A modern 17th Century weekend – a dog’s eye view.

Sparky says:

“We’re home again now.  We went to a reenackment (I think).  A reenackment is where humans take carry-vans and other tiny houses and they all play together in a big field.  It is exciting and scary and fun and boring.

He took my carry-van right to the end of the field and talked to the nice make-food ladies.  Then He played with the carry-van and built a little house on the side of it.  He put Sparky’s den in the little house and covered it with silver stuff.  Rich Sparky!  

More Humans came with their carry-vans, their dogs and their small Humans (I call them people-puppies).  Then She (my other best Human) came too and we played Ball.  There were lots of wopses and most of the Humans and some doggies got badly hurted.  I wasn’t afraid because He is the Wopsfinder-General who kills wopses dead.  But He got bitten by other nasty flying things instead and His legs went all spotty and fat.

Later, after the dark was switched on, some ‘Orses came on a lorry, but they had to get off the lorry and stand in a field of grass all night.  Poor ‘Orses!

Next day all the Humans turned themselves into Soldiers.  There are Good Soldiers and Bad Soldiers.  The Good Soldiers ride  the ‘Orses.  Other Good Soldiers carry big sticks, but too big for even Sparky to fetch.  Bad Soldiers have things like big doggy dinner cans that they hit with sticks, going bong, bong-a-bong bong, bong-a-bong bong – all day!

Sparky doesn’t like the bong-a-bongs, so he goes to his den or into the carry-van. Other Soldiers have sticks that go kerrrump!, then pop, pop, pop-pop.  He laughs and says “Call that a vollee?”  Sparky doesn’t laugh.  But the Worst Soldiers have big toys on wheels that go fizzzzz-BOOOM!!!. Sparky needs to hide under the table for those.

For the first “battle” (even if it was a walkies away), Sparky hid in the Carry-Van.  First I hid in the shower, but it was wet.  So I hid in my bed, but then that was wet too.  Then They came back so it was all right again.  I had treats.

I found a new place to hide.  It’s called “Damndogs-under-the-car”.  It is safe.  It is so safe that I shouted at Him to tell Him so when he tried to get me out.  He said I could get burnted (Ouch-Sparky-Hot) if I did that sort of thing and if nobody knew.  In the end I hid in my den until the noisybangs stopped.

Then everyone else went home and He went to bed in the carry-van.  I looked after Him and in the morning we tidied all the toys and the little house away and took the carry-van home again.  Then He had to take all His toys out again and put them in the where-we-live.”


A re-enactor remembers, No.1

In the English Civil War Society of the 1990s it was common for those of the female persuasion to take rôles as male musketeers.

After all, who wants to accompany their male partner, or travel on their own, several hundred miles to spend the weekend cooking or sewing while the blokes have all the real fun?

Our “regiment” had no problem with this. In my view, most of us were too old, too healthy and too fat. Where was the problem in being too female, provided that you made an effort not to be too feminine?

But, as a junior officer, there was one problem with commanding a company that could be, on some days, up to 70% female*. It has been documented that female mammals as a group in close company tend to synchronise their menstrual cycles as a semi-defensive mechanism against male attentions.

So, at some events, stentorian commands, such as “SHOULDER YOUR MUSKETS” had to be accompanied by submissive eye contact, indicating “Please?”. Thank God that the ladies never had bayonets! I hope and believe that I was able to quite accurately read the general mood for the general well-being of all.


* When I was a corporal with 6 or 7 musketeers under command, I found that I frequently seemed to gather the same half-dozen ladies in my file. They called themselves “Paul’s Bang Gang”

Old Technology

Found in the attic

While digging out our advent tree from the attic I came across my old portable typewriter.

I bought this machine from Argos en route to a re-enactment event in the late 1980s or early 1990s, simply because I was the “Adjutant” for Sir Thomas Blackwell’s Regiment of the English Civil War Society at the time and the monthly newsletter was due the next week.

Photographs exist of me, dressed as a 17th century peasant, furiously typing away at the front of my tent on a Saturday evening in order to meet the copy deadline.

The following Monday evening would see me at our office photocopier running off 100 copies, followed by a late session folding, stapling and enveloping the results.

On Tuesday I would print the address labels and get stuff posted.

Aah, those were the days…

A new game for the young – or not so young

As a distraction from running around our re-enactment campsites and shouting a lot, I have developed a game for our youngsters whereby they can sit still and shout a lot.

This is a “wargame”, but is intended to represent more closely the way that we represent battles as re-enactors rather than actual war.

The original game was designed for use on a card table with a grid of 12 x 12  2” squares, but for portability, last weekend it was played on a cheap cork notice board ruled into 11 x 7 squares.

First the location of the two trees on the field are diced for. Each player rolls 2D6 for the position left-right and 1D6 for the position forward from their base line of one tree. Trees represent barriers to movement and shooting.

Next each player dices for their army. The armies in my game were constructed from four boxes of 30 Years War plastic figures found at a previous “muster”: one of cavalry, one of artillery and one each of the infantry for each side. I added three cannon from an Airfix Waterloo French set.

The full selection of available troops for each side is:
3 guns, each with 2 crew.,
3 pairs of cavalry,
2 groups of 3 pikemen and an officer,
7 groups of 4 musketeers or dragoons,
The General, with a drummer, ensign with flag and one pikeman.

Each player dices for his army of 12 units:
General is mandatory.
Artillery: 1,2 = 1 gun, 3,4 = 2 guns, 5,6 = 3 guns,
Cavalry: 1,2 = 1 pair, 3,4 = 2 pairs, 5,6 = 3 pairs.
Pike: 1,2 = no pike, 3,4 = 1 x 4 pike, 5,6 = 2 x 4 pike.
The rest of the army, to make up to 12 units/bases (hereinafter called “bases”), is made up of musketeers.
Because there is a maximum of 7 musket bases, if the Artillery/Cavalry/Pike contingent is less than 4 bases combined, then the shortfall is diced for:
1,2 = 1 gun, 3,4 = 1 pair cavalry, 5,6 = 4 pike.

The armies are now deployed on the first two rows of the board, from each player’s perspective.

Next first player is diced for, higher die becoming first player.

The turn sequence is:
General issues movement orders to any bases adjacent to his square (including diagonals).
Units ordered to move do so, according to their capabilities,

Any unit with a valid target may shoot. Cannon, 6 squares, muskets 3 squares, cavalry 2 squares (to the right only).

Hand to hand combat. Any base with an enemy adjacent to the front must attack. Cavalry roll 2 dice per figure, infantry and artillery 1 die per figure.

Having now witnessed several games I have spotted hidden subtleties not intended in the original design. For example:
With the 11 x 7 board it is possible to launch a cavalry attack in the first turn that will wipe out the enemy in their sector but will leave the cavalry isolated without command. (The “Prince Rupert” effect).
Two guns side-by-side in the centre as a battery may preclude the enemy General from moving across the line of fire to give orders.
Any unit on the back row of the field has a 1/6 chance on average of being forced off the field by any enemy action.
One should always keep a sacrificial unit between the enemy and the General.

The above is a summary of the complete rules, the current version of which I am happy to supply on application to paul.wisken@btinternet.com.

Battle results for last weekend:

Archie (aged 9): 6-4, 6-1, 6-3, 1-6, 5-6.
Casualties inflicted: 24, Losses 20. 3 won, 2 lost.

Paul (me) (aged 64): 4-6, 1-6, 6-1, 1,6.
Casualties inflicted: 12, Losses 19. 1 won, 3 lost.

Graham (Archie’s dad): 3-6, 2-3**
Casualties inflicted: 5, Losses 9. 0 won, 2 lost.

Steve (Cavalry commander): 6-5, 3-2, 6-1
Casualties inflicted: 15, Losses 8. 3 won, 0 lost

** General retreated from the field. Game conceded.

So Steve is best and Archie is in line for CO when Steve retires.

The best laid plans – A trip “oop north”

On the Sunday and Monday of the English public holiday weekend (25th-27th August) the English Civil War Society mounted a battle display at Hylton Castle, Sunderland.
Since the camp site was available from Thursday 23rd to Wednesday 29th we decided to make it a holiday and see the sights. After all, the weather was wonderful and it is an area we have not previously explored.
And so we planned to set off from Hampshire early on Thursday 23rd and make a leisurely progress northwards, returning in the same way on Wednesday 29th.

Wednesday 22nd
Alas, Chrissy’s first day of holiday, planned for packing and preparation of the caravan, was annulled due to a subordinate’s illness, requiring her to go to the office to run the monthly payroll. Naturally, being in the office meant that she made herself available for every other work assignment and packing did not happen as planned.

Thursday 23rd
We packed the caravan and started off around two hours later than planned. All went well until we stopped for what passes for a meal at a motorway service area near Nottingham. Returning to the car we found one tyre flat.
We used the HGV facilities to pump it up and stopped at every second or third petrol station over the next 150 miles to check the tyre, which held up.
Arriving about three hours later than planned, we found that the campsite water supply had not yet been provided. An empty bowser was parked around 500m from the camp site. Plans were in hand to get it filled. The contract with the council was for a mains supply with three taps, but it was clearly lost in translation.
Our friends had saved us some “Spag-Bol” for dinner, after which we fought the caravan awning in the high westerly wind until it was erected. Then we returned to the water point for our supply, connected the barrels to the caravan and fell into bed, exhausted.

Friday 24th
As expected, the car tyre was flat again. We summoned the AA via their mobile phone app. About an hour later the mechanic called to say he was 200 yards away and needed talking into our temporary campsite. The app showed he was around 20 miles away at the time!
After we described the problem, he re-inflated the tyre and sent us off to Kwik-Fit tyre services around 15 minutes away. They found two small cuts in the tyre, either side of a previous repair. The tyre had to be scrapped. Unfortunately Kwik-Fit could only source a replacement about a week later and at a cost of around £200.
They sent us across the road where another garage was able to source a tyre immediately and fit it within 90 minutes at little over half the cost.
So with half the day wasted we did some shopping and returned to camp.

Saturday 25th
We made a trip north across the Tyne to a couple of camping shops in a vain attempt to source better and/or additional camping equipment, after which we stopped off for fish and chips (and a sausage for the dog) at the seaside.
Returning to camp we were told that our horses had arrived at the battle site four miles away.
Four of us drove to the site to find this was a false alarm, but also that an inadequate area had been fenced off for the horses, and we had to re-arrange and extend the 6ft x 6ft metal fence panels, before setting up an electric fence to keep the horses from different stables separated.
No water supply had been provided for the horses, so alternative arrangements were put in place involving ferrying 25 litre containers from the nearest tap around 500m away. This continued throughout the weekend.

Sunday 26th
Our caravan battery was registering low voltage, so I fired up the petrol generator (brought “just in case”) to top it up.
I played and supervised a few wargames played with my game designed to keep the kids amused, but which has grabbed the attention of some of the adults in our group. I lost at three of the four games I played.

The re-enactment battle started at 2:30 pm, and despite the driving rain proved to be a cracker from the cavalry point of view. The enemy cavalry, some of whom were drawn from a Scottish display team “Riders of the Storm”, were highly interactive and a good time was had by all. Our sponsors, Sunderland town council, were delighted.
After the battle, returning to camp we found that our caravan was without power, the newly charged battery now registering 0v. I installed the spare battery and all seemed well – so far.
In the evening a ceilidh band played at the beer tent until late.

Monday 27th
Off with the dead battery to Halfords, where we bought a solar panel charger for the caravan, and eventually had the dead battery checked, only to find it was registering a full charge.
Back to camp to get into C17th clothes for a cavalry drill and skill at arms display, for which I was providing the commentary. Not only did I have little clue about the planned display sequence but parts of it were carried out behind, from my commentator’s viewpoint, a large bush. It all went reasonably well, considering.
The afternoon battle was even better than Sunday’s version. Our biggest problem was crowd management. Thousands turned up and overflowed the designated viewing area.
Returning to camp some of our number had to depart for home almost immediately. Others prepared for an early departure on Tuesday, and then we sat and chatted around the camp fire.

Tuesday 28th
We awoke to reports of several thefts around the campsite. Our group’s gas range, a mountain bike, the beer pumps from the beer tent, and several other items had been taken. The police were called.
All except us from our group packed and left during the morning. We prepared to spend the afternoon at Beamish museum. Then we found that due to mis-communication most of the facilities had been or were being removed from site, and so with this and the security issues (our caravan now standing alone near the far edge of the field) we decided to go home.
So our leisurely drive home on Wednesday turned into an 8 hour slog home on Tuesday, arriving home around 10:30 pm. We transferred the food from the fridge and collapsed into bed.

Wednesday 29th
A day spent unloading, cleaning and preparing the caravan for our next trip to Blenheim Palace Horse Trials in a couple of weeks, where we will have real 240v electricity instead of gas and batteries.

We never really got to see the sights, but despite wind and rain and our technical issues we had a good break with good friends. Roll on next summer.

Weekend Warriors – backstory

First – a counterblast

All the pre-publicity for the series “Weekend Warriors” on the British TV channel “Yesterday” indicated that it would be looking at the history of various periods as portrayed by reenactors.  As the transmission neared the publicity became more focused on personalities.
In the end the first episode was somewhat disjointed, hopping from history to preparation to personalities at random.
While it did not – unlike some TV programmes – portray the reenactors as sad nutters rather than people with a hobby and a serious interest in what they portray to the public, I don’t think the overall result was as good as it could have been.
I was surprised to learn that the Fairfax Battalia (Devereux’, Fox’s, Overton’s and Walton’s Regiments) apparently now apparently appoint their officers by hereditary succession rather than democracy or ability (with no insult intended to those portrayed – you may be the best for the job, but it was not shown that way).  This seems to go directly against the motto on the T-shirt sported by the Roundhead Association Lord General “Jus Divininus Culus Meus”, the latin that I was asked by his predecessor to provide for a personal standard. (Divine Right My Arse).
I look forward to the next episode: Wellington’s forces in Spain.  This is a period in which I am also involved in as a reenactor but normally on the other side.

The filming

I was at the Marlborough event.  During Sunday morning I watched seemingly endless attacks by the Marquess of Winchester’s Regiment against a cadre of the Fairfax Battalia, mainly semi-retired Devereux’ as far as I could see.
Winchester’s were also hosting and organising the event, so all credit to them for devoting the time to take on the extra work.
After the battle display on Sunday I was present for the filming of the cavalry action in my rôle as cavalry ground support in case of problems with the horses.  Having been involved in several TV filming sessions as a reenactor it was interesting to be with the team behind the camera for a change.
The filming was taking place after the public event finished.  The hired horses were due back at the horse lines the other side of town within 30 minutes.  Some of the interaction is reported here:

Director: “Did you not get my message that the horses were required at one o’clock?
Cavalry Commander: “Yes. Did you not get my message that it was not possible? The horses were hired for two battle displays. We can’t overwork them and the timing was impossible.”
Director: “When the musketeers fire, I want you to wheel about and retire.”
Filming starts, three musketeers fire, six cavalry wheel about and retire.
Director: “Where are they going? – they’ve moved out of shot!”
Me: “They have wheeled about as ordered. That’s how it’s done.”
Director: I have people moving caravans in the background – can you ask them to stop?”
Me: “Some of these people have to get to the other end of the country and have work in the morning. No.”
The whole set up is moved to the right 20 paces.
Director: “Is that better? Is there anyone packing up in shot?
Cameraman; “No, but all I can see in the background is F***ing blue toilets!”
The whole set up is moved to the left 10 paces.
It is decided that the cavalry will turn individually on the spot and retire.
The cavalry commander has advised that the return of the horses is now overdue and there is one more chance before they leave.
Director: “Why are the horses so far apart – can they close up?
Me: If they close up they can’t turn as you want. If they turn on the spot they need at least a half-horse length each. And if you don’t film it now you will have no horses at all.”
At last the shot is taken, and as far as I can see, cut from the final transmission.
That’s filming!