Monday, 24 February 2020

Do You Come Here Orphan?

Governor Schroedinger-Skatt's residence is one of the largest to be found in Fort Pippin: much like his salary, his ego, and his prized collection of Delft egg cups (he has two). (Below) The building resembles something not unlike an old German merchant's house. This is because that is indeed what it is, the old German merchant in question being quite upset to be informed that it was being requisitioned for the war effort. Mind you, if the governor had known before hand just how much effort a war would be, he probably would have have turned down the offer of his present position when it was made and instead followed the advice of his wife, who recommended that he "shove his head in a cow and set fire to his wedding tackle". His wife, to be fair, had just discovered him in bed with one of his mistresses; still, contemplating the misery of his current occupation, Schroedinger can't help feeling that his wife was a strangely perceptive woman; and one who also had a surprisingly robust right hook.

(Below) The governor's activities include, at this particular moment, a frustrating interview with his quartermaster. The topic of the conversation - orphans; or, more particularly, the lack of them.
'So, captain', says Schroedinger, 'you're saying that, thankfully, there were no orphans in the nunnery'.
'That's right, sir. Right enough', says the captain, nodding vigorously. 'We were just storing our porridge in the nunnery'.
'Of course', replies the governor. 'Of course. Because this is war in the Age of Enlightenment. So, the porridge was in the nunnery. This leads me to the obvious question ...'
The captain stares blankly.
'Captain, the porridge is in the nunnery; so the nuns were in the ...'
'Oh', says the captain getting the drift, 'oh yes, sir. So, the nuns were put in the orphanage'.
'So', begins Colonel Sanitaire. 'Logically, my fine fellow, yev therefore put the orphans in the ... porridge ... store?'
'Does such a thing exist?' asks the governor.
'Hmmm', says the colonel. 'I suppose, my lord, that that would depend upon how much porridge yev got'.
The discussion is interrurpted by the sound of running and thumping on the wooden floor above.

There are some shrieks; a bang; and then some shouting and crying.
The colonel and captain look at one another.
Schroedinger shrugs. 'The nuns ...' he says helplessly.
'Sisters of God?' says the captain, looking a little shocked.
'Sisters of God help us', replies the governor under his breath, before continuing. 'But where then, captain, are the orphans? Are they where the porridge was - before it was moved?'
The captain shifts awkwardly. 'It's not clear sir'.
Schroedinger scowls. 'Well, captain. it had better start getting quite a lot clearer, quite soon'.
'Captain', interjects Sanitaire, 'there are a limited number of places that one can store baby orphans, surely'.
'I don't have a list' says the captain, afraid.
'Just use a process of elimination', says Schroedinger, tartly. 'Which, incidentally, is what I'm going to apply to you if you don't get some results quickly'.
'Or', says Sanitaire, suddenly clicking his fingers, 'couldn't you just ask the nuns, my lord?'
The governor pauses; then he sighs. 'I'll get you for this, captain' he says trudging towards the stairs.

(Above) At the governor's interruption, the nuns look both guilty and combative. Schroedinger stays near the door, the better to expedite his withdrawal should circumstances warrant it. There is the smell of beer and ladies perfume. Looking at the nuns, it isn't obvious which of the two they have been drinking and which they have been applying.
'So', he says. 'Sisters. Yes. So, the orphans it turns out weren't in the nunnery. That was the porridge. Do you have any idea, therefore, where the porridge was before it was moved, because it seems likely that the orphans are there'.
'Oh no', says the nearest nun. 'No. It was the gunpowder that was moved to the porridge store'.
'Gunpowder?' replies the governor aghast. 'Gunpowder? But that means ...' The youngest nun nods and makes a movement with her hands. It looks a little bit like she is playing a very small string instrument - a violin, perhaps.
'... the orphans are in the armoury?'
The lead nun shrugs.
'And you didn't move them?'
The nun shrugs again. 'XXXX XXX! Orphans are so ... sticky. We don't like touching them'.
'But why would we keep baby orphans in the armoury?' asks Schroedinger incredulously.
'It keeps them out of the damp?' suggests another nun.
'And that's useful because?' replies the governor.
'They are less likely to foul the cannon barrels?' replies the young nun helpfully.
'XXXXXXX XXXX!' explodes Schroedinger. 'XXXX! XXXX! XXXXXXX XXXX! Do I look like the kind of man who fires orphans from a cannon? How do you think that would go down! How do you think my wife would take that? "Anything happen today dear". "No, no, my love. Oh, Except that I fired some orphans from a cannon."."Oh thats nice". We don't fire orphans at the enemy! It's just not something one does as an officer. Well, not at this stage of the siege, anyway'.
'Language', replies the young nun. 'We are holy sisters', she adds, sticking two fingers up the governor.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020


Hurrying towards the crater is a small group of women in suspiciously religious looking garb.
'Who are those lassies?' asks Major Sanitaire.
'Those ladies', says the Governor, 'are nuns'.
'Are you sure, sir?' asks Sanitaire.
'They have wimples, major' replies Schroedinger firmly.
'Nuns with wimples', says Sanitaire, confused. 'But wouldn't that make them ... men?'
'Wimples, major', interjects Colonel Entendre, 'not winkles'.
'What's the difference?' asks the major.
The governor snorts. 'Well, Sanitaire, try standing in public with one in each hand, and I think that you'll soon find out'.
'They look a wee bit angry' says Entendre.
'Angry?' replies Schroedinger. 'It's fine. After all - they're nuns: placid, cerebral, other-worldly'.

(Below) 'Sisters!' says the governor warmly. 'What a pleasant surprise - for we had thought that ...'
'Holy balls!' shouts the lead nun. 'You’ve blown up our nunnery!'
The governor looks shocked: like the nun had just told him that she was his father. 'Sister! Your language!'
'Aye!' chips in Sanitaire. 'Where are the exes to censor yer profanities!'
'What XXXXXXX exes?' asks the belligerent nun.
'Thank goodness!' replies the major.

'My dear sisters!' says Schroedinger. 'How is it that you survived the blast?'
'We weren't XXXXXXX here!' pipes up another of the nuns. 'One of your XXXXXXX quartermasters XXXXXXX moved us.'
'Thank goodness!' says the governor. 'What excellent forethought on my part. Probably.'
'Yes', says the nun. 'You XXXXXXX well threw us out and moved in a bunch of XXXXXXX orphans'.
'Orphans?' says the governor in surprise, sensing that some probably unwelcome news is about to be revealed. 'The quartermaster moved in some orphans?'
'Yes!' replies the nun. 'But not big ones - a gaggle of XXXXXXX little ones'.
'Baby orphans' whispers Colonel Sanitaire, staring at the crater. 'Little orphan bairns. All blown up'. He then surreptitiously begins to check the soles of his boots.

'So what the XXXX are you you going to do!' demands a nun, belligerently. 'This is a disaster! Everything's gone: the nunnery! The money! The XXXXXXX soft furnishings!'
'And the orphans', says Entendre.
She pauses momentarily. 'Obviously. Yes. And the baby orphans. Obviously. But what the XXXX is going to sustain us in the coming days?'
'Well, sister', replies the governor. 'There's God's love, and ... such things, isn't there?'
The nun pauses. 'Obviously. Yes. And God's love. Obviously.'
'And prayer, contemplation and such good work as helping the town's poor and needy?' adds Major Sanitaire.
The nun pauses. 'Well yes, obviously. Those are a given. Obviously. But aside from those things, how the XXXXXXX XXXX are we going to survive?'
' I suppose', says Schroedinger cautiously, 'I suppose that I could look possibly at putting you up with me in the governor's palace ....'
'Excellent!' the nuns say happily. 'XXXXXXX excellent! We'll get our things and move in now!'
'Yes but ...' says the governor weakly. But he is already speaking to the backs of the nuns as they jog happily in the direction of Schroedinger's abode. 'Yes, but ...' he says again quietly.
There is a moment of silence.
'You'll be wanting to speak to the quartermasters, I suspect sir?' enquires Entendre.
'Oh yes', says the governor. 'Yes. Very XXXXXXX much so'.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Now That's a Big Hole!

The nunnery of the order of Saint Seefora of the Immaculate Combustion actually is something of a famous building in Mittelheim. Seefora is patron saint of Mittelheim artillerymen and midwives, both having a professional interest in encouraging the rapid and accurate unloading of their respective charges. Seefora herself was a 14th century noblewoman and wife of an influential and important Teutonic Knight. Seefora's journey to sainthood, began, they say, in one of the Teutonic campaigns against the pagan Lithuanians. Frau Seefora found herself trapped in one of the Order's border forts after the unexpected arrival of a Lithuanian raiding party. Legend has it that the Lithuanians called upon her to surrender the fort and to renounce her catholicism. According to the tale favoured by the Catholic Church, her reply was 'Surrender? Renounce? Nay, nay - rather, I would die than cast aside the true faith!'; and with that she was said to have set alight a store of gunpowder, pitch, lamp oil, hay, and baking powder. The resulting conflagration killed everyone, although the baking powder did result in pleasantly fluffy smoke. Lithuanian stories tend to recount a rather different version of events. According to their version, Seefora instead cried out 'Surrender? Renounce? Verily, verily - that is absolutely no problem! Also, mine husband, who is a bit of a tit, can be found hiding in the privy'.

Whatever the true events, Seefora was made a saint, and an order of nuns was established in her name in the town of Pippin, now Fort Pippin, in Grand Fenwick.

(Above) The nunnery itself is something of a local land mark. For a long time, it was unusual for a nunnery in that it functioned exactly like a tavern. This was due to the fact that the first Mother Superior had come to the conclusion that the best way to prevent the Devil from tempting women of the order with such sins as drink, revelry, profanity, and late night whist was to get in there first. In theory, novitiates were supposed to spend so long engaged in these sorts of activities in their nunnery that they would soon tire of them and see the benefits of a more routine nun lifestyle - abstinence; prayer; rough undercothes. As it turned out, the nuns of the order had a rather higher tolerance for having a good time than had been anticipated, and the order quickly become so popular that it had to start a reserve list for membership. In the end, this early regime had to be ended, since happy, single, and empowered women seemed to the Church to be dangerously uncatholic. This decision was finally enforced on the combative nuns only by the use of two witchfinders, six bishops, and the whole of the local militia. Since that time, the nunnery has been a place of quiet contemplation, disturbed only by prayer and now the unexpected detonation of a large enemy mine directly below the building.

(Above) 'That', says Colonel Dougal Entendre, 'is a big hole'.
'Aye, sir', replies Major Gordon Sanitaire. 'Yed have to go far to find a crevice of this capacity'.
Governor Schroedinger-Skatt surveys the devastation glumly. 'And what of the nuns?'
Entendre shrugs. 'It's hard to tell, my lord. It must have been breakfast, because we've found a lot of porridge. But it was a very large explosion: it's difficult to tell where the porridge stops and the nuns begin'.
Suddenly, there is a commotion nearby. The three men turn, just in time to face a barrage of fruity language ...

Sunday, 19 January 2020

A Little Less Conversation!

'Launch a sortie against them that overwhelms their third parallel; destroys it; and puts back their operations such that our relief army could indeed arrive before the fort falls?'
'Aye, sir, that's what I'm suggesting'.
Captain-Governor Schroedinger-Skatt nods, contemplating this suggestion carefully. From their position on the fortress walls, the captain-general and his two engineering officers, Colonel Dougal Entendre and Major Gordon Sanitaire, grimly survey the enemy's works. The three men have the haggard, haunted look familiar to any who have endured the depredations of an extended siege. Hollow-eyed and emaciated, they ruminate on Entendre's plan.

'Perhaps', says Major Sanitaire weakly 'perhaps we could just wait a little longer?'
'Nay, nay, laddie' Colonel Entendre says sadly. 'We're out of everything. Mustard, napkins, balsamic vinegar; and now, even sausages'.
'We could eat other things', replies the major, 'even ... even ... rats'.
'No' replies the captain-general sternly, 'We cannot'.
The major nods. 'Yes - I suppose eating rats should indeed be beneath us as gentlemen: some things are worse than death. We have already done unspeakable things in the name of survival: Jam instead of mustard; paper instead of napkins; and ... and ... there were the hotdogs - slices of bread instead of a split finger roll.'
'No', says Schroedinger. 'I mean, we can't eat the rats because we've run out of them. Actually, we started eating them before we finished the sausages. Delicious'.
'Aye', agrees the colonel. 'The cook had a special herb rub for them: outstanding'.

The three turn their attention back to the target for the suggested attack: the enemy third parallel.
'It is risky', says the Captain-General.
'Aye sir', the colonel replies. 'But "attack is the best form of defence" they say'.
Schroedinger nods. 'Yes, well "they" presumably are the people who don't actually have to do the attacking, but get to stay behind, drinking coffee'.
'We would need to gather a body o' brave men for the job, certainly sir', says Entendre.
Sanitaire snorts. 'That would be a very small body, sir'.
'Yes, less of a "body" and more of a small frail limb only tenuously attached to a body'.
'Still' says the captain-general, 'A quiet and disciplined advance by our troops - that will surprise the enemy, surely?'
'A quiet and disciplined advance by our troops would also surprise me sir', says the major, sadly.

Schroedinger comes to a decison and turns to Colonel Entendre. 'We must try it', he says decisively. 'We must gain more time. Moreover, the men have heard some digging sounds. It might be that the enemy are again attempting to mine our positions'.
'Are you sure, sir' asks the colonel.
'Well, what about that hole that appeared in front of the wall? That could it have been a mine'.
Entendre looks sceptical. 'I think, sir, that a mine would have been nearer to our walls, surely. And also, have less pot plants. Anyway, they filled it in two days ago'.

Suddenly, there is an enormous explosion! Worse even than if King Wilhelm of Gelderland had broken wind down an unexpectedly large tuba. Dust and debris rains down; in the town, a pall of smoke hangs over a nearby street. Picking himself up off the floor the captain-general peers towards the area; he blasphemes and then says in a shocked tone - 'They .. they’ve blown up the nunnery!'

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Parallel Whines!

It is a truth universally acknowleged, that a besieging army in possession of a third parallel must be in want of an assault upon the enemy glacis. Brevet Brigadier General Ernst Leopold von Rheinfunkt, commander of the forces of the Spasmodic Sanction currently besieging Fort Pippin, is considering intently just this topic. (Below) Work continues on the third parallel, with the communication trench well advanced. Gabions have been placed and will soon be covered with earth to complete the connecting trench to the second parallel. Examining through his telescope the progress made on the last of the parallels, Rheinfunkt ruminates on the most efficacious next steps for his army.

'What?' says Horace de Saxe, from his wicker carriage.
'I said "efficacious"', replies the general. 'As in, we must consider the most effective next step'.
'Why do we need plants?' replies Horace. 'Will we be using them as cover for the advance of our troops. Like the king in that play by Shakespeare. You know - M .. M ... ah ... Much Ado About .. a Midsummer... Henry'.
Rheinfunkt sighs. 'That's "herbaceous" - so no'.
It has been a long Christmas, with not much festive cheer for the Nabstrian and Gelderland troops. The rank and file have spent a cold and gloomy time in the trenches. For the officers, some attempt at least was made to lift their spirits with a banquet. Rheinfunkt's cook had promised a "yummy Yule-tide extravaganza". Serving up a lavish dish consisting of a partridge stuffed inside a chicken that was itself stuffed inside a swan, Rheinfunkt was of the opinion that it would have been more enthusiastically received if the chef had first killed the animals. The swan, in particular, had given everyone a very accusatory look.

(Above) Work is also underway to expand the length of the parallel. This will allow artillery to be brought forward and the largest possible assault force deployed in the position. Rheinfunkt is still worried, however. Operations here must be completed as soon as possible; his troops, though, seem to be wasting too much time. The general isn't surprised: he has a low opinion of his men, considering them to be soft and floppy: the snowflakes of generation M. Some, indeed, had deserted when they found that there would be no presents on Christmas morning. For Rheinfunkt, Christmas wasn't about such material things as sweets and spinning tops - it was about character-building traditions: communal singing; church; rickets; religious genocide.
Noting now that some of the troops seem to be knocking off for a rest. Rheinfunkt scowls.
'What time is it, Saxe?' he asks.
Horace fiddles with his watch. 'What time would you like it to be, Rheinfunkt?'
'What?' says the general. 'Well, I think that it might be around three, but ...'
'Three it is,' replies Horace, pushing the hands of his pocket watch to three o'clock and then holding it up for the general's inspection.
'What sort of watch is that?' says Reheinfunkt. 'Doesn't it have a clockwork mechanism?'
'No, no', replies de Saxe. 'It's digital'.
'Yes, I just use my fingers. That way, in war everything happens for me on time'.

'I don't think ...', says the general, rubbing his temples, 'that it works like that, Saxe. Time just doesn't work like that. There's immutable laws - physics; science; reason; sanity'.
'For success in war', says Saxe sanctimoniously, 'one must think outside of the box'.
'Yes, Saxe. But one must at least recognise that there is a box. What you're in danger of doing is less "thinking outside the box" than it is pretending the box is a sheep from a small village near Dresden and then marrying it. We must continue to approach this operation with professionalism, and with due regard to such constant and critical factors as time, the enemy, and the customs of war. Then, victory will be ours. Our siege progresses; the enemy are trapped; there is no sign yet of the Fenwickian relief force. The enemy are like a tiny shrimp that has been eaten by a nasty fish'.
'Yes - they are in  a very bad plaice'.
'Indeed, general. Just so long as they don't launch a sortie against us that overwhelms our third parallel; destroys it; and puts back our operations such that the enemy relief army could indeed arrive before the fort falls'.
Rheinfunkt sighs. 'You just can't can't help yourself, Saxe, can you ...'

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Happy Christmas!

Christmas, they say, is "the most wonderful time of the year". But that probably depends upon exactly where one is celebrating it. In Prussia, for example, or other areas in the civilised parts of Europe, there is no doubt some truth to this adage. Christmas in such places probably has more of the sorts of things usually associated with having a good time: mulled wine, potato dumplings, stollen, and red cabbage for those interested in some family feasting; or heavy battle, bayonet charges, and cruelty to captured Russian prisoners for those interested in a more active festive period.

'Foreigners: Coming Over Here at Christmas, Stealing Our Chairs' 
In Mittelheim, on the other hand, Christmas could truthfully only be described as "relatively speaking, the least violent time of the year". Overall, most times in Mittelheim for ordinary folk vary from the deeply unpleasant and usually quite painful, to the mediocre and probably quite damp. Christmas is thus "most wonderful" only because even the most venal and arbitrary of aristocrats tend to take the day off. In a Mittelheim Christmas, 'tis the season to be less miserable than usual. Surprisingly, this sentiment hasn't been turned into a jolly festive song. And so, if Christmas in Mittelheim is a time for good cheer, it is a good cheer from the locals when doing terrible things to any foreigners that they can find.

As this year winds slowly to an end, have a happy Christmas; and we hope that the coming year brings you more in the way of joy and less in the way of enemy siege parallels.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Warning, Not to Scale!

The purposes of a siege are manifold - the seizing of a point of strategic importance, for example; the chance to tie down a portion of the enemy army; the opportunity to force the enemy to march to the relief of said position and so wrest the initiative. But in Mittelheim, one of the other advantages, theoretically, of a siege, would be the opportunity to procure some really big pieces of artillery and to make some really very loud explosions without being shouted at, or having one's stuff confiscated. Indeed, the luxuriant heft of the Nabstrian siege park has already been alluded to in previous editions of this publication: such a collection of heavy metal has surely not been seen since Princess Caroline of Bachscuttel's corsets were last laid out for cleaning.

On the other hand, there has been rather less said on the subject of the contribution made to this siege by the Palatinate of Saukopf-Bachscuttel . For this omission there is a reason. Envious of the size of Burgrave Falco of Nabstria's ordnance (not a phrase that could ever be said in polite Fenwickian society), the prince had perused the catalogues of several manufacturers of heavy artillery and mortars. One, in particular, took his eye -  described as a 32lb siege mortar, this weapon seemed just the ticket. 32lb sounded quite big: easily as much, for example, as one of King Wilhelm's buttocks.

Alas, (above) the piece delivered was less impressive than hoped for. It was either quite small, or else permanently quite far away, and looked less like a siege mortar than it did a chocolate log with a vase stuck on the end. For Prince Rupprecht, this disappointment chafed. It was not the chafing of the intensity, say, of putting on a fur hat and discovering that it was in fact a small and angry honey badger; but it was not far from being comparable to going for a long gallop on one's horse before discovering that one had earlier inadvertently tipped iron filings into one's underbritches.

Nevertheless, since it was the only Bachscuttel contribution to the siege force of the Spasmodic Sanction, there was nothing for it but to crack on. And so, for day after day, the crew of the mortar have been firing it at the enemy, more from a sense of duty than any real belief that it will do any damage. Lobbing munitions into the fortress from this mortar seems rather like presenting facts or objective evidence to Prince Rupprecht - ultimately pointless, but one feels the need to go through the motions. The crewmen have taken to coughing loudly as each round is fired, in order to make the explosion seem more impressive.

Whilst the Bachscuttel bombardment might be, metaphorically, administering to their Fenwickian enemies merely some minor tweaks to their noses, the weight of the Nabstrian attack is much more serious, comprising, as it were, a persistent and heavy flicking of the Fenwickian genitals with a quite substantial ruler. These eye-watering consequences are likely to become even more serious as work continues apace on the third siege parallel ...