Great War memorialised: Tower of London poppies

Poppy pageant: London's Great War centenary memorial

Poppy pageant: London’s Great War centenary memorial

The 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War has been movingly commemorated at the Tower of London by the planting of a ceramic poppy for every one of the almost 900,000 British and Commonwealth death during the war.

We visited on Wednesday evening as it was getting dark. The sea of red was a stark reminder of the scale of the carnage. How lucky we are to live in an era of relative peace.

Poppies in the moat, Tower of London

Poppies in the moat, Tower of London

The poppies themselves are beautiful. Here, near Traitor’s Gate, you can see the stems.

Not everyone is so moved. Jonathan Jones in the Guardian mocked the poppy pageant as false and trite. His argument hardly convinced: he says the poppies represent British losses and so represented a nationalistic tribute. Hardly – they include Commonwealth losses. In any case, his view of the poppies as glorifying war is the same as the regular criticism of the annual poppy appeal as perpetuating war. The British people are more sensible than newspaper writers.

Solving Mac OS X Yosemite internet speed problem

Speed trap: OS X Yosemite

Speed trap: OS X Yosemite

I cursed my decision to upgrade to the new version of Apple’s OS X operating system for Mac, Yosemite. The moment I upgraded, I was transported back to 1999.Webpages took minutes to load. Why did I break the golden rule: never update an operating system the day the new version is released?

I Googled for answers. Some suggested deleting and restoring my wifi network. Others urged me to delete my Safari history, or restart the Mac. None of these solutions made any difference.

My own solution cracked it: restart my router. I’m now surfing at 2014 speeds, not the dial up days of the 1990s. Phew.

Delivering on?

I’ll scream if I hear another politician saying they will ‘deliver on’ their promises.

You keep a promise, you don’t deliver on it. And since when has the verb deliver needed ‘on’? Does your postman or woman ‘deliver on’ your mail?

I wrote to the Guardian in 2011 about this awful example of abusing the language of Shakespeare.

Remembering Arnhem, the bridge too far

Operation Market Garden

The bridge too far: Arnhem 1944

It was the bridge too far: the operation designed to end the second world war by Christmas 1944. The airborne assault was audacious and partly succeeded. Nijmegen was captured. Yet Arnhem proved the bridge too far, as Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning was claimed to warn in the famous film A Bridge Too Far. The allies lost twice as many casualties in Operation Market Garden as at D-Day.

That film was one of the last great movies about the war. I saw it with my friend Gareth in Cardiff when it came out in the autumn of 1977. (I remember having to pay full fare on the train into Cardiff as I had just turned 14.) I enjoyed the film, but didn’t really understand the story. You needed some understanding of Market Garden.

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Scotland says no

... but yes to Great Britain

… but yes to Great Britain

We can breath again. Scotland said no to independence. Great Britain lives on. The United Kingdom is intact. We can forget all those arguments about a currency union and sterlingisation. We are truly better together. Here are my thoughts on the day we found out that the 307 year old union has been renewed.

Scotland and Britain will never be the same again.

Out of touch London politicians have had the fright of their lives. Cameron, Miliband and Clegg complacently assumed that the result was a foregone conclusion. But when a single poll claimed a yes lead, they panicked. They cobbled together a promise of ‘Devo Max’ – home rule within the UK. Dave, Ed and Nick rushed up to Scotland to declare undying love for the country and plead with Scots not to file for divorce. It was desperate and unconvincing.

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Final thoughts on Scotland’s independence vote

Scotland decides

Scotland decides

On Thursday, Scotland will decide whether to become an independent country. This time next week we might be coming to terms with the end of Britain. I’ve blogged a few times about the independence vote, starting with the 2012 Edinburgh agreement between the UK and Scottish governments to hold a referendum. More recently, I voiced concern that the rest of the country was paying more attention to the Great British Bake Off than the Great British Break Up. That has changed at the eleventh hour as the British establishment finally realised that the union was in deadly peril.

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In praise of Newport, NATO’s venue

Not many cities can claim to have hosted a Ryder Cup and NATO summit within four years. Newport, South Wales is in a very exclusive club.

I have affectionate memories of Newport as it’s the place I started work in 1986. I was one of the few who commuted from Cardiff rather than the other way round. 

It was good to see the sun shining this week as world leaders gathered at the Celtic Manor, in contrast with the rain that blighted the opening of the Ryder Cup in 2010. (I jeered those who asked who decided to hold a golf tournament in Wales – as if it has never rained at Wimbledon, Lord’s or Wembley…)

Some in South Wales have complained about the disruption – but it’s a small price to pay for the priceless publicity Wales earned this week. We have long been in the shadow of Ireland and Scotland, and we must grab every opportunity to be centre stage. 

President Obama, David Cameron and other NATO leaders at Cardiff Castle.

President Obama, David Cameron and other NATO leaders at Cardiff Castle.

Bill Shankly Red or Dead

I remember the shock of Bill Shankly’s resignation. I was 10 years old. I’d been to just one league football game. (Cardiff City 0-1 West Brom.) Yet even I realised this was an important moment.

My mind went back to that summer 1974 bombshell this week as I read David Peace’s book about Shankly, Red or Dead. Forty years ago. It was the summer I became truly interested in the game. Travelling back from a family holiday in Dunoon, Scotland, I was intrigued by Shoot magazine’s league ladder. I used it to track Carlisle United’s brief spell at the top of the first division. (I recounted this in my blogpost about the closure of Shoot magazine in 2007.) 

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Land’s End to John O’Groats: travellers’ tales

It’s the ultimate British bike ride: from Land’s End in Cornwall to John O’Groats on Scotland’s far north coast. The End to End. I did the ride in 2002. I’m now starting to dream about doing it again with my son when he’s older.

To feed that dream, I’ve just read two books about other riders’ End to End experiences. My favourite was Ellie Bennett’s Blood Sweat and Gears. Ellie clearly loved and loathed the experience, a contrast most End to End riders will recognise. The sinking feeling as you see yet another West Country hill looming ahead of you. The dread at the number of miles and hills before that night’s destination. And wondering if the rain will ever stop.

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Scottish independence: sleepwalking to the end of Britain?

Scotland decides

Scotland decides

Could this be the summer that sees the end of Britain? Scots could choose independence on 18 September. Yet the Great British Break Up is getting less attention than the Great British Bake Off, at least outside Scotland. Amazingly, the first TV debate between SNP leader Alex Salmond and Better Together’s Alistair Darling wasn’t even shown on TV south of the border. 

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