Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!


This is my little corner of the world wide web. If you're visiting for the first time, you might want to start by reading a bit more about me.

From 2003 until 2015, I regularly blogged about anything that interested me: mainly culture, Liverpool, politics, my travel adventures, trains and a whole lot more. The final posts are below, and the blog archives remain available, but I have no plans to update this site any further at the moment.

For other sections of the site, follow the links in the navigation bar above.

30th December 2015

All Good Things
Posted by at 7.00pm | It's My Life, Meta | No responses

Changed Priorities Ahead

It might have been an omen. On Monday afternoon I tried to log in to put the finishing touches to this post, only to find my blog was inaccessible due to a database snafu at my web hosting provider. The site was restored by this morning, but for 36 hours I was worried that twelve years of blogging had gone down the swanee. (Backups? What are they?)

I started this blog back in March 2003. In that pre-Twitter world, all the cool kids had blogs. I wanted to be a cool kid, so I bought myself some hosting, installed Movable Type (remember that?) and off I went.

Back then, things were rather uncertain for me. I was lonely and rather bitter about the way things were going for me. The one thing I had was my words, and the one outlet for my feelings and opinions was this web site. Through it I found my voice, albeit one that was shaky and unsure at times. I made friends and shared experiences, both good and bad.

And now, over twelve years later, it’s time to stop.

Wait… whaaaat?

Read the rest of this post »

24th December 2015

Loneliness, what is the point of it?
Posted by at 3.51pm | Fun | No responses

I’m spending Christmas at my parents’, with limited internet access (pray for me) but I’ll be back in a few days with some exciting news for all my readers.

In the meantime, here’s a lovely little video from Den of Geek, for anyone who is feeling a bit lonely this festive season. Susie Dent and Luke Goss in the same video? It happened!

A little cheesy perhaps, but its heart is in the right place. Besides, it was either that or I link to the Robert Dyas advert.

21st December 2015

Dabblin’ in Dublin
Posted by at 8.52pm | Out and About | No responses

Leprechaun Museum

When my friend Andrew suggested a trip to Dublin, I leapt at the chance. I’ve jetted off to Estonia, Norway and Germany, but our neighbouring isle had remained off-limits. It was high time I put that right.

Of course, Andrew had an ulterior motive. He’s a planespotter — sorry… “aviation enthusiast”, so when Aer Lingus launched a new Dublin to Liverpool service on 23 October, he had to be on the first flight. A day in Dublin was an added bonus.

Yes, I’m writing about my trip two months after it actually happened. I’VE BEEN BUSY LEAVE ME ALONE. One side effect is that I’ve forgotten some of the details, so you’ll have to make do with some overall impressions.

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17th December 2015

It’s grim up Northern
Posted by at 7.52pm | Trains | No responses

319363 and 142009

Rail franchising! Does any topic get people more excited? In pubs and saloons up and down the country, people are clustered around tables, excitedly discussing Invitations to Tender, Passenger Service Requirements and non-compliant bids!

No? Just me, then.

The government yesterday announced that the Northern franchise had been won by Arriva (owned by German state railway operator Deutsche Bahn). They had beaten out Abellio (owned by Dutch state railway operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen) and Govia (70% owned by French state railway operator SNCF). Remember, state ownership of railways is bad, unless it’s a foreign state.

Arriva have a long shopping list of improvements, and it’s long overdue. The north’s rail services have suffered ever since the boneheaded decision by the Department for Transport, back in 2004 under Labour, to let the Northern franchise on a “zero-growth” basis. In other words, the civil servants assumed there would be little or no growth in passengers and revenue, so no additional rolling stock or services were planned.

Northern Rail

In fact, it seems that the DfT at the time wanted to perpetuate the “managed decline” of the railway. A report was even commissioned to look for possible cost savings, and speculation mounted that lines or stations could be closed. Much to the disappointment, I’m sure, of some DfT mandarins, the report concluded that the franchise was efficiently run, and even closing the famed “limited service” routes like Ellesmere Port to Helsby (four trains a day), Stockport to Staybridge (one train a week) and Chester to Runcorn (eight trains a year) would save almost no money.

Contrary to expectations, passenger numbers have boomed over the past decade, and the service has struggled to cope. Northern has been forced to beg, borrow and steal whatever trains it can find. A load of Sprinter trains were blagged from London Midland, and pressed into service still adorned with Network West Midlands logos. More recently, some electric trains were procured from Thameslink (and this time, at least, overhauled and repainted) for the newly-electrified routes from Liverpool to Manchester and Blackpool Preston.

It’s still very common, however, to find commuters crammed into too-short trains, many of which are essentially the same as those which worked these lines back in the 1980s and 1990s under British Rail. Worst of all are the “Pacers”, Leyland National bus bodies bolted onto a 4-wheeled chassis, which have all the comfort and ambience of a shopping trolley. It’s clear that things needed to change, and the Government franchise documents made it clear that maintaining the status quo was not an option.

Enter Arriva – or should that be “re-enter”? They did, after all, run a previous incarnation of the franchise, covering mainly the North East of England, back in the early noughts.

New Northern Logo

We are promised 281 new carriages and new routes connecting destinations were previously a change of train was needed. It remains to be seen whether this will come to pass as advertised. Arriva’s previous form on railway operations is… ahem, varied. It ranges from the good (Chiltern Railways) to the bad (CrossCountry) to the very, very ugly (the original Arriva Trains Northern).

The press release on Wednesday was full of optimism. Is there bad news buried that we have yet to find? Will there be fare increases or staff cuts? Will this be a bold new start for the Northern Powerhouse (ugh) or will we be knocking on Serco’s door, begging for our Pacers back? Time will tell.

13th December 2015

Gettin’ Digi with it
Posted by at 5.33pm | Web | No responses

A lot of British gamers will remember the superb Digitiser magazine which ran on Teletext on Channel 4 between 1993 and 2003.

What a lot of people perhaps aren’t aware of is the behind the scenes turmoil that went on between its writer, Paul Rose (aka Mr Biffo), and the management of Teletext Ltd. The latter were worried that the strange characters, surreal humour and irreverent language-me-do didn’t really fit in on a text-based information service (owned by the Daily Mail!) which was probably better known for holiday adverts and trivia quizzes.

Last year Mr Biffo resurrected Digitiser in the form of a new website, and over the past few days he has been telling the story of his time at Teletext, how Digitiser got off the ground, the battles with management, its decline and the final, triumphant end. Part One of the story is here.

If you were never a fan of the Man’s Daddy and his jokes, you can still take one thing away from the tale. In the epilogue to the story, Biffo tells the story of a Q&A session he held at a recent gaming convention:-

I got asked by an audience member what I considered to be the meaning of life.

I’m sure he was looking for a funny answer – “Shoes filled with prawns and dentist poo!” I could’ve said to uproarious laughter – but I could only think of something sincere.

Wincing at my own profound earnestness, I told him that the most important thing in life is to be with people who let you be you. Whether it’s your other half, a best friend, colleagues, your parents, your children, or simply yourself… you deserve to be celebrated – not pressured to conform to the ideals of others. For the most part, I’ve got that today, in spades; an amazing partner, great kids, good mates – and people I’ve mostly never met who support my writing. I’m blessed.

It’s too easy to fall into roles, or relationships, or jobs, where your unique you-ness is suppressed, or not valued. It doesn’t matter if you’re crap at DIY, or hate football, or you’re messy, or scruffy, or clumsy, or have a weird sense of humour, or like video games – find places in life where all of that is appreciated. Or, at least, not beaten down. Don’t compromise on this.

That’s quite good advice, I think.

Another piece of good advice: stay AWAY from Mr T’s BINS.

3rd December 2015

Posted by at 8.26pm | It's My Life | No responses

Just going to leave this here…

Two-thirds of a degree.

A photo posted by Robert Hampton (@hampo) on

29th November 2015

Bahn Hamburg
Posted by at 2.45pm | Out and About | No responses

Final post in the Hamburg series!

Having talked about the places I visited in Hamburg, I probably should mention how I travelled to them. Yes, it’s the big climax, the one you’ve all been waiting for: my assessment of the public transport system.

Hamburg, like many European cities, is blessed with a lovely public transport system. As well as buses, and the aforementioned ferries, there are underground and overground trains zipping all over the place. No trams, though. Boo.

But… dear, oh dear, the network map lets it down. A nasty mess of jagged lines, and the city centre is a jumbled mess with lines criss-crossing all over the place. It’s not as bad as the horrible Merseyrail map with the square loop from a few years ago, but still, I can only give 6 out of 10.


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19th November 2015

Elbe Room
Posted by at 11.09pm | Out and About | 1 response

Part 7 of my trip to Hamburg. I’m nearly at the end, honest!

Hamburg is a port city, straddling the River Elbe and welcoming ships from all over the world. It’s the second largest port in Europe behind Rotterdam, and the ninth largest in the world. The best way to see the harbour and port up close is, of course, by boat. It was our last day in Hamburg and we had a few hours to kill before our flight home, so we headed for the river and the pier at Landungsbrücken.

Landungsbrücken Landungsbrücken

The ferries in Hamburg function as part of the public transport system. The routes are numbered just like bus routes, and you can hop on board as easily as you would a bus (well, almost).

We were joined by some of Boris’s friends from Friday night for the trip. At the Landungsbrücken pier we boarded a number 62 ferry for a short journey west. The weather was cloudy with the threat of showers, but we still took ourselves upstairs and stood on the upper, open deck.

Hamburg Ferry

Great views were available in all directions: on one side of the river, office blocks and apartments rise up; while on the other, mile after mile of docks and industry line the bank.

Hamburg Waterfront Hamburg docks

20 minutes later we arrived at Neumühlen, where we alighted and went for a short stroll. There are some impressively posh houses and a short length of beach here, with a slightly incongruous backdrop of cranes and docks on the opposite bank of the river. I’m reliably informed that anyone going for a paddle has to look out for the wakes generated by the huge ships which go past.

Hamburg beach

Time was growing short and we needed to get back to the hotel for our bags. We headed back to the pier for a ferry back east. We had to wait a few minutes and a crowd of people built up. When the ferry arrived it was already quite crowded, but we joined the procession of people waiting to board and assumed there would be no difficulty.

As I boarded, one of the ferry crew stepped onto the gangway behind me to obstruct it. I didn’t quite catch what he said, but it was clear that the boat was full and no more passengers would be allowed to board. The problem was that one half of our merry band was still standing on the pier, and I could only watch as we sailed off, leaving Boris and co behind.

There was a happy ending though. Boris got a lift direct to the airport while I rushed back to the hotel on the U-Bahn to collect our luggage, then manhandled two suitcases onto the S-Bahn to the airport. Well, I guess it was happier for Boris than me.

14th November 2015

Liberté, égalité, fraternité
Posted by at 11.17pm | In the News | No responses

Eiffel Tower

What to say about the Paris massacre that hasn’t already been said? I’m finding it difficult to find the words to convey the mounting sense of shock and horror that I felt as I watched the evening’s events unfold on television. I can’t even begin to imagine the trauma that those directly affected are feeling.

I try to look at these things unemotionally. Mathematically speaking, the odds are in our favour. If you live in a stable Western democracy, chances are that you will never be caught up in a random attack.

But even the most rational human could not totally rid themselves of the nagging doubt, the fear that you could be one of those people who are later described as “being in the wrong place at the wrong time”. There’s always a slight possibility that a routine shopping trip, a visit to the cinema, or the commute to work can turn tragic in the blink of an eye.

I am comforted by the many acts of kindness that were reported in the immediate aftermath. The Parisians who opened up their homes for stranded people. The taxi drivers who took people home for free. Cities are imperfect places in many ways, but at times like this the anonymous mass of people somehow always seems to coalesce into an impromptu support network.

Paris will recover, and carry on – just as London, New York, Mumbai and countless other places have had to do. The only alternative is for everyone to hide under the bed and never come out – although admittedly, telecommuting and online grocery shopping makes this a very feasible option these days.

But carrying on can wait for a day or two. In the meantime, let us all honour and mourn those whose lives have been cut short so brutally.

3rd November 2015

Park life
Posted by at 10.59pm | Out and About | No responses

Yes, I’m still writing about Hamburg!

Inexplicably on the Friday afternoon of our trip, Boris decided to leave the rest of the group and spend some quality time with his family. Outrageous!

I could have gone to the Hamburg Dungeon with Florian and Andrew, but since the only available tour was in German, I decided to pass. That left me at a bit of a loose end, or it would have done if it hadn’t been for my sister Jenny and her boyfriend Andy, who by pure coincidence were in Hamburg at the exact same time as me.

We arranged to meet at Planten un Blomen, the big park in the city centre.

I’m kind of spoiled when it comes to German parks because my first experience of one was Berlin’s huge, sprawling Tiergarten. But Planten un Blomen (literally “Plants and Flowers”) was lovely too – a haven of tranquility in the midst of a frenetic city, as all good parks are.

Yes, it was nice to get together and spend some relaxing quiet time together. True to form, we then wandered off and ended up in a pub. Ahem.