On the trail of Shaun the Sheep in London

A Capital View: Shaun the Sheep by St Paul's

A Capital View: Shaun the Sheep by St Paul’s

We had a terrific day in London yesterday on the trail of Shaun the Sheep. Shaun in the City has created 120 sheep sculptures celebrating the Aardman Animations character and raising money for children in hospitals.

There’s a great app for Android and iPhone that helps you follow the four trails and tells you about each sculpture. They’re spread around the City, South Bank and West End, so you get a great tour of London as you tick off each sheep.

We started at Barbican (should that be Baaaah-bican?) before trailing through the City, over the Millennium Bridge and on to the South Bank. (We needed a break – and highly recommend the PizzaExpress opposite the Royal Festival Hall.) We then headed via the BFI and Waterloo Bridge to Covent Garden and Leicester Square. A favourite was Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom inside Hamley’s toy shop. We wondered if Gaston the ladybird would feature – and he did! Continue reading

Apple Watch is smart but set up painful

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Apple Watch in the flesh

Apple’s first wearable device is here. It’s lovely, but set up was incredibly frustrating, unlike every other Apple device I have owned. Perhaps I was just unlucky. The glitch was in language selection. It started well: choosing and confirming UK English.

Apple Watch: choose your language

Apple Watch: choose your language

Apple Watch: confirm language

Apple Watch: confirm language

But when I tapped the tick to accept, I was given a stark choice to rest the phone or cancel. And the whole doom loop started again. Repeatedly.

Then, breakthrough. I was out the other side. I was asked to choose which wrist the Apple Watch would grace, and to add my iTunes account. At which point the whole thing ground to a halt again:

Apple Watch: two factor frustration

Apple Watch: two factor frustration

As I have two factor authentication set up on my Apple identity, I got the two step screen. But as I was pairing the iPhone to the Apple Watch, the iPhone didn’t appear on the list of devices. At this point I gave up and had dinner. But when I got back, I was right back at the very beginning – that language glitch.

After multiple attempts, I got beyond the language doom loop again, and finally got the thing working. A very unApple experience.

I’ll do another post about Apple Watch when I have used it for a few days. If you have problems setting up yours, keep trying.

General election 2015: a personal verdict

Change at the top

Change at the top

The polls were horribly wrong. The closest election for years proved nothing of the kind. David Cameron is back in Downing Street with a 15 seat parliamentary majority. Three of the seven party leaders who took part in the leaders TV debate resigned on Friday. Cameron and the Tories appear utterly in command. Yet that command may prove less enduring as the years unfold. Here are my thoughts three days after the most unpredictable election since 1992.

David Cameron’s majority has shrunk, not increased

The Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition had a majority of 76 in the House of Commons. It ensured a relatively smooth ride over its five year term. True, the two parties had their fractious moments, especially over the voting reform referendum, which the Tories torpedoed. But the coalition proved far more stable than anyone expected in 2010.

Continue reading

Quintinshill: Britain’s worst railway disaster 100 years on

Disaster hits the Royal Scots at Quintinshill

Disaster hits the Royal Scots at Quintinshill, Gretna Green

The 498 soldiers of the 7th battalion of the Scots Guards must have had mixed feelings as they boarded their troop train at Larbert in Scotland in the early hours of Saturday 22 May 1915. They were off to war as part of the ill-fated Gallipoli expedition. No doubt they pondered their chances of surviving in battle. Yet within three hours, over 200 were dead and a similar number injured in Britain’s most deadly railway disaster at Quintinshill near Gretna Green.

Quintinshill: the inferno

Quintinshill: the inferno

They were victims of a shocking act of neglect by two signalmen and other railwaymen, who failed to notice that signals had been cleared for their troop train even though a local train was standing in its path. The driver of the soldiers’ train had driven Queen Victoria, King Edward VII and King George V, but there was nothing he could do to avoid catastrophe as his train swept downhill at high speed into the local train. The 213 yard long troop train was compressed to a mere 67 yards. A third train ran into the wreckage, killing many survivors. Worse still, the coals of the engines set fire to the gas used to light the ancient wooden coaches causing an inferno that consumed the dead and the living.

A local reporter noted the incongruity of the mixing of human cries for help with the ‘sweet trills of the mavis and blackbird’.

Roll call of the 64 unharmed Royal Scots Quintinshill survivors

Roll call of the 64 unharmed Royal Scots Quintinshill survivors

Quintinshill: the verdict

Quintinshill: the verdict

The accident report laid the blame firmly at the door of the signalmen who had forgotten the presence of the local train under their noses in broad daylight, and the fireman of the local who was in the box to remind the signalmen of the presence of the train. The inspector also strongly urged the abolition of deadly gas lighting on trains. (A danger similar to that posed by hydrogen-filled airships.)

Quintinshill: military funeral in Edinburgh

Quintinshill: military funeral in Edinburgh

The Royal Scots victims were buried in Rosebank cemetery in Edinburgh two days later.

Despite its poignant status as Britain’s most deadly rail crash, the Quintinshill tragedy is less well-known than the Tay bridge disaster or the 1952 Harrow and Wealdstone crash. No doubt the fact it happened in wartime and involved a troop train ensured its anonymity.

PS: there’s an excellent Facebook page about the century commemoration of the disaster at Rosebank cemetery on 23 May 2015.

General election 2015: the humble act of voting

Voting generations

Poll position: voting generations

Britain elected a new parliament today. I always feel humble and emotional when I vote. Men and women have died for democracy – and I recall those long ago battles when I place a cross on a ballot paper.

Queuing to vote, 2015

Queuing to vote, 2015

As I write this, the BBC’s exit poll suggests the Tories have done better than expected. We shall see.

As we took Owen with us to the polling station in Chalfont St Giles, I explained that his paternal great grandmothers both waited a long time to vote – because women were deprived of equal votes with men until 1928. I think my dad’s mother was 38 before she voted in 1929.  Her last vote would have been in the 1992 election.

If you didn’t vote, don’t complain if you don’t like the government that results from today’s election.

PS: I turned the car radio on for the 8am news headlines as we went to vote. The main story on BBC Radio 5 Live was tomorrow’s 70th anniversary of VE Day. An important day from his grandparents’ early days.

How I solved my iPad storage full problem

It was so frustrating. My two year old 64GB iPad 4 running iOS 8 was constantly flashing ‘storage nearly full’ warnings. I couldn’t understand why: the first generation 64GB iPad it replaced always had around 50% capacity free. What was going on?

Today, I bit the bullet and did a reset to factory settings (Settings/General/Erase all content and settings) after doing a back up. As a result, I now have 31.5GB free space. It appears that the device is storing data from multiple back ups. Either way, I now have a working iPad again.

It’s the Sun wot fudged it

The Sun endorses Tories and SNP

Vote Tory! And SNP!

Newspapers love to think they have influence. Tony Blair grovelled to Rupert Murdoch to win The Sun’s endorsement in the 1997 election, after the paper claimed (wrongly) to have won John Major the 1992 poll. Yet this week’s decision by Murdoch to back two utterly opposing parties north and south of the border reveals the nonsense of such self important, cynical posturing.

I take exception to papers telling me how to vote. Democracy suffers through the massive bias in favour of the Tories. I also objected to the Guardian’s campaign against Boris Johnson in the 2008 London mayoral election. Yet the Sun’s laughable decision to back both the Tories and the SNP surely suggests the days when anyone paid attention to eve-of-election endorsements are coming to an end.

Britain on the brink: the SNP and the 2015 general election

The unionist Tories big up SNP's Sturgeon. Reality will be different

The unionist Tories boost SNP’s Sturgeon. Reality will be different

You could never accuse the British establishment of being intelligent. Almost a century ago, its brutal response to Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising ensured the departure of the 26 counties from the United Kingdom. David Cameron is doing his very best to repeat the trick 100 years on with Scotland.

I don’t blame the Tories for having fun at Labour’s expense over the rise of the SNP. But talk of the SNP holding the country to ransom is very foolish. The Scottish nationalists are completely entitled to use its bargaining power in the new parliament. That’s how parliament and the constitution work. More fool the Tories and Labour for allowing the survival of our corrupt and undemocratic voting system. It’s unlikely the SNP would be in the same powerful position had justice prevailed with the introduction of a more proportional voting system.

As Jonathan Freedland says in today’s Guardian, the Conservatives have been totally calculating in talking up the SNP. Chancellor George Osborne praised Nicola Sturgeon’s performance in the leaders’ debates. Why? To embarrass Labour. Yet the ploy was cynical and stupid at the same time. If the Tories were so horrified by the SNP supporting a Labour government, why praise that party’s leader?

Ironically, the SNP is likely to have less influence by ruling out any kind of unholy alliance with the Tories. It’s unlikely to repeat its 1979 folly in bringing down a Labour government. Ed Miliband may have more room for manoeuvre as a result, despite the Tory scaremongering.

Here’s my verdict after last September’s Scottish independence referendum:

“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.”

Judging by their actions over the last month, those out of touch London politicians have learned nothing.

Election 2015: heading for Ed?

Ed Miliband and the hen party

Ed Miliband and the hen party

The Tories expected Ed Miliband to implode under the pressure of a general election campaign. Yet the opposite is happening. The Labour leader has grown in stature (even with hen parties – above) and popularity while the Conservatives have slipped as their campaign has tottered from disaster to misjudgement.

There’s still time, of course, for the incumbent’s advantage to show. Labour still shivers at the memory of 1992, when apparent victory was snatched from the party at the last minute. (Although the reality was different: the polls underestimated the Tory vote.)

Here are my thoughts on the 2015 election campaign just over two weeks from the poll.  Continue reading

It’s an election, not a war, Polly Toynbee

It's an election, not a war

It’s an election, not a war

I expected better from Polly Toynbee. The Guardian’s columnist is usually a wise commentator on politics, and a passionate voice for the deprived. But today’s column indulged in childish war cliches. I assumed a female commentator to be more sensible.

What on earth has a ground war and an air war got to do with an election? Please grow up.

Don’t get me started on ‘retail offers’. Political reporting gets more ridiculous by the day.