Out of curiosity, I looked up the definition of hibernate in my little dictionary. It said: “to pass the winter in sleep or seclusion”. That seems about right!
Sometimes a winter isn’t just literal, in the sense of pertaining to only those months of the year when hours of daylight are in short supply. In my case, it was hours of free time for hobby activities that have been in extremely short supply since last September. It can all easily be summed up as real life getting in the way. Those of you with partners, children, other animals and full-time jobs will know precisely what I mean. In my case, this has been exasperated by the fact that my day job has involved a lengthy project working with a software development company based in Ukraine. I spent a week visiting and working with them back in October when all was quiet on the Eastern front. Needless to say that, since then, things have become somewhat more, er, interesting!
So what better way to herald hobby spring time than with the annual pilgrimage to our nation’s fair capital to attend Salute? The organisers have a happy knack of almost always scheduling sunny weather for the day, and last weekend was no exception as I enjoyed my front window view of the last stage of the journey from the comfort of a seat on the Docklands Light Railway.
My cursory reading of other reports about Salute 2014 are peppered with whining about the queue to get in. As a veteran of every Salute at the current venue, I have evolved a relaxing and yet simple tactic to cope with the queue: don’t join it! Instead, I joined a far shorter queue to buy a decent cup of coffee and a Danish pastry, parked my behind on a chair near the entrance to the exhibition hall and waited for all the fuss to die down. I did, I confess, succumb to timing how long it took for the queue to fully file it from the moment the doors opened promptly at 10am. And, yes, it was about 90 minutes before the last knockings. At that point, I gathered myself and dived into the throng. I don’t really understand why people subject themselves to the queue – everything was still there despite getting in a little late and the supposedly limited edition goody bags with the Salute 2014 figure were still in plentiful supply.
And what of the show itself? Yes, I know people struggle with the atmosphere – though you can make your own really by getting involved and talking to people – but I appreciate the nice wide aisles where you don’t get reversed into by a certain sort of notorious backpack wielding gamer. For me, there were only two disappointments with the show itself (and a third but slightly different disappointment that’ll I’ll come to in due course). Number one, there was a distinct shortage of Napoleonic demo games. That’s not to say there weren’t any, just that you had to really work hard to find them and allow yourself a little flexibility with the definition. Number two, the painting competition left me cold this year. The inexorable drift away from historical figures to fantasy, sci-fi, horror and other genres continues apace and I didn’t feel the quality of previous years was there. Maybe more varied and better entries materialized in the display cases later in the day?
Instead of dwelling on a couple of minor gripes, let’s celebrate all that was good about this year’s Salute. And for me, more than any previous year, my overwhelming positive memory is the standard on the terrain on the demo games. Quite often one game per year will stand out in this regard but, this year, game after game drew my attention for their imaginative tables that broke away East Anglian flatness with the odd building or misshapen hill plonked on top. Honourable mentions to to chalk cliffs on WSS Magazine’s Roman invasion of Britain game, rolling steppes on Loughton Strike Force’s WWII Eastern Front Game and a wooded ridge on South London Warlord’s Carlist War game (more of that one later).
But the biscuit was taken and well and truly crumbled by a terrific layout for a WWII East African battle. I speak of Newark Irregulars’ amazing mountainous 1941 Battle of Keren which pitched Italians and their colonial allies against the forces of the Commonwealth. Not only was the terrain fantastic but I really enjoyed perusing the accompanying “making of” table which showed the group’s research and how the scenery was put together. I’ve always had a soft spot for WWII Italians in the African theatre. I think it’s something to do with that British empathy for the underdog plus the selection of unusual vehicles the Italians fielded in the desert. Don’t worry, though, my resolve to stick to one period has not been broken regardless of this inspiring display!
Finding a genuine 28mm Napoleonic display was tough. Yes, there was a 1798 game set in Ireland – not quite right. And yes, there was a Battle of Albuera – but in 18mm, so still not quite right for me. So my vote had to go to the aforementioned South London Warlords Battle of Barbastro. I know, it’s a Carlist War battle and thus 20 years too late. But I was taken by the well-thought out modular terrain, especially a ridge that subtly dominated one side of the battlefield. And the quality of the figure painting and basing was superb and remarkably consistent. Of course, the vast majority of the figures were from the Perry Carlist War range but imaginative use had also been made of figures from the same manufacturer’s Napoleonic range.
In terms of new products, I didn’t find much to get excited about – but, then, I wasn’t really expecting to for my period. I think if you were into other periods, things like the Perrys’ plastic American War of Independence figures (with nice samples painted by Andrew Taylor on display) or the new Italeri 1/56th WWII plastic armour kits tie-in with Bolt Action/Warlord Games could easily prove tempting. I did find, however, some items of interest in the Warlord Games display cabinet: alongside their French infantry casualties pack (four figures for a tenner), there was a nice-looking group of skirmishing voltigeurs and a very energetic party of French engineers. These haven’t yet been released and I couldn’t inspect the figures that closely through the glass, so I’ll have to remember to check again at another show later in the year. I have my fingers crossed that these figures show a dramatic improvement of the woeful Prussian Landwehr they produced a couple of years back.
I’ve saved the third disappointment for last: it is traditional for Peter F. and I to meet up at Salute. Indeed, that had been the plan right up to the very last minute. However, the fates took control and Peter had to cry off so that he could deal with a marquee related emergency that was part of the preparations for his son’s 18th birthday party. An ironic example of real life getting in the way of hobby time yet again! So, the bad news is that I don’t have any insider updates from Calpe Towers at present. The good news is that it gives me the ideal excuse to pester Peter for an exclusive report on behalf of all you BfKers. So watch this pace, because I’m on the case!
In the coming weeks, I hope to offer you a variety of posting topics including finishing up some overdue items on the painting bench, a proper review of Vallejo’s acrylic surface primer (clue: I love it!), examination of a different approach to varnishing and my early adventures with airbrushing.