November 1

A great day out at Beaulieu

We had a great day out at The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. If you’re interested in cars then it’s the place for you, but even if, like me, you only have a passing interest in motor vehicles, you’ll still find plenty to enjoy.

One of the great things about the museum and how it is laid out is your ability to get close up and personal to all the hundreds of rare and historic cars. Despite their value – some must be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds – there’s no great walls of glass keeping you away from them, just polite signs asking you not to touch.

From vintage Bugattis to the good old British Austin Seven and from Formula One racing cars to a Volkswagen Golf (how can a car identical to one that my school friend had as a first car be in a museum – that made me feel very old!)

We went during half-term and there was a fantastic exhibition of the classic 1960s movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Not only have they got the famous car there but they also had one that drives around. They’ve got a whole exhibition of artefacts from the film.

If like me you grew up terrified of the Child Catcher, then you can relive your moment of terror by actually seeing one of the real Child Catcher’s carriages!

We also went on a vintage bus ride, which was great and reminded me of the days when there were such thing as bus conductors – I’m really showing my age here.

One of the highlights of the day was going on the monorail. Built in 1974 and notably opened by The Wombles, who I had to explain to my son, were huge back then, the monorail goes right round the estate and uniquely goes through the exhibition of cars. The doors open at one end and the monorail goes through the cars which you can see if you look over the edge looking at the cars below, before going back out the other end.

We also went to a fabulous exhibition of the Special Operations Executive. Beaulieu was a wartime training base for secret agents who were parachuted into occupied France to – in Churchill’s words – “set Europe ablaze”. What was fascinating amongst the exhibits was a glass display of some of the quirkier secret gadgets such a map hidden in a pen, a radio in a lunchbox and a hacksaw hidden in a brush. Continue reading

November 11

WARNING: Beware “fake” poppies being sold on eBay

Internet giant eBay is making money from fake poppy badges sold by unscrupulous sellers on the auction site.

People are being misled into thinking that charities like The Royal British Legion are benefiting when they buy the metal badges and brooches.

But the imitation badges have nothing to do with charity – and proceeds go into the pockets of sellers with eBay taking a cut of the sale.

If a trader is selling brooches featuring the Legion’s trademarked two-petal poppy without an agreement in place, then the Legion can take a number of different actions, ranging from reporting the trader to their local Trading Standards Officer or sending the trader a formal cease or desist letter.

The Legion has a number of registered trademarks, including the Legion’s iconic two-petal poppy. Anyone using the Legion’s trademarked poppy on their products without the Legion’s consent is acting unlawfully, and the Legion will take action to stop this infringing behaviour.

Alternatively, if a trader states that a donation will be made to the Legion for the sale of any their products can only do so if they have entered into a formal agreement with the Legion.

A breach of the Legion’s trademarks can range from traders unlawfully selling any product featuring the Legion’s trademarked two-petal poppy, or any trader dishonestly stating that a donation will be made to the Legion from the sale of any of their products.

Ebay traders are getting around these rules by selling very similar badges – some bearing the words Lest We Forget – which are clearly aimed to hoodwink purchasers.

A spokesman for The Royal British Legion said: “The Royal British Legion offers a number of poppy accessories which raise much-needed funds for our charitable work. By donating for a poppy through our official channels or corporate partners, the public can rest assured that their money will go towards supporting our Armed Forces community.

“Poppies are widely available across England, Wales, Northern Ireland from Legion approved Poppy Appeal volunteer collectors who will be wearing official ID, or online through the Legion’s website.

“Poppy accessories offer another way to wear the poppy which also help to raise funds to continue our work. These are available via our corporate partners and Poppy Shop.”

Ebay says it works closely with The Royal British Legion and takes down any listings that are reported to it by them.

A spokesperson added: “Every year we work with the Royal British Legion, hosting an area of their official poppy products on our site. We remove items at their request.”

August 31

The death of Diana: Private tragedy, public grief

It is 20 years since the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

The loss of this undoubtedly gifted woman whose ability to connect with ordinary people and whose willingness to engage with unfashionable causes like her support for HIV victims, through her charity work helped to remove so much stigma and who did so much good, shocked the whole world.

But above everything, it was the most terrible and unimaginably awful loss for her sons William and Harry. Diana the mother was the role she cherished more than anything and the one in which she excelled.

However, 20 years on I remain as baffled by the public outpouring of grief for a woman few people really knew, as I did then.

I remember watching television coverage of her body being moved by car on the night before her funeral, accompanied by William and Harry. Vast crowds were there, but as the car continued on its journey, flash bulbs from the cameras not of the press but of mourners filled the dark sky.

Who takes photographs of a car containing a dead body, I remember wondering. If people were there to pay their respects, then show some respect. I felt so sorry for William and Harry. But it was the just the start.

Then there were the flowers piled up outside Buckingham Palace. I did not doubt the motivations of people who placed them there, but it just struck me as such a terrible waste of money. Surely Diana, whose commitment to a huge number of charities was so strong and genuine, would have preferred that people have given money to a charity she supported so that if there was to be anything remotely positive to come from her death it would be through helping those in need.

Most baffling for me was the need for people to go to London to mourn someone they didn’t actually know. This for me was summed up someone who wrote to The Guardian. She had bumped into a friend on the tube who was carrying a bunch of flowers and on her way to leave them at the gates of Kensington Palace. The writer had a lost both her parents a year or so previously in a car accident and the friend had never even mentioned it.

It struck me then, and my view hasn’t changed now, that as the spectacle and the piles of flowers grew people were swept up by their shock and sadness at the death of an iconic public figure. It seemed to me that many people wanted to be in London for the funeral to say they’d been there. It could almost have been any major occasion, I thought, but don’t tell me everyone was there to pay respects.

The day of the funeral itself was worse. As the coffin followed by Prince Charles, The Duke of Edinburgh. Earl Spencer and, so incredibly poignantly, William and Harry, people wailed.

But the very worse scenes for me took place as Diana’s body was taken to Althorp after the funeral. A time for silent reflection? No, people clapped. They actually clapped a coffin. I found that as baffling now as I did then. What happened to bowing of heads, standing in thought?

And the flowers. A carpet of flowers or petals for the car to drive over might have had some merit. But no, cellophane wrapped bunches were thrown at the car in the most undignified way.

I do not question that people were shocked, I do not doubt that people felt sad, but 20 years on I remain as puzzled by the way some people reacted to the death of someone they didn’t actually know, quite, quite bizarre.

The death of any public figure is unsettling for anyone who admires and respects them (I still remember clearly hearing of the sudden and premature death of Labour Leader John Smith, by all accounts a decent man who died just when he seemed likely to reach the pinnacle of his political career), but above all it is a personal tragedy for their loved ones and friends who have lost someone they actually know.

I am no fan of the idea of keeping a stiff upper lip. Indeed I think people should be encouraged to show their feelings but I will never understand people’s need to indulge so publically in “grief” for people they never met and didn’t actually know.