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.

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.

Read the rest of this post »

19th April 2015

24 hour warning
Posted by at 1.59pm | Politics | No responses

I have been following the election campaign, but I’ve also been snowed under with Open University study (note to any potential students: doing three modules at once is not a good idea) so I’ve had little time to blog. The occasional snarky comment on Twitter is the best you can hope for from me at the moment.

It’s a close race. Today, one opinion poll puts Labour three points in front while another puts the Tories four points ahead. Two-and-a-half weeks to go until polling day and it’s all to play for.

Please make sure you are registered. The Government changed the way voters register, which has resulted in an estimated 800,000 people going “missing” from the electoral register. The deadline is TOMORROW (20th April) so it’s important to get it done now. Go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote to register. It takes only a few minutes. It helps if you have your NI Number handy, but not necessary.

It’s nonsense to say that “they’re all the same, there’s no point”. Please don’t be seduced by the likes of Russell Brand; failing to vote is not some high-minded protest against a bourgeois elite, it will simply deny you a voice. Spoil your ballot if you must, but at least make the effort to make a mark on the paper. Vote for whoever you like. Vote for UKIP, if you must (please don’t vote UKIP). But please vote.

Here endeth the sermon. I’m off to read some more about Deterministic Turing Machines.

28th March 2015

Together in Electric Dreams
Posted by at 8.16pm | Trains | 2 responses

Bigger, Better, Electric

Amidst the hustle and bustle of Lime Street station, something new was lurking. Northern Rail’s latest toy, a Class 319 electric, decked out in sleek shades of pastel purple, stood at the buffer stops. In contrast to the burbling engines of the diesel trains on the adjacent tracks, this one sat in dignified silence, pantograph raised, ready for action. The future is electric, and it’s finally here.

319363 at Liverpool Lime Street

I have been waiting years for this moment. It was way back in July 2009 that Labour’s Lord Adonis announced the Liverpool-Manchester electrification would go ahead. A year later, in 2010, it looked like the scheme could be cancelled, as the new Tory government seemed to believe that no money spent by the Labour party could possibly have been spent wisely.

Fortunately, wiser counsels prevailed, and the plan, although delayed, finally went ahead. Electrification masts stated sprouting at the lineside between Newton-le-Wilows and Manchester. Then, tangible signs of progress started to appear at the Liverpool end of the line, including the total remodelling of Roby station, to allow express trains to overtake the stopping services.

Then, there were further delays. First with the transfer of the trains, held up because their replacements on Thameslink were not ready. Then with the electrification itself, which was supposed to be finished by the December 2014 timetable change. A rush of last-minute Sunday engineering closures enabled Network Rail to get the last bits of wires in place, with the first passenger trains running on Thursday 5th March.

Read the rest of this post »

24th March 2015

Help the Raged
Posted by at 11.34pm | Politics | No responses

Grim news today, so to cheer us up, let’s watch David Cameron getting heckled mercilessly by some plucky pensioners at an AgeUK rally:

By 90 seconds in he’s reduced to begging the crowd not to boo. Cameron strikes me as the sort of person who doesn’t like being contradicted and doesn’t quite know how to handle it. No wonder he didn’t want to do the debates.

10th March 2015

Smart? Arse
Posted by at 7.40pm | Liverpool, Trains | 1 response

Saveaway is Merseytravel’s off-peak travel ticket giving unlimited travel on buses, trains and ferries. For the princely sum of £5.10, you get a scratch card on which the day, month and year can be rubbed off using a coin (or a finger, if you don’t mind getting all the silvery scratch-off stuff underneath your nail). Generations of Merseysiders have learned the skill of sticking down the plastic cover without getting any lumps in it.

Scratch off Saveaway

It’s a simple, foolproof system. Go to your local corner shop and get a ticket. Maybe buy two or three and keep them in a drawer somewhere until you need them. No further hassle required. That’s probably why the basic format has remained unchanged for over 30 years, barring the occasional special edition like the short-lived All Day Saveaway and (I kid you not) the Pope John Paul souvenir Saveaway.

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7th March 2015

Miliband
Posted by at 7.13pm | Politics | 1 response

Lovely piece following Ed Miliband on the campaign trail, revealing a side to the Labour leader which is seldom seen in interviews. Here, he comes across as an ordinary, personable, passionate man. If decency and integrity were enough to win an election, he would walk it.

5th March 2015

Taking Debate
Posted by at 8.46pm | Uncategorised | No responses

Our beloved Prime Minister is accused of trying to dodge television debates. He said he will only do one debate with six other leaders, and he will not do it during the “short campaign” after Parliament is dissolved for the election. He said that this is a “final offer”, as if he and he alone has the final say in this.

Some people are claiming that Cameron would rather these debates didn’t take place at all, but that is so cynical. After all, back in 2008 he criticised Gordon Brown for being unwilling to take part in TV debates. To do a total about-face now would make him a massive dish-faced hypocrite.

Picture of Cameron, Clegg and Brown at BBC Election Debate

In my view, there are two debate formats which make sense. One is to have a debate with any party leaders that have a reasonable chance of being Prime Minister after the election. At the moment, that means only two: Ed Miliband or David Cameron. Sorry, UKIPpers, your man Nigel isn’t getting anywhere near number 10.

The other workable format is to include any party which has demonstrated a reasonable level of support at a UK-wide level, by some objective measure (number of seats in Parliament, performance at elections, opinion polling, that sort of thing). That probably means the Tories, Labour, Lib Dems, UKIP and Greens get invited.

That’s almost what we got with the 7-way debate proposal, but I think it was a mistake for the broadcasters to muddy the waters by throwing in Scottish and Welsh nationalists as well. With seven people standing round podiums answering questions from a fierce inquisitor, people tuning in halfway through will think they’re watching The Weakest Link.

It’ll be interesting to see how the broadcasters react to Cameron’s ultimatum. The Guardian seems to think that Cameron will be empty-chaired. I predict that the empty chair will win the debate, and go on to take Wirral West from Esther McVey.