Robert Hampton

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January 2013

4th January 2013

Ring In the New Year, Wring Out the Old

Hampo in front of the Berlin WallA little later than planned, here is a look back at the preceding 12 months, as seen through my jaded eyes. As January began, I wrote a blog post looking forward to the treats that 2012 held in store. How did the year pan out? Let’s have a look…

The year started on a downbeat note for my family as we mourned my dad’s sister Betty, who had been a part of all our lives for as long as I could remember.

The government announced that High Speed Two, a new TGV-style railway line, would be built to link London with the Midlands. Middle England quickly took up against the plan, as Tory MPs lined up to denounce the line that was due to slice through their constituencies. David Cameron had succeeded in alienating his Conservative base, and it would not be only time that happened this year.

Web sites participated (or didn’t) in a protest against SOPA, a draconian anti-copyright law in the US. Elsewhere on the Internet, Twitter caused a minor kerfuffle by announcing that it would censor Tweets on a country-by-country basis.

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5th January 2013


Continuing on from yesterday’s review of the year-type thing.

BBC Television CentreJuly (actually, the end of June, but I wrote the blog post on 1st July) saw me make a trip to the legendary BBC Television Centre to watch a recording of Pointless. It was a most enjoyable experience, even if the Central African Republic didn’t come up as an answer. I’m seriously tempted to go back as a contestant.

Liverpool’s Festival Gardens reopened after many years of dereliction. The government announced a whole load of railway improvement schemes, coupled with further plans to price-gouge passengers. I bemoaned the tendency for reviews to oversimplify things with a simple score.

I fretted about Global Warming (and now, after experiencing a week of unseasonably mild weather, I’m even more worried). Heat of a different kind in Liverpool city centre, as preachers continued to claim everyone was going to Hell.

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8th January 2013

Net Disbenefit
Posted by at 10.08pm | Politics | 1 response

When your own Government department admits that proposed benefit cuts will hit the poor hardest, maybe it’s time for a rethink.

Britain’s poorest households will be hit hardest by government plans to limit rises in working-age benefits to 1% in a bid to save £3.1bn by 2016, according to a Whitehall assessment rushed out shortly before MPs debated a controversial welfare bill.

There’s little doubt in my mind that the coalition government is making Britain a colder, more cruel place to live. I try to console myself with the thought that this will be a one-term government and 2015 will bring some semblance of sanity. I’m concerned, however, that by then the damage to the welfare state will be irreperable. I’m also worried that the electorate may actually be fooled by Cameron and Co’s soundbites and support their “strivers v skivers” nonsense.

I hate that particular soundbite, which seeks to portray anyone claiming any sort of state benefit as a scrounger who needs to be given a kick up the arse and stand on their own two feet (unless their legs have been amputated, but they’ve probably still been passed as fit for work by ATOS anyway). This “lazy dolescum” argument seems based entirely on the tabloid stories which surface every so often, about families on benefits who go on expensive holidays and have plasma screen TVs in their living rooms. Undoubtedly there are people who are playing the system, but they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Most people use state benefits for their intended purpose: as a safety net, to ensure a minimum standard of living.

Now, the Tories and their Lib Dem enablers seek to remove that safety net. Get out there and work (even if it’s for free in Poundland). Never mind that there are no jobs – we’ve just arranged free bus travel for the jobless (of course, since last year’s cut in bus subsidy there may not be a bus any more)!

Look across the pond to America, which has long championed self-reliance and small government. The extreme example came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where some truly vicious pundits said that anyone stranded in lawless New Orleans only had themselves to blame. Those left behind were mostly poor, went the logic. If they had been well-off, they could have transported themselves away easily. The lesson? You should never rely on Government to help you, ever, and if you’re in poverty – for whatever reason – tough.

At the time I laughed and felt grateful that rhetoric like that would be completely out of place here. Now, however, I worry that we might be heading in that direction. Are we going back to Dickensian days of workhouses and the poor living on the streets? Maybe not to that extreme, but a similar attitude towards the poor seems to be taking hold.

I still have misgivings about Labour – I’d like to see a full apology for the Iraq mess, and the authoritarian streak that brought us ID cards and DNA databases is still there, I think. I also worry that they may go for the populist approach in the next general election by adopting similar “tough on scroungers” rhetoric. But they can’t possibly be worse than the Tories – many of whom have no understanding of what it is like to be poor and struggling to make ends meet.

9th January 2013

Hells bells, it’s Helsby
Posted by at 8.48pm | Trains | No responses

Sort-of exciting news reported by the Chester Chronicle:-

A NEW specialised rail link service could be introduced between Ellesmere Port and Helsby.

Cheshire West and Chester Council has commissioned a report looking into the feasibility of a new shuttle-type service called a Parry People Mover, which would make use of one of the existing railway lines between the two locations.

For the uninitiated, the Ellesmere Port to Helsby line is a short branch line linking the aforementioned Cheshire towns. At Ellesmere Port, connections are made with the Merseyrail service to Liverpool. At Helsby, services to North Wales, Warrington and Manchester are available. En route, the train calls at Stanlow & Thornton, situated inside the huge Stanlow Oil Refinery complex, and Ince & Elton, serving two small commuter villages.

For further background, you might want to read my friend Scott’s blog, all about the time he and I visited the line and got accosted by a security guard at Stanlow.

Ellesmere Port to Helsby

For many years, the line was effectively treated as part of the Merseyrail network, with system maps showing it in the same green colour as the electric routes. Until 1985, the railway electrification only reached the edge of Birkenhead, so at Rock Ferry passengers from Liverpool were decanted into a diesel train to continue onwards to either Chester or Helsby. Not an ideal set-up, but a fairly slick cross-platform connection meant that it was not too inconvenient.

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10th January 2013

Your Tube
Posted by at 8.46pm | Trains | No responses

On this day, a century and a half ago, a quiet revolution took place beneath the streets of London. A group of investors had spotted the potential for a link from Paddington station to the City of London, and on 10 January 1863 they saw the fruits of their endeavours, as the first paying passengers boarded the Metropolitan Railway.

There was nowhere in this crowded city for the railway to go, so the line and its stations were mostly underground. The choking atmosphere created by the steam trains did little to dissuade hordes of people from making the 4-mile journey to Farringdon, and the Metropolitan Railway Company was an instant success.

From those humble beginnings, the 250-mile London Underground network was born. It’s an idea that has been copied around the world; every city of note now has a metro system to call its own. Some rival London for size and speed. Many can claim to be more efficient and modern. But London can always proudly say that it was first. In any event, no city can match the sheer joy and excitement of traversing London’s system – its wonderful, quirky, occasionally infuriating network of criss-crossing railways burrowing beneath the capital, out of sight (but rarely out of mind).

Ingrained in the psyche of the city – and, to an extent, the country as a whole – the Underground simply is London. Look along its platforms and hallways to see people from every section of society, every walk of life, every race and religion, old and young, gay and straight – all human life is here, squashed together into a carriage.

Not surprising, then, that it has inspired generations of poets, artists, authors and even animators.

Happy birthday, London Underground.

Train in Euston Square Underground station

While you’re in an Underground frame of mind, check out my friend Ian’s blog: 150 Great Things About The Underground.

11th January 2013

The Right Attitude
Posted by at 7.41pm | Gay | 3 responses

Matt Jarvis on the cover of AttitudeWest Ham footballer Matt Jarvis has given an in-depth interview to Attitude magazine, talking about the game’s “Last Taboo” (© every cliché-spouting journalist ever).

He’s not the first footballer to appear in Attitude. David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg both confirmed their gay-friendly credentials by featuring on previous covers, while the openly-gay Anton Hysén has also appeared in the magazine (I wrote about it back in May 2011).

In the interview, Jarvis says that he believes gay footballers should come out, saying, “it’s not something that’s going to be a shock” (not sure I’d agree with that, but he knows a lot more about the world of football than me).

He also repeats another frequently-voiced opinion: it’s not dressing room “banter” or image-conscious sponsors that a gay footballer would have to worry about, but chants and abuse from the fans in the stadium. Personally, I don’t understand why normal rules of decorum and behaviour go out of the window in a football stadium, but then again, I’m someone for whom crown-green bowls is a bit too fast-paced and exciting.

It’s great to see another footballer stand up on this issue. I do have a quibble, however: whose idea was it to put him on the cover with his shirt off? It’s certainly aesthetically pleasing (ahem), and no doubt the magazine will shift a few more copies on the basis of the pictures alone (there are more inside). I wonder, though, if it sends the wrong message: namely, that gay men are only interested in what Jarvis has to say because he’s wearing nothing but a pair of tiny shorts.

The full interview with Jarvis covers everything from his potential international career to what moisturiser he uses. It’s in the February 2013 issue of Attitude, on sale now at all good newsagents, and some really bad ones too. A digital edition is also available.

13th January 2013

Partial Observer
Posted by at 1.08pm | In the News | No responses

Julie Burchill has written a horrendous screed in today’s Observer (I’m not linking to it directly). It’s a horrible piece, using language about transsexual people that, had it appeared in the Daily Mail or a right-wing blog, would have drawn condemnation – including from the Observer. UPDATE: The article has now been withdrawn by the Observer.

I’m disappointed. I like the Observer. I always look forward to reading it on Sunday morning, as an antidote to the right-wing media which, too often, dominate the news agenda. So I’m prepared to treat this one article as an aberration; a lapse of judgement on the editor’s part. I’m not trying to defend the indefensible decision to publish it, but I think (and hope) this is just an anomaly. This isn’t like the Jan Moir kerfuffle, where her article was entirely typical of the anti-gay agenda of the Mail.

In today’s Observer print edition, on the opposite page to that rant is a great opinion piece by Nick Cohen on homophobia. Elsewhere in the same paper, there are thoughtful articles on women in Afghanistan, immigration to the UK, the Belfast riots, the upcoming Israel election and, er, crisps. I’m not about to start boycotting the paper and miss out on all that excellent content.

That said, I hope the Observer’s editor will explain the thinking behind the decision to print the piece, and offer a proper right of reply to the transgender people who have been unfairly vilified.

14th January 2013

Posted by at 11.36pm | Trains | 1 response

I think it needs to be emphasised that at the weekend Transport for London RAN A STEAM TRAIN ON THE UNDERGROUND.

Video from the citytransportinfo YouTube channel.

15th January 2013

HMV Negative
Posted by at 6.37pm | In the News | No responses

HMV has gone into administration after what must be one of the most prolonged deaths in retail history – alarm bells were ringing about the business as far back as 2007.

HMV simply failed to adapt to the three-prong assault it faced. Firstly, supermarkets started selling CDs and DVDs – Tesco’s range does not extend much beyond the current album chart, but it’s cheap. Online retailers such as Amazon didn’t have to worry about inconveniences such as shops. And of course, the explosive growth in digital downloads (legal and otherwise) over the past decade took many in the music industry by surprise. In the face of these threats, HMV plodded on regardless, continuing to charge high prices and failing to develop a competitive web site.

I suspect that HMV will survive in a slimmed-down form, simply because it is, in many places, the last bricks and mortar shop where you can buy a DVD or CD in person. Just before Christmas, I was in town doing some last minute shopping with my sister. She wanted Edward Scissorhands as a present for a friend. HMV didn’t have it in stock, and we realised that there was literally nowhere else in Liverpool to go and get it (unless we were prepared to accept a second-hand copy from CEX). It was too late to order online, so she had to settle for an IOU in a card.

At this point, I am very conscious of the Amazon parcels that have arrived at my house over the past few days. It’s true that I do the majority of my entertainment shopping online. However, it’s also fun to browse in-store and see a DVD or album cover peering out at you from the shelves, perhaps containing some hidden gem of which you were not previously aware. Even the most finely-tuned Amazon wish list can’t match that. The world is moving to digital downloads for music and movies, but I’m not ready to let go of the past just yet. Sure, the first thing I do when I get a new CD is rip it into my iTunes library, but I like having a tangible object, in my hands and on my shelves, as well.

It’s a worrying time to work in a shop. In the last month, Comet and Jessops, who employed over 8,000 people between them, have both closed after administrators failed to find buyers for the businesses. Jessops’ closure was particularly depressing – it went into administration on Wednesday 9th January and closed forever two days later, as the administrators decided even a Closing Down Sale was too much hassle to bother with.

The BBC has a handy list of the high street retailers that have been hit. It makes grim reading, as many of the names on the list have already completely disappeared. Surely the future for shopping in the UK is more palatable than everywhere being one giant Tesco, with the internet for everything else? We live in interesting times…

20th January 2013

Game, Gazette and Match

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am something of a fan of the Commodore 64 8-bit computer.

The C64 was an all-round home computer with a wealth of productivity software – at least, it was in America; in the UK it always seemed to be primarily marketed as a games machine. There was also an active hobbyist computing scene, with many people trying their hands at writing their own programs using the built-in BASIC.

For reasons too dreary to go into here, I have been researching C64-related matters and have stumbled across the wealth of old computing magazines available on – including the magazine which was considered something of a bible for US Commodore users: COMPUTE!’s Gazette.

COMPUTE!'s Gazette

Thanks to the Internet Archive’s diligence, the entire collection of the Gazette is now online. It’s a fascinating time capsule giving an insight into the US computer industry, as it stood in the early 1980s.

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27th January 2013

The Kids Are All Right
Posted by at 9.21pm | Gay | 1 response

Two videos appeared on YouTube recently which gave me reason to be cheerful about the future for teenagers who are in the process of coming to terms with their sexuality.

First, Jacob Rudolph, who came out to his entire high school class while accepting an award at a school ceremony. This video of his great speech (which unfortunately gets drowned out by the noise slightly) was filmed and posted by his proud father.

On this side of the pond, former Young Apprentice candidate, Harry Hitchens, has created a lovely coming out video:

Life is still tough for a gay kid. But when teenagers like these have the guts to stand up and be counted, you just know that things are getting better every day.