The recent nearly but not quite named ‘Storm Doris’ did minor damage in my garden overnight a day or two ago, flipping off the tied on and weighted-down lid of my improvised “sand table”.
This ‘sand table’ was flooded with rainwater and a topped with a thin sheet of ice this morning.
Quite surreal, as this was how it was otherwise left at the end of a game.
The sculpted sand terrain had smoothed away underwater. Eerily many of the troops were standing or lying still where they had last fought.
In reality the ‘sand table’ is a bright blue plastic family sand pit filled with fine play sand but it does service for garden games for all ages of family.
Revealed frozen underwater was the end of a last summer ‘pound store plastic warriors’ sand pit game, literally frozen in time.
I had forgotten to put this game away months ago, just tied the lid on and weighted it with stones. The weather has not been great in the UK for outdoor garden gaming over the last few winter months.
Unpainted, these simple pound store troops about 25-30 mm high in three different ‘national colours’ looked surprisingly good underwater, especially this silver cluster.
I have never built a proper sand table Donald Featherstone style, having heard or read of several near disasters with the weight of sand indoors and the sand’s ability to get everywhere – “can be rather messy, as sand does not always keep its proper place on the table” as Donald Featherstone points out.
Gaming in the sand pit was always a good garden standby in childhood, mostly using a rough pile of builders sand in the garden / yard left over from an extension. Growing up with dogs, the sand pit did not thankfully become a litter tray for the neighbourhood cats.
Figures occasionally vanished, sometimes to resurface during later completely different period games. Some were never seen again. By now the entombed 1970s Airfix plastic will have crumbled to dust if that childhood sand pile is still there.
The Sheil website has ‘sand pit’ rules for those who want to try this in an undrowned sand pit (with well attached roof).
Trying to find interesting 54mm civilian figures is always a challenge. Apart from an unusual set ordered online from China, it usually involves looking out for figures with playsets or vehicles.
An expensive way to acquire a few figures!
Parading Through The Zoo
It was always frustrating as a child to have a zoo or farm or a parade set out but no visitors to watch; it usually resulted in lots of troops endlessly parading with their bands through the model zoo (H.G. Wells Floor Games style) along with assorted military staff feeding the animals, selling tickets etc.
Zoo animals were an important and long running part of any lead or plastic figure series, from Britain’s onwards.
To be fair, military bands and other forms of entertainment and display from balloon rides and fetes to fireworks to lifeboat launches were not unknown in the Victorian zoo such as Bristol Zoo. A bandstand was an everyday part of parks, seaside promenades, botanic gardens and often zoos.
This carried right through at Manchester’s Belle Vue Zoo from Victorian times into the 1950s, they staged elaborate military and historical tableaux through both world wars with a local cast of hundreds. Their theatrical stock of obsolete muskets were borrowed by the early Home Guard units locally in 1940.
Today, Edinburgh Zoo has a penguin called Nils Olaf “commissioned” into the Norwegian Royal Guard and occasionally visited and paraded by his fellow (human) comrades in their magnificent full dress uniform.
The Zoo and Wartime Morale
I have 1939 ‘propaganda’ press pictures of servicemen enjoying elephant rides at Belle Vue Zoo Manchester. This was sort of true of many British Zoos in wartime – there were special rates for servicemen (and lady friends) in uniform, entertainments in WW1 for injured servicemen.
In the first few weeks of being closed to the public on ARP grounds in September 1939, London Zoo made arrangements for servicemen to walk round for the animals to look at. ‘The Zoo’ also made their canteen over to the RAF as the big houses around became RAF Regent’s Park full of training aircrew.
Britain’s and other lead toy soldier manufacturers made plenty of civilians and farm workers in the more pacifist aftermath of WW1. Plastic manufacturers haven’t widely followed suit and painted railway figures in this 54mm /1:32 scale are often quite expensive.
Failing the mounting of a full scale military parade through your zoo, Wild West town etc. all day and everyday, some normal civilians are useful for floor games, sandpit games or wargames.
F.E. Perry in his quirky First Book of War Games and Second Book of War Games often featured civilian or town settings alongside his wargames scenario / photographs.
These feature sets came from a zoo gift shop with two zebra striped jeeps handy for conversion, some brilliant wooden watch towers and rope ways (of which more anon), a couple of odd sized animals and these interesting modern civilians. Similar figures are made for dinosaur playsets.
Something similar to the girl child in the photos has recently been repainted and reused in a Slinkachu type way on the front cover of an art photography book about the recent group of artists / photographers playing with scale for satiric, unsettling or comic effect.
Microworlds contains some slightly disturbing dystopian or to some tasteless items from a range of photographers.
More plastics including civilians are featured on my Pound Store Plastic Warriors sister blogsite –
Police and firefighters are now available sometimes in pound store tubes, suitable for conversion.
Back in the 1980s there were Britain’s Deetail nurses, doctors and construction workers, not forgetting the Britain’s farm workers ranging from lead to Herald plastic and a modern farm worker range still around in toy shops or online today.
In future blogposts I will feature more civilian figures to be used for game scenarios from the Chinese made sets available online to the useful USA manufactured Toob “heritage” plastic figures roughly in 54mm, also purchased online.
Steve Weston’s Plastic Warrior website also feature an excellent set of Mexican Wild West civilians or peasants.
A wet holiday week away from home led to an improvised gameboard in a tray, some found ‘logs’ and stones, a few dice and a handful of vintage OO/HO Airfix packed away in a tiny fishing tackle box or my “just in case” ….
A raid on family holiday art materials turned up watercolour paints, A3 watercolour sketch book paper and other scraps (cereal box cardboard, glue, coffee stirrers) to make an improvised hex game board.
The scenario was based around Brutish Redcoats versus Generican settlers …
This was a good chance over several evenings of “pick up and put away”, the joy of a portable game board.
It was a good chance to try out a hexed up version of Donald Featherstone’s two page “Close Wars” rules as an appendix to his 1962 book War Games.
For American customers the Toob set is around $12 dollars, but can also buy ‘bulk bags’ of some of these Safari Toob figures too.
Amazon UK retails these Toob sets for £12 to £15.
The Safari Toob website reliably informs that:
Arguably one of America’s most important landmarks, Jamestown was founded in 1607 by English settlers. While Jamestown is now celebrated as an important location for the development of the early American colonies, it wasn’t without its trials.
From 1609 to 1610, James struggled through a crippling lack of food known as the “Starving Time” which diminished the population by nearly 60%. However, the settlers were resilient, and over time Jamestown developed into one of the premier bastions of English civilization in America.
Especially useful in both the Powhatan Indian figures (to be featured in next blogpost) and the Jamestown Settlers sets are the tradesmen and the civilian women.
There are equally good figures (shown) from the later Wild West settlers Toob set.
Expensive but interesting character figures, full of conversion possibilities.
Several other companies produce plastic 17th Century figures, but you can always mass produce your own with Doug Shand’s brilliant idea of dollar store conversions of Airfix Australians: