Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Followers in the Attic

Retrospective: February 2009
I had been volunteered to tackle the realms beyond the loft hatch. It had been a volcano of carboot stuff piling up around said orifice ever since we moved in 10 years ago.

Amongst the 'Battling Tops', 'Steer'n'Go', original 'Haunted House' games & 1:24th scale Airfix kits were my old wargaming terrain boards & 1:300th WW2 Heroics & Ros miniatures (referred to, these days, apparrently as 6mm or "6 mil".

I could hardly remember what treasures I had secreted in the Johnny Walkers cardboard box, Tuf SlipOns shoebox & plastic Elastoplast first aid boxes but deep down felt a visceral adolescent stirring of some sort or other. At some point in fairly recent history (by geological standards, anyway) I seemed to recall thoroughly enjoying-& being absorbed by-this hobby but initially the erstwhile intensity escaped me.

In the Johnny Walker box, about nine 12" square terrain boards of sculpted landforms of varying practicalities, wargaming, for the use of, were vertically stacked. Somewhat otherworldly ironstone outcrops reared up alongside oddly vertiginous escarpment slash quarry slash Fantasia mountains. Pleasingly forgotten, there were four half-normal-board-width 'coastline sections', made when D-Day reconstructions were still of interest to me. One coastline board was a sort of scaled-down version of Charlestown on the south coast of Cornwall where I had spent a couple of years not misspending my youth whilst on the dole and which could be mistaken for a film set out of 'Where Eagles Dare' or 'Battle of Britain'.

Vague recollections of inexorably symmetrical German armour formations, rather dissatisfying infantry pitched-battles and fizzled-out solo campaigns came back. A twelve-year-old attempting to grasp the difference between simply 'making dioramas' and 'Wargaming', whatever Bruce Quarrie was trying to say it was in his Airfix Guide. It always had to be explained to every Aunt & Uncle at each social visit. One hobby was static and collected dust unless you bought flimsy little domed vaccuum-formed covers from Military Modelling Magazine or kept your efforts at the back of the bedroom book shelves; the other hobby you were allowed to move the tanks & things around but somehow had to remember how far they could go and what the guns on them could do. There were charts & tables that, in theory, scaled down the real thing to what you had on your formica wood-effect worktop, except that at that young age and without another player, there were so many grey areas in the rules and so many situations not catered for it felt at times as though you were juggling sand.

Some school pals and I at Fowey Comprehensive would use Mr Nicholls' chemistry lab if it was a 'wet dinnertime' and I don't think there were flatter desert battles fought between my 1/72nd scale Airfix Tiger, Panther, 88mm & Matilda II, Shermans & 'Bren Carrier with 6 pounder', all painted in a Kelly's ice-creamy Airfix M14 yellow!

Wargaming did not hold my peers' attention for too long when compared to tearing chunks off the groundskeeper's shed or secretly disembowelling vehicles allocated to the Motor Tech class and thus at some point I appear to have purchased a quantity of original release Heroics & Ros late war armour, you know the sort of thing I am referring to: Panthers. Tigers. King Tigers. Some Panzer IVH's for balance. And some Nashorns for variation. Numerically, the allies attempted to keep pace with their more glamourous opponents but as we know, it is a near impossible task when faced with almost perfect hardware without the balancing symptoms of a military empire on the verge of collapse.

Thoroughly kitted out thus (except for a dearth of infantry obviously, which, lets face it, was just hundreds and thousands on the icing of the tank battle cake) and brandishing a set of WRG 1925-1952 rules, I attended a wargaming club in Truro for a year or two. Many tank pitched battles ensued. Some were pitched encounter tank battles; others were tank encounter pitched battles. Most involved the casual destruction of herds of allied armour sweeping majestically yet ineffectually across 'Billiard-Table Mountain' by omnipotent teenage Nazi generals. Sausage forays to the chip shop for lunch and eavesdropping on Sealed Knot anecdotes aside, that was about as good as it got. Little wonder that teen angst, looming despatch to University and mind bending drugs obliterated The Hobby from the author's brain for some 30 years...