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.

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.

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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.

4th March 2015

Russell Groupthink
Posted by at 8.09pm | Gay, Television | No responses

Russell Tovey is one of the hottest actors (career-wise and aesthetically) around at the moment. Fresh from his success in Looking, he gave an interview to the Observer to promote the upcoming BBC2 series Banished.

It’s a lovely interview, as Tovey talks frankly about growing up gay, a knife attack which destroyed his confidence at age 18, and taking his Mum to the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco.

However, some people have taken umbrage at one thing he said. Discussing his childhood and his desire to attend a stage school (which his Dad refused to allow), he says:

I feel like I could have been really effeminate, if I hadn’t gone to the school I went to. Where I felt like I had to toughen up. If I’d have been able to relax, prance around, sing in the street, I might be a different person now. I thank my dad for that, for not allowing me to go down that path.

A certain section of the gay community have been offended by the above. Here’s another macho gay hating on the camp guys. Tovey, in their eyes, is up there with tossers who write “Don’t act gay – if I wanted a girl I’d be straight! LOL!” on their Grindr profile. Phrases like “internalised homophobia” have been bandied around.

Tovey subsequently said sorry – at ten past five in the morning; I hope he was in another time zone and not being kept awake all night by the kerfuffle. In any case, I’m not sure an apology was necessary. If you actually read the whole article, rather than mischievous PinkNews pieces which selectively quote from it, the meaning becomes quite clear.

I thought it was a storm in a teacup. In fact, not even a teacup; what are those little cups that espressos come in?

I’m not a fan of that certain type of gay person who hates campness. You know the ones – they say things like, “gay pride marches damage our cause by making us look like freaks! If only drag queens didn’t exist we’d have had gay marriage years ago!” I could go on, but that’s a whole other blog post.

However, Tovey didn’t say anything like that. It seems clear to me that he was speaking about his own situation: he thinks that if he had camp or effeminate mannerisms, he would not be cast in a leading role in a gritty drama like Banished. Is he wrong about that? I don’t think he is.

The actual quote above is prefaced by this, from the interviewer:-

Tovey thinks carefully about what he’s going to say next. If I had to guess, watching him fidget, I’d say he’s weighing up whether to be honest at the risk of causing offence, or whether to divert and say something bland. He chooses to risk offence.

And in the next interview he will probably choose the bland option. Excellent. An actor renowned for refreshing honesty in interviews will probably clam up in future, because someone, somewhere, might be upset. WELL DONE EVERYONE.

Perhaps he should have chosen his words more carefully. But maybe, when someone says what’s on his mind with no ill-intent, the Twitterati should engage in reasoned debate rather breaking out the pitchforks and flaming torches.

Oh, and if you’re going to attack a celebrity for being a “bad gay”, how about all those actors who stay closeted for fear of ruining their careers?

27th February 2015

He Lived Long and Prospered

A lot of love on my Twitter feed at the moment for Star Trek‘s Leonard Nimoy, who has died today at the age of 83.

He had a long career, but let’s be honest, he will be remembered above all else for his role as Spock, across three seasons of Star Trek, eight films, and one of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation:-

After the Original Series ended, Nimoy was reportedly upset at being typecast as Spock. He got over that in later years though, going on to poke fun at his image in my all-time favourite episode of The Simpsons: “Marge vs The Monorail”.

He also launched an ill-advised singing career. The best you can say about The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins is that it’s not William Shatner’s Rocket Man.

It’s unlikely that Captain Kirk will steal the Enterprise to launch a rescue mission to the Genesis planet, largely because none of those things are real. So instead let’s just remember Nimoy’s final tweet from a few days ago:-

22nd February 2015

Standing out from the crowd
Posted by at 12.23pm | In the News, Politics | No responses

Not a big fan of crowdfunding-type things, but this one caught my eye:-

‘I am an immigrant’ poster campaign is a response to the increased anti-immigration rhetoric occurring in politics and the need to shed positive light on immigrants and the social, economic and cultural prosperity they bring to the nation.

The poster campaign emerged out of the Movement Against Xenophobia (MAX) which aims to rid the dialogue on immigration policy of racism and discrimination. With the 2015 General Election, the language and the rhetoric will only get worse.

The deadline to pledge is 24th February (i.e. this Tuesday). They have exceeded their original target already, but extra funding will allow them to run an even bigger campaign. In the run-up to the general election, a counterpoint to widespread anti-immigrant rhetoric is desperately needed. Head on over to crowdfunder.co.uk/i-am-an-immigrant-poster-campaign to pledge.

12th February 2015

Gone Stewart
Posted by at 10.50pm | Television | No responses

The latest US late night host to quit is Jon Stewart of The Daily Show. He surprised his audience with the announcement:-

I haven’t watched The Daily Show regularly since More4 axed it, but I’m well aware that this is a massive moment in pop culture: equivalent to the Beatles breaking up or Wesley Crusher leaving Star Trek: The Next Generation. OK, maybe not that last one.

Stewart’s high point was probably during the Bush years, when he was a rare voice of sanity and reason in the media. For troubled liberals all over America (and the world) it was reassuring to tune in at 11pm four nights a week and have that frustration with the state of things articulated so well.

Few have had such a massive impact on both pop culture and the political zeitgeist as Stewart. Whatever he does next, his legacy in TV history is assured.

Much speculation over who the Daily Show will turn to for its next host. Is it too much to hope for long-time TDS correspondent (and very funny person) Samantha Bee to take over?

10th February 2015

A3010

The first Acorn computer I ever owned (and the third computer overall, after a Commodore VIC-20 and C64) was an A3010. It was bought for me in May 1993, purchased from Rapid Computers on Childwall Fiveways. It was a reward from my parents to celebrate my passing the entrance exam for Merchant Taylors School; had I known how that was going to turn out, I would probably have stuck with my Commodore 64 for another year or so.

Acorn A3010

The A3010 was the “budget” Acorn computer, an attempt by Acorn to escape from the classrooms and science labs where their computers were usually found and get into teenagers’ bedrooms with a games machine. There was no monitor supplied, but you could plug it into a TV for glorious 640×512 resolution. Only 1 megabyte of RAM, an ARM250 processor running at a blistering 12 Mhz, and no hard disc – why would you need one when an ADFS floppy could hold 1.6 megabytes?

It was cheap’n’cheerful and, to me, it was computer heaven. For a year or so before, I had gazed longingly at the BBC A3000 in the corner of my primary school classroom, enviously looking on as my fellow pupils typed away in the Phases 2 word processor, printing off their rubbish poems on the noisy Epson FX80 printer. Now, finally, I had a RISC OS machine to call my own.

A few years later I got a big power increase when I upgraded to a RiscPC, and the A3010 was relegated to a secondary machine. But it will always hold a special place for me. It was on this machine that I bashed out my first BBC BASIC programs. It was on this machine that I stayed up until 1am doing a project for History that I’d put off until the last minute. It was here that I wasted more than a few hours playing Sim City, and Lemmings, and probably my favourite of all, Fervour:-

When we moved to our current home there was no space to have my Aladdin’s Cave of computers on display, so the A3010 got put away in a cupboard. But it gained a new lease of life for a few years, as I wrote a program to run a game of Family Fortunes. Being able to code the game directly in BBC BASIC and then plug the computer straight into the TV to run it gave it a big advantage over the newer computers which we were using by now. It got dragged out regularly at Christmas get-togethers, with me playing the role of Les Dennis.

I thought long and hard about getting rid of this machine. Sentimentality can’t always win out, though: it’s been sitting in a cupboard for nearly three years. It needed to go, so tonight a nice man came and took it off my hands. I hope he loves and appreciates it as much as I did. Or uses it for parts. Whatever.

With the advent of the Raspberry Pi, I’m still using a distant relative of the A3010 every day, so I haven’t cut ties with that world completely. Even so… the feels.