.  He travelled to London with my good lady wife…but he did make her carry his dirt filled coffin all the way to Excel!

Great to catch up with Edward Jackson, Steve Young, Bob Naismith, Sam Croes, Craig Andrews, Bill Hilton, Sandy B, Rob Alderman, Elton Waters and Russ Grey on the day; you guys make the trip worthwhile alone.  Thanks also to the hundred plus wargamers who spoke with me I can’t name you all but I took all your input and suggestions onboard and thanks for the kind words too.


Feel the Force in one to one scale!

So good result all in all.  I will see you there next year!


North Korea – Spend an Hour with this Travel Documentary

Following the BBC’s airing of an undercover report from North Korea last night I decided I was interested enough to look around and find out more.  Time is limited for me (when is it not!) as Salute 2013 is only a few days away now but I took an hour and found a really great video on YouTube by a film maker called ‘Etherium Sky’.  This film maker has produced an excellent, actually better than the BBC’s efforts, travel documentary of his own trip to North Korea.  I recommend that if you have any interest in what is likely to be the most secretive and paranoid nation on earth that you watch it.  It is well worth an hour of your time.

Leaving aside the ongoing and seemingly constant threats of military action and possible thermonuclear attack upon South Korea and other nations by the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) the documentary was fascinating to me.  I am a big, big fan of the works of George Orwell and to see a state that exists in close to what ‘1984’ describes was very interesting.  I will not spoil the documentary for you but a few interesting points:

  • Lack of Technology – The DPRK is almost medieval in many places.  A lot of the jobs and tasks in the video looked to me, as a student of history, the way Japan did in the 1400’s.  The typical person there has no technology of any kind on their person including a wrist watch or mobile phone.
  • Failing Electricity Grid –   It would be amusing if it was not so criminal but the power grid in the DPRK seemed to fail constantly plunging whole towns into darkness.  That is a society in touble, rule one for a modern civilisation…electricity.  You try living without it.
  • Grinding Poverty – You can find out about the famine that killed a million plus, of the food aid that China and other give the DPRK, but in watching this film you also see the hard manual labour most North Koreans must also put up with.  I don’t even think it was about full employment on farms or such just a lack of machines to achieve more with less labour.
  • Isolationism – As a pariah state North Koreans have NO information about the outside world and this is down right strange.  Never heard of the Beatles, not heard of Star Wars or seen The Eiffel Tower.  We know little about them but they really know nothing about us.
  • Child Actors – It is worth watching this film if only to see the section in the middle of it with a performance put on including dance routines, piano, violin, guitar and acting put on in PERFECTION by DPRK children aged about 4-5 years.  Yes, very young children.  Speaking as a father of three and having been to a dozen or more such performances of this age group..you can only get this level of perfection if the threat of failure is dire indeed for the kiddies.
  • Slight of Hand – A lot of the filming is out of the corner of a window or slyly from a coach or under the arm.  Why?  Well the regime wants you to see only what it wishes you to see.  Taken to the model village, the ideal factory, the perfect hospital and immaculate hotel but not the buildings next door or the stores with empty shelves.  It is awful to watch and so clueless to a modern audience from the West who are just not taken in by this attempt at slight of hand.  Indeed the idea of perfection for the regime is something from the 1970’s or 1980’s, all pre-digital.
  • The Military – Everywhere and everything.  In fact the only thing that seems to run well in North Korea.
  • The Glorious Leader Cult – Scary, scary stuff.  A mix of hacked down messianic religion and fairy tales about the current, previous and first glorious leader.  If the DPRK had any form of free media it would not be able to exist like this.  Some of the stories are really wild.
  • Ideological Failure –  The DPRK is a broken state its obvious to all watching this film.  The reasons for this are many but what interests me is the idea that extreme nations where dictatorship and military led societies ALL seem to fail; why is this?  Lack of investment, a slow down of growth and innovation, public sector meltdown for military spending and so on.  North Korea is like any number of such states in Africa ruled in much the same fashion or it can be compared to the Soviet Union of the 1990’s or the Argentina of the 1980’s.  As you will all know the more democratic a nation’s name is the less democratic it is likely to be indeed throw in a ‘democratic’ or ‘peoples’ or ‘republic’ and I will assure you the nation in question meets none of its own named qualities.

A pariah state.  A place not really of our world.  How long with North Korea remain this way…well in my opinion not as long as the glorious leader would like it to.  But then what do I know, what do any of us know.


The Iron Lady is no more….

At the age of eighty seven Britain’s longest serving and only female Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died peacefully after a stroke this morning.   While I do not discuss politics typically I could not allow the death of the ‘Iron Lady’ pass without comment here.

As a baby born in 1979 I lived my first eleven years with Margaret Thatcher as the leader of the nation and even now I remember being very confused when she stepped down as I could not imagine her not being in charge! If you agree with her political choices or you don’t it cannot be denied that she had a bigger impact on Britain than almost anyone else in the 20th century.  She was involved closely with the end of the Cold War and oversaw the re-taking of the illegally seized Falkland Islands too.  She broke the power of the Trade Unions and resisted the increase in UK integration with Europe too.  It is fair to say that although I admire her I am in a minority in Scotland where she is disliked or more by many even to this day.

How will history judge the Iron Lady?  Time will tell but I personally think that she will be remembered in the positive overall.

For the full story and links to videos from those who knew or were influenced by her visit the BBC News page.


Max Brooks – World War Z – Listen to it on YouTube

Often I do not have time to read as much as I would like and indeed late March and April is the crux of this time for me with the build up to and the actual event of Salute in London.  Salute is the only wargame show which I attend directly along with the company and its a big task all around.  So I often listen to audio books.

I have done this for many years but over time the technology to allow this has changed dramatically.  Back in the 1990’s it was a big box of cassette tapes which then gave way to a portable CD walkman and in turn a small MP3 player with ear buds.  In the last couple of years it has become a smart phone (which can carry about 50,000 cassettes!) and the source of the audio has changed too.  I used to use the local libraries and purchase the odd box set too.  Then the same with CD’s.  But once everything went digital this all changed too.   MP3 files for audio books and now it seems YouTube has literally thousands of audio books on it which are essentially free to listen to.  This can be done online by going to Youtube.


I own both of Max Brooks books on the Zombie Wars, the Survival Guide and World War Z.  Both are excellent and both are unlike the vast majority of cookie cutter zombie fiction.  Where the Zombie Survival Guide is a practical manual much in the same vein as infantry training guides and such (makes you shiver to think that it is actually real and has just been popped into our world from some other dimension) the other book, this one, is a diary account like tale of a war finished already.  Its evocative, its brutal and while often deeply personal it is also detached from what it is telling you overall.  Brooks does a great job in telling you of the end of the world without actually showing it to you in the ‘big picture’.  You get it in little chunks from seemingly random people.  It works very well.

The voice acting is great as well.  If you are a fan of zombie books but are looking for something more than shuffle and bite check it out and do it in a way that allows you to work on like I did while enjoying it.  Go to YouTube.


The 98 Campaign by M C Monkey-Dew

I had meant to post on this subject a couple of weeks back..but..well you get the point.  Being me is not always a linear experience, sometimes I feel like I am suffering something I like to call ‘timeslip’ as time passes like lightening and a day becomes a fortnight with no effort at all on my comprehension!

The Campaign Map

My good friend Bob Minadeo with whom I have worked on Firefight 2.0 and HOF Fire-Team is a skilled wargames rules writer and a long time wargamer too.  He is also a big fan of Flintloque, Slaughterloo and the whole World of Valon.  To that end he has brewed up and is currently playing out a whole campaign set in that world under the title of ‘The 98 Campaign’.  Above you can see the campaign map.

The campaign concerns the Ferach Elf forces of the Tyrant Emperor Mordred and their Bog Orc allies in the ‘BGORA’ and their attempt to ‘liberate’ Guinalea from the yolk of King Gorge III of Greate Britorcn and make the nation part of the Empire and not the Grand Alliance.  I am enjoying reading the postings on Bob’s blog and on top of the tale the images showing his terrain set up and the love that he puts into his armed forces on the table top.   The vast majority of the excellent and colourful miniatures on the gaming table are pro-painted from Alternative Armies itself and as I often deal with Bob directly (perks of the job eh!) I have watch him amass this collection with interest over the last year while his mighty mind was musing on the campaign now underway.

Albion Dragoons advance!

As to which side will win the conflict…I do not know…perhaps Bob does not know either at this moment and the dice will decide.  He is using a concoction of his own for the wargame rules and the campaign system too.  Me, well I want the Emperor Mordred to lose as always!

Get on over to the Monkey-Dew blog and follow the campaign if you are a wargamer it is proving to be a riveting ride indeed!


Nearing Three Score…well a Score and three Quarters!


The Swag of the Day!

Its me birthday today…Huzzah!  Its also been a long week of many things the future will show, hence the lack of blog postings and updates.

Thanks to all who gave me a gift.  Not only a physical object but also their time, for the emails, phone calls and also visits in person.  Above you can see some of what I received including several graphic art books and DVD’s too.  I may do a posting or two on some of these but they are all smashing great objects which will keep me ‘nerding’ for many hours over the coming weeks.  You will also see a polo shirt behind everything else.  This is a staff shirt from my local hostelry the ‘Roxy’.  They adore me so much they gave me a uniform so that I might work for them…but the 15mm.co.uk shirt I currently wear would have to be prised off with a white metal crowbar first!

Special mention to my best buddy Jim Brittain who took several days off his work to come and stay here with me in Girvan for my birthday weekend.  Also Eve Hallow who amused all with the scratching of his long nails on every chalkboard he could find.  Also my Good Lady who organised not only a rousing cheer or two but also a cake and other surprises.

Normal service resumed soon!


p.s.  I am 34 today in case the title is somewhat confusing in this posting.

‘Robo Basho Arto Framo’


Just another print on the wall…blame Pink Floyd

I actually carried out what this post is about a couple of weeks ago but work and other things have kept me from publishing this post…mainly as until this morning I thought I already had!

In a previous post I told you all about the artwork and article Sam Croes and I had created for Irregular Magazine.  Sam based the artwork on my description of the giant fighting machines of the 22nd century.  I thought the image was so awesome that I had it printed at a very high resolution and then framed by Green Jam here in Girvan.   Green Jam do an excellent job in framing, highly recommended.  Its an A2 sized print in top grade ink on a thick vellum like paper which is a little raised for a rich feel which was then fitted into a wooden frame with white border.  Normally I only place frame prints of my wargame titles on the walls (you can see DarkeStorme to the right of the Robo Basho picture) but I made an exception here.  Eventually wall space will run out but for now I am gold as they say.

Sam saw the print when he was here last week and he liked it a lot.  I offered to send him another A2 sized print if he desired it, perhaps he shall.

Anyway call it a sin of pride but I just wanted to show you all what I got!  🙂