Wednesday, 16 May 2012

There`s gold in them thar hills.

I have always been a lover of the outdoors, and like nothing better than a few nights under canvas. Until two years ago, I had a two man tent, but got fed up having to do the duckwalk to get in and out of the darned thing, so I went out and bought a six man..........just for my wife and myself. The first time we used it we were overjoyed at the fact that we could actually stand up in it, and the addition of a canopy meant that we could sit inside the tent when the rain was lashing down, with the door rolled up, and the groundsheet stayed dry.
                                                                    The old tent.

One of my favourite places is the Lowther Hills in Dumfries and Galloway, a beautiful place when the sun is shining, but dour and cold in bad weather. A couple of miles west of the village of Wanlockhead, the highest village in Scotland, is my preferred camping place, and this is where I met Nelson.
Nelson is in his late seventies, but he travels from his home on the Isle of Wight, all the way up to the Lowthers, and farther, to spend a few weeks panning for gold, which is what he was doing when we first met.
                                                                   The new tent.

He showed me the gold he had panned there over the weeks of his stay, and I was so impressed that I decided there and then that I would be there the next weekend with all I needed to pan the river..........and a permit. From the end of July 2010, my wife and I were camped in the hills most weekends, as I cultivated a bad back and sciatica, because, rest assured, digging rocks, gravel and sand is hard work. What did I find for my weeks of dedicated digging?.................sod all!.............but I`m not someone who gives up easily. 2011 didn`t see us camping there at all, due to work commitments and really bad weather, so my permit ran out.
                                                       Yours truly. "Is that a speck?"

This year I hope we will get out there among the sheep and the red grouse, weather permitting, but, having renewed my permit, I have been panning on five occasions this year, and have found some gold, two large flakes, a small nugget and some specks. The secret is to dig down to bedrock if possible, because the gold lies really deep, among black sand, so each visit sees two holes I started getting deeper and deeper.

Today my latest piece of equipment arrived from the USA, an aluminium sluice onto which you put the stuff from the river bed. The gold, being heaviest, drops through mesh and get trapped in fibre matting, while all the lighter material gets washed through the sluice. With a sluice you can process lots more material than is possible from continually filling your pan and slooshing it out.
BTW "Slooshing" is a very Scottish word which you won`t find in any dictionary, but it really fits the bill in the context of gold panning.

I know that I will never get rich panning for gold in the Lowthers, unless I trip over the mother of all nuggets, but it ticks all my boxes. So wish me luck lovely people, and I will keep you informed of my success...............or not.

The finished vignette.

At last I have got round to a post about the vignette I made for my son John Jnr. Sorry that there is only one photo, but of the few I took, the one shown is the best.
John got an acrylic display cube for the vignette, and when he told me it`s dimensions, I realised that I would have to make another base for the figures. Mind you, I did tell him the size of the first base, so, I blame him for the double work. Still, the old base will do for another vignette.
I promised a post on the making of the colours, then decided just to describe what materials I used and how I went about the making of them.
The pikes were made from 2.5mm copper wire, easy to straighten, and as they will be protected by an acrylic cube, they will be safe from being bent. I had made an Italian meal (eh?) and had an empty tomato puree tube to hand, which, when opened out, washed and flattened, became the material for the flag. First I made the crown and lion finials on the pikes using Green Stuff, then super glued the edge of the foil flag to it, sticking my finger and thumb together in the process. That was fun! The whole flags were then primed, painted and bent to shape. That was the part I dislike most out of the way.
The figures I then painted "toy soldier style", i.e. flat paint, no shading or blending, and none of that dipping  that wargamers are so fond of these days, because I like my toy soldiers to have that traditional Wm Britain look.
The next stage was to stick the colours to their respective subalterns and glue all the figures into their cut out spaces on the base before coating the whole area with a mixture of PVA glue mixed with filler and acrylic paint and allowing to dry. I had left the stone and its base until last as I didn`t want it in the way when I textured the base, so that was the last piece to be glued into place.
All that remained to be done was the lanyards, thin wire with Green Stuff tassles, twisted onto the pikes and painted gold.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Father and Son Weekend - It was hoofing!!

All done and dusted now, and the SNCOs of 45 Commando really know how to organise a good time for their guests. Friday night was the "meet and greet", buffet and beer, and lots of it. I got acquainted with the RSM, Steff Moran, and sonny boy had told him all about the vignette I am making as his leaving present to the Mess, and Steff said that he would like me to make something similar for him, asking how much it would cost.
He was wearing a nice red 45 Cdo tee shirt which I fancied, and I told him that that would be payment enough, but he had to hand it over there and then. Without batting an eyelid he asked me to go to the smoking area outside where he proceeded to swap tee shirts with me. What a sport. When we went back into the bar even the bar staff looked aghast, after all, no-one had ever taken the shirt off their RSMs back before. The photo shows us after the swap, and yes, our eyes are slightly glazed. I got to bed at around 2am.

Saturday after a brunch, we began the activities organised for us, in what can only be described as a blustery, rainy day, and our group`s first stance was the commando slide and abseil. For these we had to walk to the top of the artificial ski slope where the wind and rain really lashed at us as we waited our turn, but all went well and our next stance was to be the SAT Trainer, like a huge video shoot em up game where all the weapons in current use can be fired without the need for live ammo. The recoil on each is provided through the use of compressed gas, CO2, operating the working parts, and laser target acquisition tots up the scores on a computer. I had a go on the LMG and then on a weapon which I had heard so much about, the machine gun grenade launcher which can fire various explosive heads up to 2000 metres, and which has been used to good effect in Afghanistan.

Next we went for a ride in a BV , over the rough terrain course. This is an all terrain vehicle, capable of a 50mph top speed on the flat, and, we were told, able to climb a 60 degree slope. They can also negotiate water obstacles. The noise from the engine necessitates the use of ear defenders. The BV is used to good effect in Afghanistan as a mobile mortar platform.

Our fourth and last stance was the 25mm range where we fired 9mm pistol, SA80 and LMG (Minime) in a competition shoot. I got 89 out of a possible maximum of 90, and came second to someone who had never fired a weapon before in his life. Both my son and I suspect there was a bit of jiggery pokery going on.

In the evening there was the Regimental Dinner, and my son, being the most senior WO2 at the function was to take his place at the top table, and I, as his guest, was to sit beside him. All the other SNCOs were seated at their tables and stood as we were led in by a piper, this, I think, was because the RSM is Scottish. The meal was fabulous, worthy of any gourmet restaurant, in Marine speak it was "Hoofing". My son had the task of making the loyal toast to the Queen, something which he had never done before, and which, in Royal Marines tradition, is done sitting down, the only service in all our armed forces who are allowed to do so. We were piped out for a break in the bar, then piped back in again to find a small box on every person`s place mat. The boxes contained a reminder for us of a lovely evening, a pair of 45 Commando cuff links, which I will cherish for always. It was then back to the bar for a few drinks, well, more than a few, and when the bar finally closed, I think most of us were finding it difficult to speak coherently. HOOFING!!!

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Vignette - Progress

The heads and arms are now on the figures, soldering, filing and the attack of the Dremel have occurred, followed by polishing, and some are primed for painting. The two colour bearers still have to be fitted with their carry sash for holding the colours, hence the reason for them still being shiny. I have got on with making the base on which all the figures and the stone will stand.

I would normally cut out recesses in a plywood base so that the figure bases end up flush with the surface of the base, but this time I have glued some card together to the thickness required, cut out the recesses for figures and flagstones on which stands the stone, and stuck it to the base.

As for the stone, my old peepers are too far gone, even with my specs on, to paint the face of the granite, so, clever old me, got sonny boy to ask the unit photographer, who is a mate of his, to provide me with a photo at 90 degrees to the face of the stone, and to print it out so that the stone itself is about 95mm high. This I stuck to a piece of balsa wood and cut it out on my bandsaw, (what would I do without that old machine which, by the way, I bought in 1986?) The next stage was to make up some of my "muck", a mixture of papier mache, PVA glue and a touch of filler, which I applied to the back, sides and top of the stone, and drying it with my good lady`s hair dryer.

Left to do.
1. Finish the colour bearers and prime them.
2. Make the colours.
3. Paint all the figures, (toy soldier style).
4. Finish the rough cut areas of the stone with colour and dry brush.
5. Glue all figures to the base, and finish off the scenics.
6. Transport the finished vignette to Arbroath at the weekend, hand over to sonny boy in the knowledge that it will become part of the Corps for always.

Better crack on then eh?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Vignette - Making a start.

The photo shows the figures I am using to make the vignette for my son, his leaving present to the Sgt`s Mess. These are just some of the 54mm toy soldier figures I used to produce years ago as Pentland Miniatures, and I had to get my melting pot and casting machine out of mothballs again as I was short of the officer bodies.
I originally sculpted the masters without heads and arms, in various poses and uniforms. Three different heads and different arms made for many and varied permutations. The figures shown will be, (left to right) the commanding officer, subaltern Queen`s Colour, subaltern Regimental Colour, RSM, (the only one cast from a gravity mould as a one piece, minus head), WO2 (sonny boy) and two Colour Sergeants with SA80 at the slope. The arms for each are in front of the respective figure.
There is still some cleaning up to do before sticking the heads in place and attaching the arms, then I will give them a polish before priming them for painting. The Queen`s & Regimental colours will be the subject of another post, and the projected day for completion is Thursday night, March 1st, so I will have to knuckle down after coming home from work.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Father and son weekend.

My son John, has invited me on a father and son weekend, laid on by the sergeant`s mess at 45 Commando RM. They held one in 2010 which I attended. Arriving at RM Condor in Arbroath on the Friday, there was a meet and greet in the mess that night at which a fantastic hot buffet was provided, after which we had a few beers and a pub quiz.

The Saturday was taken up by doing various activities. We were divided into four teams of fathers and sons, and our team firstly did a rock climb followed by an eighty foot abseil, then it was off to the S.A.T. range, every little boy`s dream as it is like a massive arcade video shooting game, but using the real thing. The weapons are hooked up to a CO2 supply, simply to give a realistic recoil when the trigger is pulled. A laser acquires the target and hits are totted up by computer. A great piece of kit.

After a bag lunch, we were off for a ride in a BV, a tracked vehicle which bends in the middle. When I say "bends", it is actually one tracked vehicle towing another, but unlike the conventional towbar set up, they are connected by hydraulic bars. We were taken over the rough terrain course and through water obstacles, a wild ride! The BV will easily climb a 60 degree slope, but I think that the steepest gradient we did was 45 degrees.

The BV ride ended at the 30 metre range where we were to have a shoot as part of a competition to find the best shot among the fathers. I have fired the SA80 before at a previous F & S weekend at 40 Commando. I had, in my time in the Corps, been instructed in the SLR, 7.62 of stopping power, and knew what a recoil it had, but I was surprised to find that the SA80, even though it fires a smaller round, has quite a kick to it as well.

We were given a 30 round magazine to fire in the prone position. This was to get a group on the target, and find a point to aim off so that we were hitting the centre of the target, since we weren`t to alter the sights. On inspection of my target, my group was about the size of a 50p piece, and I knew that I hadn`t lost my shooting skills.

Another full magazine, this time standing, and we were ready to do the competition shoot, the same thing all over again, only this time at competition targets. There was a lot of ammunition left, and we just had to fire it off, but with the MINIME, a great little machine gun which I wanted to take home with me. Obviously, I wasn`t allowed to. For me, the shooting was the highlight of the day.

On the Saturday evening we attended a regimental dinner in the mess. Best bib and tucker, and all the SNCOs in mess dress, we sat down to a wonderful meal, drank good wine, and the port was passed about five times I think, by which time I was quite tipsy having had a couple of beers before the meal.

The mess president stood up and said that we were probably anxious to know who had won the shooting competition, then went about telling us in true X Factor fashion by drawing it out from fourth place to first. At the end of my shoot that day, I had four rounds left when I finished firing in the standing position, a possible 40 points lost, but not enough to keep me from getting my mitts on the trophy, an engraved pewter hip flask.

After the dinner it was back to the bar for a few more beers and games of "nails". Now to explain how the game is played would take another post, but the outcome of each game is that the loser buys a round of drinks, something which, luckily never happened to me. We got our heads down around three in the morning, got up and had breakfast and later said our goodbyes to each other. All in all a great weekend, and I am looking forward to March 4th.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Recently the men of 45 Commando Royal Marines held a service to the memory of all ranks of the unit who have given their lives in the service of Queen and country since 1971. Some of these men were known to me, and, more recently, to my son John, a WO2 in the corps at present, and in the colour party on the day of the dedication of a large granite stone, on which the names of the fallen have been chiseled.

John will be moving from 45 Commando to CTCRM in March. It is the custom to present the Sergeant's mess with a little something for the mess display cabinet, and he has asked me to make a vignette of the scene on the day of the dedication, using my own range of 54mm toy soldiers which I used to sell some years ago. Obviously, being an ex Royal, I tended to concentrate on RM figures, and still have some which I can use.

The making of the vignette will be the subject of future posts