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.

2nd July 2015

Rudolph the tasty reindeer
Posted by at 9.12pm | Out and About | No responses

Oslo Pass

I had bought a 72-hour Oslo Pass, which for 590 kr (about £50) gave me free entry to loads of museums, unlimited travel on Oslo’s public transport system, and discounts in a number of restaurants. On Friday evening it was the latter feature that was of most interest to me. I had eaten a Boots Meal Deal on the plane, but it was now nearly 7pm and I was hungry.

The pass booklet recommended Kaffistova – “serves traditional Norwegian food and is one of the oldest cafés in Oslo”. It was near my hotel and offered a 20% discount to Oslo Pass holders. I made a beeline for it.

The café itself is self-service – take a tray, get it loaded up with food and return to your table. There were various delightful sounding options on the menu – steamed salmon, shrimp sandwich – but “Reindeer cakes with potatoes and mushroom sauce” jumped out at me.

I can honestly say it was the best reindeer I’d ever tasted. Kind of venison-y. It was very tasty, in any event. I wolfed it down quickly, but not before putting a photo on Instagram. Yes, I’m a wanker.

Reindeer Cakes

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1st July 2015

Norway José
Posted by at 9.27pm | Out and About | No responses

Ryanair planes

The first half of June was a stressful month. My ongoing Open University studies – already sucking time away from me like a Star Trek: Voyager anomaly – culminated with an End of Module Assignment, Exam and Tutor Marked Assignment all due within ten days of each other. I managed to finish them all on time (although how well I’ve done on the exam remains to be seen) and felt rather pleased with myself. All it required was the complete abandonment of all activities outside of work and sleep (and sometimes I skimped on the sleep, too).

The whole experience left me drained. I needed to relax, unwind, recharge my batteries, discharge some tension. But how to do so? Killing sprees in the office are frowned upon. Even a hot bath, filled with the most ridiculously large fizzy bomb I could find in Lush, failed to do the trick. I needed a holiday.

Anticipating this, back in April I’d started looking around for somewhere to go. This highly scientific process consisted of me looking at Liverpool Aiport’s destination map and choosing more or less at random. The destination for my summer 2015 weekend away would be… (drum roll) Oslo!

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25th June 2015

I love it when a plan comes together
Posted by at 8.15pm | Films, Liverpool | No responses

Flying Saucer

Yesterday I went with my friend Boris to one of Liverpool’s newer cultural attractions – the Small Cinema. A dedicated group of volunteers has taken over the old Magistrates Court building on Victoria Street in the city centre, converting it into a bijou space where sixty or so film buffs can sit in comfort to enjoy a movie.

The cinema is running a series of cult films under the umbrella title Cheap Thrills. Yesterday’s opus was Plan 9 From Outer Space – the legendary Ed Wood film which is so bad that it’s actually quite watchable, if only as a study in ineptitude. Boom mikes appear in shot, one actor is visibly reading his script in his lap and the spaceships are obviously toys dangling from strings.

We also get brilliant dialogue like this: “Future events such as these will affect you in the future!” and “Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.”

On the other hand, there is a certain ingenuity on display: Bela Lugosi’s death didn’t prevent him from appearing in this film – old stock footage of the actor from different films is used (one shot appears three times) and in other scenes a different actor plays Lugosi’s role – we’re treated to endless shots of him walking around a cemetery with his face obscured.

It’s a terrible film, yes, but the unintentional hilarity makes it compulsive viewing. As someone who avidly watched Mystery Science Theater 3000 during its very brief run in the UK, I found it all very entertaining. As an added bonus the main feature was prefixed with a selection of 1950s American drive-in trailers and adverts; a great idea which really added to the B-Movie feel of the evening.

Overall, it’s a lovely venue. Definitely worth checking out if you have a free evening.

15th June 2015

Runnymede and Titan, yes sir, I’ve been around
Posted by at 8.13pm | In the News | 1 response

Today marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, the document which, legal scholars agree, laid the foundations for our modern legal system. David Cameron is celebrating big style. If the commemorations seem a little over the top, bear in mind that most current Conservative party supporters were around for the original event – it’s a big thing for them.

Addressing the crowd, the prime minister, who has advocated Britain’s withdrawal from the European convention on human rights and replacing the Human Rights Act (HRA), said Magna Carta had altered “forever the balance of power between the governed and government”.

It does rankle slightly to hear the Prime Minister talk in reverent tones about Magna Carta, while also advocating the withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights and promoting the Snooper’s Charter – more legislation which will forever alter the power between governed and government. As comedian Paul Sinha pointed out on Twitter earlier today, Cameron is King John in this scenario.

Cameron appeared on Letterman in 2012, where he was asked what Magna Carta meant. He didn’t know.

5th June 2015

CPK
Posted by at 6.28pm | Politics | 1 response

Saddest news in ages came earlier this week with the death of Charles Kennedy. For anyone to die at just 55 is a tragedy, but for one so talented and respected, it’s just awful.

From the first time I could vote, until 2010, I supported the Liberal Democrats. This was in large part thanks to Charles Kennedy’s stewardship of the party and the high opinion I had of him. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way; in the 2005 General Election the Lib Dems won 62 seats, their best ever result (and a figure they’re unlikely to see again in the foreseeable future).

Kennedy was nicknamed “Chat Show Charlie” and mocked for regularly taking part in Have I Got News For You. However, he always came across well in his TV appearances, showing a quick wit and ability to laugh at himself that few other politicians seemed to have. In fact, wherever he spoke, in the House of Commons and elsewhere, he always demonstrated an ability to connect with ordinary people, communicating effectively without relying to soundbites or slogans. It’s an ability few MPs today are able to demonstrate, and one they would be advised to learn.

He led his party in taking a principled stance against the Iraq war in 2003, representing the views of the majority of British people. In 2010 he warned the Liberal Democrats against going into coalition with the Tories. On both these matters, he was completely right.

It’s terribly sad that he had his career, and his life, cut short. Listen to the glowing tributes that have been dished out from all sides of the political spectrum, and from many people outside the world of politics. Are there many (or indeed, any) other figures on the current political scene who would inspire those sorts of comments? Will people be lining up to pay tribute to Cameron, Blair or Clegg when they pop their clogs?

27th May 2015

Royal Family
Posted by at 7.52pm | Liverpool | No responses

Three Queens

Bank Holiday Monday was a special day in Liverpool as Cunard’s 175th anniversary celebrations came to the city. The shipping company had its headquarters in Liverpool until the 1960s, so any celebration was sure to involve honouring its spiritual home.

On Monday we saw the rare sight of Cunard’s three liners, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, together in the River Mersey. It was a treat for the hundreds of thousands of people who packed the waterfront on both sides of the river to see the three ships manoeuvring into place. After doing a full 180 degree turn mid-river, the ships arranged themselves in an arrow formation.

We were also treated to a fly-past by the Red Arrows, before Queen Mary sailed out of the city at 2pm. The other two ships remained for a few hours longer: Queen Elizabeth departed later on Monday evening, and Queen Victoria departed on Tuesday afternoon.

It was an amazing sight and a wonderful tribute to Merseyside’s maritime traditions. Cruise liners are a common sight in the city these days, thanks to the investment in the Cruise Liner Terminal, but to have three in the river together was very special.

Three Queens Audience

20th May 2015

The Late Late Show
Posted by at 7.46pm | Television | No responses

Tonight marks the end of an era in US TV as David Letterman hosts his last Late Show, retiring from late night TV after 33 years.

The American love of the “late night talk show” is a bit of a strange concept to us here in the UK. We have our Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton, but they confine their witty banter to prime-time, one day per week. Even Terry Wogan never had the temerity to show up more than three times in seven days. Over in the US, TV networks spend a not inconsiderable amount of money on a show which not only goes out five nights a week, at a time when most people are in bed (NBC’s late night line up goes on until 2am every weeknight).

There are now dozens of shows following the same basic format – topical monologue, desk-based banter, comedy sketches, a house band – but David Letterman is still the best one around. Letterman’s original NBC show became legendary for its dangerous, unpredictable nature, thanks to stunts like the 360 degree show, where Letterman interviewed Peter Ustinov as the screen gradually turned upside down.

Obviously, I came to the party a bit later than that. I remember stumbling across the show late one night, during school holidays when I was allowed to stay up late. Flicking around the cable channels, I alighted on Sky One which was showing The Late Show on a one-day delay from its US broadcast. I was hooked by the absurd humour, the Stupid Pet Tricks and the Top Ten Lists, and ended up watching it every night.

It’s a shame that no channel here in the UK carries the show any more. It bounced around for a few years – it went to Paramount Comedy, then ITV2, then ITV4, then DivaTV (no, me neither) – but it’s been absent for a while. You’d think out of all of the 6 million channels clogging up the Sky EPG, one of them could find room for the Late Show. It still generates newsworthy moments, such as during Hurricane Sandy, when Letterman did the show with no audience and handwritten captions held up by the show’s intern.

Fortunately there is a YouTube channel where recent clips are uploaded. Or you can relive the classics like How Many Guys In Bunny Suits Can Get Into H&R Block?

I’m genuinely sad to see David Letterman retire. Even though I can’t watch him every night, it was still nice to think that he was there. Stephen Colbert will take over in October, but it just won’t be the same.

Further reading:-

17th May 2015

Charity begins at phone
Posted by at 6.28pm | In the News | 1 response

I’ve been interested and saddened by the story of Olive Cooke, the 92-year-old who, it is alleged, was hounded by charities for donations in the weeks before her death.

Olive Cooke, 92, threw herself into a gorge in Bristol after struggling to cope with charities calling her up to 10 times a day and sending her almost 200 letters a month requesting donations.

Before her death she had almost 30 direct debits to charities and was struggling to cope with hundreds of pounds of bank charges after failing to meet her commitments.

A while ago, I was walking down Church Street in Liverpool City Centre. Anyone who has visited this, the city’s principal shopping street, will know that a trip to Marks & Spencer can quickly turn into a game of cat and mouse with the many “chuggers” that lie in wait there – so much so that Liverpool introduced restrictions on their operations.

“Hi there Mr Sunshine!” – ah, the fake compliment; the chugger’s calling card.

I failed to take sufficient evasive action and ended up cornered by one of these people. This was years ago, before my aggressive masculinity asserted itself (stop laughing, you) and I ended up signing the form that got thrust into my face. In any case, it helped assuage the guilt I feel as a do-gooder liberal leftie.

This wasn’t enough for said charity, though. I got calls from them every couple of months, and a constant stream of letters through the post. I’m pretty sure my entire monthly donation was being spent on postage and phone call charges.

He wasn’t ready when I said that on reflection, I should probably just cancel the direct debit as I couldn’t afford it (this was actually true; at the time I was going through a bit of a squeeze financially). Not sure if he’d get any commission for that call.

So that was my experience with Big Charity. The point is: if I can be guilt-tripped into donating money like that, I can’t begin to imagine how a vulnerable person would feel.

8th May 2015

Oh no

I should have listened to Ian:-

He was worried about “shy Tories”. I tried to stay calm and confident. Thursday evening the polls were neck and neck and it looked as though Labour, even if it wasn’t the biggest party, had enough votes to lock the Tories out.

And yet… I had a nagging feeling that all wasn’t well.

Then the exit poll came out, and hope dissipated:-

Labour figures were duly wheeled on screen to tell Andrew Neil that the exit poll didn’t square with their experience in constituencies across the UK. However, once the results started to come in, it became clear that, if anything, the Tory vote had been underestimated.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I was looking forward to the wrangling of a hung Parliament and the promised “anti-Tory bloc”. I had little meme GIFs ready to go.

I continued tweeting out the odd daft joke, fuelled by an unholy combination of coffee and Pepsi Max. I finally gave up just after Sheffield Hallam declared, with Nick Clegg just hanging on to his seat. A few crumbs came in the form of Esther McVey and George Galloway losing their seats, and Nigel Farage failing to take Thanet South. Really though, Thursday night can’t be viewed as anything other than a disaster.

Through it all, I felt numb. It was only this morning when Ed Miliband announced his resignation, that it finally hit home what had happened. The Tories, now with a majority, and the freedom to push through all their crazy ideas.

Say goodbye to the Human Rights Act, the European Union and the NHS. Say hello to the Snoopers Charter and (probably) water cannon on the streets. Savage cuts to welfare, council services and the BBC are all in the pipeline. All the progress made during Labour’s 13 years in government – gone.

Perhaps the worst thing is that this represents a victory for the old establishment. Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre, the Barclay Brothers – this is the result they wanted.

I don’t mind admitting that I cried a little bit. I’m genuinely scared for the future. The next five years are going to be difficult for anyone on the left. The best we can hope for is that Labour regroups quickly, as it did after 1992. Meanwhile, I’m considering moving to Scotland… or Berlin (subject to EU free movement rules of course).

6th May 2015

Ballot Dancer

Note: this post is quite long. I’ve tried to rewrite it a couple of times, and each time it still ends up quite rambling. It doesn’t say all I want to say; for example, it barely mentions the Greens (which I’m not happy about) or UKIP (which I am much less unhappy about). But voting takes place tomorrow, so I’ve more or less run out of time to say anything about the election. On the basis that the text below probably makes about as much sense as any other comment on this unusual and unpredictable election, I’m posting it as-is.

TLDR: Labour aren’t perfect, but Ed Miliband as PM is the best possible outcome.

Opinion polls are rubbish. Seriously.

During this campaign we have seen two or three new opinion polls released each day. Generally, one shows a slight Labour lead, and Labour supporters get excited for a couple of hours, until a different poll comes out showing the Tories a couple of points ahead. Average them all out and both parties are in a dead heat. In fact, the polls have barely moved since the start of the campaign on 30th March.

Politicians are fond of saying that the only poll that matters is the one on election day, and they’re probably right this time. We could easily see a rerun of 1992 when the polling got the election result spectacularly wrong. On the other hand, the polls could be right, and both Labour and the Conservatives could end up more or less level in terms of seats.

(As an aside, my friend Ian Jones’s UK General Election blog is an excellent source for number-crunching and statistics)

In short, we are going into Thursday’s election with no definite idea of what the result will be. Lots of commentators are saying it is the most exciting election in living memory. Yes, it’s exciting – the same way I’d be excited if I didn’t know whether my birthday present was a gold watch or a lump of dog shit. If this election goes the wrong way and the Tories somehow get back in, I think it would be a disaster for the country.

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