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

Sonos Play:1: a sound decision

Sonos Play:1

Getting to know my Sonos Play:1

Ten years ago, my wife gave me an iPod as a Christmas present. I loved it from the start: I had joined the digital music revolution. This Christmas, Karen gave me a Sonos Play:1 speaker. What a great piece of kit.

It wasn’t a chance present. I’d put a lot of time into researching various wifi speaker options. Initially, I was leaning towards Airplay speakers, but I was put off by reports of sound dropping out. (That tallied with my frustrating experience with Apple TV.)

My early experience reflects the positive reviews of the Sonos Play:1 on Techradar and elsewhere. The sound is excellent – it has made me rethink the idea that quality sound needs two, stereo, speakers. I’ve not experienced any lost connections. It was amazingly simple to set up my Sonos system. The only gripe was that Spotify disappeared from Sonos on Boxing Day but once that was sorted I found it really easy to play Spotify through Sonos.

Highly recommended.

PS: I got childish pleasure today from getting music to play on the Sonos speaker in the living room while I was upstairs. It reminded me of my schoolboy trick of startling my grandmother by changing TV channels on our first TV remote control in the 1970s when I was in another room…

When Hereford United FC were watched by 35,000

Today’s sad news that Hereford United FC has been wound up in the High Court brought back childhood memories. In April 1976, I was one of 35,000 people who watched the team play Cardiff City at Ninian Park in Cardiff. Hereford were leading the old third division and City were placed second. Cardiff won 2-0 that unforgettable evening.

It was one of my favourite Ninian Park memories. I still have the match programme, signed by members of Cardiff City’s promotion team.

I hope Hereford one day rise from the ashes, like former Welsh Cup rival Newport County.

Costa Coffee takes over Captain Mainwaring’s bank branch

Captain Mainwaring at The Crown

The Crown as Martins Bank, Walmington-on-Sea

I don’t imagine that Dad’s Army’s Captain Mainwaring ever tasted a frappucino. (They came long after 1940.) But the Chalfont St Giles, Bucks pub that posed as Mainwaring’s bank in the Dad’s Army film is about to open as Costa’s latest coffee shop.

Costa Coffee Chalfont St Giles

The Crown becomes a Costa

Sadly, the much loved Crown closed last year, as I blogged in May. It was one of our favourite venues for anniversary and birthday dinners. (I took my very first iPhone photo on one such occasion in 2008.) Losing a pub is always a sad event, but if we have to swap dinner for coffee a Costa is a good choice. (Make mine a skinny latte and tiffin…)

The Crown Chalfont St Giles pub sign

Sign of the times

PS: we paid our first visit today, 20 December. They’ve done a very nice job converting the pub. The coffee’s great too!

Costa Coffee opens in Chalfont St Giles

Costa Coffee opens in Chalfont St Giles

Mourning the iPod Classic

According to The Guardian, the iPod Classic is one of 2014’s hottest Christmas presents, even though Apple stopped making it earlier this year. The paper claims people are paying up to £670 for a Classic.

It all seems a little far fetched (especially as the Apple Store is offering a refurbished one for £162). But I understand the appeal of the music player that changed everything. I still use mine (bought in 2009) every day in my car. If anything, the iPod is becoming more useful even in the Spotify era. Back in 2010, I was able to store my entire music collection on my first generation 64GB iPad, along with a year’s photos and a few movies, with 20GB to spare. Its successor – same capacity – is frequently at capacity despite having just playlists not my full collection. (What’s to blame? Photostream?) So one device to do everything isn’t such a great idea. I’ll continue using my iPod Classic, with its ability to store 40,000 songs in my pocket.

PS: I still mourn my first iPod, a Christmas present from Karen in 2004. It was my first Apple product. I left it on a plane in San Francisco in 2008. My 2009 Classic isn’t as smooth to the touch.