Sunday, November 28, 2010

Making Tracks: Chimera APC

My Valhallan army, when completed, will have six armoured vehicles, of which this Chimera is the fourth.  Heading in to the back half of vehicle construction has me looking at the various bits, bobs, sundries and accessories I have collected over the years that might be affixed to a vehicle.  Clearly the time has come to 'use it or lose it', and as a result, this troop transport has over a dozen such additions to the stock kit.

It's also important to understand that from a practical standpoint, an armoured personnel carrier (APC) for the Imperial Guard is kind of a ridiculous concept.  Every other race in the Warhammer 40,000 universe is either faster, stronger or better equipped than the puny humans who make up the rank and file of the Guard, and often in more than one category.  The idea of using an armored transport to get closer to the foe is more than a bit foolhardy.

That said though, 40K is still a game, and you can't win the game by hanging back and shelling the foe into compliance (sigh); objectives have to be taken and they have to be held, and shielding some of your troops with a protective metal shell could be the difference between them getting to the objective with enough strength to hold on to it, or getting there in the first place.

And then of course, there is the aesthetic side of things, which gives me just as much enjoyment as the game-playing component. I only have one Chimera, and figured it would go to either my regimental command element or my veterans. Once I saw that the veterans could be upgraded to a demolitions team (hands up if Crazy Harry is one of your favourite Muppets!), my decision was made for me.

Because the Chimera is not a fighting vehicle per se, I opted for a distinctive paint scheme, different from both my artillery and tanks.  My plan is for the squad that rides this track to be very much a 'character' unit, something with a cachet like that of 'The Dirty Dozen' or 'Kelly's Heroes'  (failing that, perhaps 'The A Team'...), so I thought the Chimera should reflect this as much as possible.

I also figured that if this vehicle was going to be right in the thick of things, there was no better place to depict this than in the turret, with a crewman blasting away with the heavy stubber, clearly trying to keep enemy infantry at bay while his comrades use the assault ramp in the rear to get out and plant their deadly melta bombs.  Using a Valhallan heavy weapon crewman as the commander also meant that I had to make a decision regarding the camo I will use for my infantry, and I went with a simply pattern of grey and black blotches, since I will be painting an awful lot of it.

The extra-large searchlight also seemed to fit the theme of both mine-clearing (which a demo team might reasonably be expected to do) or just blinding enemy troops inside a bunker while the bombs and flamers come into play. 

The Demo Team vehicle needs a an evocative name, and I ended up choosing Petrograd Express, and painting this just below the turret on the starboard side.  (I realize Petrograd was what they called St. Petersburg back in the days of the USSR, but as a pseudo-Slavic version of Oiltown it proved impossible to resist. Still, I think I will be leaning heavily towards more Imperial themes for my two remaining tanks.)  Both sides of the Chimera's hull include auxiliary fuel tanks as well as racks of spare lasguns in case ammo should get low or the situation become sufficiently dodgy. 

The pick, shovel and crowbar are all meant to cultivate an aura of preparedness as well as independence; after all, none of the other units are going to want to get too close to a squad carrying that many explosives, even they don't happen to be in a minefield at the time.

The most striking feature of the Express however, is no doubt the mine plow on the front.  This is an add-on made by Dragon models for use on an M1-A1 Abrams tank, and is called a 'track-width mine plough'.  The scale is not precisely correct, but is certainly close enough for me.  Ironically, the instructions for this one accessory are actually more detailed than the vehicle it is attached to, but I managed to get enough of it completed that I could mount it to the piece that normally holds a bulldozer blade on the Leman Russ.  The black and yellow 'danger stripes' I added for no better reason than I just thought they looked wicked, and masked out the stripes with tape, my first time doing so.  It was by no means a perfect job, but I left the marks where some leakage occurred on the advice of my wife, who rightfully pointed out that I was going to weather and chip the blade anyways, and would never achieve such organic results intentionally.  I'm certainly glad I listened to her!

It's a long ways from perfect, but I am already looking furtively at the approaching deadline, and I am pretty happy with the Petrograd Express given the time I had available.  I don't anticipate having a lot of painting or building sessions in December until my Christmas holiday begins, and I have to crank out two more Leman Russ tanks before the end of January if I don't want to be rushed painting my infantry or their air support (dun dun DUN).

Friday, November 26, 2010

Huddle Town Hijinks

Glory and I popped into Churchill Square briefly today to check out Huddle Town, a set of exhibits and activities celebrating Edmonton's hosting of the Grey Cup this Sunday.  Let's be clear here, I am not a huge sports fan, and Glory's not entirely sure which sport football even is, but we both like festivities, so off we went.

It's kind of trade fair-ish, with lots of booths giving away swag, media and product and financial services sponsors all out hawking their involvement.  Plenty of food tents with chili and hot dogs and the like, but I didn't spot the ubiquitous Edmonton green onion cake; perhaps they were serving them in the Boston Pizza sports bar they had setup in a tent on the square.  The line-up for the immense zip line was fairly manageable, but Glory was intimidated by both its height and its speed, and I'm just too big for it, so we had to pass it by, although we saw quite a few people enjoying it.  She did have some fun running an inflatable obstacle course though.

There's a mini-field set up right in front of city hall where amateur teams are playing over the weekend, and CN has a locker room set up where you can try on a jersey and helmet from every team in the league.  The majority of the square is covered by a huge tent that TSN is broadcasting from and that a number of sponsors have set up all kinds of event in, from autograph sessions with CFL players, to obstacle courses, exhibits from the CFL Hall of Fame and video games controlled with either your body or your cell phone, depending on whether you are at the Kinect or Telus booth. 

The Edmonton Journal was giving away cardboard helmets and photos of attendees with a virtual Grey Cup, and Glory and I won a bandana and some lip balm playing a bean bag toss game.

The live stage was just getting set up, and acts like Bif Naked and Big Sugar will be performing there over the next couple of days.  The volunteers were all smiling, friendly and helpful, and this is all helping to make Edmonton look very good indeed to all the sports fans coming here for the big game on Sunday.  it's a bit of a sad counterpoint to what might have been had the federal government elected to support Edmonton's Expo 2017 bid.

Still and all, it's easy to enjoy the Grey Cup as a great bit of Canadiana, even if the majority of players are from the U.S.; a (mostly) outdoors game, with the championship coming to a northern city on the cusp of winter, and pitting East against West in a way the National Energy Policy never could.  Memories of watching Grey Cup games at the Legion or at home with my folks in the glory days of Tom Wilkinson and Warren Moon put a bit of a nostalgic veneer on practically everything I saw, but what I appreciated most was the sheer variety of people I saw there: old and young, working class and posh, hipsters and squares.  Huddle Town was a great place to spend a little time with Glory while Fenya and Audrey are at choir camp this weekend, and I am glad they will return in time for all of us to watch the game this Sunday, even if the Eskimos aren't in it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Mom's Super, Thanks for Asking

Some years ago, my mom and dad were at the Legion one Saturday night, enjoying a beer with some friends as was their custom at the time.  At a nearby table, a couple of younger men (which in the Legion will mean someone either under the age of 50 or 40, depending on who is making the observation at the time) became boisterous and argumentative.  As their argument got louder and more provocative, people wondered if it was going to turn into a fight, which is not something that happens very often at the Legion.

I should mention here that in his younger days, my father was no stranger at throwing hands in a recreational context.  (What does that mean, Daddy?"  "It means Poppy liked to fistfight for fun, honey.  Now let Daddy tell the story.")  He and his best mate Torchy Smith even used provocative techniques as a questionable means of generating suitably energetic altercations, such as wandering into a bar in Halifax's notorious and shamefully named 'Africville' and, supposedly ignorant of the fact that they were the only Caucasians on the premises, ask to be served.  "We're of age, we have money," the argument would go, "what possible reason could you have for not serving us?"    Those rebuttals might come sooner, they might come later, but they rarely came from an open or empty hand.  My Dad spoke of this matter-of-factly, neither really ashamed nor truly proud, saying, "I never started any fights, but I was around for the end of a few.  More than a few, maybe."

At the time when there was this imminent possibility of a donnybrook at the Legion, Poppy's fighting days were well behind him; he was in the latter half of his fifties, and had served on town and city council, and might even have been mayor when this was happening.  I've never spoken to him about what might have been going through his mind, whether he was prepared to step in or try to calm things down, because as it happened, he was never given the opportunity, such was the speed with which it finally coalesced into an event.

The two belligerents stood up simultaneously, never a good sign, their chairs falling behind them, glaring at each other, nostrils flaring, fists clenched.  A table separated them for the time being, but before they could move around it, my Mom was upon them.

Nanny and Poppy at his 75th birthday party, 2007
Helen is a tall lady, nearly six feet, of medium build, and if one thing can be said of her it is that she does not suffer fools gladly.  Her countenance is mercurial, able to swing from condemnation to bemusement in the blink (or the twinkle) of an eye, and she is not a woman inclined to split hairs or wax melancholic.  As such, she had had quite enough when she stood up and marched over to the table in question.  She's long leggedy, so I don't imagine it took her more than a few strides to make up the distance to their table, where she clamped an iron hand on each of their shoulders and pushed them down into their seats.

"You assholes need to SIT DOWN RIGHT NOW and BE QUIET!" Mom growled.

And they did.

I assume they were too dumbfounded to do anything else, but whatever their motivations, the important thing to bear in mind is that there was going to be a fight, and then there wasn't.

I gather that when Mom got back to her seat, Dad was pretty much hooting with laughter in his, referring to her alternately as "The Dragon Lady" and "Batwoman".  When he related the story to me later, he had to pause several times to brush tears of laughter off his cheeks; he clearly had a better time talking about the fight Mom prevented than any of the ones he had ever actually participated in.  At least once a year or so the story comes up around the family table, and regardless of who tells it (which never includes Mom for some reason), Dad's reaction never varies that much.  Neither does Mom's, really; her lips tighten, the better to suppress the smirk that threatens to sneak out, and she bears it all with quiet dignity.

I wish I had even half of my Mum's chutzpah; some situations require a little less Zen and a little more Old Testament, and this was one of them.  I'm proud of the way she asserted herself and stopped a bad situation from escalating into something tragic, stupid or, most likely, both.  I'm proud of her for lots of other reasons too, but that one is the funniest.

Photographer Sacha Goldberger is proud of his grandmom, so when she got depressed, he decided to dress her up in a superhero costume and take some photos of her.  She wasn't too keen on the idea right away, but once they got into it, she couldn't stop smiling.

"Super Mamika" (aka Frederika), risked her life saving a bunch of Jews in Hungary during WWII, so Sacha has every reason to be proud of her, but I think most of us are pretty proud of our moms, even if their heroism is less extraordinary.  After all, they made us, right?  Seeing the picture above, in particular, brought me back to that night in the Legion, where my mom showed that a person without fear is a lot closer than Hal Jordan and Matt Murdock.

This article on My Modern Met talks a little bit more about Super Mamika and her grandson, and has a lot more of these fantastic photos.  They also mention how a lot of people have now reached out to Frederika

Call your mom, if you're able.  If she's your hero, tell her so.  If that doesn't feel right, tell her something else.  In the meantime, I don't think I can talk Mom into a cape, but maybe a motorcycle or club jacket with "Dragon Lady" written on it in one of those brutal asiatic fonts will do the trick...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Making Tracks: Manticore

A manticore is a mythical beast with the body of a lion, wings like a bat, the face of a man and some manner of spiky tail; sometimes like that of a scorpion, in other renditions, able to shoot the spikes at its prey.  All the Imperial Guard artillery is named after some sort of monster (Basilisk, Medusa, Hydra, etc), and with its 4 massive Storm Eagle rockets mounted on a rearward turret, this Manticore comes by its moniker honestly enough.

This was the first Imperial Guard model I ever purchased; although the Manticore is now available as an all plastic kit, for the longest time it was initially only possible to build one out of a Basilisk kit and then replacing the big Earthshaker cannon with a resin add-on kit by Forgeworld containing the turret, missiles and hull extension.  Having the opportunity to buy one of these kits while at the US Games Workshop HQ in Baltimore, I immediately gravitated to the Manticore for its Red Square May Day parade aesthetic; the immense firepower was only the most distant of associations.  In fact, it is only allowed a maximum of four shots per game, but many of my tanks get blown up well before that anyways, so that hardly seems like a setback.

Resin is a chore to work with and is also somewhat dangerous.  (True story: the head of sales for GW Canada told me about visiting Forgeworlds' production facility and his guide had him wear a full-on dual can respirator like you'd see them wearing in an autobody shop.  When Gary asked why, the rep told him that the resin dust was carcinogenic.  'Why aren't you wearing one then?' Gary inquired.  His guide smiled and said, 'It's too late for me, mate.'  Brr!)  I used my Dremel tool to sand off the unnecessary bits and mold webbing, and did it on my front step, with the wind at my back and a dust mask firmly in place.  Once that was done and the hull extension glued on, it primed and painted up the same as any other vehicle.  I left the missiles off until the very end, since they would be hard to reach around once they were glued in place.

The driver is another Forgeworld model, bought when I was exploring a Steel Legion or Death Korps of Krieg army, who all wear gas masks.  When I placed my final staff order with Games Workshop in 2007, I knew I had to get as much of my Guard army as possible, or it was never going to happen, and the knowledge that my 'Commie Rocket Tank' (as some of my co-workers referred to it) was languishing in the wings led me to choose the similarly Russian-inspired Valhallan Ice Warriors.  Still, I thought the gas-mask tanker was distinctive looking and made a degree of practical sense given the amount of fuel and exhaust he would be likely to encounter in the course of hauling those Storm Eagles around.

In the universe of the 41st Millennium, our modern day languages have been ostensibly replaced with High Gothic, Low Gothic and a host of lesser dialects, now that humanity exists on almost a million worlds.  In naming my vehicles I could probably get away with using a Russian word or two, but it's better to sneak in the occasional Cyrillic-looking letter and Eastern European name, like Little Anechka here.  I'm largely happy with it; it is certainly an imposing presence even if it doesn't match the picture in my mind's eye, but it got to a point where I had to weigh putting more effort into it now versus the disappointment of having it destroyed before even firing a shot later on during gameplay.  Most importantly, after more than ten years in a box, my Manticore is finally ready to take the field.

You know, once I have painted up an army for it to support...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Bridge Not Far

We were in Rundle Park this morning for the observances at the Eleventh Hour; past the pedal boats and the frisbee golf course, there is a footbridge, and that is where we ended up.

The structure spanning the North Saskatchewan is called Ainsworth Dyer Memorial Bridge.  If the name sounds familiar, it's because you heard it several times in 2002 after 4 Canadians from Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry were killed in a 'friendly fire' incident by US airmen that April, one of them being Corporal Dyer.  He would have been 25 in July.

Ainsworth Dyer proposed to his fiancee on the bridge, as attested to in the plaque, not too long before he was killed. After his death, his fiancee's father, Aart Vansloten, and others campaigned to have a memorial stone and plaque erected there, and the bridge was named after him.  It's an appropriate spot, not only because of his proposing there, but also trained there for the 'Mountain Man' competition.

Each year, Ainsworth's would-be father-in-law makes a small wooden cross for each Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan.  Each cross bears their name and rank in addition to a green-centred poppy, and has a nail in the base so it can be planted in the ground easily.  This year he made 152.

Some of the crosses are placed by friends or family of that individual, should they happen to be in Edmonton, but the members of the public who have come out to attend this brief ceremony are asked to set the remainder.  Glory was uneasy about participating, but Fenya placed Pvt. Kevin Dallaire, Audrey Cpl. Andrew Eykelenbloom, and myself Cpl. David Braun, the 23rd, 26th and 27th Canadian casualties in Afghanistan.

It was by no means a polished ceremony; there were starts and stops, frequent interjections of feedback from the tiny PA system they'd brought, and somewhat shaky renditions of "Last Post" and "Oh Canada" on the trumpet, but despite all this, it was still one of the most memorable Remembrance Days I have ever experienced.  So what if the trumpeter wasn't smooth?  I would rather listen to shaky human than a perfect recording on any November 11th.  The feedback was annoying but not deafening, and the entire affair had elements of simplicity, sincerity and honesty that far exceeded larger presentations with colour parties and artillery salutes.

It takes a long time to read 152 names.  They were read aloud in pairs, each pair of crosses having been placed in the frosty ground not far from the bridge and those carrying them having had a chance to pause, or bow, or snap off a crisp salute before the following pair were read.  I'm guessing it took close to half an hour to read them all, but the crowd of close to two hundred stayed to hear the list in its entirety.  It was only a little above freezing, and the sneakers I had flung onto my feet as we rushed out the door were entirely insufficient for the task of keeping numbness from my toes, but I thought of colder places, like Flanders and Korea, and kept my complaints to myself.

The chaplain who assisted with the ceremony was very clear about remembering all Canada's fallen, not just these most recent ones.  He specifically mentioned the two World Wars and Korea, as well as Canada's peacekeeping efforts around the world.  His feeling was that all of these men and women, their lives spanning a globe and almost a century had one thing in common: that they had died in the belief that the world can be a better place, with security and safety and the rule of law.

I wish I could tell you that I can remember all 152 names, but obviously I can't.  I am still grateful for the opportunity to have heard all these names, even once, and to realize that they are not numbers, they are not statistics, and to remember that they are individuals, and sons and daughters and husbands and wives and fathers and mothers and friends and lovers, and some of those who were touched by their lives were stood with me today.  And others, strangers like myself, felt compelled to step forward and commemorate at least one name, by carrying a cross a little ways.

All in all, I felt this was a moving and incredibly personal way to observe Remembrance Day.  I am grateful to Mr. Vansloten for his efforts making these crosses every year, for giving all Edmontonians an opportunity to participate in Cpl. Dyer's memorial.  I am confident we will return to this bridge next year as well.

(An Edmonton Sun video about the bridge ceremony; of all the people to show placing a cross, I had to be one of them?)

Sunday, November 7, 2010


I was a little late getting into church today, so I missed the piper's entry that we always have for the Remembrance service.  I entered the narthex just as the two minutes of silence were being observed.

If accuracy were an issue, we might call this the 'two minutes of relative quiet'; how does one achieve true silence in this day and age?  Even in a church full of well-intentioned folk, there is shuffling, the occasional murmur or cough, the sounds of traffic outside, a faraway door closing.  And of course, very small children can't be expected to make observances, and I am certain they must find the sudden change in ambient noise unsettling.

Heck, if I'm being honest, I kind of find it unsettling.  Two minutes can seem to be a very long time for focused reflection, especially on something as sombre as remembering the honored dead.

My kids no longer experience Remembrance Day the way I did; with a school assembly and a parade to the cenotaph to see wreaths being layed.  Today, schools are closed and shops are open, which strikes me as being more than a little backwards.

I'm not saying we should spend the entirety of the day clothed in sackcloth or wailing in the streets, or attending some government-sponsored form of obeisance; everyone should be allowed to commemorate in their own fashion, and the freedom that we celebrate in concordance with the sacrifices of our war dead means that people should be free to not observe at all, if this is their wont.

Still, are our lives so busy that a day given over specifically so that observances can be made needs to be spent shopping?  Do we really need to be hustling between Booster Juice and Sport Chek at 11:00 this Thursday just because we can?  Would the retail engine that drives so much of our economy misfire if we held off on opening until, oh, I don't know, noon?

It's not as though dying in the service of your country is less relevant now than it was during the First and Second World War; there are Canadians doing it right now in Afghanistan, as they have in Sinai, Cyprus, Kosovo and countless other places since 1945.  There is a tendency to draw special attention to the veterans of WWII, perhaps because there has never been a situation or an army quite like that one.

It's difficult to imagine a scenario that would require a mobilization of a citizen army the way that the Second World War did, but the idea of career people walking away from their jobs, sons leaving home to take up arms, fathers leaving their families to secure a safer future for them, and women taking up the jobs left by these men, both in uniform and as civilians is impossible to picture in our current age.  The type of sacrifices made and the prices paid by both the victims and survivors of the horrors of war don't superimpose very well over a society resolutely engaged in maintaining the status quo.

The last veteran of the First World War has passed on, and the ranks of those who returned home from WWII grow thinner and thinner every November, and soon they will be naught but memories, and I worry a lot about how long they will persist in that state.  Once they are forgotten, how long before we forget the sacrifices of those currently in service?  Or has it already happened?

So far we have never missed an opportunity to pay our respects on Remembrance Day as a family.  I think a deep sense of gratitude for those who have served and are serving is critical in raising our daughters to be good citizens, and we talk at length about why wars are fought, and why good people might volunteer to fight in them.  In dulce et decorum est pro patria mori the Romans once said; it is noble and good to die for one's country.  I prefer how Robert Heinlein paraphrased it: "The noblest fate that a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and the war's desolation."  The people we remember on November 11 have done just that, but their deeds will mean so much less if the people who did them should be forgotten.

In previous years we have gone out the Legislature to see the wreaths layed and the artillery salute, but with 2011 marking the end of Canada's combat operations in Afghanistan, I think we may go to the Garrison  this time around, if it is open to the public.  Anyone who wants to is welcome to join our family, whatever we end up doing.

I hope everyone reading this takes the time to observe in some fashion, even if it is to simply participate in two minutes of silence at 11:00, or to watch part of the Ottawa ceremonies on television.  Ask your friends or co-workers how they are observing;  if you have plans, invite them along.   Remind them to remember.