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.

22nd August 2014

Bite Back
Posted by at 3.32pm | It's My Life | 1 response

CAUTION: This blog does contain some yucky details of bodily fluids and such.

When last we left the intrepid hero of this blog, he’d just had some dramatic oral surgery – namely, two wisdom teeth pulled out.

I thought that would be the end of the matter, and I was back in work on Monday morning, against the advice of several people who advised me to take an extra day or two to recover.

I should have paid attention to them. Also, I should have paid attention to what my own body was telling me. 48 hours after my op, I peered into my mouth, looking in a mirror using my iPhone as a makeshift torch. I could see there was a bit of yellow gunk leaking out of the wound – pus, in other words. That should have set alarm bells ringing, as that is a sure sign of an infection.

I’m sure it’ll be fine, I thought. It will clear up by itself in a day or two.

You see, I don’t get sick. My body has the Berlin Wall of immune systems: absolutely nothing gets in. That’s been the case for as long as I remember; when I was in primary school, a flu epidemic hit the area. At one point my class of 25 was reduced to ten at one point, but I was still there every day (with an apple for the teacher).

So I soldiered on. Monday passed without too much incident, as did most of Tuesday. By late Tuesday evening, though, I was feeling run down, and I climbed into bed at 10.15pm (sacrificing my nightly viewing of Conan – that’s how bad it was).

Wednesday morning I woke up feeling OK, and went to work as usual. By the afternoon, however, I felt rotten. I alternated between sweating profusely and shivering – I must have made quite the sight on the train home. When I got home, and went straight to bed, my mum and sister twigged that perhaps something was wrong.

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16th August 2014

The Whole Tooth and Nothing but the Tooth
Posted by at 8.01pm | It's My Life | 2 responses

Operation

Yesterday I was admitted to hospital.

Don’t panic, though! This was not the result of some disaster, a faux pas with a chainsaw normally seen in the opening scenes of Casualty. Rather, it was to have two wisdom teeth extracted.

I’d been referred by my dentist, who had spotted that the position they’d grown into was causing food to get trapped between them and the healthy teeth next door. This was handy if I got hungry later in the evening, as I could usually extract a bit of gristle that had got stuck there, but not so good for oral hygiene, as I was starting to develop cavities in the adjacent tooth.

(Incidentally, if God really does exist and created all of us in his image, surely he would have got the whole teeth thing down correctly by now? I know so many people who have had to have wisdom teeth removed because they are growing sideways, or pushing other teeth out of the way, or some other problem)

Like a massive coward, I had opted to have it done under general anaesthetic. I didn’t have to, but as soon as the consultant at the pre-op mentioned that they would be cutting bits of bone out of my face, I decided that I wanted to be asleep for the whole thing.

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14th August 2014

Consultation Station
Posted by at 9.03pm | Trains | 2 responses

Do you travel by train in the north of England? Specifically, the Northern Rail or Transpennine Express franchises?

Both franchises are up for renewal in 2016, and the Department for Transport is seeking views from “stakeholders” on the future of the service. The consultation document (PDF file) sets out the Government’s view.

The good news:

6.12 We are not considering line or station closures within this review of the franchise design.

However, there are lots of other ideas discussed, some of which are slightly worrying. It’s no secret that the Northern franchise attracts a huge subsidy, and “efficiency” is the watchword to try and drive costs down. Fare rises, ticket office closures and reductions in lightly-used services could be on the cards.

On a more positive note, the document also mentions the possibility of changes to TPE’s Scottish services and maybe bringing back a direct Liverpool-Scotland service. This would be a big improvement on the current situation where connections from Liverpool to anywhere north of Preston are quite poor.

We are also asked for views on which services, in particular, are underperforming and could be improved. If you think Teesside Airport deserves a train every 10 minutes, now is the time to speak up!

Of course, the cynical view is that the DfT have already made up their minds, and this is a sham consultation before they rubber-stamp the changes. But the opportunity is there to make your views heard.

You have until 18th August to make your views known. The future of your local railway station could be at stake, so view the consultation document and find out how to respond on the Department for Transport web site.

This whole post is without prejudice to my strongly-held view that the best structure for Britain’s railways is a state-owned not-for-profit organisation running services with the best interests of passengers and taxpayers at heart.

Northern Rail

12th August 2014

Robin Williams
Posted by at 6.49pm | Films, In the News | No responses

Terribly sad news about the death of Robin Williams. Everyone will have their favourite film. He was amazing as the Genie in Aladdin, of course, but my personal favourite is the underrated Jumanji – many happy memories of seeing that in the cinema.

Williams had discussed his depression in the past. A lot of ignorant comment has appeared online already, demonstrating (as Jake Mills discusses in the Liverpool Echo today) the need to talk about depression more.

Some of the funniest appearances were on talk shows. Here are some clips I’ve found online, spanning a 20-year period from Johnny Carson right the way through to Graham Norton.

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8th August 2014

Screen Giant
Posted by at 9.40pm | Liverpool | No responses

The best way to relive the Giant Spectacular is, undoubtedly, via my shaky mobile phone footage. Enjoy!

3rd August 2014

Pride: the Fall
Posted by at 12.58pm | Gay, Liverpool | 4 responses

Back in 2010, Liverpool Pride was born. The powers-that-be decided that Liverpool needed a Pride event, a safe space to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness in a city scarred by homophobic violence. It was a fairly small-scale event and it was fun, with a great atmosphere and community spirit. It wasn’t just LGBT people and their friends who took in the event – ordinary city-dwellers, shoppers who wandered past, and rail passengers heading to Moorfields station all stopped to take in the festivities.

Then, next year, they decided that the safe space wasn’t big enough, and moved it to the Pier Head. It lost a little something from being moved away from the gay quarter, but it was still a fun event, as bemused tourists getting off the Mersey Ferry encountered drag queens.

Then, in 2013, they decided that the safe space wasn’t safe enough, and introduced a new security policy. The Pier Head was fenced off to keep the pridegoers caged in. People would have their picnics searched on entry and any drinks confiscated. There had been too much drunken behaviour in previous years, it was claimed. From now on, the only drunkenness tolerated would be from alcohol purchased at the official stands for £5 a go.

All guests will be searched

Then, they decided that they could no longer afford the safe space, and started charging an entrance fee. To celebrate diversity and inclusiveness now costs £11, for a wristband which allows a lucky few to walk down streets which are open to all the other 364 days of the year. The casual passer-by was, it seemed, no longer welcome in the gay quarter and had to find a route avoiding it.

They decided to abandon community spirit in favour of getting sloshed and watching music acts perform 15 minute sets. It was the Mathew Street Festival, but with drag queens.

The volunteers still rattled their donation buckets. In previous years we were asked to “help keep Pride free”. No word on their purpose this year.

Ah well, it was nice while it lasted. For what it’s worth, here are some pictures from the Pride march.

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28th July 2014

Giants among us
Posted by at 9.34pm | Liverpool | No responses

Back in April 2012, Royal De Luxe staged a Giant Spectacular. It was, by accounts, a resounding success, and it was inevitable that the city would invite the team back for a second try.

Last Friday, the giants returned to the city’s streets, this time to tell a story themed around the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One. The Little Girl and her dog, Xolo, returned from 2012. They were joined by a new giant – the Grandmother, with her wheelchair.

On Friday morning, all was quiet, but crowds were already building up at St George’s Hall, where the Grandmother Giant was sleeping soundly. Nearby, at the Queensway Tunnel entrance, the Little Girl and Xolo dozed in the sunshine.

Grandmother St George's Hall Little Girl Queensway Tunnel

It was early, but a crowd had already built up, from people who wanted to get a good vantage point for later on. In the meantime, they were content to watch as the giants slept (and snored!)

By lunchtime, the streets around the Town Hall were heaving with people. Estimates state that the numbers in the city over the weekend may have topped one million. The good weather certainly helped, but

Crowds near Town Hall

It was a universally good-natured crowd. There was no pushing or jostling – really, when the thing you’re waiting to see is a 25ft giant, you don’t need to worry about getting a good view. There was a definite sense of anticipation as the crowd awaited the spectacle to come.

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17th July 2014

Choose Your Words
Posted by at 6.42pm | Politics | No responses

Prime Minister’s Questions never shows British democracy at its best. It’s supposed to be a weekly opportunity to hold the PM to account, but it rarely lives up to that hype. Instead, it’s usually an undignified affair, with Cameron and Miliband shouting playground insults at each other while the rest of the MPs whoop and cheer like the studio audience of Married… with Children.

Something happened on Wednesday, however, that deserves closer scrutiny. Responding to a question from Ed Miliband, the Prime Minister said:

The deputy leader of the Labour party said on the radio, and I want to quote her very precisely:

“I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes.”

And then, a bit later:

On the subject of taxes and middle income people, when will we get an answer from Labour about what the deputy Leader of the party meant when she said—let me repeat it again for the record:

“I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes”

As we go into the summer, there is one party in this House with a big tax problem, and I am looking at it.

Here is the Hansard transcript.

Harriet Harman did say this, on an LBC phone-in show on Monday. However, the Guardian has the full transcript of what she said (scroll to 12.42pm). She was responding to a caller who felt that “the middle class contribute the most and take out the least.”

Well I think that is a very interesting point actually Henry because sometimes people feel that they pay in a lot over a long period of time working hard but when they suddenly need unemployment benefit if they lose their job that actually it is nowhere near enough to actually make them feel that it was worth it for them to contribute. And one of the things that we are talking about is making a higher rate the longer you’ve worked to recognise the contributions you’ve paid in if you lose your job.

But I would say Henry one of the things that I would argue that might, should probably make a really big difference to you is having a really good health service. Because you don’t want to have to pay for health insurance.You don’t want to have to pay to go private to get really good healthcare system. And I think that is not just for working class people it’s for middle class people as well. And the same with education, you know, really good school system that helps people from lower income families and middle income families as well so I think that actually the idea that there are some things that help people on low incomes and other that help people on middle incomes. Yes I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes. But actually they need those public services like the transport system.

Harman has accused Cameron of “twisting her words”.

I do think it’s a bit of a reach to claim, as Cameron did, that what she said amounts to a call for higher taxes on middle class families. Most people listening would have known what she meant. Cameron (or rather, whoever writes his PMQs notes) certainly would have known. It’s very cheeky for him to choose one sentence out of a longer response and say that he’s quoting her “very precisely”.

In fact, it appears that Harman was simply expressing the not particularly controversial view that people in different income groups should pay different rates of tax. This is the system we have now, and it is supported by all three main parties.

The Guardian goes on to say:

But, of course, the actual wording is ambiguous, which is why Cameron was able to exploit it.

You could argue that Harman should have chosen her words more carefully, but isn’t that the real problem here? Politicians are constantly criticised for sticking rigidly to the script, not uttering anything in public that hasn’t been vetted and pre-approved by a thousand focus groups. But, if a politician goes the other way and speaks spontaneously, as Harman did on that phone-in, it is immediately pounced on by opponents, taken out of context and used for point-scoring.

I want real human beings, not PR robots, in government. So let’s have some proper debate on this issues, rather than some desperate attacks based on one out-of-context sentence.

16th July 2014

Blowing my own trumpet
Posted by at 8.19pm | It's My Life | No responses

So, what’s been happening for me recently, then?

Well, as I mentioned last month, I took some exams for my Open University course. The exams were tough, but I thought I’d done OK. Still, it was an anxious month and a bit of waiting while my marks were calculated.

Last week an e-mail plopped into my inbox, informing me that my results were available. Nervously, I clicked on the link…

Exam Result

I got a distinction in both modules! To say I’m pleased is an understatement.

There’s a long way to go: if I continue at my current pace, I will complete my final module in Autumn 2017. However, I’m resolutely cheerful and enjoying my summer break, until my next modules start in September.

13th July 2014

Thorpe Lark
Posted by at 8.00pm | Gay, In the News | 2 responses

Finally, a Michael Parkinson interview that’s actually worth watching:

After years of denial, swimming champion Ian Thorpe has revealed he is gay in an exclusive interview with Sir Michael Parkinson. The five-time Olympic gold medallist and Australia’s most successful Olympic athlete to date, has revealed his sexuality in an interview to be aired on Australia’s Network Ten on Sunday night.

As ever, people are queuing up to declare that it was “obvious” and they’d always known. I would disagree that it was obvious, not least because in his 2012 autobiography Thorpe said, “For the record, I am not gay and all my sexual experiences have been straight.”

Thorpe now says that it is only recently he felt comfortable telling even close friends and family. “I’ve wanted to [come out] for some time. I didn’t feel I could. Part of me didn’t know if Australia wanted its champion to be gay.”

It’s perhaps understandable that he felt this way. Just this week, an Australian sports commentator has been criticised for referring to a player as “a big poofter” on air. The world of sport still has a way to go.

Thorpe has suffered from depression, which he attributes to the stress of hiding his sexuality for many years. I can well believe it; from personal experience, trying to deny, hide and suppress your homosexuality only leads to misery in the long-term. There are many factors to weigh up when deciding to come out of the closet, but I honestly believe most people are happier out than in.

So, well done Ian Thorpe. I’m sure gay Australian men will be only too eager to welcome you to the team… especially when you look like this: