Saturday, 17 February 2018

The Cat Sat on the Bastion!

At the Fenwickian stronghold of Pippin Fort, the mercenary engineer major Dougal Entendre has taken his own route to working off the Christmas excess - by building a stone bastion to defend the approaches to the fortifications. Though the Imperial fortress is now well-supplied thanks to the arrival of a much needed supply column, the approach of the forces of the Vulgarian Convention is surely imminent. Colonel Victor von Shroedinger-Skatt, Captain-Governor of the defences, was disappointed with the ease with which the artillery forts along the river Strudel were lost. He has therefore ordered a substantial strengthening of the outworks here. Whatever happens, Pippin Fort must hold out until the Imperial army can disentangle itself from the current campaign and march to the rescue!

Entendre surveys the progress made thus far on the new bastion. He is accompanied by his compatriot, major Gordon Sanitaire. Also present is the lieutenant of engineers directly responsible for constructing this new defensive edifice. The lieutenant, like the two majors, is also a Scot of Huguenot extraction. His name is Peter Pois and he also happens to be Entendre's nephew. Pois' presence is not an accident, since it was Entendre's influence that secured for the young man his position in the Fenwickian army. Entendre originally intended that his nephew join the British army. Pois' poor education, love of port, lack of common sense, and ability to find humour in the suffering of the poor seemed to make him a perfect candidate for a commission in one of the guards regiments, or perhaps the cavalry. Alas, however, Pois' bourgoise background and his inability to pass the port in the right direction soon stymied this option. In consequence, Pois travelled with Entendre to Mittelheim, where the major has secured for his nephew a commission in the Imperial army. Thus far, Pois has performed perfectly adequately, although, without any actual engineering to do, his chief tasks have been to dress himself, operate a ruler without injuring anyone, and to avoid any salacious references to fruit or vegetables. These tasks he has generally performed well, although there was tricky incident in which Pois, inordinately proud of his skill with a ruler, offered to show the Captain-Governor's wife his 'twelve-incher.' However, Pois now seems to be in a bit of trouble. Surveying the plans for the new bastion, Entendre addresses his nephew with a raised voice. Let us move closer, dear reader, and listen in on their conversation.

'I just don't see what the problem is, uncle,' says Pois. 'I have carried out your instructions.'
'I dinnae think yer have, Peter my laddie,' replies Entendre. 'I asked you to build an impressive stonework artillery fort according to these plans.'
Pois glances at the papers in Entendre's hands. 'But uncle - it is impossible for me to build such an edifice,' says Pois. 'Look at the size of it. See,' he says, waving a short stick of wood. 'My ruler simply isn't big enough. It goes up to twelve inches, and this artillery bastion must be at least ... at least ...sixteen or seventeen inches or something like that.'
Entendre frowns. 'Well, I think that my plans actually call fer something with twenty foot ramparts of stone, in a triangular lay out.'
Pois shrugs his shoulders incredulously, 'But where am I going to get a ruler that long? In any case, I submitted my own plans to you for your comment. And I have constructed the bastion according to your suggestions.'
'Alternative plans?' interjects major Sanitaire. 'I wasnae aware of those.'
'No you wernae,' replies Entendre. 'Because the Lieutenant's "alternative plans" comprised of a sheet of paper with a badly drawn picture of a cat.'
'Uncle, you have often enjoined that I should think outside of the box,' replies Pois.
'Aye, laddie,' says Entendre. 'But that, I dinnae think, was what I meant. Yer "plan" was the result of what might happen if you were thinking outside of the box, and the box itself, which turned out to be quite heavy, fell and then hit you on the head. I told you then, laddie, that what you had drawn was a big pile of manure: and to reinforce that point I wrote on yer "plan" the words "a big pile of manure".'
'Quite so, uncle,' replies Pois smugly. 'And behold!' he says, pointing.
The two majors turn to look.
'John the Baptist's oddly shaped testicles,' blasphemes Sanitaire.
Entendre's mouth works silently up and down, like a mime artist on a trampoline. He then closes his eyes. Always a believer, in the face of bad news, of counting to ten slowly before saying anything, the major just to be safe now starts at a thousand ... 

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Faltaire’s New Mortar!

As the ‘Brummer’ is wheeled away, its place is taken by a very large mortar, manhandled into place by a large team of sweating gunners…


‘But that is simply enormous!  I’ve never seen a mortar of such a size!’  Exclaims von Rumpfler.
'Indeed, my dear Faltaire, agrees the Burggrave. 'This is quite a whopper!'
‘Ah, well, yes, you see my dear General, operating on  the "tavern wench" principle that bigger is generally better, I worked with Herr Frupp and his considerable knowledge of metallurgy and gun-founding to design simply the biggest mortar ever conceived.  '
Rumpfler peers at the bronze behemoth. 'Surely nothing of this size has been seen in Mittleheim since King Wilhelm last was seen bending over!'
'Even with the use of standard, double milled gunpowder, it should be able to throw a shell over any battlement yet devised’, replies Faltaire.
‘Well, this should be interesting…’ muses the Burggrave.


The gun crew ready the mortar…
‘Make ready!’, ‘Aim!’ ‘Fire!’


As the sergeant puts his linstock to the touch-hole, there is an almighty report in one of the loudest explosions of the eighteenth century…


A vast cloud of gunpowder smoke envelops the dignitaries….


 ‘Well, I say!, (cough, splutter)’,  says the Burggrave, ‘that was simply, (cough) marvellous!’
‘Yes, indeed, sire, (cough) with such a weapon we should be able to raze any town (cough) in the Empire of Grand Fenwick (cough) to rubble!’ von Rumpfler says grimly.
‘I am so (cough) glad you like it, my dear Burggrave!’, exclaims Faltaire.
‘Oh yes, indeed!  (cough) I just hope we haven’t woken the Burggravina….’ worries Burggrave Falco…

Irate (and rather deaf) Burggravina's notwithstanding, Nabstria's new artillery park is quickly manhandled onto barges waiting on the river Queltch. Though the garrison of the Fenwickian citadel of Fort Pippin do not yet know it, their situation is soon to become much less comfortable and a lot louder ...

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Faltaire’s Experiment!

‘See, sire!' says Faltaire, gesticulating at a nearby cannon. 'I have been cogitating on the best medium to dissolve gunpowder into and have settled upon this very white, very fine sand, sourced from the finest of Nabstria’s beaches.  I have mixed an entire bag of sand with just one grain of gunpowder – if my calculations are correct, then we may have invented the most powerful explosive in the world!’


'Interesting,' muses Falco. 'And also rather counter-intuitive, if I may add.'
The gun team go through their evolutions again but this time with Monsieur Faltaire’s ‘homeopathic’ gunpowder.  He does, however, allow them to use the standard Nabstrian gunpowder in the touch hole…


‘Fire!’ There is a slight flash as the gunpowder in the touch-hole goes off and then…..nothing happens…


‘Ahem, excuse me, sir, but, with respect, sir, it doesn’t seem to have bloody worked, sir’. The gunnery sergeant says rather rudely to Faltaire.  ‘It’ll take ages to clear the barrel of that bloody sand’, the sergeant mutters under his breath to no one in particular…

After a rather long and rather awkward silence, Faltaire begins to muse once again..
‘Hmmm…perhaps sand is not the right diluting medium for homeopathic gunpowder… or perhaps the ‘dilution’ is insufficient … perhaps a dilution of one part in a million might prove more efficacious’…. Faltaire's voice once again tails off into a reverie of natural philosophy.
‘Well?  Faltaire?  Is that the end of your experiment?’  enquires Von Rumpfler rather roughly.
‘Ah!  Oh!  Well, my dear general, no, not exactly.  With the Burggrave’s permission, I should rather like to test a new siege mortar of my own design.  Not being entirely sure that I could explore the new science of homeopathy successfully this morning, I decided to design a mortar which would rely on proven concepts.  With your permission, sire?’
‘Yes, yes, of course, Faltaire’, says the Burggrave with a note of irritation in his voice …

Friday, 26 January 2018

Faltaire and Homeopathic Gunpowder!

The test firing has attracted some interested parties to the event, not least of them Monsieur Faltaire, the Burggrave’s natural philosopher.

‘Ah my Dear Faltaire, I am so glad that you could make it this morning.  Von Rumpfler and I have just had a very satisfactory test of the new ‘Brummers’.  That will show those damned fellows of Imperial Fenwick!'
‘Indeed, yes, sire.  I’m no gunner but these should make short work of the fortifications in Fenwick!  The damned Imperials had better have a care or their walls will come tumbling down!’  Von Rumpfler replies gruffly.

‘I am indeed glad to see you, Faltaire’, continues the Burggrave.  ‘As you know, your ‘game of war’ has proved highly efficacious.  Von Rumpfler was able to perfect his oblique manoeuvres while playing your ‘game’ and then replicate it on the actual battlefield.  Capital!  What’s more, the continued duelling between officers of the different persuasions of gaming - the two footers and the half-inchers - has resulted in many promotions for keen young officers and a vastly reduced number of supernumerary officers in the army!  The Burggravial Treasury might even record a surplus this year!  I knew, I simply knew that retaining a natural philosopher would pay dividends.  And so, may I ask how your researches into the de-phlogistication of gunpowder are proceeding?’ questions Burggrave Falco.

‘Ah, ahem, well, my dear Burggrave, I have found it very difficult to make progress even though the theory is most promising’, explains Faltaire.  ‘I have found that every time I attempt to ‘burn’ the gunpowder prior to combustion, I find that it simply explodes.  I have tried everything I can:  I have used a vacuum; I have placed the gunpowder under water; I have even attempted to burn the constituent parts of gunpowder before mixing them but I have been unable to find a satisfactory method.  There seems to be no reliable method of de-phlogistication, unfortunately’…. Faltaire’s voice tails off rather uncertainly…but then he returns to a new theme with enthusiasm:
‘However, I have recently become interested in the new science of homeopathy which offers a different root to the same goal.  I have found Dr Hahnemann’s new researches and doctrines fascinating.  His key finding is that ‘like cures like’, or, as Paracelsus put it: ‘what makes a man ill also cures him’.  Hahnemann’s research would suggest that an extreme dilution of an active ingredient can maintain or even enhance the ‘spirit-like medicinal powers of the crude substance’.  My deduction is that if this is true in the field of medicine, with ingredients that can be dissolved in water, why the same should be true of gunpowder when ‘dissolved’ in another medium.  Dr Hahnemann claims that he can cure any ill when the active ingredient is dissolved ten thousand fold – think of the power that could be released by homeopathic gunpowder!!’, ends Faltaire excitedly…

‘Hmm, well yes, indeed, Faltaire, that does sound promising but can such a thing work?’ enquires the Burrgrave (not having followed his natural philospher’s logic at all).
Faltaire responds: ‘With your permission sire, I propose to attempt my first experiment with homeopathic gunpowder this very morning under your supervision…’
‘Why, yes of course, my dear fellow, do you have everything you need?’  The Burggrave replies eagerly.
'Indeed, yes' replies Faltaire. 'I believe that I do. Come with me, sire, and watch as I push forward the frontiers of military science!'

Thursday, 18 January 2018

A Nabstrian Test Firing!

And so, Mittelheim shifts, like a fat Christmas drunk sliding from chair to floor, into another new year.  Over the past few weeks, the gentle folk of Mittleheim have been celebrating the festivities according to their respective traditions. In Saukopf-Bachscuttel, Christmas mostly was spent larding the traditional festive monkeys; then trying to catch them; and then queuing to have the bites treated with leeches. In Nabstria, the rich as usual took fine cooked geese, had them dressed and decorated, and then took them outside to the poor and the homeless, before bringing all the food in again and eating it. In Vulgaria, it was much the same, except it was the poor and homeless that tended to be dressed and decorated before being fed to the Christmas geese. The gentle folk of the various  electorates, burgravates, landgravates, duchies, and principalities of the region now climb blearily from their beds (or wardrobes, depending upon how seriously that they have been celebrating), and contemplate the traditional Christmas present delivered to them by their rulers: another year of war. In Nabstria, the Burgrave, a sensitive man with a keen sense of responsibility for his subjects, has contemplated long and hard the most effective response that he can make to the continuing poverty and suffering of his people. His conclusion is that the only responsible answer to the continued distress of his subjects is to fire off some really big guns ...

Tired from a long campaigning season and an unprecedented run of victories, Buggrave Falco and General von Rumpfler snatch a few days of well deserved rest at Falkensteinburg.  Yet even while on leave from the battle front, the Burggrave has much to do to prepare his forces… Pippin fort must be besieged and taken in the least amount of time. Long held Nabstrian plans are finally beginning to bear fruit, as the Burggrave and von Rumpfler survey the fine artillery park of newly cast siege guns made in the foundries of the noted Nabstrian gun-founder, Herr Frupp (It has been suggested that ‘Frupp’ is a mere cover name for ‘Minden Miniatures’, a small artisanal purveyor of finely crafted military figurines, based in Gelderland; but this can be discounted as Rotenburg propaganda).[1]


'As fine an artillery park as I have ever seen!' the Burggrave exclaims.
'Yes, Herr Frupp has excelled himself this time,' agrees von Rumpfler.  ‘These are all twelve pounder "Brummers" of Prussian pattern.  They should be highly efficient at siege battery work.’  
‘Well, then we must have a test firing of one of these pieces tomorrow morning!’ replies the Burggrave.  So it is agreed: early on the morn, the new gun will be put through its paces …

The Following Morning:

As the Burggrave and General Von Rumpfler look on, a hand-picked gun team go through their well-practised military evolutions…


 Make Ready!  Aim!


 Fire!  The Gun Captain steps forwards with his linstock to touch off the powder and fire the gun…


There is a satisfyingly large report as the ‘Brummer’ fires its large charge of gunpowder… The test is declared a resounding success!
















[1] Fitzbuttress is, of course, entirely mistaken here.  These fine guns are indeed from Minden Miniatures, proprietor Mr Jim Purky.  They are surely the finest artillery models available today.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

All Hail!

First Witch:
All hail, Hunchmausen! Hail to thee Duke of Nussholz Pomme-Lesia!

The Horseman:
Really?

First Witch:
Yes, I just said, didn't I?

'All hail ... oh come on, Mary - get 
into the spirit of things!'
The Horseman:
But it's all rather sudden.

First Witch:
The spirits spake unto me!

The Horseman:
Well, could they spake a bit more loudly? Could they spake, for example, about where this place is that I shall be Duke of?

Second Witch:
All hail, Hunchmausen! Hail to thee, Emperor of Fenwick!

The Horseman:
Hang on, hang on! I thought I was going to be Duke of Nussholz Whatever-Whatever.

Second Witch:
Hail to thee, Emperor of Fenwick!

The Horseman:
What, at the same time as being Duke of Nussholz? Or is there some notion of this being sequential?

Third Witch:
All hail, Hunchmausen! King of Gelderland thou shalt be!

The Horseman, choking:
What a what?

Third Witch:
King of Gelderland thou shalt be!

The Horseman:
Shalt I? How? A minute ago I was merely a duke. Are you sure?

First Witch:
Hail!

Second Witch:
Hail!

Third Witch:
Hail!

Fourth Witch:
Can I say "Hail" too?

First Witch:
Mary, stop improvising!

Fourth Witch:
But I never get any lines.
'All ...' *cough* 'Glenda!' *cough*
 'wardrobe malfunction!'

The Horseman:
King! King! And Gelderland - it is a rich and powerful kingdom?

Third Witch:
Have you ever been to Mittleheim before?

The Horseman:
No

Third Witch:
Then, yes it is.

The Horseman:
Huzzah! My fortunes have changed.

The horseman seems about to ride off eastwards in his enthusiasm, but then manages to check himself.


The Horseman:
You wouldn't, you know, be fibbing.

First Witch:
Oh no, no, no, no. That's not what we do. We foretell - we are the three witches of yore!

The Horseman:
Where's that? Also, counting your number, I can't help feeling that there might be some basic numerical challenges to your title of the three wi....

All:
Quick, let's go! Er ... Hail!

Exeunt

Munchausen is alone in the dark. He begins to whistle a jaunty tune. Waiting a moment, he then spurs his horse eastwards down the road. After a short while, he breaks out into song. Forward to adventure! Forward to Mittelheim and a kingdom of his own!

Behind him, the place where the baron halted is quiet. Then, from behind a bush Morag's voice hisses: 'Is he gone?'
'Yes,' replies Mary. 'The coast is clear.'
All four reappear from behind various pieces of vegetation.
Glenda says brightly 'You see: I told you it would be fun!'
From the west comes the sound of a cart. The unmistakable odour of pig farmer grows stronger as the sound gets nearer. As the farmer arrives, he stands back terrified as four dark apparitions appear in front of him. A wailing voice shouts out: 'All hail Herr Pig Farmer! Hail to thee Duke of Nussholz Pomme-Lesia!

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Hubble Blubble!!

Evening is falling. By the side of the main road into Mittelheim, a small group of women are engaged in a vigorous exchange of views. But their language is foreign: English, possibly, with a strong accent from those parts of the British isles known as Scotland. A land where men are men; and women nearly so. There seems to be some dispute. We come closer and notice that there are three of them. Glenda, Shona, and Morag. It is dangerous for women to be alone at night in these dark times. With the Dirty Ears War still ongoing, women run the risk of being abducted by ruffianly vermin from the armies of both sides, and then being forced to do unspeakable things - washing their uniforms, watching them eat with their mouths open, or listening to them trying to sing. But these women probably are safe enough at the moment since they can hardly be seen: the gloom is gathering; the women seem mainly to be wearing black; and, as already noted, times are dark. Their garb is wild and ink-black; their hair unkempt; nearby is a small stack of broomsticks. It would seem, dear reader, that (without wishing to seem judgemental) we have encountered a coven of witches. From the forest a fourth figure steps into view: it is Mary, the last of their number.

SCENE I: A Forest Road. 

There is no Thunder or Lightning

First Witch (Shona):
When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning, or in rain?

Second Witch (Glenda):
When the hurly burly's done.
When the battles lost and won.
But also, let's not meet in thunder, lightning, or in rain. We could just meet at that nice looking tavern house we saw on the way here.

Third Witch (Morag):
That will be the 'Setting Sun'.

First Witch:
Oooh, yes, that was the place.

First Witch:
Upon the heath?

Third Witch:
No, past the bridge and turn left.

First Witch:
Oooh, lovely.

All:
Fair is foul, and foul is fair
Hover through the fog and filthy air

Fourth Witch (Mary):
Why don't I get any lines? I never get any lines. This trip is rubbish. "Learn German, you said. Go to Prussia, you said." Well, we should never have left Eccelfechan.

First Witch:
I know, I know. I realise that this trip hasn't been as successful as we had hoped. Prussia, sadly, has too much embraced the Age of Reason for our particular abilities to be in much demand. But I'm convinced that in Mittelheim our fortunes will be restored. Such a place as this surely will be receptive to our skills. It's backwards, prejudiced, poorly educated, and the toads seem to be very reasonably priced.

Third Witch:
Yes, that's all very well. But with Mary here now there's four of us. It's really quite integral to the whole "three witches" thing that we should number three. Otherwise, it just doesn't work. No one is going to take seriously predictions from the "The Roughly Numbered Three Witches." I mean, if we can't get our own numbers accurate, who's going to take our foretellings seriously?  How is it going to sound if we say "All hail insert name, king it is not implausible ye might be given the favourable machinations of a number of key variables that we haven't quite put our fingers on." No - four witches won't work. And in any case, Mary hasn't really bought into the spirit of our coven.

First Witch:
Come now, we're a "group" not a "coven," remember?

Morag looks at her own gown, which is black and ragged, and then gestures to Mary. Mary pokes out her tongue. Glenda sighs. 'You see Mary, Morag has a point. Witches ... well, black generally is our thing.'
'We need to move with the time,' replies Mary defensively.
'All hail Hunschmausen, for breakfast
eggs ye might have!'
'Oh I agree, I agree,' says Shona, stepping in. 'And you know, I think that we have indeed done that. Remember, we got rid of the hats. And the really big toads.'
'And the warts,' adds Glenda
'And the cauldron,' says Shona.
'That was really heavy,' admits Mary. 'And the problems it caused with portion sizes. I put on at least half a stone.'
'And,' adds Morag, 'I'm not against adding some discrete lace detail around the hems. It's just the  ...' she gestures at Mary's clothes, '... the purple silk brocade, yellow dress, fan, elaborate wig and jewellery.'
'I'm not wearing black,' says Mary with finality. 'It's so seventeenth century.'
'Couldn't you just wear the basic black dress,' says Glenda, 'and then ... accessorise?'
Mary snorts. 'What, add a ducking stool and a restless village lynch-mob?'

Suddenly, from the west comes the gentle sound of a horse's hooves.
'Look,' says Glenda. 'Come on. This is what we do. It'll cheer you all up.'

SCENE II: A Forest and not a Heath

There is no sound of thunder. Enter a Horseman

First Witch:
Where hast thou been, sister?

Second Witch:
Killing swine.

Third Witch:
Sister, where thou?

First Witch:
A sailor's wife had chestnuts on her lap,
And munch'd, and munch'd, and munch'd:
'Give me,' quoth I:
'Aroint thee, witch!' the rump-fed ronyon cries,
Her husband's to Aleppo gone, master o' the tiger:
But in a sieve I'll thither sail,
And, like a rat without a tail,
I'll do, I'll do, I'll do

The Horseman:
What's a ronyon? And what happens when one gets arointed?

First Witch: 
A ronyon? Well it's ... it's not unlike an onion. Probably.

The Horseman:
And an arointing?

Second Witch:
Look, I don't think that the actual specifics of an arointing are strictly relevant. I think that one can just assume that being arointed is something best avoided.

First witch:
I myself have all the other,
And the very ports they blow

The Horseman:
Well, you strangely-dressed apparitions. That is all very well, but name yourselves! Why have you waylaid me?

'All hail Hunschmausen, lunch is a distinct
possibility at some time around twelve!'
ALL:
Well, we're witches and we have come to comment upon your fate!

Fourth Witch:
Yes, indeed. With speed because we don't want to be ... er... too late!

First Witch:
Stop improvising, Mary!

Fourth Witch:
But I never get any lines!

The Horseman: 
Out of my way, oddly dressed crones (though I exclude from that last description the youngest of your number who has a most comely ensemble). For I am Baron Munch ... I mean Baron, um ... Hunchmausen, and I am on my way to Mittelheim for some perfectly ordinary reason that no one need pay any attention to.

First Witch:
Nay, for by the pricking of my thumb,
Something wicked has this way come!

Fourth Witch: 
Thank you sir: the purples and yellows of my dress do look well, I think.

Second Witch:
For pity's sake Mary. Look Herr Mister Hunchmausen Horseman, hear now our visions for your future ....