How I won the Napoleonic Wars!

By the time I reached sixth form at school, I had to some degree resolved the bullying and so had time to make friends.  One of them was PHV – we all knew him as PHV, he chose to be known by his initials.

I lost touch with him when I went to University but at the time his claim to fame was his father who was a well-known local historian.  I still occasionally hear someone mention him or see one of his books in a second-hand bookshop.

I was lonely in those days and so visits to his house were a welcome break, especially during school holidays.  PHV was a model war gamer.  He used Airfix models of soldiers maybe an inch or so high.  He cut off their arms and reattached them into the poses he favoured.  Then he painted them in incredible detail.  Everything was meticulously researched and carefully reproduced.  He had I remember 3 main periods of history: Napoleonic, American Civil War and modern, probably World War 2.  We agreed that the latter was the least successful mainly because tanks made such a mess of the battlefield.

My job was to be his opponent, the troops on two sides were arranged on a contoured battlefield.  Then there were rules, mainly governed by dice rolls and we, over the course of an hour or two, fuelled by his mother’s tea and digestives, attempted to slaughter each other.

I like to think I won these games.  Maybe I did, I don’t honestly remember but I remember PHV’s frustration.   He knew the history and I did not, so as I learned the rules of the game, I did better than I should because I was not constrained by history.

The other thing we did were our lunchtime “top corridor trundles”.  After the school went co-ed, it was possible to walk around the school, doors that were previously closed, opened!

We discussed everything and one of our perennial topics was the environment.  By the early 70s, there was a lot of alarming material in the news about environmental catastrophe.  The scariest thing I remember was the impending ice age.  But it was much more complex than that.  The Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth warned of resource depletion, a key point that seems to have been forgotten these days amidst the concern about climate change.  And then there was Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring that warned of the dangers of pollution. 

PHV would have none of it and so we argued round and round the topic and the corridor, trying to convince each other that we were right.

It was at this time I joined the Conservation Society and worked with a married couple whose names I have completely forgotten campaigning against road building in Sheffield.  This was the time of York 2000, which became Transport 2000 and the ongoing debate about cars and public transport.  I remember the plans for the outer ring road at the time were bizarre; elaborate networks of flyovers were in vogue in most cities at the time.  But in the end, it is PHV I remember and not so much my allies.

I don’t think either PHV or I won our arguments.  But we didn’t lose them either, he helped me hone my arguments and I’m sure I helped with his too.  We’re sometimes told we should avoid arguments about politics or religion.  But I’ve found several times since that where someone who disagrees with you is prepared to walk, it is an invitation to both of us to work towards not victory but understanding. 

In the end, we all have to live with our arguments going round and round in our heads.  It is a precious gift to be offered a patient ear from one who disagrees.

Day 15/21 of my writing challenge. Every weekday, I publish a short piece of writing on my subject, solitude. The writings are based on a daily prompt from Megan Macedo, who leads the challenge. These are all first drafts with minimal revision. Please comment if you find these posts helpful. Previous: Nothing Propinques Like Propinquity. Next: Maltby

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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