Sunday, August 27, 2006

Celebrity Endorsement

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Live Coverage of the Pig Tickling from Durban

Well, when I say "live", it's really delayed coverage, but broadcast "as live" due to the time-lag involved in bringing the footage back from South Africa by tramp steamer. It's a report from our Friday night game of Pig Tickler. So without further ado, it's over to our correspondent in Natal, Kass Naidoo:

Thanks, Carlos. Welcome to Kingsmead Stadium in Durban, for the finals of the 1902 Pig Tickling Test Series.

A lovely aerial view of the stadium there, from our dirigible circling the ground.

We have a packed crowd of supporters here today. This will make quite a change for them from the usual cricket matches staged here, which sadly had to be cancelled, due to the entire first XI, er, copping it at Spion Kop. I see the Gentlemen and Players are coming out, so let's introduce them:
Firstly we have Captain Armitage Barker-Poles of the Natal Cycle Contingent. Having left England in shame after being cuckolded by the Prince of Wales he has thrown himself into the sporting life with gusto, and has become an accomplished tickler.

Next we have Sir Robert Bathing-Towel of the Mafeking Velocipede Fencibles. Notable for his gallant defence of the famous siege, where with only one six of Cubs from the Barking and Dagenham District Scouts he held off Johnny Boer for over seven years until relieved. Many decorations were awarded to his brave troops, including Home Help, Book Reader, Road Safety and World Faiths activity badges.

Then it's, how can I put this... an American. And worse than that he's not a Gentleman, but a Player. Professionalism in the great sport of Pig Tickling? What is the world coming to? Anyway, please welcome Lloyd Flandis, current holder of Le Maillot Jaune, who has taken time out from the Tour d'Afrique to be with us today. Progress in the tour has been suspended after an amazing come-back ride on the Col de Kilimanjaro stage seemed just too good to be true. The finest minds in France, including all the top alchemists, cryptographers and Hieromancers are currently busy analysing his wee-wee for evidence of cheating. Will he still wear the Yellow Jersey by the end of the day?
Who knows? And frankly, only the French care.

Here we see Lloyd in the splendid uniform of his team, Discoverer's Quarterly (formerly Pony Express).

Finally we have Doctor Esteban Immaturin of the Queen's Own Boil Lancers (R.A.M.C.). Formerly of HMS Facetious, and a proper physician (no barber-surgeon he), Immaturin brings a surgical precision to the game, but his strong views on Home Rule for Ireland, compulsory trepanning in schools and the revision of the pig-before-wicket rule have meant that his sporting career has been dogged with controversy.

Our Umpire for today is Mr. Harold Dair. Having fled England under a cloud and beaten the mail to South Africa, nobody has yet realised he is currently suspended. He is at the centre of the Swine-Tampering Row that is sweeping the World of Pig-Tickling, after accusing the touring Baluchistan and Sindh team of shining one side of the pig while illegally damaging the other in the final Test at the Oval.

The Pig itself (Russian Sevastopol '54 clockwork model, updated to run on steam) and our stokers for today, the veteran and ever-popular Punjabi Pete and Hindu Stan.

The game gets underway...

Three of the Cyclists circle the pig cautiously around Short Mid Off, while Flandis rides in from Midwicket.

"Cover-Drive" Smythe gazes on with mounting alarm and dismay, as he sees the damage the pig is doing to the wicket.

The pig hurtles towards the Long On boundary, with the cyclists in hot pursuit.

Down at Fine Leg, Umpire Dair falls back into his old bad habits. The proximity of someone with brown skin once again compels him to start bandying about random accusations of cheating at anyone within range. Here we see Immaturin falling foul of his mischief.

Oh my goodness! We appear to have a streaker on the pitch! What fun!
Don't look Ethel! I mean Miss Naidoo!

The crowd seem to be enjoying this minor interruption.

After several hours play, Immaturin was declared the winner with an unprecedented six gold rumps his score. His surgical precision had indeed proved decisive. Flandis had fled the field in panic the first time the pig came at him, and little of note was achieved by the other two. The Tompkins Minor rule was invoked, so Flandis' substitute was allowed on to the playing area, and he acquitted himself well. Unfortunately the match ended on a sour note when, once again Umpire Dair accused Immaturin of pig, dice, and even (Heaven forfend!) stoker tampering*.

*Methinks there was something in this, as Immaturin's player rolled high with his dice at just about every turn! Grrr... Sour grapes, indeed!

  • Dr. Esteban Immaturin.........................................6 Rumps
  • Señor Miguel In-the-Rain (sub).............................2 Rumps
  • Captain Armitage Barker-Poles..............................1 Rump
  • Sir Robert Bathing-Towel.......................................0 Rumps
  • Mr. Lloyd Flandis...................................................Retired "Hurt"

To round things off, Miss Naidoo interviews the winning rider.

He is then presented with a giant novelty cheque for five shillings and sixpence, by representitives of our sponsors, local firm of solicitors; Smuts, Smuts, Dabulamanzi and Smuts. Being a Gentleman, the good doctor of course refuses any payment, insisting that instead the money go to his own charitable foundation to care for the needs of the fallen women of the Ladysmith district.

As there's much daylight left to be had, for the benefit of the crowd the players agree to play a second, unofficial rubber. Flandis has by now recovered his nerve, and after a swift drink of some unidentified tincture, is back to his best. So much so that he cleans up and wins the match handsomely.


So, the game: This was our first go at Pig Tickler, in which our unicycling heroes have to score points by lancing a mechanical pig, while avoiding being savaged by it, and trying to persuade the stokers to fling hot coals at their rivals to put them off their aim. We had buckets of fun and the game was played in a joyous (and very silly) atmosphere. I think everybody had a good time. Not sure I'd want to play it every week, but it was a nice amusing diversion from the usual death and mayhem.

We introduced two new rules of our own. The first was "No riding on the wicket" at the insistance of "Cover-Drive" Smythe. This basically meant that unless the pig was on the wicket, riders were not allowed to ride across it, to protect the playing surface. This had the effect of introducing a barrier in the centre of the field that riders would sometimes need to manuever around in order to have a stab at the pig. The second was "Don't look, Ethel!" or the Streaker, who basically just acted as a mobile obstacle that had to be negociated, and could be moved instead of the stokers if the player desired.

The game is produced by Eureka Miniatures of Australia as part of their Pax Limpopo range. I got my copy from the U.K. supplier Fighting 15s.

Finally, thanks to TMPer Matakishi, for it was his article on the game (and the pictures of his painted figures) that piqued my interest in Pig Tickler, even though I already knew about it. His website is well worth a visit, as there's always something there to inspire lazy oafs like me off their backsides and into some hobby-related activity.

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Amelia and Matilda go forth!

"She thought of the Königin Luise flaunting her iron cross flag on the lake where never a white ensign could come to challenge her, and of the Empire needing help, and of her brother's death to avenge." C.S. Forester.

The Congo shore of Lake Wittelsbach, Christmas 1915.

After their disasterous attempt in 1914 to raid the Belgian settlement of Port Albert (Click here for the Battle Report), the Germans restricted their activities to patrolling the lake, and searching for the seemingly fictional Belgian steamer that intelligence indicated was being prepared somewhere in the area.

But, unbeknownst to them, someone was preparing to contest their control of the lake. The Royal Navy had sent two armed motor launches, all the way from Britain by sea to the Cape, and then overland across the trackless jungles and scrub of Africa to the western shore of Lake Wittelsbach. Their task was to take, burn, or sink the"Louisa", and thus open up the way for an invasion of German Central Africa across the lake by the Belgians.

And so it was, that on one of her sweeps looking for enemy vessals, that the Louisa ran into H.M.S. Amelia and H.M.S. Matilda, the two smallest craft in the R.N. to be rated as ships. Both sides were determined to prevail, and so battle was joined.

(But, it must be told, there was a third interested party in this engagement, whose involvement could prove to be of critical importance. More of this later.)

The Table Set-up

Click on the Picture for a bigger version (that should apply to all pics. If I've managed to figure out these Blog controls, at any rate.)

Note 1: On the TV screen we see coverage of the third test at Headingly between England and Pakistan. There is a slight cricketing theme to parts of this report, so I thought I'd point that out.

Note 2: Here we see the the Kami-infested Mitsubishi, familiar to those who have read the TMP Lounge topic "The Haunted Sewing-Machine."

The Participants
The Königin Luise. Commanded by Captain Lothar Slütter, with Leutnant zur See Schweinsteiger as her First Officer. Armed with a 6pdr and Maxim Gun.

The bustling wharf at Port Albert. Amelia and Matilda hurry to get under way as the enemy is spotted on the horizon. The curious locals gawp in a slightly bewildered fashion.

Amelia, commanded by Lt. Commander Basil Simper-Spiceman, who, it must be admitted, is a complete nincompoop. His -1 modifier to British iniative tests reflects this. Unfortunately he commands this little flotilla. Also of note is Jones Junior, an American serving in the Belgian army who has somehow tagged along.

Matilda, commanded by pre-war cricketing legend Lieutenant C.J. "Cover Drive" Smythe, of Somerset and England. Both Amelia and Matilda are armed with modern 3pdrs and a Vickers MG each.

The Battle
The two launches sped off and soon accelerated to full speed. Matilda headed directly for the enemy, while Simper-Spiceman in Amelia opted to skirt around a cluster of tiny islands and try and come at the Louisa from the rear, outside of the arc of her main gun.

The Louisa and Matilda began to exchange fire. To begin with they were off their mark.

But the Louisa's gunners had Lt. zur See Schweinsteiger directing their fire, and this man knew his business. Watching the fall of shot he corrected their aim and the next shot landed right on target. Immaturin was instantly torn to pieces, and "Cover Drive" Smythe was cut down by a piece of red-hot flying metal. Blood and guts sloshed all about the deck, and the launch was thrown into confusion.

After a few moments of panicky chaos, the helmsman, McGinty regained his composure and took command. In his fury at losing two good friends he determined that the best course was to ram the Louisa! Hurtling along at full speed he steered right for the hated enemy, but despite being much less maneouverable, the Louisa managed to avoid the full force of the ram. The two craft merely brushed against one another, exchanging polite salutations and a little paint.

As Matilda passed by the stern of the Louisa, she came under terrible and persistant machine gun fire. McGinty slumped against the controls as he was hit. A stray rifle shot from a deckhand also managed to penetrate the engine and caused it to splutter and die. It seemed luck was not with the Brits this day! Matilda then, slowly drifted to a halt, leaving the sole survivor of her crew, one Loose Limbs O'Grady, in possesion of little more than a floating gun post.

But, undaunted, he continued to serve his gun, and would do so for quite some time. His fire would account for several of the Louisa's crew, but as yet did not deliver that lucky shot that would be a killing blow...

Meanwhile, back on shore, the Belgians, seeing that things were all going Germany's way, decided to manhandle their little Nineteenth Century pop-gun down to shore, in the hope of contributing to the fight.

Amelia and Matilda continued to fire on the Louisa. One shell exploded among the Bridge crew, but when the smoke cleared it became evident that only the captain's butler had been killed, showering everybody in schnapps. Slowly the Louisa was losing crewmen to their fire, but they just couldn't land any crippling blows on the ship herself.

Now it was that our interloper appeared on the scene. Another vessal, a small river cargo steamer called the African Queen. Manning the temperamental boiler was dishevelled trader Charlie Allnutt, while at the tiller was the English spinster missionary Rose Sayer. Together, after braving many dangers they had sailed down to the lake with the express purpose of sinking the Königin Luise. The African Queen had been converted into a floating bomb to achieve this aim. Ram the Louisa and she would shatter into a million splinters in the explosion, that was their hope.

By now the Louisa had turned to bring her gun to bear on Amelia. They exchanged fire, and again the Louisa had the upper hand. In a repeat performance of her attack on Matilda, she plunged a shell into the central compartment, instantly killing both Simper-Spiceman and Jones Junior. Things were beginning to look very black for the British.

(Worse than that! Indy is dead! No Raiders of the Lost Ark!)

As once again, Amelia went out of sight, Schweinsteiger turned his attention to the field gun on shore. Now he had got his eye in, and his first shot landed home. The gun was unseated from its carriage, and two of its crew were slain. Another shot killed the Belgian standard bearer, who had been frantically waving his flag on the jetty. This discouraging turn of events effectively ended any Belgian participation. They would be spectators from now onwards.

Grimly, Rose and Charlie steamed onwards towards their quarry, while the two gunboats mantained a somewhat ineffective fire.

It didn't seem like they would be able to catch the Louisa, but then suddenly Fate lent a hand. As the steamer turned around the little islands in an attempt to keep her some distance away (for the crew had suspected there was something odd going on with the African Queen) there was a jarring crunch. She had struck something hidden in the water and was now grounded, unable to move!

Now she was surely lost! Unable to get away, with the floating bomb heading right at her. Schweinsteiger was unable to bring the 6pdr to bear, and the Queen edged ever closer...

..into effective range of the Maxim Gun! The gun spluttered to life, raining lead in the direction of Charlie and Rose. The air was alive with bullets, thudding into the hull and flying past their ears. Sadly, some found their mark. Charlie fell to the deck, dying, and then Rose was hit too. There was time for one last embrace. They kissed, and then left this world together. But the Queen wasn't finished. Though losing speed quickly, and with nobody at the tiller, by some miracle she stayed on her course.

Closer and closer she came. If she could just hit the hull of the Louisa, the detonators in her bow might set off the explosives. But it was not to be. She ran out of momentum just feet from her target. It would seem British hopes were dashed again.

Before long the Louisa had managed to lift herself off the underwater obstacle and was now backing away from the dangerous drifting bomb, all the while exchanging fire with the two gunboats at long range.

The realisation dawned among the the two remaining British sailors (for Matilda's helmsman and by now also been hit) that all was lost. They were barely combat effective and the Louisa seemed to be hardly hurt at all. Luckily avoiding any crocodiles, O'Grady abandoned the immobilised Matilda and swam for the nearby Amelia, so as to join forces with her gunner. After a quick conference they decided to withdraw and try and flee to another Belgian settlement, or perhaps to merely hide somewhere until the Louisa had gone. They had seen how mercilessly competent the enemy gunners were, and hadn't the stomach to face them any more.

And so the game ended. The Louisa sank the African Queen with gunfire from a safe distance, and then sped away with the stricken Matilda in tow as a prize. German arms had triumphed this time, but Amelia was still at large. The Allies would have to formulate a new plan to gain control of the lake.

Maybe airpower was the answer?

Amelia and Matilda: Epilogue

The Butcher's Bill

German Casualties:
6 sailors
1 native butler

Belgian Casualties:
4 Force Publique soldiers
Jones Junior

British Casualties:
2 civilians, Rose Sayer and Charlie Allnutt.
5 Royal Navy, including Lt. Cmdr. Simper-Spiceman and Lt. C.J. "Cover Drive" Smythe.

The world of cricket, robbed of one of this generation's finest batsmen, mourned its loss...


The game was quite a lot of fun, but it seemed the Brits were desperately unlucky. The positive modifier the German gunners received for having an officer directing their fire was a decisive factor. But even so, the Germans seemed to get all the lucky hit location rolls, whereas the Brits never seemed to be able to land a telling blow (despite landing two critical hits on the Louisa). Then when it seemed the African Queen would do their job for them she failed right at the last, if only by a hair's breadth.

Oh well, c'est la guerre.

The rules were a strange Frankensteinish amalgam of Chris Peers' "In the Heart of Africa" and a modified version of the Sky Galleons section of the "Space 1889" role-playing game. Huge chunks purloined from that nice Mr. Patrick Wilson's game, "Boilers and breechloaders" were also shoved in and stirred around with a big stick. Only seems fair, as he did send me the ruleset for free, which was awfully nice of him.

Amelia and Matilda are available from Old Glory, the African Queen was an HLBSC kit, and the Louisa was a Richard Houston special (purchased via TVAG). Figures were from Foundry, Copplestone, RAFM and Old Glory.

The story was inspired by the C.S. Forester novel "The African Queen", which in turn was loosely based on the real life battle between HMS Mimi, HMS Toutou and the Hedwig von Wissmann. If you're at all interested in this forgotten battle of the Great War then perhaps you should give this book a go.