About Me

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No Fixed Abode, Home Counties, United Kingdom
I’m a 58-year-old Aspergic gardening CAD-Monkey. Sardonic, cynical and with the political leanings of a social reformer, I’m also a toy and model figure collector, particularly interested in the history of plastics and plastic toys. Other interests are history, current affairs, modern art, and architecture, gardening and natural history. I love plain chocolate, fireworks and trees but I don’t hug them, I do hug kittens. I hate ignorance, when it can be avoided, so I hate the 'educational' establishment and pity the millions they’ve failed with teaching-to-test and rote 'learning' and I hate the short-sighted stupidity of the entire ruling/industrial elite, with their planet destroying fascism and added “buy-one-get-one-free”. I also have no time for fools and little time for the false crap we're all supposed to pretend we haven't noticed, or the games we're supposed to play. I will 'bite the hand that feeds' to remind it why it feeds.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

News, Views Etc...Links

Some time ago in my late show report for Dave McKenna's Autumn show in Birmingham, I mentioned the Gloucestershire Regiment mug I bought
and how I'd lost the guy's details! Well - I've now found them and can report that he is called Tristram Carter and can be contacted by eMail here;


And there is a website here;

QM's Locker

He is very approachable and was looking for ideas that could be transferred to mug decoration, so if you have a war gaming or role-play club or society, it might be worth getting in touch with him. There is an issue with dishwashers due to the type of decoration used (some modern convergence technology - favourite word at the moment!...laser-printing?), and they probably need to be kept out of direct sunlight for prolonged periods, but the level of detail is what counts, and...Well; go and have a look for yourselves!

While I'm sorting out business cards...a chap called Kevin was asking for help at the recent Sandown Park toy fair, he's looking specifically for old fireworks, yes - you read that right; Old Fireworks, although he is obviously interested in packaging and ephemera as well, it's the fireworks he's really after, either 'live' or shop display dead'uns! Anybody who can help can eMail him here;


Or, I have 'phone-numbers if you think you have something that will be of interest to him.

I have a roughly 1/72 scale London bus-shaped box for Tom Smith's indoor fireworks which I have promised him, but not until I've posted it here, and despite getting it out 2 or 3 times in the last couple of years - to photograph - I keep putting it away again un-shot...doh!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Q is for Quiz

Speaking of Merit, as I hope I just have below (I'm back to pre-loading these articles at home and whacking them in under the dongle-credit wire!), Bernard Taylor who you may remember provided some very useful images of the late Merit figure sets the other month has sent me a rather intriguing composite of various figures, which I offer to you as a bit of a quiz...
I won't tell you what they are for now (there are some clues in the tag-list!), but will post the answers as a comment for those who give up! The interesting thing about them is that despite being from several sources, they are almost all from the fair hand of Charles Stadden, the master sculptor who's work weaved its way through our childhood with toy and model soldiers and civil figures in metal and plastic, and our adolescence in the various figures he made for the sports trophy manufacturers and foundries.

Me? I got one wrong!...not telling!

T is for Two - from Merit

Those of you who have followed this blog from the start, or who have gone back over some of the old posts will know I have a bit of a soft spot for Merit, which has an interesting history; he (J. Randall) being the man behind Bell who produced the box of figures we looked at a few weeks ago (more on them in a day or two), until he married and added 'R' Randall to the mix with Merit!

I posted the 'infant toy' fort some time ago and we are going to look at another infant toy today, and also a board game which has to be added to the master list...

Heeerrrrs....'Mr Bobby'! Sorry Edmonds, but originality was never your strong point and you were beaten to the post on this one by about 30 years! There's even a facial similarity, to Mr. Blobby*, not Edmonds! Dated to 1962, this is a pretty early piece of British plastic, and as a figure, in uniform; just about scrapes in under the collecting criteria wire!

The figure is fully articulated through over a dozen ball-sockets and swivel-joints, and is made from what was described - at the time - as 'hygienic' polyethylene. I'm not so sold on the multi-coloured segments - but it was designed for very young children in a quieter age, not sardonic old gits in the 21st century!

I really like this, as I hadn't seen one before, so when I saw it last weekend at the Sandown Park toy fair it was an absolute for inclusion! There is an elephant missing (probably with a grey wash, and almost certainly the same size as the other animals), the trap-door needs to be sourced and I will look out for a better box now I know what I'm looking for.

It has the same licensing date - 1966 - in the same typeface ('font' to the younger generation!) as the Airfix Tarzan set, and from the same people; Banner Productions (but Inc. not the Ltd. of the Airfix box), so ties-in to the same movie or TV series...I don't follow Tarzan so I don't know, anyone who does? The Airfix set was issued a year later though; 1968 as opposed to this games 1967.

*for non-UK followers - Mr Blobby was a televisual abomination here in the UK in the 1980's, Google him (it?) if you want to ruin your evening and lower your view of British cultural standing for all time. Sad thing is - if I see a small model of him, I'll have to add it to the collection...The Horror...The Horror...

Friday, May 25, 2012

C is for Colonial

Just a quick one - a bit of a box ticking exercise! I noticed a tub of these at a show the other day, and while my knowledge of large scale hollow-cast metal is pretty limited, even I could see they were a bit out of the ordinary, so brought them to the attention of a mate of mine who deals in this type of figure before anyone else bought them!

He had a quick look and bought the lot! It turned out they are rather uncommon; both by make and subject, being the 'colonial' painting of the Sacul Highlanders. I then grabbed these shots for the 'album' - the red one is a basic paint Britains Colonial for comparison. That's all folks!

U is for Unknown, Flats

These - like most flats you encounter - tend toward the 'unknown' end of the identification spectrum, however there are a few clues as to their provenance/origin and hopefully someone will be able to help here? They come in at a pretty standard 30mm and are factory painted.

The packaging; this is very similar to packaging used by a company [possibly] called Kästner (Ochel Aloys made by Kieler Zinnfiguren - see comments), although that means nothing as these staple-cornered recycled/low-grade card boxes are used for a lot of stuff from Germany as we've seen on this blog in the past, Christmas decorations, wooden toys and erzgebirge, former East German stuff, the [possibly] Nazi torpedo-boat posted the other day, etc...

The Kästner/Kieler Zinnfiguren (?) set that accompanied them had an identical box and packaging, but with the addition of a red top-layer of paper to present the unpainted figures in a better light and no sticker/label, which is why I'm not 100% sure they are the same firm. These are packed with two pieces of card and double sheets of paper, the card on the bottom and near the top with the bases slipped down the sides.

The gun-line keeping the enemies heads down! This set was part of an auction lot of about 30 sets with all the sets being 'complete' units of French, Russian, Prussian and Austrian troops from the same period. There are marks on the bases, mould or figure codes, but they are for the most part unintelligible either through slight moulding or heavy paint (or a combination of the two!) and probably wouldn't help much without one of the early books on flats, of which I only have one - and it's in storage again!

What I particularly like about this set is the decoration which is best described (by me!) as Cezanne style Impressionism with traditional toy soldier faces! The uniforms are hinted-at with splotches and sweeps of overlaid colours, braid, gaiter buttons and belts added on top as an afterthought, the faces then painted-in in a classic toy soldier fashion with red lips, black button eyes and bright pink skin, the whole in a gloss finish.

The contents of the box; Austria [Set No.] 1 - Artillery Brigade Firing 'KZ' (Kästner Zinnfiguren? Kieler Zinnfiguren). Among the other sets was an Austrian artillery train with Grimbeauval-system 'dolly wheel' small limbers. This is a really nice set, with a mounted officer, two drummers to beat out timings and commands, 11 crew and some small 'bits' to add atmosphere.

From the paint style and condition of the boxes, we suspect these are quite recent - maybe 1970's or early '80's, other than that - if anyone can add a positive ID to this post - please do!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

New Product Reviews

Continuing the new feature of 'Product Reviews' with a couple more books from Pen & Sword, both of which are easy to say nice things about, not because I've been given them but because they are very good!

And it's worth having a word about Pen & Sword; they are quite clearly a very discerning publisher, not so long ago they took over the Leo Cooper imprint, a publisher that some of you will know has - itself - only ever published at the top end of military history, memoir and military fiction, quality wise.  P&S are of the same mould and with so many people forecasting the 'end' of books (because commuters are reading text-based - mostly fiction - on a limited-use 'device'), it's nice to know that firms like P&S are continuing to produce high-quality research-aiding books that are image heavy, with colour on top-grade paper-stock.

Today we're looking at two books which couldn't be more different but are at the same time similar, one on - specifically - girls toys and playthings through the ages, the other being James Opie's recent complete updating of his original book on collecting toy soldiers. One dealing with the pastimes of the 'fairer sex', the other covering the full gamut of the war-machine in boys foot-lockers! But...both dealing with the history of toys, their collecting, archiving and what they meant to us as kids, often covering different products - in each book - from the same companies.

The first is a first; a book entirely devoted to looking at the history of toys from the feminine angle, although the early history is quite unisex, certainly in the last century the division into 'boy's toys' and 'girly pink stuff' (my words!) was quite rapid and the author tells us the tale of how we got from hoops, paper theatres and wooden arks to the vast pinky-purple-mauve section of Toys-R-Us!

While there have been many books on general or 'antique' toys and their history and as many devoted to dolls or teddy-bears (or; dolls and teddy-bears!) this is the first time I know of where a study of all the other toys girls have enjoyed has been published. Although the book does cover both bears and dolls it also looks at things like 'pocket toys', TV and movie characters that appealed to female children (Muffin, Sootie, Noddy, Bagpuss et al...), 1970's and '80's favourites like Cabbage Patch and My Little Pony, games, puzzles and other pastimes, bricks, blocks and other constructional or craft toys, and all sorts of things I'd forgotten friends sisters having like Strawberry Shortcake, Victoria Plum and Holly Hobbie.

Divided into thematic chapters by toy type, research is easy either from the index or by browsing, and tables are included for the more desirable members of a given collectable's 'cast', such as the colours and motifs of Care Bears or the hair colour and preferred pets of the aforementioned Strawberry Shortcake dolls. While for someone like me it will always remain a reference work to be consulted from time-to-time, it is also a good read from first page to last.

There are lovely little surprises as well, peppered with little nuggets of information and anecdote, who knew there was a board-game called "Lively Polly the Fascinating Wash Day Game"! Or that Monday was traditionally the nation's wash-day. Who remembers French knitting, Fuzzy Felt or Furbies?...I loved Fuzzy Felt, although I put the ballet dancers on tractors and had them engage in a bit of demolition-derby!

If I have one criticism of the book it is the author's own words at the start; In the introduction she makes it clear she expects the reader to be a female, and I quote "...it's odds on you are, or once were, a girl...". Well, I beg to differ, although I've been given my copy, I would have bought it if I'd known about it earlier, if you are remotely interested in toys and their social history or the commercial histories of the companies that made them, you should add this book to your library.

The other title is real tour-de-force, and by an author who should need no introduction if you're a regular to this blog. There are only a handful of people who can be said to have been a major influence on or, made a major contribution to the world of toy soldier and model figure collecting; JG Garratt (company histories and personalities), Norman Joplin (British civil, farm and zoo) and Richard O'Brien (US and dime-store) are the names that spring to mind along with the author of the work here reviewed; James Opie, the foremost writer on Britains and wider British and world makes of military figurines.

This book is a companion to his earlier work; Collecting Toy Soldiers, first published in 1987, but reprinted several times since, and is a truly wonderful read. For me the real delight is the eclectic nature of it, James goes from hollow-casts to solids, from plastic to composition, from flats through semi-flats to fully round in all sizes and from all over the world - sometimes on the same page! Written in an easy to read style and full of detail without resorting to endless lists of colour variations or box types!

The enthusiasm the author has for his subject flows through the work and is backed up by some of the best photographs I've ever seen, clearly culled from a lifetimes collecting and this is one of the major differences between this work and its ancestor, there are so many images here, all with full narrative captions it is hard to take it all in and several reads will reward. I know for a fact that this book calls upon one of the most comprehensive reference libraries of catalogues and ephemera ever assembled.

There are chapters on general collecting, thematic collecting, small or cameo collections or displays, and looking after toy soldiers, other chapters are more anecdotal and recall a lifetime of studying the subject and all points along the way, casting back to Jame's previous works, the exhibition held at the London Toy and Model Museum in 1985 and his work for Bonhams, and looking forwards through 'new metal' and new trends.

Each chapter or section has clearly headed sub-sections; there are a few tables or lists of things like makes and marks, famous collectors, historical highlights etc...I personally found parts of the Chapter on values a bit...(hummm!), but then I've never done this collecting malarkey for money (or with much!) but do appreciate that some do, particularly the 'high-end' metal collectors, and if it's your 'thing' the chapter has a lot of interesting points on the subject.

It's very easy to wax lyrical on a book by someone I know (and who has been kind to me), about I subject I have more than a passing interest in, and - indeed - I could happily write the same again without feeling I'd fully covered either the book or my thoughts on it, but I'll stop before I get too sycophantic! I can't recommend this book highly enough, it is so full of useful information and stunning images it will stand the test of time and to not have this on your shelves is to deny yourself a real treat.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

F is for Friegur...whatever that means!

Back to the show-and-tell round a mate's house the other month and another real rarity, tying-in nicely with the WHW stuff we looked at the other day. Dating from slightly earlier than the 'war-relief' tokens, this was issued in the early nineteen-thirties with a subsequent referb' around 1939 leading to more open warfare between German and French-looking units on the box-lid artwork.

This is the early version with a less controversial/confrontational box-art. The playing-pieces are made by ISO Press in a Bakelite type material called Taumalit and a quick Google search reveals that both names appeared on various Art Deco and Bauhaus style home wares and novelties at that time.

The first word is problematic; and while my German is not as good as it once was, it's still capable of comprehension yet 'Friegur' stumped me, so I turned to Paul over at Pauls Bods, and he went to such lengths to try and provide an answer I'll let his own words tell the story...

Hi Hugh;
Friegur....an actual translation in German...nothing...it could be friesisch but I´ve not found it in any of my 1800´s dictionaries...only here in Icelandic;

-maöur famous man; -rerk feat, exploit. fra'gilegur a. glorious, laudable. frægja (i) vt. make famous. friegur a. famous, renowned. fræki-legur a. valiant-looking,

But that´s all there is.
I can´t find anything on the guy (E.Strey) and the publishers who brought the game out...only that it first appeared in 1934, in Leipzig and is worth a fortune...

On the description of the auction site it is written Friegur`...but whether that means it´s been shortened from another word...? Any additions or combinations just lead back to 'hairdresser' in German!

The only other possible thing it could be is a combination of two words...basically taking the pee....Frei - (but the last two letters are the wrong way around) 'Free' in German and Guerre...French for 'War' and against the occupation of Germany's industrial areas after WWI. Maybe it was an in Joke of the time?

I´ll ask further.

Funny thing is...all the letters are there to create Figure. ;-D

Thanks Paul, I'd noticed the 'figure' thing as well! The rest is easy; "...Das Kampsspiel um Festung und Fahne" means '...The Wargame of Fortress and Flag. The maker is also described differently in the auction sample, being given as Strey/ Verlag L. Barth not Denkmeier & Fischer as in this set? (Now solved - see comments, thanks to Brian Carrick and Andreas Dittman).

Two shots of the 'German' army lying in their tray and set-up for the camera. They are in a neutral khaki colour (oxide red in the link Paul provides) but have the 'Fritz' helmet which was not used by many other nations at the time, Franco's forces in Spain and the nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-Shek in China being the more notable users along with one or two South American nations.

While the trench mortar and tank have more than slight shades of WWI about them and the field gun is pretty generic for the 1930's, there is no mistaking the lines of the Messerschmitt Bf.109!

Various shots of the board, rules booklet and a close-up of the base mark on a figure, the piece of text lost to the flash reflection is not important but for your records reads; DRGM No.

It is interesting to note that while the game has had patents applied for in Denmark, the US and Italy (all quite to the right at the time, sorry Americans, but while your President was 'on our side' your congress and a large proportion of the population weren't as we saw in this post; Composition, not that we didn't have our own extremists at the time!!) and Poland (who they were intending to invade!) the game doesn't seem to have been registered in (or exported to?) France or Great Britain?

The 'French' army have a close approximation of the 'Adrien' helmet which was quite widely used around Europe and further afield at the time and are in another neutral colour of a dark chocolate brown, I don't know if these colours were changed for the later 'aggressive' version of the game as I haven't seen one.

The lines of the Messerschmitt are much clearer in this shot despite the lack of a cockpit! I also love the way the lozenge-tank seems to have been given an H.G. Wells'ian or 'Maginot-line' turret on the roof to replace the side sponsons!

Monday, May 7, 2012

B is for Britains Balls-up

So to a real rarity, though - not as rare as they were once considered to be? It is a fact that I'm known for my cries of; "They're not rare - it's all mass-produced plastic crap" ...whenever the subject of rarity comes up in conversation at shows, it's the cynic in me! However there are always a few pieces that really are rare, the Lone*Star musketeers for instance, and these guys. But then how rare are they really. I ask because these have quite play-worn bases which would suggest someone thought they were run-of-the-mill figures to be chucked in the toy box with all the others.

They are - of course - the first attempt Deetail paratroopers from Britains, also their first attempt at the over-moulding process making them Super-Deetail! Except they ended-up 'Super-mess'. There is no real mystery to over-moulding, Italian Army badges had been made from layers or panels of different coloured PVC for years (since the last war? - Certainly since the 1950's), which required a high degree of accuracy in placing the different layers or 'panels' of colour next to or inside each other, however it wasn't as complicated as the techniques Timpo were developing at the same time with their figures.

Not that Timpo got it all right, the finer the detail, the more likely they had problems leading to the various sandal types on the Romans or the relative rarity of the last version ACW.

So, Britains; starting to struggle in the charnel-house that was the toy industry of the late 1970's, looking around for a new angle, thought they could do better than Timpo...overnight! They couldn't...these were quickly dropped from the range and replaced with the four poses we are all more familiar with in SAS, Royal Marine and Para schemes.

Looking at them (click on the images for a larger version) it is clear that the problem is the black, which one suspects was the final 'shot' and while whether it was injected from one of the feet or the main weapon will always be a mystery, it's obvious that it had to travel the whole length of an otherwise cold moulding to produce not only the boots and weapons, but very fine detail like rank badges on the arm and a cap badge. They must therefore have had to inject at a high (higher than usual?) temperature, which then allowed the plastic to flow into places it wasn't meant to go to. Similar problems are clear with the face-vail/scarf, webbing & puttee green and the red of the berets, which has given one chap an interesting non-tactical tee-shirt!

The rumour that has grown-up around these figures is that there were 400/500 sets issued to salesman (some sources will tell you 50 sets!) and that they were given to shop/store owners. Well...there are problems with this rumour, as with all rumours given as fact in the hobby! Firstly they turn up far too often to be from a sample that small, secondly, by the late 70's Britains were a massif toy company and the High Street had already started to change under the pressure of supermarkets meaning the likelihood that Britains were still using 'travellers' to market their products is a hard one to swallow.

I would imagine that what happened was they decided to make the best of a bad job (they had already placed the image of these in the catalogue for the forthcoming season), and had a couple of workers sorting-out those that were 'passable' to cover the confirmed orders which would have come from that Winter's toy fairs in Harrogate, London and Nuremberg.

Now - I've had the displeasure of using a hot-polymer injector, albeit in another industry and for another type of product with even more variables, which regularly left me under the - idle - machine spraying lubricant in my eyes while hot-glue dripped on my fingers and I sped-up my male-pattern inherited-baldness with the aid of various sharp protuberances and the edges of the machine! So I can tell you that as the ambient temperature in the room, the running temperature of the machine and the actual thermostatically controlled (by a human) vat of granules all heated up as the day progressed the problem mouldings would have increased to the point where our girls (the sorters - lets imaging three women round a table somewhere in a corner of the factory) were throwing away maybe 9 out of 10 figures, as opposed to the 1-in-4 (or so) they had been rejecting earlier in the production-run.

As the problem had been identified and the pre-publicity was driving the need for the replacements to be rushed through, the truth is - far more boringly than the rumour - likely to be that a few thousand figures were sent out to the bigger clients (a few hundred (?) boxes), and - like the Super-Deetail Ballet Dancers - have suffered from 'separation' over the years leading to few survivors, helping the myth creationists, who can never tell you how they 'know' there were only 50 or whatever number they give you - sets, just that "there WERE that many!".

These four are also quite complicated figures, very well animated and realistic poses, with lots of under-cuts while the final four were altogether more two-dimensional, so there's a possibility that - moulding of the finer detail apart - they (Britains) were also having problems just getting these four out of the machine in one piece, looking like they were supposed to look!

Also these four came from Belgium or at least; via Belgian dealers, there is also a set for sale in the US  and while I don't know if they started their journey to the collectors table from toy shops in those countries (the downside of FeeBay is that it's getting harder to know for sure where anything was originally 'sold exclusively' as it's all gone all over the place without proper records being kept!), it's equally clear that they have got around a fair bit, which they wouldn't have, had they actually been as rare as some would have you believe.

As this is already a long article (with not enough photographs!), I'll waffle a little longer, at a slight tangent...

Take a look at your cordless kettle, grab your mobile (cellphone), check out where over-moulding is in the 21st century. They can seamlessly mould a PVC rubberised-polymer, an ABS or styrol plastic and a ridged ethylene or polypropylene (with metaflec) next to each other, sometimes (on things like 'phones) less than a millimetre thick. creating ergonomic knife handles, laptop cases, tools, toothbrushes or electronic components with tolerances in the thousandths of a mill!

And in 5 to 10 years you will be able to print your own in the corner of your living room as convergence technology makes it possible for you to download the CAD/CAM file or hand-laser scan the object you need to make or replace and then just print it out in three-D.

As a 30mm Erzgebirge wooden figure looks next to an Airfix 20mm Roman with his little plug-in shield, so these Britains rejects look next to modern over-moulding! Sadly, the economies of scale mean it's unlikely we'll see such detailed multi-shot techniques used on toy soldiers in the near future...Nokia, Lenovo or Russel-Hobbs can afford to, as they look to sell between 1 and 30 million+ units within 18 months of the product going live, I don't suppose HaT or BMC think along those lines when it comes to production numbers!!!

So there you go, not as rare as they 'used' to be! But you'll still need a friendly bank-manager to buy a full set!

Friday, May 4, 2012

News Views Etc...News

The Sad News

Eric Williamson has passed away, I have no details but suspect an unwinnable fight against the raw nature of life.

When I first came to the Internet back in about 1998, the four places I found in the first few minutes of my first 'surf' were - in no particular order - the Army Men/Thor Trains website, Everything Toy Soldiers (ETS) on the HaT website, Toy Solder HQ from Kent Sprecher and Eric's pages. That he almost certainly produced them line-by-line from HTML code was in itself a wonder, and it is still the first word on Airfix small scale.

I never spoke to him myself although the odd message was relayed by third-party. By the time I was more active on the net he had gone quiet, I guess due to circumstances that are now tragically obvious. I'm sorry I never had the chance to 'chew the fat' with him and hope he's found a new peace with tons of toy soldiers. The page lives on and can be found on the waybackmachine, I don't link to it as I know he intended to take it down.

The Happy News

It's the Plastic Warrior Toy Soldier show in London tomorrow! That's the show organised by Plastic Warrior magazine, in Richmond, Surrey, where you will find people who want to sell you old Toy Soldiers.

You still have time to get to an airport, book a bucket-seat to Heathrow, Luton, Gatwick or Stansted and be there! The FA Cup Final isn't 'till the afternoon so trading will be a bit brisker than the year they coincided (a while ago now), and if you're not there you'll miss out on so much...just lock the kids in the bathroom, I've heard it's not going to be a day for fresh-air and they'll amuse themselves' with water and stuff...TAXI!

The Figure News

Dr. Who Adventures magazine has issued the 'Monster Army' again this week, one each of the existing poses (and five Daleks - I guess), it's a pain if you already have them as they haven't issued a decent 8x8x set of the two new ones yet but they will in time! On sale 'till next Wednesday.

The Other News

More thanks...despite my not having published much for the last four weeks, the blog had another 11,000+ month of hits (and none of them were me!). Several hundred of them were from a forum linking back to "this person's" blog...well This Person is grateful for all visitors, thanks.

Pen and Sword have sent me another couple of books to review which I should get done over the weekend with any luck, if not in the next few days, and (is that an Oxford comma? Shocking!) I've still got a bunch of articles queued-up, waiting for text/time!


Oh - did I tell you there's a Toy Soldier show in London tomorrow? Queen Charlotte Hall's in Richmond...three minutes from the tube station...I'll be in the trusty Tuskers 'Tee', although the forecast suggests it's unlikely to be visible?! That's the one organised by PW...a show...with Toy Soldiers - for sale!