Monday, 18 June 2012

Wargamers in Literature #1: Neville Thwick

Inspired, as frequently, by Conrad Kinch (of Joy and Forgetfulness - this post here) I have decided finally to post the following. Having received no response to a request to Penguin Books for permission to publish it, I will treat this as a long quote instead.

It is from Chapter Four of Spike Milligan's marvellous novel Puckoon, first published in 1963 and published by Penguin in 1965.

I'm not aware of many other wargamers in literature. I can think of one in fiction - a villain in a Dick Francis novel who suffocated someone by encasing their head in ModRoc - but I wouldn't call it literature. Mr Neville Thwick is memorable in his own right: the author's psychological observations are interesting too. As far as I know Don Featherstone seems to have omitted to review it in Wargamer's Newsletter.

“Immediately, Mr Neville Thwick, a thin, veiny, eel-like man with acne, deftly replaced the flags. He had volunteered for the job. Insignificant since birth, sticking pins in maps gave him the secret power he craved. The walls of his attic bed-sitting room were hung with treasured maps of famous battles, campaigns and sorties. Solfarino, Malplaquet, Plassey, the Somme, the Boyne. There were three hundred in scrolls under his bed and scores more, carefully indexed, placed on every shelf and ledge. He possessed his own pin-making machine, and a small triangular printers' guillotine for manufacturing flags. Power, what power this combination held!

Every night Mr Thwick would leave his desk at Mills & Crotts bird-seed factory and catch the 33a tram to his home. On arrival he would prepare tea and perhaps a one-egg omelette. After a wash and shave he would place a battle-map of his choosing on the floor. From a chest he would select a military uniform suitable for the period. Dressed so, he would pace the room, making little battle noises with his mouth. Last Sunday had seen his greatest victory. After much deliberation he had decided to re-contest Waterloo. Dressed as Napoleon he placed himself at the head of the French army of 600 flags. The thought of it had made him weak, he felt giddy and sat down to massage his legs. After a measure of ginger wine, he felt strong enough to continue. There followed a night of move and counter move. Despite knockings on the walls from sleepless neighbours, he continued his battle noises, thrusting flags hither and thither. He force-marched a platoon of French Chasseurs till their points were blunt, he reinforced Blucher with a secret supply of mercenary flags from Ireland and destroyed the Prussian threat to his flank. At three o'clock he played his master stroke. He thrust a white flag right into the English H.Q.

Wellington and his staff were humbled in the dust. To the accompaniment of the people around hammering with shoe heels and brooms, he accepted Wellington's sword and surrender. Then victorious to bed with a hot water bottle and a spoonful of Dr Clarkson-Spock's Chest Elixir. Next morning, dressed as a civilian, with very little resistance, Wellington's conqueror was evicted by his landlady.

Living in the Y.M.C.A. curtailed his activities, but the present job kept him in practice until conditions changed. After all, peace, as any good general knew, couldn't last for ever, and the only way to end wars was to have them.”

And Conrad I might have been inspired - but I haven't turned off word verification (yet).

5 comments:

Conrad Kinch said...

I'd forgotten about him!

Spoon Monkey Hen Fondler

joppy said...

I think youre allowed to quote without too much bother if youre doing a review.

Benjamin of Wight said...

Librarian Hat on -

You can quote 10% of a work and not be in breach of copyright.

- librarian Hat off.

Henri Longuelade said...

Excellent stuff, Clive.
Other wargamers in fiction that spring to mind are:
Charles Cleasby in Barry Unsworth's Losing Nelson. He is solitary, obsessive, has limited contact with women and is clearly based on nobody any of us know. Cleasby restages Nelson's great naval victories on a table in his basement using model ships (sadly the author does not reveal the scale). Eventually he goes totally mad and kills a child during a trip to Naples.
An altogether more glamorous - and realistic - wargamer is Lucas Corso, hero of Arturo Perez Reverte's The Dumas Club. He is an antiqiaurian bookdealer who fights solo board wargames (inevitably his proudest moment is leading the French to victory at Waterloo). He spends the rest of the time battling diabolic forces and running about with a beautiful young woman who claims to be a fallen angel who has argued with God. Sadly she seems to have little interest in a game of Memoir '44 prefering to take her clothes off at every opportunity.

david in suffolk said...

Sorry to be 5 years late to the party, but surely the original and greatest would be Uncle Toby and Corporal Trim in 'Tristram Shandy'?