Sunday, 29 August 2010

Back from the Russian Federation

You will have noticed my absence from the blog scene for the last couple of weeks. That's because Mrs Trebian and I have been out of the country enjoying the sites of the Russian Federation. We've just done a 10 day river cruise from St Petersburg to Moscow.

The trip deserves some detailed blogs, - oh! the sites we have seen, the places we have been. And the photos that I've taken. These are currently uploading to my laptop's hard drive, - it's taken 40 minutes so far and it looks to me that I've got another 30 minutes to go - so this blog is being written on my netbook.

As I've got no pictures as yet for the moment this initial blog will just be a bit of background. We were a bit worried before we went for three reasons:

1) Moscow weather looked too hot and the smog wasn't good.
2) British Airways were threatening strikes.
3) The BAA workers who run Heathrow were threatening strikes.

As it turned out none of these things were a concern.

To avoid any traffic problems we drove down the night before the flight and stayed at a hotel. The drive on the M25 was through the worst rain storm I've driven in for a very long time, made worse by the increasing darkness. So bad was it that even the outer lane nutters in their Audi TTs dropped down to below 50 mph. We eventually found the hotel (no thanks to the SatNav - TomToms have user map corrections to upload and I think someone has been playing silly b*gg*rs with the locations of airport hotels as this is the second time we've been sent close toan airport hotel but unhelpfully the wrong side of a dual carriageway or motorway with no turns).

At the risk of being controversial I have to say that our experience at Heathrow Terminal 5 and with BA as well both going out and returning was universally excellent. The staff were cheerful and helpful, T5 was well organised and efficient, the plane left on time and the food (particularly going out) was perfectly edible.

This contrasted with St Petersburg airport. We got caught the wrong side of another plane arrival and got separated from the rest of our group. It took us nearly an hour to get through passport control. We were not the most popular members of our party when we finally got through, - they were almost at the point of sending a coach off without us.

(Edit #1 - Pictures have just finished loading. Here's the Soviet era terminal building at St P)

Coming back out of Moscow was chaotic. The whole scanning thing is a shambles compared with T5. Trays for putting your shoes and bags in are all over the place. If anyone has a problem they're not taken to one side, - they're dealt with in the queue which then backs everyone up. Once you get through security (oh - nearly forgot - our assigned security gate was shut with no explanation so we had to wander off to another level of the building to get through) there's virtually nowhere to sit. The duty free shops are scattered about all over the place. There's no location maps. For a new building it really hasn't been thought out at all.

Back at T5, despite having to wait on the plane for a coach, arrival went like a dream. Extra passport booths were opened up as people arrived. Luggage arrived quickly. Short walk to the hotel buses. A bit of a wait there, but otherwise very efficient.

Right. Photos have nearly all loaded, so I'd better close and start editing.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Real Life (part 14)

Been a bit light on the blog front recently for a number of minor reasons. Partly because I haven't been doing a lot of wargaming. I realise the irony of this as that should mean I'm blogging a lot, given what I said I'd write about in my blurb.

There's been a few Real Life things to slow me down. We had to take young Master Trebian back to University as he needed to pick up the keys to his new student house. Unbelievable, - the place has a matching three piece suite in good condition, carpet that doesn't suck at your feet when you walk on it, a tumble drier, a dishwasher, burglar alarm and a pool table. I know it's cheaper living up North, but this was like a proper house which real people could live in.

Mrs Trebian and I made weekend of it and booked a hotel in the middle of Huddersfield. Pleasant enough - its unique selling point is that the cast of "Last of the Summer Wine" stay there during filming. Oh, and they serve a prodigious breakfast.

As we're going on holiday shortly we finished off pre-holiday shopping and I hit the "3 for 2" deals in Waterstones to fill the reading list. We're doing a Russian river cruise, so I guess there'll be some time to read. I've gone for mainly fiction as I've done a lot of non-fiction recently. I did two of the 3 for 2s and went for the Stieg Larssons, Audrey Nifenegger's recent book plus a couple I can't remember. Obviously made a deep impression on me at the time*.

I also picked up a copy of John Reed's classic book on the Russian Revolution "Ten Days That Shook the World". It's one of those books I've been meaning to read for ages so I finally took the plunge. It is a rather marvellous period piece, excellent reportage but definitely fixed in its moment in time. It's descriptions of the proletariat rising and the wordy speeches that seem to be the engine that drives the events forward almost read like a parody of themselves.

Some where in there we went to see "Inception" which I have to say I thought was excellent, - intelligent, well made and exciting. Can't say I thought it was as confusing as some people are claiming. Maybe I just pay attention more when I'm watching a movie than everyone else.

This past weekend we dodged the rainclouds on Saturday and I had my team over for a barbecue on Sunday. We ended up with about 30 or so turning up for the social event of the year at Trebian Towers (the family estate set in acres of rolling countryside). This was slightly more than I expected, but it went off really well. No young children were sick, no one got too drunk and as of now no one in the team contracted food poisoning. The only major failure of the event was the non-functioning of the external lights, which blew out the house electrics when I turned them on. (I discovered this morning that this was because one of the sockets had got infested with earwigs. They are now mostly dead).

As people drifted away we rounded off the evening with a couple of games of "Apples to Apples", which is one of the best games for playing socially there is. The rules are very simple, everyone plays at the same time (ie no one has to wait for their turn) and up to 10 can play easily. If you've not played it, thoroughly recommended. Pretty much everyone we play it with says "We must get a copy". John Kovalics owes me commission.

Having said that, on looking for the picture to illustrate this bit I note that the version I have, - the British Isles Edition - seems to be pretty much unobtainable. So best of luck to all my readers.

* Wolf Hall" & "Unseen Academicals" were the other two.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

One of my better Tuesdays

Tuesdays are a bit rubbish as days. They don't even have the decency to be half way through the week. However Tuesday this week went quite well.

On the non-wargaming front I had to do a presentation to our FD to explain to him what we've been up to for the last year and why we haven't wasted that money we spent on the project.

Ignoring the track record for this type of thing I set up a session that linked live system access to a Powerpoint presentation and piped it into a conference room over the wireless network.

There were so many points where this could have gone wrong and has indeed done so in the past. In fact it all went really well, everything worked and said senior man was duly impressed. He asked all the right questions (ie mostly those I'd prepared for) and liked all of the answers.

On getting home I got a call from Phil reminding me he'd got a mid-week wargames visitor and would I mind coming over to help teach him PBI. As I'm missing out this Friday for a number of really good Real Life reasons I got in the car and drove over.

Phil had set up a simple table and invited the pair of us to attack his German veteran platoon with a couple of platoons of Russians.

I duly obliged with a succession of brilliant manoeuvres resulting in close assaults. Despite wrong footing the Germans at every turn It didn't go as well as it could have done, and I was left with a field consisting mostly of dead bodies.

Overall it was quite a tough call in game one as apart from their ability to close assault at the drop of a hat the Russians were quite lightly equipped to take on a platoon in close terrain supported by armour. In practice it was all over quite quickly, so we reset and had another go.

This time we got some extra support arms, - a few HMGs, an ATK Rifle and an infantry flamethrower. Plus some armour.

Inevitably the armour supporting my troops got next to nothing in APs on turn one, got trapped on the edge of the board and was duly knocked out by some neat German shooting.

However after years of trying I managed to get a flamethrower into a square adjacent to a defensive position, survive the Op Fire and actually get off a squirt that hit something!!!!

Phil has been saving a Litko plastic wall of flame for this for quite a while. I'm not a fan of Litko plastic markers. They make me feel the same way I do when I see really bad plastic flowers. It's sort of an insult to nature. However the wall of flame certainly looks the business in the picture.

Which brought us to the end of the game.

Lovely way to round off the evening.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Jungle fighting (continued)

Last Friday we did the second, and I think final, round of the PBI jungle game.

Getting the Burma figures out after a long break makes you look at your set up and makes me ponder on what changes need to be made. During the week between the two games I've come to the conclusion that I need to add some 25pdrs to the XIVth Army box as they're pretty ubiquitous during the campaign. I've started to search around for suitable models, and also started the research on exactly what I should have. Not as simple as first thought as they didn't deploy the classic "Quad, Limber & Gun" much beloved from the early days of Airfix. A degree of conversion work will be needed to put on the jury-rigged jeep axles, and I'm not sure if they towed them with jeeps, or broke them down for non-towed transport. Or course, I could just cop out by only doing the guns deployed but I try not to be that shallow these days. The other concern is that this is a further chink in my painting regime discipline which says never buy new stuff until you painted the last army. Currently I've got 28mm Crusaders & 16th Century Irish to finish, along with Sudan Campaign Limbers, RCW Tchankas and an ECW Covenanter army, all in 15mm.

Anyway, back to the game. Through the arrival of a new player to last week the Japanese flanking manoeuvre turned up, - an extra platoon with HMG support. This rather pinned the XIVth's right flank units in place, so the remorseless Japanese pressure from the front carried on.

On the Japanese right the Japanese veteran platoon re-gathered its strength and pushed their opponents back into the Nissan hut complex. At the end of the game the West Africans were just hanging on, but were about to be assaulted at the first decent AP roll.

In the middle the Japanese medium mortar platoon managed to blast the remaining forward platoon out of the huts, leaving one sole group to hide out in the jungle, and fight its way back. It was a feature of this game that in spite of the crushingly high level of casualties sustained by pretty much everyone the worst morale result was normally the do not advance one. This was due to some fair dice rolling, but also because mostly people didn't hang around in squares with casualties and with one exception passed break tests.

Anyway the lonely stand soon became nick-named Errol, as he fought his way Errol Flynn-like back to the base perimeter.

On the Japanese left the new platoon surged forwards, helped by the thick cover and a couple of really good mortar stonks that wiped out the HMG section covering the flank. Bringing up the Stuart to hold the flank up worked, but it looked awfully vulnerable even though the only anti-tank weapons facing it were three HMGs. It doesn't have very thick armour, and offensively HE from tank guns isn't a PBI game winner.

The game ended with the Japanese poised all around the perimeter of the base, and the XIVth Army down to about 5 stands and one tank.

At which point as it was my game, in my garage and I was playing the XIVth Army, I declared night had fallen and the game was a draw.