Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Review: Treasure Island

Cover by NC Wyeth - possibly one 
of the most wonderful illustrators that has ever lived. 

Treasure Island is a great book and like many great books, grew out of a small act. Stevenson's step-son was drawing one day and his step-father looking over his shoulder, saw that he was drawing a map. They spent the day naming the places and colouring it. And from the map came the book.

It is a simple story told by a boy on the cusp of manhood and therein lies its power. Jim Hawkins is a boy telling a story to other boys and his nature is reflected in the telling. There is no navel gazing or reflection in him, he doesn't agonize over killing or worry about the morality of taking buried treasure. Unlike his contemporaries in Victorian fiction, whose scruples often verge on the priggish, Jim's moral compass is personal, his loyalty to his mother and to his friends. His is a conscience rooted in the eighteenth century, his goals are clear and their simplicity and single mindedness drive the story forward.

Wyeth again - when I was a small boy, this image filled me with indescribable dread. 

But even in this celebration of the 18th century love affair with laissez faire capitalism, Stephenson finds a place for evil. It is a grinning, grubby, chatty evil, far removed from the starkly painted moral monsters of children's fiction. Long John Silver is a murderer, a pirate and a scoundrel, but he is also charming, capable and a leader of men. Jim enjoys his company despite himself. Though Jim hates Silver for his cruelty, he admires him for his daring as all boys admire those who defy parental or scholastic authority with panache. In some ways there is little to choose between Long John and Jim, both pursue the treasure, Long John is simply willing to use brutal means to obtain it.

The Jim we meet at the beginning of the novel is a boy, bound to his mother and weighed down by childish things. By the end, he has encountered dangers, both moral and physical, and survived. He has mastered new skills and entered man's estate. For the rest of us, reading Treasure Island could be considered a vital part of that passage.

You will find a particularly fine audiobook version of Treasure Island here

Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Visitors & Belfast

We were visited by some silly English knig-its!

The last week has been gloriously and very pleasently busy.  We had the pleasure of playing host to a visiting wargamer pal and his lovely wife. I dragged them both dragged around Dublin for a quick tour before returning home to Mrs. Kinch's cooking. Dinner and a game followed.  There was also the intriguing possibility of more games by G+ or other video conferencing, so a success all round. 

Maryville House Tearooms and B&B
(Mrs. Kinch for scale)

After playing host we waddled off to Belfast for a few days away and had a really lovely time. We were a bit confused as the city seemed utterly deserted on Monday, but we had forgotten that "The Twelfth" had been on the 12th and everyone seemed hungover and slightly bewildered.  Though in a rebranding exercise that it possibly the greatest thing since usury became interest, the festival is now Belfast Orangefest.  A bit odd to be sure, but a distinct improvement. So, we went to Belfast on Monday and basically it was shut.  But we were happy to sit and read our books and generally relax - that to be honest was the plan anyway. 

We stayed in the Maryville House Tearooms and B&B, which I recommend unreservedly.  The food was excellent, the room wonderful and the staff uniformly lovely. To be honest, this was one constant of our trip to Belfast, with the exception of two ladies who were very trying (and were from Cork), the people in Belfast were friendly, helpful and couldn't have been nicer. 

Dinner on Monday was French as befitted the occasion and it was really splendid. La Bastille on the Lisburn Road was top notch and we drank the health of the Swiss Guards and confusion to the Republicans in fine style. 

Albert Memorial Clock

For anyone who likes Victorian and Edwardian architecture Belfast is a feast.  My little Iphone camera simply wasn't up to capturing it in all its glory, but for what its worth - here is the Albert Memorial Clock. City Hall was a treat as well and well worth looking at. To be honest, you can't go very far in Belfast without seeing some really splendid architecture.  The late Victorian stuff is a lot fancier than the often quite austere Georgian lines of my own home town.  I don't pretend to know much about it, but it is certainly something to drink in. 

Nelly cooling off. 

Mrs. Kinch was very keen to go to Belfast Zoo.  Now I was a little anxious about this, as Dubliners we have become used to going to Dublin Zoo and Dublin Zoo is world class. With the exception of Longleat Animal Park, it is probably the best place to go see animals that I've ever been.  This does mean that on occasion, we have gone to zoos that didn't met that standard (Berlin Zoo springs to mind) particularly with regard to animal care. Happily Belfast Zoo was top notch and I would recommend it. 

 Two things we noticed while attending.  Firstly, bring good shoes.  The zoo is build on a hillside and there are quite a few steep slopes. Parents might want to consider bringing the sling and leaving the buggy at home. Secondly, most of the animals were asleep - Mrs. Kinch maintains that this was because of the hot weather, I know better.  They were clearly recovering from the after effects of Orangefest.  It's the only explanation that makes sense. 

Ivan the lemur recovering from Orangefest 
"Aspirin...Anne...for the love of God."

William and Ian the lemurs also recovering. 

Cecil the Piglet had been marching with a drum for quite 
some time and was plum tuckered. 
(bowler hat out of shot) 

Yvgenny the Meerkat on post

The Meerkats were quite lively - though I suspect that it because they are Orthodox and therefore did not attend the party. 

Though while we were there, we did run into a get together for the The Miniatures Page Message Boards.

It was just as I remembered them.

Mrs. Kinch looking slightly miffed outside the Crown.

The Crown Liqour Saloon is a famous pub in Belfast that was refurbished in the 1880s.  The job was done as a nixer by Italian workmen who were working on churches in the area at the time.  It sumptuously appointed and the interior is wonderful. 

Photo from

My Iphone camera wasn't really up to capturing the interior due to poor lighting, but as you can see from this shot of the interior - it is really something.  Unfortunately, the sumptuous interior is pretty much where it ends. If you are going to Belfast and would be interested in seeing a particularly fine example of a late Victorian pub, the Crown should not be missed. However, the service was very poor, the drinks expensive and the selection not much better than one would get in the average boozer in Dublin. A bit of a one drink wonder. Go see it - but I wouldn't spend the night there. 

Mrs Kinch outside The Aether & Echo, looking distinctly cheerier

In terms of pubs, The Aether & Echo, was our find of the trip. Best described as a "steampunk pub" it comes across as a bit poncy - it's website actually has a manifesto outlining the ethos of the pub - but don't be dissuaded, it is wonderful. A well appointed Victorian interior with plenty of snugs welcomes you as you enter.  The bar staff were extremely friendly and I must say well turned out. Slightly more expensive that the average bar - but the quality of the service was superb and the drinks menu was very impressive. We visited there every day for three days and I didn't manage to try the same gin twice. Top notch.  I only regret that we didn't eat there sooner as the food was superb.  Two thumbs up - we will be returning. 

The Titanic building

No trip to Belfast would be complete without a trip to the Titanic experience.  This was Mrs. Kinch's idea and I'm very glad she talked me into it. The exhibition is very well laid out and covers a great deal of ground. The history of Belfast as a port, Harland and Wolf as shipbuilders, the construction of the ship and the tragedy itself. I found the last bit quite hard to watch - but it was impressive. Mrs. Kinch certainly enjoyed it and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Belfast. It's a little bit of a trek from the train station, so you might be better off getting the bus.

Though to be fair, probably one of the highlights of seeing the Titanic experience was listening to a couple discussing it while we left. One of them said,  "I'm disappointed. I don't know what I expected. I thought there would be a boat."

Words failed me. 

Speaking of transportation, if you are visiting Belfast, I would urge you to consider the visitor pass. It's £14 for a three day pass and allows you unlimited travel on buses and trains within the city.  It also carries with it a number of discounts, so remember to look at the list written on the back and present it when you are buying your ticket. By making use of the discounts at the Titanic and the Zoo, we made back almost half the cost of the two passes that we bought - so it is worth bearing in mind. 

Required reading so far as Kinch is concerned

Once we were done at the Titanic, we returned to the Aether & Echo for some excellent food and to explore more of their excellent drinks menu.  I particularly recommend the No. 47 Monkey gin (both dry and sloe), the Paloma,  the New York Sour and the Alhambra Club Cocktail. 

The loot

Now, no trip to foreign parts would complete without dropping in on a second hand bookshop.  The Internet means that new books in English are pretty much available anywhere, but second hand bookshops still have their charm. We paid a call to the rather excellent Keats & Chapman and emerged with heavier bags and lighter wallets. 

My share of the loot was a proof copy of a Byron Farwell that I had not encountered before, a book on Zulu Kings (always good for a laugh and generally makes the Wars of the Roses look like a school picnic), Memoirs of a British Agent by Lockhart (which I'd heard of, but never read), The Massacre of Glencoe by John Buchan (bought purely for his name, I've no idea what this was) and a relative rarity, a enlisted Sepoys account of life in the Indian army. 

On the whole, an excellent trip and we will be returning.  Recommended. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Soapy's Sci Fi Deck Officers

I wanted some 28mm science fiction figures that weren't waving around swords or giant guns.  These boys can be found manning a Star Destroyer or other vessel in a galaxy somewhere near you. These come from Woodbine Miniatures Science Fiction range.  and I think they're pretty good. Very simple sculpts that painted up nice and quickly.  

To be honest, the most difficult thing about these chaps was picking the right palet
te. They were sprayed grey and then given a wash of black ink. I dry brushed over that with standard army painter grey and then did a few highlights with some grey with a few drops of white. 

The bases were done with pva loaded with sawdust from the shed.  I'm not entirely sure why these fellas are outside on an alien planet, but I couldn't make the base grey as well, it would have looked terrible. Be that as it may, the red base seems to have done the trick. 

I like to think of my Star Ship crew as being the spiritual descendants of these guys. 

Note: Apologies to all those that commented on my previous post - due to my sausage fingered incompetence I managed to delete the comments rather than approving them when they came up on my phone. Apologies again. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A cafe of ones own - Assembling the Starfort Miniatures Cafe - Part One

Note: This was a review copy supplied by Starfort Miniatures.

Regular readers may have noticed that posts have been pretty thin on the ground here of late - unfortunately the exigencies of the service have kept me at it rather harder than I would like. Fortunately, it looks like that particular string is over and done with, at least for the time being and I have been able to get some hobby time in. 

This is the 20mm French cafe which I received from Starfort Miniatures. I've been itching to have a proper go at it over the last two weeks and just haven't had the chance. Yesterday however, I got some breathing space and got stuck in.  The kit is made up of 3mm laser cut MDF and is plain on one side and coated with a sort of plastic coating on the other. 

You can see the coating and the laser cut surface of the kit here. The basic structure is made up of these four walls which slot into a pre-cut base.  The whole thing measures about five and a half inches by five and fits quite happily in one of my five inch hexes. 

The base as you can see here has slots cut into it to hold the walls and other pieces in place. As this was a review copy and early production model, it didn't come with any instructions, so I was a bit mystified by the presence of the slots in the middle of the base...

The model was assembled with normal PVA glue (above) and which I applied with a brush to keep things neat. 

These pieces slotted into the base very easily. It was actually extremely simple to slot the piece with the door way in and then slot the eave in at an angle and let them snap together. They were a reasonably tight fit even without glue. 

While pottering about in the bag of extra bits (windows, cafe signs, etc) I found these two sections. I was baffled at first and then realised that they slotted into the base and acted as bracing for the four walls. This also means that the doorway does look quite so bare when you look into the model from the outside. Clever piece of design that. 

I added the third wall.  This needed a little bit more wiggling to get in right as the wall had to line up with the slots on the base, the slots on the eave and the slots on the bracing pieces. Once it went in however, it was very solid.  Now that I had the trick of fitting it, I added PVA to the edges and then slipped it back in. 

It did leave the question of what the slots on top of the bracing pieces were for?

The last wall (the second eave) has been added and glued in place.

A further trawl through the bag of bits revealed two slim pieces of MDF that could be pushed straight through the wall and that provided additional bracing.  Once I was happy with the fit, I popped them out again, applied PVA and slipped them in again.  I added some elastic bands in case anything shifted while the PVA was drying and to protect from the attentions of marauding cats.  

On the whole, very happy so far.  I have to add the floors, the roof and the exterior detail (window frames, etc) and then paint the thing. Watch this space.