Robert Hampton

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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.

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

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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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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25th December 2014

Home for Christmas
Posted by at 12.32pm | Liverpool | No responses

Christmas Day this year comes after a fortnight of grim news, what with the Sydney siege, the Pakistan school massacre and the lorry accident in Glasgow.

Amidst all the sad news, it’s worth remembering that human beings, as a species, are generally good. There are many people out and about this Christmas helping those less fortunate. The Whitechapel Centre, for one, are out and about on the streets of Liverpool this Christmas. They will be giving support and advice to the homeless and, today, serving Christmas dinner to rough sleepers.

It’s definitely an organisation worth supporting. I can’t think of many things worse than spending this time of year on the streets – surrounded by festive cheer, yet strangely apart from it all. For those who are taking time out of their Christmas Day to help others, I salute you.

Merry Christmas everybody!

25th August 2014

Bridal Train
Posted by at 8.29pm | Liverpool, Trains | No responses

Merseyrail pulled out all the stops on Sunday to get bride Leanne Cole to her big day.

Leanne said: “We didn’t want to pay for a flashy car when we’ve got a perfectly good service on our doorstep and we’re on a budget.

“There is an Italian tradition where they walk to the church. I really liked it and thought I would walk to catch the train.”

After her family spoke to station staff at Fazakerley station, Merseyrail provided a special train to Liverpool Central on Sunday morning and decorated it for the occasion. For pictures and video of the big day, see the Liverpool Echo web site.

This train is also available for birthdays, office parties and bar-mitzvahs, folks (NB this probably isn’t true).

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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8th June 2014

Expanding Pool
Posted by at 12.57pm | Liverpool | No responses

There’s a lovely piece in today’s Observer: Liverpool Reopens For Business

Max Steinberg remembers that it was a struggle to get a single busload of investors to come to Liverpool in 1981. He was working for Michael Heseltine, the Conservative minister who took charge of reviving the city after the Toxteth riots. Some Tories talked of abandoning the former imperial powerhouse to “managed decline” and it seemed the business world agreed.

So Steinberg is more than encouraged that, from Monday, “the world is coming to Liverpool”. Now chief executive of the city’s economic development agency, Liverpool Vision, he has overseen the organisation of Britain’s biggest-ever business fair. At least 75,000 people are expected to come to the Liverpool Festival for Business, a seven-week jamboree that the government hopes will trigger £100m of foreign investment over the next decade.

For me, the most encouraging aspect of the article is its mention of the tech start-ups that are flourishing in the Baltic Triangle area. It’s great to think that, when I get my computing degree in a few years time, I may be able to make use of it without leaving the city.

It’s not all good news: there are still many pockets of acute deprivation, and Government cuts are threatening to choke Liverpool’s recovery just as it was gaining momentum. But this place is on an upward trajectory, and that’s great to see.