Robert Hampton

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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. I blog here about anything that interests me: mainly culture, Liverpool, politics, trains and a whole lot more besides. The latest posts are below and there's more in the archives. For other sections of the site, follow the links in the navigation bar above.

15th April 2014

96 – 25
Posted by at 10.07pm | In the News | No responses

There’s been only one thing on the minds of most people in Liverpool today – the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough Disaster. The memorial service was, as ever, a profoundly moving event.

At the inquest, “pen portraits” have been read out; moving personal testimonies from relatives of those who died. Click on over to the Liverpool Echo‘s web site to read the accounts from day four, day five, day six, day seven and day eight.

What comes across loud and clear is the sense of loss that is still keenly felt. Families lost brothers, fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, sisters amidst chaos and confusion.

With the inquests just getting under way in Warrington, there is a new sense of hope for the families. They are ordinary people who have found themselves in an extraordinary situation, and they have handled it with immense dignity. I don’t know how they do it, but I am willing them to maintain that strength through to the end of the inquests when, hopefully, they will get the closure they have been denied for so long.

11th April 2014

The Mole Person
Posted by at 7.21pm | Books | No responses

Adrian Mole Books

Overnight came some very sad news from the world of publishing: Sue Townsend has died.

Townsend is, of course, best known for her character, Adrian Mole, surely one of the greatest characters in modern literature. Mole’s development from an angst-ridden teenager – obsessed with poetry and measuring his “thing” – to a neurotic adult unable to hold down a relationship was a masterpiece of writing and character observation.

There was some biting satire in the books as well. Townsend always manages to capture the zeitgeist of the time – the early books are a perfect 1980s time capsule (“Do you weep, Mrs Thatcher, do you weep?”), while later ones moved on to mock (with pinpoint accuracy) the realities of life under New Labour. There’s plenty of laugh out loud moments too – via Seb’s Tumblr I was reminded of the minute-by-minute account of a school trip to a museum, which I found hilarious.

For my money, Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction is my favourite. It’s funny as hell, like all the books in the series, but the part where Adrian’s son Glenn writes a series of letters home from his posting in Iraq, packs a real emotional punch.

Townsend wrote other books too (The Queen and I is excellent) but it’s Adrian Mole for which she will always be remembered. That’s a fairly good legacy to leave behind, I think.

9th April 2014

R.I.XP

Windows XP boot screen

In October 2001, Microsoft was at the height of its power. Internet Explorer had crushed its rivals in the browser wars; Apple (pre-iPod revolution) was struggling with its early, incomplete version of OS X; and Google was just a search engine.

It was amidst this backdrop that Windows XP was unleashed on an unsuspecting world, as Bill Gates excitedly announced the end of the MS-DOS era. Up to this point, most consumer-grade Windows PCs still ran the ageing command line system under the hood. This provided excellent backwards compatibility, but also introduced instability; a rogue DOS program or driver could bring down the whole system.

XP, however was free of this baggage. It took the best features of the previous “home user” systems such as Windows 98 and blended them with the much more stable and secure Windows NT kernel. DOS existed only on an emergency boot floppy disc (kids, ask your parents).

Keen to get the new OS in front of as many people as possible, Microsoft launched what was probably their biggest marketing push since Windows 95, six years earlier. This bizarre advert, with a Madonna soundtrack, demonstrated XP’s ability to, er… make its users fly.

Not satisfied with mere adverts, Microsoft’s head honcho headed to the studios of KACL for an excruciating cameo on “Frasier”.

Now, however, all that Microsoft marketing money is being spent to convince you that XP is bad and you’re bad for using it. 8th April 2014 marked the official “end of support” for Windows XP; Microsoft is no longer providing patches or security fixes, which means that users will become vulnerable to new viruses and hacking attacks.

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8th April 2014

Amsterdam Miscellany
Posted by at 6.54pm | Out and About | 2 responses

I amsterdam city cardWe’ve come to the end of my Amsterdam blog pentalogy, as I round up some of the other highlights of my visit.

I amsterdam city card

This handy tourist card costs just €57 for 48 hours and gives free or discounted access to a whole host of attractions. It also has an OV-chipkaart built in to give unlimited rides on Amsterdam’s bus, tram and metro systems. It can be bought online, where you receive a voucher to print off and exchange for the card at a tourist information centre (there’s one opposite Centraal Station and another at Schipol Airport).

You also get a handy fold up map of the city to help you get around. Highly recommended.

Canal cruise

We had some time to kill on our last day, so went on a canal cruise. Holland International Canal Cruises leave from a terminal near the station and, as our I amsterdam cards included a free canal cruise, it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity.

Canal Cruise Robert on the canal

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6th April 2014

In Memoriam-sterdam
Posted by at 8.19pm | Out and About | No responses

This blog post is all about memorials. I don’t want it to sound like Ian and I deliberately went around looking for memorials to the dead, like some sort of macabre walking tour. But while exploring the city we did see a few of the more well-known monuments, and here are some of them.

The Homomonument was the first monument in the world to the gay people and persecuted under the Nazis. It takes the form of three granite triangles. The first triangle represents the past, and comes in the form of steps leading to the canal, symbolising the many gay people who were shipped off to concentration camps.

Homomonument - Past

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4th April 2014

Museum musings
Posted by at 7.40pm | Out and About | No responses

Van Gogh Museum

Wednesday morning’s culture was the Van Gogh Museum, boasting “The world’s largest Van Gogh collection”. The fact that the museum is spread across three floors should tell you sometih

The queue to get in was long. Fortunately, Ian and I had bought an I amsterdam City Card, which allowed us to join a slightly shorter queue – and get in for free. Then, after a quick trip through a metal detector, we found ourselves.

The museum is set out chronologically, starting with his early works as an apprentice. It’s rather fascinating to see his style evolve from the dark, realistic painting style he started out with up to the brightly-coloured impressionist paintings he is perhaps best known for.

There are also paintings by artists who influenced Van Gogh, and by artists who were themselves inspired by him. Paul Gaugin and Claude Monet are among those represented.

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30th March 2014

A Frank Discussion
Posted by at 10.16pm | Out and About | No responses

Anne Frank HouseOne of the first places that Ian and I visited in Amsterdam was the Anne Frank House.

Thanks to her diary, Anne Frank has become one of the most well-known of the millions of people murdered by the Nazis. Her family fled from Frankfurt to Amsterdam in 1933 to escape Nazi persecution, only to find themselves trapped when Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940. In July 1942, as the German occupiers began rounding up Dutch Jews to send to their deaths, Anne’s father Otto decided to take matters into his own hands. He organised a hiding space in the warehouse of his business. In this “Secret Annexe” – a series of small rooms accessible through stairs hidden behind a bookcase – the family lived for over two years. Eight people holed up in a tiny space, unable to go outside or even open the curtains, and remaining completely quiet during the day in case the employees in the warehouse below heard them.

The plan ultimately failed; the Frank family was betrayed by person or persons unknown, and they were arrested in August 1944. Soon after, they were sent to concentration camps. Of the eight house residents, only Otto Frank survived.

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28th March 2014

Let the train take away the strain
Posted by at 11.35pm | Out and About, Trains | 3 responses

Robert and EurostarWhen I first announced to people that I was going to Amsterdam by train, I described it as “the hard way”.

Don’t get me wrong – the possibility of a train journey spanning four countries and two time zones filled me with gleeful anticipation – but I was expecting a certain amount of tribulation and, yes, faff. For you see, while Britain’s railway network is comforting and familiar to me, Europe’s was, by and large, an unknown quantity to me. Years of experience has allowed me to navigate Britain’s privatised railway with ease, but on the continent there is a whole new maze of terminology to get to grips with: there’s Thalys and TGV and ICE, all with slightly differing rules and regulations. It’s all a bit complicated, even with experts like The Man In Seat 61 on hand to offer advice.

I like the idea of international travel by train – there’s no need to decant liquids into a tiny plastic bag, no seat belts to fasten, and you can keep your phone turned on. Until this week, however, my exposure to European railways has been limited to a few trips on Berlin’s S-Bahn network. Determined to change that, I started cooking up plans last year to make some international rail journeys, and quickly zeroed in on Amsterdam as a destination. My original plan involved taking a ride on the DutchFlyer rail and sail service. However, a glance at Eurostar’s web site revealed that tickets from London to Amsterdam were available on selected trains for just £49.50 one-way. This was only a few pounds more expensive than the DutchFlyer fare, and offered a much faster journey.

So, at just after 8am on Tuesday morning, I was at London St Pancras station, ready to catch the Eurostar to Brussels. As I emerged into the bustling terminus, I felt a tinge of anxiety. As usual, my mind was calculating everything that could go wrong – a fire in the Channel Tunnel, some errant weather, a wildcat French strike.

I was thrilled, therefore, to have the company of Ian Jones, who joined me last year on my thrilling Caledonian Sleeper adventure. On that trip, Ian spent a total of five days with me, which is more than most people can tolerate. It was nice to have someone to share the experience, and if the worst happened, I’d have to someone to talk to while we waited for rescue.

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23rd March 2014

Fully Booked
Posted by at 7.28pm | Books | No responses

One sad aspect of marketing to kids these days is the increasingly strict gender-segregation. In the minds of marketers, boys get to play with trains and guns and pretend to be astronauts; girls get cooking and princesses and pink (oh, so much pink). Of course, a lot of kids will naturally gravitate to those things anyway, but if a boy wants to play with dolls or a girl wants to break out the Lego, there shouldn’t be any artificial obstacles stopping them.

It’s not just toys that are affected. Books are increasingly being marketed specifically at girls or boys. If you think this isn’t a serious problem, check out the Amazon listing for The Boys’ Book: How to be the Best at Everything:-

Find out how to slam dunk a basketball, how to build a basic raft, how to write in secret code, how to find water in the desert, how to do an Ollie on your skateboard, how to work out which way is north without a compass, how to fly a helicopter, how to win at conkers, how to tie essential knots, how to take a penalty kick and how to build a campfire.

Now, here’s the listing for the equivalent The Girls’ Book:-

Girls can find out: How to keep a secret diary; how to make the ultimate playlist; how to encrypt your text messages; how to customize your mobile phone; how to customize your clothes; how to set up your own web page; how to do the perfect manicure; how to make a friendship bracelet; how to write a best-selling novel and much more!

Not only is this patronising to all sexes, it’s a major problem when society as a whole is trying to eliminate glass ceilings for women. Some decidedly mixed signals are being given out to kids. Therefore, it’s good to see the Independent on Sunday report on a new campaign, Let Books Be Books, which is seeking to end this sort of nonsense.

As IoS literary editor Katy Guest points out, splitting children’s books strictly along gender lines is not even good publishing:

Just like other successful children’s books, The Hunger Games was not aimed at girls or boys; like JK Rowling, Roald Dahl, Robert Muchamore and others, Collins just wrote great stories, and readers bought them in their millions. Now, Dahl’s Matilda is published with a pink cover, and I have heard one bookseller report seeing a mother snatching a copy from her small son’s hands saying “That’s for girls” as she replaced it on the shelf.

I think I read Matilda cover-to-cover about ten times when I was a kid. It’s a story about a child who is misunderstood and unappreciated by the adults around her; a fairly universal theme. Are people really dismissing it out of hand for 50% of the child population just because the main character is a girl?

20th March 2014

Phelps, I need somebody
Posted by at 8.14pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

Anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps dies.

He was, of course, best known for picketing funerals of soldiers killed in action, with his trademark “GOD HATES FAGS” placard. His staunch belief was that any tragedy befalling America, such as 9/11, was “punishment” from on high for America’s tolerance of gay people.

The offence he caused was sufficient for some states to actually introduce laws to keep him and his followers away from funerals, and in 2009 he was banned from the UK. He paid personal costs, too – he was estranged from his son, Nathan, for many years.

Ultimately, most Americans, even those holding anti-gay views themselves, found his actions distasteful. I’m sure many people, who might have been sitting on the fence about the whole gay thing, were actually pushed into the pro-gay camp, simply to avoid being associated with his ideas in any way.

The temptation to gloat about his death must be huge for many people – there is, predictably, already a group on Facebook calling for people to picket his funeral. However, I’m finding hard to muster up much hate. I simply feel a mixture of sadness and pity at this man who wasted his life on such an obsession.