Magna Carta revisited

Where Magna Carta was signed

Charting the dawn of democracy: Magna Carta memorial, Runnymede

You expect revolutions to take place in crowded cities. Yet the event that marked the dawn of modern democracy took place in a peaceful meadow next to the River Thames at Runnymede, Surrey. This is where King John sealed Magna Carta, the agreement that forced rulers – in those days kings – to obey the rule of law.

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Solving my O2 overseas mobile data problem

No surfing today: could not activate mobile data network

No surfing today: could not activate mobile data network

It was so frustrating. As soon as I reached an international destination, I’d get a text from O2 telling me that I was on O2 Travel so paid just £1.99 a day for using the internet while abroad. Yet when I tried to surf the net I got this error message: “Could not activate mobile data network: you are not subscribed to a mobile data service”.

I complained several times to O2 (after trips to Dublin and Luxembourg) but each time they told me I was signed up for O2 Travel, so it wasn’t their fault.

When this happened yet again when I arrived in Madrid on Thursday I resigned myself to another fruitless call to customer service. I checked the iPhone settings – and yes, all was set up for overseas mobile data roaming. What was going on?

It's fault of the EU (Internet)

It’s fault of the EU (Internet)

Then I had a brainwave: try changing some of the less obvious setting and see if that made any difference. I spotted a setting (Settings/Mobile) called EU Internet (above). It was on. I turned it off, then tried to load a webpage. It worked! Problem solved.

So if you’re blocked from getting online overseas on your mobile, check whether this option is turned on. I’m assuming that this doesn’t affect the £1.99 O2 Travel deal. After all, I’m using an EU smartphone in the EU on an O2 EU contract.

The only remaining mystery? What on earth is the point of this iOS EU Internet option in settings? And is this new to iOS 8?

Sorry O2 for blaming you…

This post comprises a pedant and me

Bryan Henderson is famous – as a pedant. The world’s media put him under the spotlight last week for correcting the same error 47,000 times in Wikipedia. He hates the phrase ‘comprised of’ – arguing the ‘of’ is unnecessary. The story took me back to my days reading Ernest Gowers’ The Complete Plain Words in university in 1984: it was one of the phrases Gowers singled out as a howler.

I’ve never edited a single Wikipedia entry. But I felt a tremble of recognition when I read of Henderson’s obsession. As I get older, I get more irritated by language (and number) howlers. Here are some of my pet hates.

Language inflation. Build out; test out; off of. Just a few phrases that have suffered parasitic appendages.

Doppelgängers: words that have been replaced by identical sounding cousins: it’s/its; your/you’re; there/their/they’re. Years ago, it’s/its was the most common error, but your/you’re seems just as common now:  ‘Your welcome’…

Talking telephone numbers: companies that spend money on beautiful shop fronts and signs, but don’t know that the area phone code for London is 020 and Cardiff is 029. I’ve lost count of signs giving numbers starting 0207, 0208 and 02920.

No such code as 0207

Don’t try dialling 724 0055 

This Marylebone shop can’t get its own number right. Anyone dialling 724 0055 will get an unobtainable tone. The 7 in 0207 is actually part of the number, not the area code.

Does it matter? No, not compared with life’s real horrors. But accuracy does matter. Hats off to Bryan Henderson. Or hat’s off as some would say….

How a 13 year old taught me about Rosa Parks

We never stop learning. And it’s a special feeling when a child teaches you things you never knew.

I’ve had two examples of this in the past week. My six year old son Owen started teaching me the piano, passing on what he’d learned in his first piano lessons. Then the older brother of one of his friends opened my eyes to the extraordinary story of Rosa Parks. Continue reading

The end of the Victorian era, 114 years on

Ethel Land, Britain's last Victorian

Ethel Land, Britain’s last Victorian

Queen Victoria died 114 years ago this month. Her last subject in Britain died last week. Ethel Lang was born in 1900 as the Victorian era drew to a close.

Me and my Victorian grandmother

Me and my Victorian grandmother on her 100th birthday, 1991

It was a poignant moment for me as I was always rather proud that all four of my grandparents were Victorians, born between 1890 and 1893. Amongst my six great aunts and uncles, only Auntie Mabel was born after Victoria died – in 1903.

At a time when stress is defined as having to produce a PowerPoint presentation in hours, my Victorian relatives knew what a tough life was. Imagine living through the Great War, and losing friends and relatives to war, only to be faced with the Great Depression and another world war.

We are very lucky.

Winston Churchill, 50 years on

Churchill by Karsh of Ottawa

Winston Churchill, the man who saved Britain

Fifty years ago this week, Britain and the world mourned the man who defied Hitler. Winston Churchill’s long and extraordinary life had ended after 90 years.

It was the end of an era. Few other people’s passing prompt or justify that hackneyed phrase. For Britain, it marked a moment in history perhaps only matched by Queen Victoria’s death 64 years earlier. (How appropriate that the last Briton born during Queen Victoria’s reign, Ethel Lang, died this very week.)

I’ve always been enthralled by Churchill’s life. When my O level history teacher Dr Davies set us an essay in 1979, I deliberately ignored the instructions so I could write more about WSC. I loved ITV’s 1981 Sunday night series on his Wilderness years starring Robert Hardy. Later, I read several Martin Gilbert volumes of the monumental official biography.  Continue reading

Richmond’s high water mark, 1928

High water mark Richmond January 1927

When Richmond flooded, 1928

Anyone working or living in Richmond, Surrey, is used to the river Thames lapping over the riverside roads and paths. The White Cross pub even has a sign showing the high tide entrance. Yet few high tides have ever come close to January 1928.

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Cardiff, Wales, Monmouthshire and England

Monmouthshire in Cardiff

The authorities once thought this part of Cardiff was in England

Today’s Daily Telegraph includes a letter from a Cardiff reader Barrie Cooper complaining that BT insists on sending him a Newport phone directory because he lives in east Cardiff. This prompted schoolboy memories of a time when Cardiff’s eastern suburbs were technically part of England. Not that any of us accepted that for a moment…

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How I organised my iTunes music library for Sonos

As I blogged last week, I love my new Sonos Play:1 music speaker. It’s such an elegant and simple way to play my music. But it has forced me to tame the iTunes monster.

The reason? The Sonos system won’t play music from iCloud. Any music in your iTunes music library has to be on your device rather than the cloud. (By contrast, Spotify and other streaming services work fine, although Spotify has proved temperamental with Sonos.) This revelation showed how much of my 10 year iTunes collection is in the cloud.

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2015: time for a cycling century ride

Wiltshire cycling century

My first cycling century, 1995

A year ago, I ended the year by looking back to a cycling achievement: a two wheeled journey from Wales to Buckinghamshire. This New Year’s Eve, I’m looking ahead: to my first cycling century (100 mile bike ride) of the decade.  Continue reading