Monday, October 13, 2008

Playin' Cowboys

Yesterday, for a change, I decided to do something rather different. I've been pretty well planted in the 16th Century for the past few years (something that has interested me for many, many years though, I just haven't always indulged myself in it always), but after watching "Appaloosa" (below) I decided it was time to pull out the old Western gear and do some playing with that. I haven't managed to indulge myself in THAT passion for several years, so it was about time. I still have most of my kit of course, so it's not as though I need to go out and buy or make anything. Just dust it off, oil it up and put it on.

I doubt that I'll get TOO excited about it, though I may wander over to the local Cowboy Action Shoot at the end of the month, and "one of these days" (when our schedules coincide) I'll take the class in Mounted Cowboy Action Shooting that the local Sheriff's Posse puts on. So far it's always been when I have other things scheduled (like last weekend, when we were doing the North Country Muster). I'll drag Bev along of course, as soon as she's able (she'll be a while, as she had surgery last week that has knocked her for a loop. Pray for her speedy recovery!), and we'll knock their socks off, I assure you. Well, at least we'll have fun.

So here are a few photo's that Neb took of Woodrow (who may just be a bit on the stout side for a cow pony...) and me having fun in the back pasture, playing "Cowboys". It would probably have to be either 1860's or early 1870's, what with me packing my cap-and-ball revolvers and a Henry Rifle. Someday we'll do a photo shoot with later-period stuff just to counter-balance things, but this will do for now. BTW, the saddle was made by my compadre RJ Preston of Fay, Oklahoma. It's an interpretation of the Thornton Grimsley Dragoon saddle of 1833. Close enough, it certainly works for a pretty long period of Westward adventures!



North Country Muster

We managed to survive our "School of the Renaissance Soldier: North Country Muster" on the first weekend of October. Unfortunately it also happened to be the first weekend of Autumn/Winter and rained pretty much throughout the weekend. Ah, authentic Northern European Weather to go with our event! Luckily it wasn't too cold, just very, very wet.

We didn't manage to attract huge numbers of new folks, but we did attract a few new recruits and bring back a few others, so we count this as a success. I believe we managed to muster somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 hardy individuals, willing to brave the elements in order to enjoy Life in the Sixteenth Century. Good thing we had lots of wool to wear.

For my own part, I was pretty pleased with the results. We mustered a total of 8 horse, of whom 6 were able to do all of the crazy Cavalry things that I love to inflict upon people (and horses). Not only did we get to practice our various drills such as wheels, column-to-line, etc., but we also for the first time under my command practiced "Dismounted" tactics. Meaning that we had four of the Horse armed with firearms who dismounted, handed the lead to their designated horse-holder, and went forth on foot to distract and annoy the Foote with our fire. Most enjoyable, especially as the Shotte (the musketeers) had just fired off their last charges, and were ready to head back to camp for more ammunition. Happy were we when we made this discovery! I wondered why they weren't shooting back...

Did I mention that it was wet? Most of the Horse (and the horses) were intelligent enough to billet in the barn. Your Rittmeister of Horse however was stubbornly insistent upon setting up canvas and living well... and damp. Setting up in the rain, taking down in the rain, then getting the wonderful chore of drying out LOTS of canvas in our garage. Thankfully we have a huge garage, and lots of poles to drape things from, as I believe we ended up with most of the tent-roofs to dry out. But dry they did, and all are now safely put away, with not a spot of mildew on them.

As always we ate well, thanks to our Victualer Cindy Madsen. Greater thanks cannot be transmitted, as a full belly makes the worst conditions tolerable. And the conditions weren't all that bad, so the wonderful (and plentiful) food made it all that much more fun. I think I always gain weight on these outings, even though I labour from dawn to dusk. Strange.

So as always, we had a wonderful (of soggy) time, the horses (as always) took a day to get used to the idea of what we were doing, and started to really click just about as it was time to pack up and leave. Alas. One of these days we'll figure out that we need THREE days of such training to get the horses' heads into the proper frame of mind. Next time.

Speaking of which, next time should be in April, at the Actions of the Lowe Countries in Sacramento. Just enough time to get everything cleaned up, dried out, and rust free. Maybe a few more recruits crazy enough to join us in our wild adventures, too.



Monday, October 6, 2008

Appaloosa (The Movie, Not The Horse)

I usually don’t use the term “Superb” to describe movies, since I generally much prefer to work on them than watch them, but I have to say that Appaloosa, starring Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen, is just that: Superb. My wife and I just got back from watching it this afternoon, and I was totally blown away by not only the skill of the director, cinematographer and the stars, but also the props, hair & makeup and costume people as well. Usually it’s in the Hair & Makeup department that things go south in period pieces, but they actually did a great job on this one. Even when background people may be just right, the Stars are usually seen in some horrid contemporary hair fashion that may look right to the modern viewer, but clashes with the period being done, and in 20 years will look downright silly. Not this time: it looks good.

Likewise the clothing. Even Renee Zellweger’s clothing is spot-on, down to the underwear (yeah, you get to see some of that, too). The men’s clothing is great, what with vests and ties everywhere. The boots were good two-piece boots of the period, and the spurs were the fine “California” rowel spurs of the day, not the clunky “Western Spurs” that are worn now-a-days. And the HATS! My God, they are GREAT! All sorts of hats of the period, but best of all is Viggo Mortensen’s hat, it is GREAT! I’m officially jealous of THAT hat.

Props did a fine job with the gunbelts, saddles, you name it, and the Armourer outdid himself. From Viggo’s 8-gauge double shotgun (them things are BIG, and his was indeed a bloody big shotgun!) to the fact that his carbine (1866 Winchester) and his pistol (1872 Colt “Open Top”) fire the same ammunition (.44 Henry Flat), thus making them very serviceable together. Ed Harris’ combination of a pair of 1873 Colt Single Action Army’s and a Winchester 1873 Short Rifle was nice too: again, they easily could be in the same caliber, since Colt brought out their SAA in .44 Winchester Center Fire (aka .44-40) in 1878, and the story takes place in 1882. Plenty of time for Harris’ character to pick those up, while Viggo Mortensen’s character would still be considered well armed. Heck, one guy even had a Spencer carbine! Little details like that make me all warm and fuzzy inside.

Other details were absolutely wonderful, for instance after one of the shoot-outs, which happens in the blink of an eye. Viggo says to Harris “That was fast”. Harris answers “Everybody could shoot!”. Most gunfights were that fast, none of this long, drawn-out Hollywood gunfight stuff, and this was true to life, at least when depicting professionals. A fair amount of lead flying, lots of blood, and not much time elapsing. Thank God Harris (the Director as well as Star, Writer and Producer) chose not to “Sam Peckinpaugh” us with morbid shots of slow-motion carnage. Fast and furious, then over.

The story itself was very well played out. Subdued, really. It’s a buddy story, with the girl who comes between them, but it’s not done the way one might expect. The two main characters of Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) are long-time partners. They don’t talk a lot, and don’t need to either. Lots of looks, a few words, and deep understanding of how the other man works is all there for the viewer to see. It’s the way films are SUPPOSED to be done, without a lot of talking. SHOW ME, don’t talk me to death, and this is exactly what Harris does in this film. He shows, doesn’t talk.

There is a lot to be said for this movie, and I really can’t think of a single bad thing to say about it, which for me is highly unusual to say the least. But I think that the very best thing I can say is that in the very last scene, with Everett standing in his “Shootist” stance, he looks straight out of Frederick Remington’s paintings, and is absolutely perfect in stance, clothing, weaponry, hair, you name it. On this, higher praise I cannot possibly give. He looked “Right”.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Mourning Taxi

My beloved old Warhorse, Taxi (AKA "Taximeter Cabriolet" and "Big Yellow Taxi") passed away in the early hours of September 14. He was somewhere in the neighborhood of 37 years old.

Many people will remember Taxi as a horse that anyone could ride, and who could qualify a Resusci-Annie as an expert horseman. He made a LOT of people think that they knew how to ride, in fact. He certainly taught me a lot about horses, riding, and life in general.

Taxi had at least four careers in his long lifetime. First and foremost he was a Hunter-Jumper. Not only did the previous owner inform me of this, Taxi informed me of this fact by taking me over a number of jumps, several of which I was not informed of in advance. And he could jump pretty high for his age (his mid-20's then), as a 4' jump was no problem at all for him.

His second career was as a movie star. I bought him, in fact, specifically to use for the Kevin Costner film "The Postman". He was the wrong colour, being a Buckskin/Dun and the job required a black horse, so we worked on that. I knew he was going to be a great horse when he didn't object to being dyed black. 18 bottles of Revlon, BTW, to dye a good-sized horse. He kept looking around behind him wondering where "that black horse" came from, and went to! Taxi worked on a number of films besides "The Postman" though, including "Ride with the Devil" (with Toby McGuire), and Mel Gibson's "The Patriot". In all of them Taxi's willing heart and steady personality shone through. I think Taxi's last production was working on the History Channel show "The Conquerors", in which my friend Henrik Olsgaard portrayed William of Normandy. Taxi of course portrayed his Trusty Warhorse, and did a wonderful job in that role, as always. I have no idea how many guys tried to buy him from me over the years, but I wasn't about to sell him, ever. He was my buddy forever, that one.

Taxi's third career was as a Cavalry horse for reenactments. He had learned his trade doing Cavalry in films, so it was easy for him to do. Just not so many horses around, and a bit more gunfire. Not much though. And while we were at it, we did some "train robbing" too. He didn't mind the size of the locomotives, the crowds, or the gunfire. The hiss of the steam wasn't exactly his thing though, and he tended to give the steam clouds a wide birth when possible.

His fourth career was as a jousting horse. He didn't do a lot of it himself, but he trained a lot of other horses, and people, how to do it. He could hit his mark, and run a straight line whenever called upon. All the other horses we've trained for this took a lot of time, Taxi just did it naturally.

He had a good retirement, too. Even after we decided that he was too feeble to really put anyone on board him anymore, he still wanted to come out and play with the other horses when we would drill. He would just pair up with one of his buddy horses, and form up with the rest of the horses for the drill. He knew it down pat, and once he knew what the specific maneuver was, he'd do it as well as the rest of the horses (the one's with people on board). The best was when we did a "Left On Into Line" move. In it, the first horse(s) in a column turn to the left and halt. The next horse(s) pass the first ones, turn left, and halt, and so on and so forth. Taxi was taking up the rear, and simply followed on, and parked on the right exactly where he was supposed to. No rider. I was so proud of him for that!

Over the years Taxi also was the "go-to" horse for my daughter Alexandra and my wife Neb. He taught them a lot, too. But even after I had pretty much replaced Taxi as my primary horse (I didn't want to wear him out by riding him hard, so while on "The Patriot" I bought Twister to take his place. After Twister didn't work out, I bought Woody, who is still my Warhorse), Taxi was always first in my affections. He may have become the "spare" horse, but rather than, as in most cases, the "spare" being the problem horse, Taxi was the easy horse to ride. And he loved doing things for people, teaching them how to use their aids, and being a generally wonderful "lesson horse", as it were. He excelled at that, as with all things.

But his heart finally gave out. He had suffered from congestive heart failure for a few years, thus his retirement, but was otherwise healthy. But over the past few weeks he had begun to lose weight, and wasn't as spry as he usually was. I got into the habit of every morning when I went down to the barn to feed the horses of kissing him oh his forehead, and letting him nuzzle me back. The last time was Friday morning, as I had to fly to Reno to attend my nephew's wedding just south of there. So it was my fate to not be there when he passed away, but he was with good friends and family, people who loved him. They saw him off gently.

Thanks for letting me pour this out, I know that many people would want to know of Taxi's passing. Raise a glass in his honour, to wish him quick passage and godspeed to the green pastures of Fiddler’s Green, where all good horses go.

I'll have more to post, I'm writing up a proper eulogy for the old soul now, but this will do for the moment. I just need to get something up for him now, while the pain is fresh.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Weekend in Arcadia

The other weekend, I got together with friends from Goode’s Company/ Ravenrook/ Academia della Spada for a bit of fun camping and campaigning near Port Townsend, WA. Friend Nathan Barnett (the “Cpt. Goode” of Goode’s Co.) decided that since our local Renaissance Faire wasn’t happening this year (for various and sundry reasons), and we wanted to get folks kick-started for our School of the Renaissance Soldier in October, that it would be a grand idea to hold a little “prep” event in the mean time, thus “Arcadia” was born.

The site we used was quite beautiful, with woods and a large hayfield to drill on. Or so we thought. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to use the horses on the hayfield, as the actual owners of the site (as opposed to the folks who were long-term renters of the site, whom we were going through for the land use) declared that the horses were going to ruin the crop of hay. I call balderdash, but not my fight, so I stayed out of it, but in a way it turned out very well in the long run.

Among the participants in the event were a number of folks who were total virgins to the reenactment, as opposed to “Ren Faire”, scene. I think that many were quite interested in the idea of actually keeping all of one’s period clothing on during the event, rather than just wearing wool and heavy layers during the heat of the day and then changing into cotton jeans and “T” shirts for the evening. Some (who I imagine didn’t show) were astonished at the concept I’m sure, but there it is. I guess the difference between Ren Faire and reenactment is that one is playing, one is portraying. I’m not sure exactly how the semantics would fall out on which is which, but there it is. One is occupied with a portrayal full time all weekend, the other is only while the paying public is in sight, and pretty much only for them.

I had concluded some time early in the planning stages that the idea of my Horse being lancers wasn’t exactly a great idea, since the maximum number I figured I could count on was three. So rather than bother with that sort of thing, I packed carbines and pistols into the truck for Bev and I to use while portraying Harquebusiers, rather than our usual “Launtiers” of the late-16th Century. One of the advantages of this was that we didn’t have to wear armour if we didn’t feel like it, and considering the humidity of the weekend, we didn’t. So instead, it was our buff coats and felt hats, rather than steel for us! I also decided to slum by wearing my “2nd Best Suit” and boots, rather than my nice ones. Mostly it was due to the fact that it was going to be hot, and I didn’t want to wear my hot heavy lined top boots when I had a pair of perfectly serviceable boots made out of much lighter, and unlined, leather laying about that could also be easily turned down for more comfort yet. Add my old leather jerkin and “viola!” I was a Harquebusier!

The carbines we carried were ones made by Dale Shinn of Sacramento, California. I carried the wheellock rifled carbine, Bev the little flintlock. The wheellock had an interesting history. My then-girlfriend’s sister Jeannette had taken photos of Dale and his friends at the Frazier Park Black Powder Rendezvous back in 1976 or so and given them to me shortly thereafter. Dale and company were clothed in their best 1630’s outfits, with matchlock and wheellock firearms, and it drove me absolutely wild with envy to see the pictures (I still have them around somewhere). I had already seen Dale featured in a couple of “Guns and Ammo” magazine articles by Garry James (another member of the group in the pictures: I still have those magazines around too) and was very much in love with the idea of owning my own wheellock made by Dale. A few years later, after having met, and become fast friends, with Dale, he sold me the self-same carbine he had been carrying in the photograph. Being young and dumb at the time, I allowed my friend Roy to talk me out of the carbine, as “I had a wheellock and he did not.” Some years later Roy in turn sold the carbine to our close friend Carl Ontis (who had tried to con me out of it during the short time I had owned it), and then more years passed, and I acquired it for myself again. And there it shall stay! It’s a nice little carbine with one of Dale’s “1630” locks on it. They weren’t all that great, but he was trying for a production piece at the time, and it was fairly easy to make in large numbers.

The carbine Bev was carrying is of much later production, but also by Dale Shinn. He made it for me to give to my wife as a present, something she was less than impressed with I’m afraid, but Bev certainly likes it! It is very light, having a light 20-gauge barrel (as opposed to the heavy .50 rifled barrel of my wheellock), and the stock is configured so as to be quite handy to shoot one-handed. It has a very early style of flintlock on it, still retaining the “belly” of the wheellock. Both are of styles common in the early decades of the 17th Century, and both of the carbines are fitted with sling-bars and rings on the left sides, so are able to be carried by the swivel-snap on a carbine sling.

We also had my pair of Jacobean-lock pistols, plus our other wheellock pistols to boot. We were fairly well outfitted with firearms, for a change! And lucky for us, friend Rob/Raph showed up Saturday afternoon with his horses to play, so I outfitted him with a pistol, and he became our “horse-holder” for the event.

As noted above, we were ejected from the hayfield, so on Sunday of the event we had to make use of the woods instead. There were LOTS of nice trails through the woods, making for some rather interesting games. The basic plan was “we’ll see what transpires”. The pikes were tromping through the woods over trails, and we found them to be a most marvelous prey. There proved to be an old railroad levee cutting the edge of the property, which made a nifty “high road”, and we made the most of it by setting several “ambuscadoes” on it. Bev and I dismounted while Rob held the horses a few score yards up the road. Nice for the Foote to march by while we shot at them, I must say. Of course, they didn’t always notice (my pyrite wasn’t always properly contacting the wheel on my lock, thus several misfires), but we had fun dismounting, setting the ambuscado up, firing at the passing pikemen, then rushing off to mount and ride helter-skelter to the next spot. It was a hoot, and we got pretty wound up from it, but not as wound up as Bev’s horse Darshan. He REALLY got excited with the fun of running through the woods, up and over game trails, and chasing (and being chased) by the “Boggards” of the woods. When he got so excited that he started bucking, we figured it was about time for us to call it a day. Stinker. But it WAS his first real experience in doing woods work, where as my horse Woody and Gigi, Raph’s mare, were old hands at it. I guarantee that Darshan will get LOTS more experience of this nature!

We enjoyed the heck out of the “Forest Fight”, and gave me pause to consider the similarities with conflicts between “disciplined troops” and various forms of savages/irregular troops on the other hand. Setting ambushes, sneaking around and watching one’s foe come to you is exciting and interesting in a positive way, while marching into the unknown is exciting in a rather negative way. It was nice to be the irregular troops this time!

Another aspect was that we were finally doing “Light Horse” work. Usually at Elizabethan-era reenactments, when doing Horse, we portray much heavier gradations of the arm, usually in the form of Demi-Lancers, AKA cheveaux legér, who were well armoured and usually armed with a heavy lance. This time we got to be sans-armour, and with carbines rather than lances, and we dismounted to fight rather than charging into the mix. I suspect that the horses much preferred this idea, too. We definitely need to do more of this!

All photos, except the very first one, are by Byron Dazey and may not be reproduced without his permission.

Romance Writers of America: San Francisco Adventure

At the end of last month I had the interesting experience of being a presenter for a portion of the “Romance Writers of America” conference, held in San Francisco. The group I actually spoke for is “Beau Monde”, which specializes in Historical Romances (thus explaining why on Earth I was invited to speak there.) At any rate, it was an adventure to be sure!

Most of the endeavor involved getting myself and my “props” (which constituted some score or more muskets, rifles, pistols and revolvers, several swords and four saddles complete with tack) from the environs of Seattle to downtown San Francisco. I certainly wasn’t about to haul all of this inventory via airline, so drive I did. Fairly long drive, but at least this time I wasn’t hauling horses cross-country, as I usually seem to find myself doing. I spent the night before the event at friend Nick’s house in Berkeley, where of course we stayed up too late talking about “stuff”. Then it was off at 0-dark-thirty to beat the traffic into SF. Made it to the Marriot with no issues, and took the Valet Parking option. The joy of course was in hauling all of the aforesaid impedimenta from point “A” in the lobby to point “B” in the bowels of the hotel, without exactly knowing where point “B” was. That in itself was a further adventure, but I got there eventually.

The presentation went fine, of course, entitled something like “Firearms of the Golden Age” or some catchy phrase like that which my host “Kalen Hughes” came up with. The room to which I was assigned was fairly small and packed full of rather attractive and better yet very attentive ladies. I can’t say that I was at all ill-disposed towards the situation. However, due to the exertions of getting everything set up, plus the poor air-conditioning (it was SF after all, they’re not used to heat) and that the room was full of bodies, I was sweating like a horse. I hope it didn’t show too much.

What I found most amusing was that, while I had gone well out of my way to ensure that I brought the coolest, most interesting and famous of the firearms I own to show off to these ladies, the one thing they were most interested in was of course the one that was the last minute “what the heck, I’ll throw it in” one. I should have known, of course. So among my wheellock horse-pistols, matchlock and flintlock muskets, Henry and Springfield rifles, Colt’s revolvers and the like, what were they interested in? The tiny little flintlock “Turn Off” pistol. Again, I should have known. It was made at some point during the Regency period or there-about, and they were quite popular not only as a pocket pistol but as a “muff gun”, to be secreted in the fur muff that was so fashionable in the period. In a day and age where casual violence was in fact much greater than it is today (contrary to modern mythology), carrying a small, handy “equalizer” was a smart thing to do. And, obviously, my audience somewhat appreciated that fact, thus their interest. I found it quite agreeable to have been fortunate enough to hit upon “just the right thing” for their interest, even if it was completely by accident.

My other presentation, later in the day, was as a member of a panel of speakers on the subject of historical horsemanship. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I can’t recall the names of all of my other co-panelists (I recall that one is a Veterinarian who is also a historical romance writer), but the lady who pretty much lead the discussion was a fine lady by the pen name of Sophia Nash. All of my co-panelists were quite knowledgeable on horses and especially on women’s roles with horses in various periods of history. I brought the hardware (saddles and tack) and discussed military horsemanship through during the past 400 or so years (briefly, as that’s a long time period to cover). Of course we went longer than the time allotted to the session, which was fine by me, as it gave me more license to pontificate, but alas, it eventually came to an end. I must admit that I enjoyed the lime-light, even with the stresses of getting things set up, torn down, and packed away again.

After the end of THAT part of the conference, and after having to haul my stuff over hill and dale (well, actually just up and down various floors: that place is huge!) my eldest daughter Elizabeth arrived on the scene. She’s presently working at an internship in the City during the summer while awaiting the start of her last year of law school at Golden Gate University. It was great to see her, and get a chance to wander around the hotel a bit to see what other things were going on with regards to the conference. There were LOTS of women there! As my old friend Steve Moffatt (who was there to give a presentation on armour) stated: “Man, this place is full of women! YIKES!”

Another nice thing was seeing many old friends from the Renaissance Military Society, from when we used to be a part of St. Michael’s Guild at the old Northern Renaissance Faire. Kalen, who was running the “Beau Monde” show, was an old hand from the RMS and had arranged it all, so it was old home week. Even Eyore Danny stayed to socialize! I was astonished…and pleased, to be sure.

I ended up going in to the Ball Room for the big “Signing” session. When I walked in, the sound resembled high-caliber hail on a corrugated tin roof! Lord, but was it loud in there! The ball room wasn’t exactly designed to suppress THAT much noise, I guess. Anyway, I managed to find both Kalen and Sophia in the press, and also one of the ladies who had attended my first class, Monica McCarty, so I bought their books for my wife to enjoy. (Check out her blog here on the subject of Romance Novels.) Eventually it was time to leave, though. I conned Elizabeth into doing the driving back to her bungalow in Oakland (she’s used to SF traffic), where her husband Jeremiah had dinner waiting for us. After a nice visit, it was hit the sack, then make the loooooong drive home the next day. Thank goodness I had the next day off to try to recover!

Monday, July 7, 2008

American Eunuch

This one is going to be a bit off-track here, as it’s more a musing about modern man (not woman, or human-kind, but men specifically) and our state of existence. So if this sort of rambling is of no interest, well, off you go!

I’ve been struck of late how many modern American males, especially those of the under-30 set (specifically those who indulge in the fashion of shaving their heads) look to me like enormous babies. I don’t mean that in a derogatory fashion, they don’t ACT like babies, they just look like them. Round, bald, and chubby. Then today I was having a conversation with my wife about two cats of ours, one a tomcat (a new arrival and soon to be altered), the other long since neutered. And of course the tomcat is buff, hard, and skinny while the neutered cat is, while not rotund, certainly not skinny by any manner or means. I’ve of course also noticed how stallions are hard muscled no matter how large, and have attitude pouring out of their sweat glands, while geldings are soft muscled (even if enormously strong) and much easier to deal with (thus their popularity, stallions being a pain and moreover dangerous.) At any rate, the conversation about the tomcat struck a chord, and I had an epiphany: American Males are Eunuchs.

If you think about it, and compare any modern American male today to a photograph of his grandfather in WWII without shirt on, you’ll probably notice a great and grave difference. Men of two generations ago were hard, wiry and fit. Men of today are anything but. Even men who work out regularly and are buff aren’t skinny like their ancestors were. We are descended of hard men, we have become soft, and I mean that physically, not in other ways (that would be a rant for another day, but I suspect it’s already been done to death). Besides having a very sedentary lifestyle, what has happened?

I guess I could blame TV for one, since most men find it much easier to flop in front of a TV with a six-pack of horrid swill called “beer” (Joke: “Why is American beer like sex in a canoe? It’s $%^ing close to water!”), with all of the alcohol and calories, but none of the taste and substance of real beer and ale. They watch professional athletes do outrageous feats of prowess that can only be dreamed of by the watcher, since by now he’s 50-100 pounds over weight and totally out of shape. He can pretend, though, and claim that the team is his own, and that his opinions (rather than his money) matter. In the end, TV and professional sports are only a part of the issue, and are probably more a symptom rather than the disease.

Another thing I could (and will) blame is High Fructose Corn Sweetener. Nasty stuff, that; you’re far better off with sugar as it will only rot your teeth. HFCS is worse in so many ways, but one of the big evils is that it REALLY seems to be responsible for the fattening up of Americans. Drink a 32oz. soda, and you get enough calories to sink a battleship. I know some fellows who do that every day, several of them, and they wonder why they’re fat. Ugh

I could also rant about milk and all of the hormone additives that the Dairy Industry puts into them. Gee, it’s been pretty well established that the placenta isn’t a barrier, it’s a pathway for drugs, and so are the milk glands. Want to increase your intake of estrogen? Drink lots of milk, boys! That will get your “moobs” growing, and your muscles slackening! Gads…

On top of that, when was the last time you heard of a fight in school (that wasn’t an assault by members of one ethnic group against another, that is.)? Seems as though the old-time “boyhood rights of passage” like getting into a one-on-one after-school fight are strongly suppressed these days, too. Interesting how men seem to be neutered from one side by food and activities, and neutered on the other side by the Powers That Be.

So what is it? Was the result of World Wars I and II so horrific that the Illuminati decided to “do something” to reduce the combativeness of young Western men? (and that presents the next question, being “How the hell would they do that?”) Is it just a result of affluence and decadence? It certainly seems as though Suburban Males are the chief victims of this trend, since inner-city “youths” seem to have sufficient testosterone to merrily engage in plenty of warfare of their own, and rural lads seem to be still working hard enough on the farm (though that of course is an ever-shrinking minority) to stay pretty fit and engage in bar fights on their night off, while Suburban men and boys are stuck in front of the TV or computer screen pretending that they’re doing wild and wooly things.

I’m not suggesting that getting into fights is necessarily a good thing, but it does seem to be something that was engaged in a LOT in the past, and now it’s restricted pretty much to Gangsta’s killing one another over turf or being “dissed”, or the occasional bar-room brawl in a Cowboy bar in the sticks over some girl. It used to happen A LOT, be it gentlemen having a very formal duel or neighbors duking it out over the fence-line, but now any of that sort of thing in polite society gets you arrested. It’s weird how effeminate we’ve become. I suppose it’s all a part and parcel of the trend towards “metro-sexual”, where one is neither male nor female, but rather a “sexual being”. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t see how that works, myself. In any case, so be it. I’m not ranting on the politics of that presently, just on why Men are no longer Men in our society. Then again, neither are women “women” any more, which is the odd part. Women are more masculine than they were, men are more feminine than they were, and the West thinks that’s just fine. Other cultures (read “Islam”) don’t think that way at all, and is full of hard men full of fight. I hope that this quest to keep us from killing one another doesn’t result in our becoming the sheep for the Barbarian Hordes to come in and rule.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Armour, Parades and Historical Precedent

A few weeks ago my joust partner and I participated in a little parade in our local town of Poulsbo, WA., along with our friends of Goode’s Company and others. Although the theme of the parade was “Viking Fest” there we were in our 16th Century kit, probably about as close to real Vikings as there were present, sad to say. Bev and I were riding our horses and wearing our jousting armour, while wife Neb and husband Brian (my wife, her husband) were on foot handing out flyers for the local Renaissance Faire. The whole affair took us something on the order of 3-31/2 hours to complete, from the time we put on armour and mounted up to the time we were done with the whole mess and could dismount and take off the armour. The worst part of it was that it was an unseasonably hot day for this part of the World, being 85º+ in mid-May. I don’t think it’s gotten anywhere near that warm since then. A good time was had by all, but it got me to thinking and comparing.

I have worn armour fairly regularly for many years, this being probably the third or fourth suit of armour that I’ve owned in my lifetime. It’s not terribly heavy, but it is fairly complete (for the upper half at least, thus it’s really only a “Half-Suit”). The whole is made of mild steel, rather than spring steel, as Bev’s armour is. Of course her armour is a fine rendition of late-15th Century Milanese Export armour, which was made to defend against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but not bullets. My armour is more of the weight of late-16th Century armours which indeed were designed to protect the wearer (at least a little bit) from bullets fired from the arquebuses and pistols in use during that day. So when we were marching in the parade, I made note of the fact that it began to really hurt my left arm and shoulder to lift it up. My right arm wasn’t so bad, but the left was definitely feeling the “pinch” of the armour weighing upon my neck and shoulders. By the time we reached our trailer to dismount, my left arm was starting to really smart, and it was painful to rein my horse. Ouch.

Which got me to pondering some of the comments made by 16th Century writers concerning armour of the day. One of them, Francois de la Noue, pointed out that in his youth, he had known older gentlemen well into their 60’s who could wear their armour all day without fatigue, while “in these modern days” a man of 35 could hardly wear the full armour considered necessary for more than a few hours. I could relate! He further noted that in response to firearms, men “sheathed themselves in stithes” (anvils) for protection against bullets, but to little effect.

Another military writer, Sir Roger Williams, noted that while the breast and back plates, as well as the helmet and perhaps the first few lames of the tassets (the pieces below the breastplate which covers the abdomen) should be “pistol proof at the least”, the rest of the armour, be it pauldrons and vambraces (covering the shoulders and arms) or the cuisses (covering the thighs) should “be as light as possible”. Pretty much just enough to defend against a pike or a sword, but not enough to deflect a pistol ball, let alone a musket ball. But the price of wearing armour that was proof against such bullets was too high in the form of weight, as he further pointed out that a horse would have enough work carrying a man encumbered by the weight of armour he suggested for 10 hours, let alone armour sufficiently heavy to be proof all around.

At any rate, all of this got me to pondering things, and what I plan to do in the future with my armour. For now I will of course keep my heavy pauldrons and vambraces, for they are rather expensive to replace. But when I do get around to replacing things in my armour, I fully intend to go with spring steel. Not only much lighter, but stronger and less likely to dent under the forces of an oncoming lance. The down side of course is that spring is somewhat more expensive. Alas! So for now I’m sticking with my mild steel pauldrons, vambraces and gauntlets, but for the future, Spring Steel!



Monday, April 14, 2008

Actions of the Lowe Countries

I just (well, a week ago) returned home from my adventures in California attending the School of the Renaissance Soldier:Actions of the Lowe Countries IV, which was held at Gibson Ranch Park just outside of Sacramento. It was founded four years ago by myself and Patrick Gaul (who is the present Muster Master of the event), based upon a concept by Nick Worthington. We had participants from not only up here in Washington State, but also from Wisconsin and even one hearty fellow who flew out from Massachusetts! I had driven down hauling the horses with my squire and protege, while wife, pard and a compadre flew down. It took us two days to drive, took them about two hours to fly. Hmmm...

The School of the Renaissance Soldier was designed as a means of gathering together as many like-minded individuals and groups as possible in a single setting to practice the military arts of the 16th and early 17th Centuries, something usually not possible with the small groups generally the norm in reenacting circles. We have thus managed to muster some pretty impressive numbers of both Pike and Shotte, actually sufficient to be able to form a "Square" of Pikes with "Wings" of Shotte around them. My own endeavour in this has been to experiment with 16th and 17th Century drill and tactics with Horse, both Heavy and Light. Although we're not quite up to critical mass on numbers of Horse, never the less we've all gained experience over the years with our experiments, and had LOADS of fun with it!

We tried out two new experiments this year with Horse. First was from the beginning to separate the Light from the Heavy Horse. Since Light Horse is primarily for scouting, harassing and otherwise annoying the enemy, I felt that they should do just that. Under the skilled hand of Corporal Berg, that's exactly what they did. The Heavy Horse, under either myself or Cornette Thompson, practiced the fine art of keeping a straight, steady Line of Battle at all gaits in readying for The Charge. LOTS harder to do in practice than in theory, I might add. We also practiced various maneuvers which would bring us from Column of March to Line of Battle at various gaits. Wheel's, Into Line's, About's etc. were practiced and eventually all got the hang of it. Saturday was pretty grueling, but we survived. Sunday was great, and we combined to practiced the "Charge Foote" while Foote responded with "Charge for Horse! Present Carrots!" whereupon we took all of the horses through the infantry ranks, while the infantrymen held out carrots to their four-footed friends. It was very useful in sacking out the horses in preparation for the Tactical later in the day.

The second major experiment was to attach a unit of Dragoons to the Horse. All of the Dragoons wrangled together (under "Reformado" Nick Worthington) had been cavalrymen at earlier events, so I had no problem with the fiction of them being mounted infantry. We of course didn't have sufficient horses to allow them to ride into the field, dismount and fight on foot, but it wasn't a stretch of the imagination for us. Nick outfitted his small detachment with caliver and carabine, with a border-lance performing the duties of a half-pike. The Dragoons performed very well, and gave both the Horse something solid to rally upon after being recalled from their Charges against the Foote, and it gave the Foote something somewhat less fluid than the Horse to maneuver against. It was a very successful experiment, and I anticipate a great deal of discussion and effort being put into putting together something somewhat more permanent for the future than the rather ad-hoc formation we enjoyed. It certainly gave a great deal of credence to the opinions of Sir Roger Williams, the Admiral Coligny and J. J. von Walhausen during the period!

I'm sure that over the next few weeks I'll be discoursing at length on these various things, so stay tuned (or not, as the case may be.)



(photos in this entry by Neb, Patrick Gaul, Zephram Gomez, Peter Nelson and Nathan Barnett)