Saturday 22 December 2012

Pike and Shotte - Second Play-test

With the first play-test four weeks ago, last weekend Ian and I decided upon a second play-test of Pike and Shotte.  For various reasons, Christmas and all the associated evening card writing, shopping and wrapping included, I didn't get to look at the rules properly again until we started playing(!)  This in itself was a test of the rules.  To my amazement we seemed to pick up where we left off four weeks ago. We just flowed straight back into it. (The above pic is from behind the Royalist Right wing on Game Turn 1 - The wall is made from cat litter layers on PVA glue!)

This time I added a bit more in the way of scenery, a few more enclosures, a stone wall and a few more wooded areas.  No open moorland this time but not First Newbury either.  I played Parliamentarian this time.  We settled for a standard layout - a centre of Infantry and a wing of horse flanking them.  Each was a brigade strength each (i'm not comfortable with the term 'Battalia' which the rules keeps using for a Brigade. I always thought a Battalia was a composite unit of Pike sleeved by musket, often by the breaking of a large regiment into two parts forming two Battalia...however I accept I might not be correct in this).  The term 'Brigade' is much more familiar for a grouping of several regiments for me anyway.

Game Turn 1

The dice was with me on the first throw. I got to give my orders and move first.  My first order was to my Infantry; 'The Infantry Brigade will commence a General Advance towards the enemy centre'. This bold order was unfortunately failed as the dice refused me.  Clearly the Trained Bands had some pay discussions to sort out first!  My cavalry and dragoons advanced on both flanks thankfully.  My two pieces of medium artillery started a long range barrage onto Newcastle's regiment of Whitecoats.

Ian's Royalists opted to hold the Infantry for the first move and also to push the cavalry forward. This gave a close stand-off as in the picture above.

The Parliamentarian Infantry Brigade above with gun battery between Infantry Regiments.

Game Turn 2

I gave my Infantry Brigade another order for a general advance and threw a double six (A blunder!!!)  This was my first blunder throw in any play-test, even solo efforts.  With some trepidation I threw again and checked the table. It was a move to the left side a full turn.  Not so disastrous. A rearwards movement would have been a touch embarrassing though, considering how I had set up so close to the table edge! My cavalry advance on both flanks in the meantime.

Ian's Royalists respond by holding still in the centre again (probably to allow his men to laugh at mine!) and by unleashing his cavalry in a full blooded charge on both flanks. I make a response counter-charge with my outnumbering units on the right.  Battle is now well under way. Both of my cavalry units on my right break and flee...carrying away Lt General Cromwell!!! Disaster!  The only positive being that the successful Royalist Cavalry Regiment has been left with sufficient casualties to make it 'Shaken', which appears to mean no more charges for this regiment.

The Royalist cavalry about to successfully charge Roundheads of twice their number.

The effect of the charge...fleeing Roundheads!

The marker says it all; 'Shaken not stirred!'

Haselrigge's cuirassiers on my left are forced to pull back. Only my dragoons on my left behind the stone walls give the Royalists any doubt as to how to follow up.  Things really are not looking good for the Army of Parliament!

Haselrigge falls back to regroup. So let me get this straight. My right has gone and my left is pulling back...It's a good job I still have a centre!

The Royalist Centre.  Newcastle's Regiment are disordered by the cannonballs hitting their ranks (puff of ubiquitous cotton wool!)

An overview of the centre from behind the Royalist lines.

Game Turn 3

My Infantry brigade in the centre at last makes a solid move forwards.  My artillery barrage continues to hit Newcastle's men. My cavalry on my right continue to flee off the board.  Haselrigge's cuirassiers re-group on my left. Things are looking slightly better now.

The Royalists order an infantry advance.  Things suddenly look dramatic as both brigades advance towards each other. Not all of the brigade can advance however. The artillery barrage on Newcastle's has disordered them so they cannot be ordered forward.  The Royalist artillery fire is ineffective.  Both cavalry wings hold to await developments.

Advance of the infantry

One Parliamentary Regiment swings left of the enclosure to block Rupert's Foote.

Game Turn 4

This turn appears to be crucial and so it proves.  I order a charge with my Infantry.  The Red Trained Bands launch into Pennyman's Royalist Foote.  Essex's Regiment give support on the flank.  Pennyman is supported by the shaken Royalist horse.

Up close and personal. The Trained Bands charge into Pennyman's blewcoats.

A wider view of the combat showing supports on the flanks.

All units in the combat add up their scores for an overall victor to be found.  The Royalist Infantry are overwhelmingly beaten in the combat and break completely.....and there we ran out of time!


So what can I say...what a superb game it was!  We couldn't quite get to a point where a clear victor was found.  I had lost a cavalry brigade on the right early on but the left was quite well drawn and the centre was being won by the Parliamentarian Infantry. Suddenly things didn't look so good for the Royalists.

I did make two mistakes with the rules.  With the infantry combat, even though all of the units in the fight combine score totals to find the winner, I should have thrown for a break test for each losing unit. In this case each musket wing and the pike block is a unit (thus 3 x units).  I instead used the break test and applied the result to all three.  I should also have thrown a break test for the supporting unit - in this case the cavalry unit you can see in the picture above threatening my flank.

The rules flowed really well, and with the small tweaks made in the previous game, this assisted in making it very playable.  I love the order system and how brigade orders make it important to keep brigades together so they are more cohesive and not receive penalties which could upset their orders being received.  This has the wonderful effect of battle-line being kept together and discourages those 'Firework Displays' of units which can happen in some rules.
A final view of the action at end-of-play.

I also like the 'blunder' aspect of the orders.  This is a fun element, but we know that blunders in orders do occur in warfare throughout the ages. This is a very simple way in which to make blunders a possibility.  The skill lies in how the opponent can exploit it quickly.

Movement rates and fire distances seem sensible. Everything seems to function how it did historically. For instance, Dragoons are very flexible, can give closing fire and evade and are great for taking ground like enclosures.  The hard part for them is maintaining ground when under pressure. They do not like hand to hand combat, but can sometimes surprise you!  I look forward immensely to using 'commanded shotte' with the cavalry as I think this will work really well.

There are a couple of minor things in the rules which I don't agree with and will change:  Firelocks should not out-range matchlock muskets. The fire-lock is a change of musket ignition system - nothing more. They do not add extra powder to the charge behind the ball!

The rules on shaken units in brigades not being able to charge need looking at. A small cavalry brigade will quickly become ineffective and may as well leave the table when it takes casualties.  I have read of various ideas of how to improve this situation, mostly in terms of reducing command points or melee dice instead for shaken units (I think I read this on the Edinburgh Wargames website). I'll need to research this further and tinker a bit.

The rules do lend themselves well to minor tinkering and adjusting and indeed encourage players to do so.

Overall I absolutely love the rules and I look forward to playing the scenarios presented in the Caliver Book's ECW scenarios series.  I can't wait for the next game now!

Friday 14 December 2012

A Test Battle with 'Pike and Shotte' Rules

I guess you can read and re-read rules and be convinced they are going to work, but ultimately there is only one way to find out and that's to try them out with an opponent to control the enemy forces.  So this was it, I had staked a lot on these working, my massive re-basing project which has gone on furiously since June of this year, was set on using 'Pike and Shotte' as my rule system.  It wasn't such a gamble, I felt, because I had used 'Hail Caesar' and was convinced on first playing that they could be adapted to the English Civil War with some modifications (this was before I knew that a suitable Renaissance book was in the offing).

A small play-test as a solo game gave very satisfactory results, but one tends to just line the troops up and let them go in such situations.  This time I needed to look at how they worked with a thinking opponent who would do the unexpected (and the expected...and still beat me!). So in November my regular opponent, Ian, came over to try out the rules.

We only had about 3 hours to play, so I went for minimal scenery, with just a few hedgerows and small woods and we also used Ian's 4Ground ECW house with an enclosure.  I have to say how impressed I was with the house. It's amazing how just one item can really set the scene and say 'English Civil War' period.  I will have to paint up my random Greek stone columns for my ancient Greek armies (when I get round to them!). I was Royalists and Ian played Parliament.  The picture above shows my Royalist centre attacking Ian's centre (photo is from Ian's side).

Because of the short time scale I took fairly random pictures as a reminder of the set up and of the game, rather than with a view of giving a full battle report.  Above is a picture from Ian's side of the board.  My plan of occupying the enclosure with dragoons and putting fire into the infantry combat went out of the window as my poor command dice left my units reacting to my orders very slowly.  Ian, however managed to steal a march on me and got his small unit of dragoons into the enclosure to put traversing fire on to my cavalry wing.  I do like how the rules cover order giving and order results. Very simple and effective with plenty of scope for orders not being obeyed instantly or in the way you wanted.  The traversing fire rule was simple too. From being unsure if there was such a rule, we found it and used it, in about 60 seconds. All nice and's just a pity it was my troops on the receiving end of it!

Another shot above from behind the Parliament centre.  My Royalist assault had become thoroughly disordered before making contact due to Ian's good fire dice.  I was forced to break ranks with my central unit (Green Colours) and send the pike on a do or die mission to break his line.  I hit his musketeers with a determined charge and a mighty struggle ensued.  My pike won the combat every turn for about 3 turns but his musketeers held on grimly and survived each break test...just! This forced the combat to continue each turn. Please excuse the units without the basing being finished.  These are work in progress but were needed to add to the numbers for the game.

Above: Essex's Orange coat's making the Royalists think twice about charging.

Above: The lovely house by 4Ground,with Ian's small group of determined dragoons fending off my cavalry and dragoons.

Another view of the house and my cavalry riding by.  You might have noticed the two storage boxes saying 'AWI Continental' and 'AWI British' behind...oh yes...I am working on other things too. I have too many gaming periods of interest if anything, though I know I have only shown Ancients and ECW in my blog to date.  I would like to make progress with my AWI army in 2013, especially as I now have the 'Black Powder' rule-set too.

Well the battle was very enjoyable, with the rules declared a great success. I didn't achieve my battle objectives and was severely disordered in the centre. I also lost a brigade of cavalry on my right so Ian was in the better position when we ran out of time.  The rules have a really good feel about them and there wasn't a single thing I disliked..other than perhaps the ability to move 3 turns then fire into the face of the enemy.  I had read of this aspect being a little odd in other review so amended the rules to say that a maximum of 2 turns of movement then fire is permitted. So 3 moves will not allow fire to be given as well.  This seemed to be a simple solution that worked perfectly and prevented anyone from sprinting up in formation and letting loose at point blank.

All being well, we shall be playing the rules again this Sunday night.  I'm just finishing a dragoon command stand as fast as I can...nothing like a little incentive to aid the painting process :-)

Saturday 1 December 2012

Sir Arthur Haselrigge's Regiment of Horse

Sir Arthur Haselrigge's Regiment of Horse - the famous 'Lobsters' (or should it be 'Liebsters' after the many awards of that name presented to many worthy blogs in the last couple of weeks!).

I painted these in 1991 if I recall correctly, but the basing has all been freshly done using MDF and my current basing methods.  They were originally based on bits of card and flocked but not any more.

The figures were made by Front Rank (as too was my previously posted regiment of Sir Samuel Luke's Regiment).  I still really like the actual figures of the troopers. A nice mix of closed helmets and lobster pots. It's just a shame about the saddle-cloths being cast on to the actual figure, again causing the figures to sit too high, like my previously posted regiment.  I remember being somewhat dismayed to find the standard bearer, commander and trumpeter to be standard Front Rank Cavalry officers and thus not wearing full cuirassier armour.  This was also my first attempt with modelling clay (some bizarre hairy stuff!) to sculpt on figures.  For a first attempt (and if you don't look at the command stand too closely), I might have nearly got away with making it look ok. The command stand is with the main photo of the whole regiment (so they are hidden!), not the pic below which is of troopers! :-)

Sir Arthur Haselrigge formed one of the few cuirassier regiment's used in the civil war.  By all accounts they gave solid service until their destruction at the Battle of Roundway Down, when they were forced to flee down the sheer drops of the hills (I might post photos of the battlefield walk made back in the summer sometime).  The regiment was re-formed afterwards but as a cavalry regiment equipped in the standard way.  I just tried to find an online account of the Royalist Cavalry officer Richard Atkyn's account of the battle and his personal combat with Sir Arthur, but alas, my 3am head has only succeeded in finding this bit of potted history from Wikipedia:

"Haselrig's regiment formed the heavy cavalry in the army of Sir William Waller. The "lobsters" distinguished themselves at Lansdown on July 5, 1643. However, at the Battle of Roundway Down, on July 13, they met a Royalist cavalry charge at the halt and after a brief clash, retreated in disorder, the Parliamentarian army losing the battle. Though they were defeated the armour they wore apparently served them well; Haselrig was shot three times at Roundway Down, with the bullets apparently bouncing off his armour. After firing a pistol at Haselrig's helmeted head at close range without any effect Richard Atkyns described how he attacked him with his sword, but it too caused no visible damage; Haselrig was under attack from a number of people and only succumbed when Atkyns attacked his unarmoured horse. After the death of his horse Haselrig tried to surrender; but as he fumbled with his sword, which was tied to his wrist, he was rescued. He suffered only minor wounds from his ordeal.[4]
This incident was related to Charles I and elicited one of his rare attempts at humour. The king said that if Haselrig had been as well supplied as he was fortified he could have withstood a siege."

Atkyn's account of the battle is dramatic and is a wonderful first hand account of a civil war cavalry battle. If you can find it then it's worth a read. You'll note that Haselrigge's name is never consistently spelt either (i'm not sure the man himself would have used the same spelling!). I used the Barry Denton spelling from his excellent book on Sir Arthur called 'Only in Heaven' (Sir Arthur's motto on his cavalry standard).

I had no idea until I read Barry Denton's book just how central a figure Sir Arthur was to many of the key political events of the Civil War and end of Commonwealth (where he was trapped between a 'rock and a hard place' sandwiched between the rival generals Monck and Lambert, whilst attempting to maintain Parliament as the key ruling power).  All fascinating and very fast moving stuff.

Anyway, painting cuirassiers can be bad for your pocket...I now really want to add a firing copy of one of those massive wheel-lock or dog-lock pistols to my black-powder gun collection! :-)

Thursday 22 November 2012

Sir Samuel Luke's Regiment of Horse

More cavalry! This time they go back even further in my painting history.  I painted this regiment way back, probably around 1991.  These were my early days of painting wargames figures (forgetting the splashing of Airfix figures with glossy Airfix G5 dark green when I was about 8 (I think this was the colour everyone used if bring and buy stands at shows are anything to go by!).

These are not painted to the standard that I aspire to now. Experience counts! But I do still like them for their shadeless honesty.  It gives something of the toy soldier look to them.  I also like to view them and compare them to the progress I have made since those days of the early 90's.

What I have done in the last couple of weeks is to re-base them.  Gone are the individual bent pieces of card with flock (worn off!) and now they are on MDF with basing done to my current methods.  I very nearly retired these figures, but they still have that something about them and they fit in size-wise not too badly with the Bicorne/Renegade/Redoubt troops.  Actually these figures are still on their card bases but you cannot see them.  I glued those bases to the MDF before adding the texture. This increased the height of the figure by about 1 - 2mm so making them fit in so much better.

The manufacturer used the method of casting the figure to the saddles. This gives an unfortunate 'camel rider' look to them as the cast saddle cloths are thick metal.  As an aside I have just remembered that these old figures were once displayed on the very large meeting room in the Headquarters of the Prince of Wales's Division.  The meeting room table was massive and I had enough of trying to wargame on my barrack room found the perfect place! The Headquarters table. I had access to it for one night only but it raised the interest from some very senior officers (pity most of my figures were Minifigs then but hey-ho!)

Anyway, these figures are no longer produced and haven't been offered in the manufacturer's catalogue for some time now.  Can anyone guess who they were made by?  I will let you know if no-one guesses correctly!

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Sir Horatio Cary's Regiment of Horse

More thunderous sounds of hooves as from across the battlefield another regiment is re-vamped and re-based ready to join the action once more...(dramatic stuff!)

This is another regiment which I painted originally way back in 1995 or thereabouts.  Again, these had card bases with some awful green scatter stuff on as basing material.  I seem to remember that these were painted at a time that I deemed it necessary to try to speed up my painting, to try and get as many playable units on the board so I could get on with playing the big battles.  Thankfully these days, I accept that it's going to take a good few years before I'm ready for Marston Moor but in my more mature years, I'll not be rushed into doing half-baked paint jobs.  The pleasure now is to see figures painted to as high a quality as I can get them within reason...I'm not after prizes and life is too short to go completely OCD over them.

These chaps are of those earlier days when I used a black undercoat and then brown on the coats and attempted some kind of dry-brush exercise to build up the lighter colours.  I don't think it worked too well and so spent some time, as I was re-basing these, putting on a lighter touch of buff to give some 'life' into the painting.  I would originally have used enamels to have painted these, and it's noticeable that my enamel painted figures have a dull hue about them.  The next pic is a 'before and after' (Mr Broad-brimmed hat is after and Mr Helmet is before):

I accept that on campaign the darker shade might be more realistic,but rather like British Redcoats on the night of Waterloo, do I want tatty soldiers with a campaign look of white cross-belts dyed red from rain sodden wool or do I want decent looking figures on the board.  I opted more for the latter, with fresher colours breathing some life back into tired dull figures.  I did keep the original shade on gloves and cross-belts just to add contrast.

The figures are my second and last unit of Redoubt cavalry.  I probably won't add more from this company, but never say never :-)  They have their plus points and I remember that I loved building them.  Some of the poses are the equal (or better) than some of those produced by more recent offerings from other companies.  I thought the horse castings were pretty good too, with good animation and good proportioning.

From what I understand, Sir Horatio Cary fought originally for Parliament and then changed sides and fought for the King. The unit cornet (hand painted in this case) always amused me. It makes a pointed reference to the Earl of Essex with the words 'Come out you Cuckold' and a dog (if I recall correctly) poking his head out of a barrel, hinting at domestic strife within Essex's household!

Saturday 20 October 2012

Earl of Northampton's Regiment of Horse

As much as I like painting infantry, there is something quite powerful stirred in the imagination in seeing a completed regiment of model cavalry.  Here is the Royalist Earl of Northampton's Regiment of Horse, finally complete and ready for action.

I must confess that the bulk of the painting work was done some years ago....probably around 1994 if I should make a guess. I have spent the last couple of weeks carrying out the re-basing work and doing some minor touching up work on the figures.  It's quite funny how 18 years ago card bases with green flock sprinkled onto green paint looked quite good and was very acceptable.  Nowadays we all seem to make the bases as pleasing to the eye as the figures, and it does seem to be very worthwhile.

The figures are from Redoubt, and I have to say, back in the early 1990's they really advanced the quality of wargames figures generally with these. The torsos are separate to the legs and heads so you could build up a good choice of different figures.  If I recall, you could also choose either hard heads or 'soft' heads, being helmeted or un-helmeted.

Since my purchase of these figures, my views on whether helmets of soft hats were worn has changed substantially.  I would think that for any man who could afford a buff coat or a back and breast plate, a good helmet was the first thing you would purchase.  The head seems to have been such a major target in most forms of slashing sword combat. Le Marchant's sword cuts in his cavalry training manual in the early 1800's seemed to focus on the head, and in Kendo the head always takes the greater part of thwackings (technical term...not!) as my head would often ring post-Kendo lessons!  I cannot but help think that wearing a soft hat in a cavalry melee would equate to taking an early bath in sports-speak (if you could find your head that is!).

As nice as many of the figures are, some of the Redoubt figures do seem to suffer from 'cymbal-itis'.  The condition of where a figure has clearly gone to a heavy metal concert and fell in front of the drummer just as a   great big hairy bloke slams his cymbals together in a crashing finale.  The head is narrow and squished - demonstrated here by the Guidon bearer (Cornet) in this shot above.  There are a few figures like this unfortunately and is the main reason why I probably wouldn't add to my forces from this company (I have another regiment or so which I bought in the early 90's which are yet to be shown).

I always liked the pose on this figure (above). A hearty yell and a swing of the pole-axe.  There are a number of good aspects to the Redoubt figures (oh why the squishy heads!). I also like the detail such as lace-work over the top of the boots and also the good number of sashes worn by the cavalry figures.     I do think that the sash/scarf would have been an essential piece of wear in a melee, if you didn't want a wheel-lock pistol from a friendly cavalryman pushed against your back and fired because of mis-identification in the swirling confusion of action.

Another shot of just the command stand.  I think I have enough re-vamped forces to have a brigade a side battle of Pike and Shotte tomorrow, just a solo play test effort in readiness for the larger battles to follow.  I can't say just how much I am looking forward to that after spending 5 months or so on these solidly this year already!

Thursday 11 October 2012

Sir William Pennyman's Regiment of Foote

Another very satisfying moment when I can announce the completion of another 40-strong regiment.  I completed the musketeers a few weeks ago, but I needed more pikemen which I picked up from Colours at Newbury in September.  During the wait for that show I managed to bring some other units up to strength.

The figures are all Bicorne Miniatures from their 28mm range. Flags are by GMB. Bases are MDF and the texturing on the bases are a mixture of all sorts including twigs and cat litter rocks (which I am running short of now after all these years, I may need to buy another bag just for the miniatures to use!).

I think my discovery of the year has been the flora by MiniNatur. This stuff is just wonderful and the small shrubs and flowers add such detail to a figure base.  I wish I could remember which blogger I first spotted using this and I had to ask the question as to whom it was made by. The model was an ACW signalling tower if I recall and it was amazing, and with such great plant-life beneath the tower.

I have focussed on the musketeers of this regiment before, so here is the pike block.  The poses of these pikemen are some of my favourite.  They look like they are marching with a 16 foot long piece of ashwood rather than a helium stick!  They have the air of a unit on campaign.  Armour is minimised to just a helmet for the men.  Tassets (if ever issued), would have been 'lost' on the first march.  The first full summer of marching and counter marching around the Thames Valley, midlands, west, south and back to the Thames Valley might have resulted in the back and breast plates going the same way.

A close up (or making 28mm figures look like 12" 'Action Man' figures! Do I really want to expose my painting to that much scrutiny!) :-)  Unfortunately the flash has given the blue coats a purple hue, but I hope this doesn't spoil the overall detail effect.

A side view of the pike block.  Moving these guys as one stand instead of several should speed up the game time considerably.

A view of the unit from the rear.  I really do like the little details these figures have, like the patches on their clothing and also the leather packs, which must have been carried on campaign.  I just can't imagine any soldier wanting to keep his plunder on the baggage cart!

By strange co-incidence, when I was painting this regiment I discovered that the regimental commander, Sir William Pennyman was actually buried no further than 300 yards away from where I work!  Having an office with a balcony which looks at the King's old Headquarters of Christchurch College and Cathedral  really does inspire me to paint and delve deeper into this fascinating period of history more and more.

Tuesday 2 October 2012

The Red Regiment - London Trained Bands

Another one done!  The final musket wing now completes this unit. It's all fully manned, and newly based and ready for action.

This regiment presented somewhat of a dilemma as to whether to represent the buff coats which Trained Bands troops are often portrayed.  The jackets on these musketeers are really too short to paint buff in the hope that I could get away with representing sleeveless buff coats.  In the end I settled with some pikemen in sleeveless buff coats but musketeers without.  Another dilemma was whether to have the trained bandsmen in civilian jackets or red ones - different modern authors seem split on this one.  I decided to go for an issue of uniform coloured jackets, but kept personal touches of different coloured ribbon ties on breeches to show some independent spirit on the part of the regiment's volunteer members.  The 'Red' of Red Regiment relates only to the colours carried, the same as the 'Blew Regiment' carried blue ones. (This regiment will follow at a later date!).

I can't claim credit this time for painting the whole regiment.  My wargaming friend Ian painted much of this unit several years ago.  I rescued it from joining a Bring and Buy stand at a show and have since re-based them all.  The musketeers shown below are the ones I have been painting in the last few weeks to bring the unit up to strength.  Buying a nicely painted unit can be a double-edged sword of course if you wish to add more figures, as you have to try to colour match (within reason) and not make your own figures too different in style.

The figures are again the superb Bicorne figures from their English Civil War range and are an absolute joy to paint.

Here are a couple of close-ups:

Well, that's the figure progress of the last few weeks.

I'm going to go off at a slight tangent here and mention that I found an unforeseen problem as I sat down to playtest my new Pike and Shotte rules with these large units of mine...the board is too darned small!  My board is 8ft x 4ft.  This always seemed massive when rules always allowed movement of between 3" to 6"...but these days rules allow lots of big movements it seems (and no bad thing either, nothing worse than an action that took an hour in real time taking 2 days to play!).  I could scale movements down of course but even the starting positions just look too close.  No room for manoeuvre just a head on clash!

So....I'm designing a take-down table which can break into sections and go behind the sofa when I'm not playing.  When assembled it is 12ft x 6ft...much more satisfactory!  I'm divided between buying teddy bear fur and making a super home-made terrain set (and risk making a mess of it!) or whether to buy something ready made from someone like this:
Has anyone any experience of this firm or similar?  Your advice would be much appreciated.:-)