Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

Welcome!

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.

30th October 2014

Farmville
Posted by at 8.21pm | Stage | No responses

Animal Farm poster

I don’t get out as much as I’d like to. Working full time and studying for a degree in the evenings limits the amount of time I have for extracurricular activities. My routine recently has been get up, go to work, go to gym, come home, do a couple of hours of Open University study, (maybe) watch a bit of TV, go to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat. There’s not even much spare time to write any blog posts.

The above are all necessary parts of my life, but a bit of variety is needed to spice things up. So on Wednesday evening I arrived at Arts Club on Seel Street. I was there to see Animal Farm, a production of the small Liverpool outfit, Tell Tale Theatre. A bit of culture to break up the mundane week.

Animal Farm is an adaptation of George Orwell’s classic story. My memories of it are mixed. I remember it being a good book, but I read it as part of English lessons at school, which means it has negative associations for me. It was good to put those to bed and watch the show.

The main notable thing about Animal Farm is that nearly of all of the characters are animals. How do you portray that on stage? The solution adopted here is simply to have the cast, wearing normal clothes, depict the animals through their physical movements. It’s a bit surprising and disconcerting at first, but after a few minutes you get used to it. Certainly a lot better than running down to Primark for a job lot of animal onesies, which is what I would have done – and this is why my career as a theatrical producer never took off.

The performances were excellent. Rob Kavanagh is especially good as Napoleon, the leader of the pigs who starts to abuse his power – getting gradually more power-mad and terrifying throughout the show.

You only have one night left to see it, as the last day of the show is tomorrow, October 31st. Some tickets might still be available, either you can buy online or pick them up from the box office on Seel Street. As for Tell Tale, I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next – it might even convince me to leave the house again. :)

19th October 2014

Miner Miracle
Posted by at 7.03pm | Films, Gay | No responses

Pride

I saw Pride a few weeks back, but because of my own ineptitude I’ve only just gotten around to writing about it. I’m really sorry about that, because it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen and deserved better.

Let’s go back to 1984 and meet our protagonists: In one corner, a Welsh mining community devastated by pit closures and the long-running strike. In the other, a small group of gay activists struggling to cope with (sometimes violent) homophobia.

The leader of the latter group, Mark Ashton, identifies a common cause: both gay people and the miners are being attacked by the government, the tabloid press and the police – so why not help each other out? They form LGSM – Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners – and start rattling buckets.

This doesn’t sound like the setup for what has been described as the “Feel Good Movie Of The Year”, but it’s all based on a true story – one which has not received much attention. Jonathan Harvey’s 2010 play Canary, which I saw at the Liverpool Playhouse, includes a scene about it, and it came as news to me that such an alliance existed.

What follows is some riotous culture clash comedy, first as LGSM arrive in the miner’s village and clash with the gruff, traditional locals, then later as the union leader travels to London and addresses a rowdy crowd in a gay bar.

I won’t give away any more – suffice to say it’s an incredible film, with some great performances from pretty much every British actor you’d care to name: Freddie Fox, Andrew Scott, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine, and probably some I’ve missed. It’s an American actor who is the real standout: Ben Schenetzer as Mark Ashton is a standout, with a fiery, passionate performance.

It’s fascinating to watch this piece of history and see how far we’ve come in terms of gay acceptance and equality. However, in another sense we are going backward, as the dignity of workers is compromised and their rights are eroded. Watching David Cameron and his chums once again treating “union” as a dirty word while greedy bankers get away with all sorts, it’s easy to feel like we’re back in the throes of the 80s again. We’re in a world of zero hours contracts, a £500 “fee” to launch employment claims and threats to curb the right to strike. Thatcher may be gone, but her legacy lives on – unions are still “the enemy within” as far as our ruling class is concerned.

The ending is a true roller coaster of emotions, both happy and sad, but ultimately inspiring. It’s the first time ever that I’ve heard a cinema audience break out in spontaneous applause at the end of a film. I sat through the credits – not because I wanted to find out who provided the rostrum camera, but because I needed a few minutes to compose myself. It’s rare for a film to make me cry – we’re talking full tears down cheeks mode here – but this managed it.

It’s an amazing film – if you haven’t seen it, don’t wait for the DVD – try to track down a cinema that is still screening it. Gay, straight or bi – you’ll all love it. In fact, the only people who won’t approve are Tories.

11th October 2014

UKIP me hanging on

Was Nigel Farage the UKIP candidate for Clacton? You’d think so, seeing as how it’s his grinning face staring out from the front page of every newspaper and web site. Douglas Carswell was the actual candidate, and the by-election triggered by Douglas Carswell’s resignation and defection to UKIP has resulted in a historic win for the anti-EU rabble.

UKIP is still very much a protest vote, the way the LibDems were until 2010. The shallowness of UKIP’s support was demonstrated recently, when a caller to an LBC phone-in couldn’t name any policy other than “immigration”.

Meanwhile, back in Clacton, evidence emerged that the voters were not as well-informed as they could have been:-

As it stands, Thursday will go down in history as the day when voters rebelled against old-style politics by re-electing their incumbent MP – a middle-aged white private schoolboy – to a party led by a former investment banker. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (if we’re permitted some French in this brave new world).

6th October 2014

Ranty Establishment

The European Convention on Human Rights was established in the aftermath of World War II in an effort to codify human rights in international law, and prevent atrocities like the Holocaust from ever happening again. Its backers included some obscure personality called Winston Churchill.

The Convention is enforced by the European Court of Human Rights. Countless times, the Court’s judgments have helped advance the case for minority groups. Recently, Pink News highlighted six times human rights laws helped LGBT equality. Decriminalising homosexuality in Northern Ireland; allowing gay people to serve openly in the British army; equalising the age of consent – all thanks to ECHR rulings.

In 2000, the Labour party introduced the Human Rights Act which codified the articles of the European Convention into British law. What has the Human Rights Act done for you? Quite a lot, as the Mirror article linked there proves. Gary McKinnon, British soldiers, rape victims and more have all been helped by the Act.

And now David Cameron has decided he doesn’t like it and wants to get rid of it. Predictably, most of the right-wing tabloids lined up to cheer him on. As a nation, we are in a very bad place when the mantra “human rights are bad” is being met with approval from significant chunks of society.

The poster boy for the anti-human rights campaigners is Abu Qatada, whom the British government spent much time and money trying to deport, only to be stymied by human rights objections. Theresa May described the situation as “frustrating”, but that’s exactly as it should be. It’s an inconvenient truth that human rights apply to everyone, even the people “we” don’t like. Otherwise, as David Allen Green puts it:

The Tories propose that the Human Rights Act be scrapped and replaced by a “British Bill of Rights”, which would require people to “fulfil responsibilities”. It all sounds reasonable enough on the surface (although, how “responsible” do you need to be to be protected against torture?) but it’s easy to foresee a future government suddenly deciding that trade unions, protest groups, the unemployed or other “undesirables” are not fulfilling their responsibilities and happily diminishing their rights to please the majority. It’s truly scary stuff.

Hopefully the election next year will the Tories tossed out of office and this nonsense forgotten. In any case, I’m concerned enough that I’ve joined Liberty. I thought about signing up in the past but current events have given me the final impetus to join – thanks for the motivation, Dave!

Final thought on the matter:-

5th October 2014

Berlin Finale: Night Train

Berlin Hauptbahnhof Upper Level

This is a very long post about my journey on the sleeper from Berlin to Paris. I also made a YouTube video of this journey – it’s embedded below, but you want to watch it first, or instead.

I’d been mulling a trip to Berlin for months. As far back as June 2013, I was considering the possibilities and had started saving up.

My original plan: take Eurostar to Brussels, then an ICE train to Cologne, stay there for a couple of nights, then travel onward to Berlin. On the way home, I would return via the overnight sleeper train to Paris, then take Eurostar back to London.

Of course, this is complete madness, given that easyJet fly between Liverpool and Berlin, a journey taking (in theory) just a couple of hours. But I’m a rail enthusiast, and the chance to take a long train journey on some of the most iconic trains in Europe was almost too good to resist.

The City Night Line sleeper runs daily between Berlin and Paris. The journey takes approximately 13 and a half hours, which sounds like a long time, but of course the idea is that you’re asleep for most of them. Go to sleep in Germany, wake up the next morning in France, refreshed and with a full day ahead of you. It’s undoubtedly the most time efficient option and a very civilised way to travel.

I wanted to do it so badly, but then… I hesitated. I sounded out some friends about the trip, but for one reason or another, none of them could come with me. Then I contemplated going on my own, but that was a scary thought. What if I was robbed, or kidnapped by bandits? No, I couldn’t possibly travel alone. It looked like my epic train trip would have to wait until 2015.

Then Deutsche Bahn threw another spanner in the works. The German rail operator announced that, from December 2014, the City Night Line sleeper from Berlin to Paris would cease operations.

It looked like I’d missed my chance. I spent a good few days kicking myself for not seizing the opportunity. I would never get to ride the City Night Line train, as I’d so often dreamed of doing.

Then, one day in early June, I sat staring at my computer screen. I can’t remember what made me do it. I remember that I was in the midst of revision for my Open University exams; was probably looking for something to distract me. Whatever the reason, I called up bahn.com and started searching for night trains.

There was still good availability on night trains in September, but the cheap advance-purchase fares from London to Cologne had sold out. I therefore revised my plans: I would fly out from Liverpool to Berlin and then

So I thought about a trip to Germany, then decided against it, then changed my mind and booked a slightly different trip. That’s spontaneous, by my standards.

Read the rest of this post »

30th September 2014

Schwules out for summer
Posted by at 8.11pm | Gay, Out and About | No responses

Olympia-Stadion station offered the tantalising prospect of the U-Bahn museum, however the sign indicated that it was open very rarely, and Sunday afternoon was not one of those times. I continued to the platform for a train back into the town centre.

U-Bahn Museum

I had just a few hours left in Berlin. Time for some culture. I headed for the Schwules Museum on Lützowstraße. “Schwul”, for the uninitiated, is the German word for “gay”, as made famous by the city’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit, who came out in 2001 by declaring “Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so.” (“I’m gay, and that is a good thing”).

Berlin’s gay scene is legendary, but I hadn’t immersed myself in it on this visit. On the Friday evening I had gone to a bar, Blond, which I had visited last time I was here, but had restricted myself to a couple of drinks before heading back to the hotel. On Saturday, I was too tired to even consider a night on the town. On top of all that, there was (unbeknownst to me at time of booking) a “fetish festival” taking place that weekend, which meant that Fuggerstraße was full of people in leather thongs and dog costumes. All very fun, but not necessarily something I wanted to take part in (plus you had to pay to get in).

schwules-museum

Read the rest of this post »

26th September 2014

Berlin Day 3: Standing on Hitler’s Balcony
Posted by at 9.26pm | Out and About | No responses

Sunday didn’t get off to a promising start. I checked out of my hotel and emerged into heavy rain. Oh dear. First order of business: find an umbrella.

This was not as easy as it sounds. Sunday, in Germany, means that most shops are closed. I took a shortcut through a fragrant U-Bahn station and emerged onto Kurfürstendamm, where the throbbing heart of Berlin’s retail offering was shuttered and silent. However, there was a stand selling umbrellas. I was charged €7 for a bright orange umbrella, which was wrong on many levels, but it kept me dry.

Kurfürstendamm

Suitably sheltered from the elements, I strolled down Kurfürstendamm in search of Fasanenstraße. Like the pathetic sandal-wearing leftie that I am, I had perused the Guardian web site and found an article recommending 10 of the best breakfast and brunch spots in Berlin. One of its recommendations was Café Wintergarten on Fasanenstraße, and it was just a few minutes walk away from my hotel.

As an aside, I wish I’d found this article a couple of days earlier. My breakfast on Saturday had consisted of a Snickers bar that I’d extracted from a U-Bahn vending machine. Still, better late than never.

Berlin Fasanenplatz

I walked down Fasanenstraße, reaching a pleasant little square in Fasanenplatz. The rain had abated by this point, but there was still a dampness in the air. The carpet of fallen leaves gave the place a really Autumnal feel.

It was only then that I realised I’d walked too far, and had to retrace my steps back to the Café. Then I walked too far again. I turned around more times than Bonnie Tyler, but eventually found the café. It was in a building slightly set back from the street, and the blob on Google Maps wasn’t quite in the right place. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Read the rest of this post »

22nd September 2014

Berlin Day 2: OK Computer

My second full day in Berlin was Saturday. I spent the morning riding the Berlin U-Bahn. I ended up back in the city centre at around 1.30pm. My sole nourishment so far that morning had been a Snickers bar from a platform vending machine, so some proper sustenance was needed. I got back on the U-Bahn and took a short ride to Alexanderplatz. Here I found Galeria Kaufhof, the massive department store. The restaurant on the top floor had been recommended to me by my friend Dave.

The restaurant is a self-service affair. I picked up a tray and explored the buffet selections on offer. Again, I was thankful that I had made the effort to learn a bit of German before coming here, as I was able to decipher the differently labelled foods on offer: Gemüse, Obst, Salate, Fisch, Pasta (OK, the last two are fairly obvious).

The choice was slightly bewildering, and there were lots of people waiting impatiently for their turn at each counter, so I didn’t have time to stop and consider my options carefully. Eventually, I scooped some pasta, some meat and some hash-browny type thing onto my plate and made my escape.

I took my plate to the checkout, where the cashier invited me to place it on a set of scales. Food here is priced according to weight – €1.85 per 100g. Annoyingly, I went just over 500g, so the price was rounded up to 600 grams.

I found an empty table and sat down, glad of the chance to rest my weary feet for a few minutes. Where did my stamina go? I’m sure that, a few years ago, I would have been able to roam the streets for hours without so much as a single blister. Now, it was barely 2pm and my body was complaining. I must be getting old. From now on, I am only going to take part in activities that can be done sitting or lying down.

It wasn’t just me that needed a recharge – excessive use of Instagram during the morning had run my phone battery down to zero. Continuing the rest of the day without a phone wasn’t an option – I needed access to maps to help me find my way around, and also it was the only camera I had with me. I would have to go back to the hotel to charge it up, even though this would probably eat an hour or more out of my day.

I was about to just get up and go, when I spotted that other customers were taking their used trays away with them. I followed one of them and discovered that there was a conveyor belt to take away used plates. I put my used tray on it, and it was swiftly whisked away through a small door. Technology – you’ve got to love it.

I went back to the hotel. While my phone recharged, I watched some excellent German television – Top Gear on RTL Nitro. Jeremy Clarkson dubbed into German? Hmm, maybe not.

Read the rest of this post »

18th September 2014

Reichstag Night
Posted by at 10.32pm | Out and About, Trains | No responses

Just before 4pm on Friday afternoon, I reached the Reichstag building in central Berlin. I’d seen the building from the outside on my last visit to the city, but this time I was going to actually see inside. It’s a grand structure, with the famous inscription DEM DEUTSCHEN VOLKE (“To the German people”) providing a bold statement of intent, even though the slogan has not always been adhered to over the years.

Reichstag building

Here’s my best GCSE history lesson: the Reichstag building was the seat of the German parliament from the late 19th century, until in 1933 it was severely damaged by fire. This was the event which notoriously gave Hitler all the justification he needed to abrogate basic human rights and establish a totalitarian state. Like much of the rest of Berlin, the building was left in ruins at the end of World War II. Although it was repaired after the war, it saw little use during the Cold War division of the city. Only in 1999, when the Bundestag returned to Berlin post-reunification, was the building finally restored to its former glory.

As part of the restoration, a new glass dome (designed by Sir Norman Foster) now sits atop the building. It is open to the public by prior booking, offering excellent views across the Berlin skyline. I was eager to go – practically the first thing I did after booking my plane ticket was to head to the Reichstag web site and arrange a visit.

Read the rest of this post »

17th September 2014

Exploring Berlin
Posted by at 10.10pm | Out and About | No responses

After the ordeal of my flight, I slept for a few hours, but my body clock refused to let me have a lie in, and I woke around 8am. I dozed for a little bit longer, but eventually gave up and got up. I emerged from the hotel around 9.30am.

First order of business was to pick up a Berlin Welcome Card. This card costs €25 for three days, and not only gifts unlimited travel on Berlin’s extensive public transport, but also discounted admission to over 200 different attractions. There was a Berlin Tourist Information centre on Kurfürstendamm, just round the corner for my hotel, so I went there to get the card.

After that, I thought about where to go next. I was still feeling sluggish and needed to blow away some cobwebs, so headed for the Tiergarten.

Tiergarten

The massive 520 acre park is a haven for wildlife and a welcome quiet spot in the heart of the city. It’s surrounded on all sides by insanely busy dual carriageway roads, but the park itself is an oasis of calm. The park is also, apparently, a hotbed for nude sunbathers, although the cool, overcast conditions precluded any of that on the day I visited.

Siegessaule

I ended up in the centre of the park, near the Siegessaule (“Victory Column”). A café nearby offered “Baguette mit Salami und Käse” for a reasonable price, so I headed up to the counter and ordered one, putting on my best German accent. I summoned up the knowledge gleamed from my “teach yourself German” books: “…und eine Flasche Cola, bitte,” I added.

The woman behind the counter replied in English. How did she know?!

Read the rest of this post »