Robert Hampton

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February 2014

4th February 2014

Friends with benefits
Posted by at 9.54pm | In the News | No responses

I was out with friends last night, so was fortunate enough to miss Channel 5’s contribution to the benefits “debate”. Given that the show featured Katie Hopkins prominently, and was actually called The Big Benefits Row, I can’t imagine that the conversation was very constructive.

24 hours later, I almost feel like I’ve watched it by proxy, thanks to the amount of online comment. Fleet Street Fox‘s backstage gossip is well worth a read, but it’s this angry, passionate blog from Jack Monroe that really hits home.

As with so many issues, I’d love for there to be a grown-up debate on the topic. Sadly, we’re not going to get it, especially as it suits the current Government to demonise benefits recipients as scroungers.

7th February 2014

The Anger Games
Posted by at 1.15pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

Tonight the Winter Olympics open in Sochi, Russia, but a lot of the world’s attention is focused on a different kind of “sport” in that country. Channel 4’s Dispatches on Wednesday told the story of the gangs who hunt gay people, trapping them in order to humiliate and torture them, uploading the footage online for all to see. The documentary makers got access to some of the groups – no need for hidden cameras; they were happy to boast on film about what they did. Watch it online (UK only) but be warned: it really is horrific.

After watching, I feel grateful to live in a country that (at least during my adult life) has become more and more accepting of gay people. Anti-gay violence still happens, of course, but any British politician attacking LGBT people can expect to be condemned and mocked (q.v. David “gays cause floods” Silvester and the resulting UKIP Shipping Forecast). Not so in Russia, where homosexuality and paedophilia are conflated, and politicians eagerly use gay people, under the guise of “protecting children” to distract from other issues. The LGBT community can’t even fight back, thanks to the “no promo homo” law passed last year.

The Games will not be boycotted, but numerous countries and organisations have hinted at their displeasure. The USA took a deliberate decision to include gay athletes in their Olympic delegation, while Germany designed rainbow-coloured uniforms for their team. Great Britain responded by, er… well, David Cameron sent a Tweet to Stephen Fry.

Google has unveiled a new doodle, complete with a quote from the Olympic charter. Channel 4 (who have the rights to the Winter Paralympics) have gone one step further, producing this elaborate trailer which will air across all their channels.

The danger is that after the Games, when the world’s media is no longer watching, the anti-gay attitudes will be ratcheted up even further. Gay rights organisations around the world are working to support Russia’s LGBT community. Stonewall’s page on Russia is a good starting point for more information and advice on how to help.

11th February 2014

Office Space
Posted by at 10.59pm | Uncategorised | No responses

Train in Euston Square Underground stationThe good news for Londoners is that the Tube strike, planned to start tonight, has been called off. The RMT and TSSA unions have got their wish for further consultation over London Underground’s plan to close London Underground ticket offices. A shame that London had to endure 48 hours of disruptive strike action, but when you elect someone like Boris Johnson, you can’t expect good results.

It’s true that technology is changing the way people pay for public transport. The Oyster card is almost magic compared to the scratch-off Saveaway tickets which Merseytravel are still using. We’re promised contactless credit card technology in the very near future as well. However, I don’t think that technology has reached the point where the humble ticket office can be done away with.

There’s a lot to be said for the human touch. BBC Two’s 2012 documentary series The Tube showed a dedicated workforce working hard to keep the often-creaking network running, in the face of often abusive passengers. I worry that, for all TfL’s protestations that all stations will retain a visible staff presence, somewhere down the line it will be decided that the network can do without them at all, and numbers will be cut to the absolute minimum required to comply with safety regulations.

My opinion on this is influenced by my experience of Berlin’s transport system when I visited in 2012. Very efficient and reliable, but run with minimal staffing. At Schönefeld Airport station, there were no staff visible at all to help visitors find their train or to help buy a ticket. Not a good first impression. I would hate for that to happen in London.

Hopefully, with the strikes called off for now, the process of ticket office closures can be managed with the co-operation of the unions, to achieve the best result for staff and passengers alike. If TfL want to save money, how about getting rid of expensive custom buses and the glorified funfair ride that almost nobody uses?

18th February 2014

Posted by at 10.09pm | In the News, Liverpool | 1 response

The Liverpool Echo reports on farcical scenes at a meeting to sort out arrangements for the new “super-council” to govern the whole region. The new body will see the individual councils working together to develop the area for their mutual benefit.

However, they have fallen down at the first hurdle: choosing a name. The Liverpool contingent reportedly wanted something along the lines of “Liverpool City Region”, to take advantage of the name of the city famous for giving the world the Beatles, Ken Dodd and Brookside. However, some other members were reportedly not happy about this. Personally, I suspect the Sefton lot – the sort of people who still sniffily give their address as “Southport, Lancashire“.

Anyway, the Government has stepped in to separate the fighting children and come up with an excellent compromise. As the Echo reports:

So because the councils couldn’t all agree, Whitehall chiefs have stepped in and decided on the tongue-twisting title of the Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority.

That’s HKLSHSWCA for short. It rolls right off the tongue. WELL DONE EVERYONE.

This very much reminds me of the first episode of every series of The Apprentice, when the teams both squabble over what name to give themselves. The whole region comes out of this looking terrible – if people can’t agree on a name, what are the chances of them managing to do anything else?

I’m annoyed, because HKLSHSWCA was my wi-fi password (I chose it because it was easy to remember), and now I’ve had to change it. Also, “HKLSHSWCArail” is going to look terrible on the side of the region’s trains.

A plague on all their houses – the councillors from the Areas of Runcorn, Southport, Edge Hill, Otterspool, Litherland, Everton and Stoneycroft should hang their heads in shame.

All IMHO of course. E&OE.

24th February 2014

MP3s in a Pod
Posted by at 11.28pm | Uncategorised | No responses

For years, my the only podcast I listened to regularly was Adam & Joe (their forensic dissection of R Kelly still makes me chuckle). However, they are seemingly never returning, so I’ve had to turn my attention elsewhere. Here, then, is my current podcast listening list.

International Waters

The UK is swamped with panel shows of any shape or form. American TV and radio networks have not embraced this phenomenon, perhaps because they fear the emergence of a US equivalent of Micky Flanagan. Probably the closest is this show, where two US comics are pitted against two British opponents in several rounds of trivia and pop culture questions. As is usual for these types of shows, the questions merely act as a catalyst for the humour, and sometimes the discussion can wander off on some delightful tangents.

One recent episode featured host Dave Holmes waxing lyrical with the UK’s Chris Neill over the joys of Coronation Street, bewildering all the other USians in the process.

Judge John Hodgman

A second entry for Maximum Fun, who also produce International Waters, mentioned above.

John Hodgman is perhaps best known for his appearances on The Daily Show as their “resident expert”. However he has also carved out a niche for himself online, as a dispenser of fake internet justice. Parties bring their petty disputes to Hodgman’s court for him to resolve.

So far, so All Rise For Julian Clary. But many of the disputes take decidedly offbeat turns. One brilliant example is Die Flederhaus, in which two brothers argue about how to deal with an infestation of bats in their run-down home. I won’t spoil the revelation of how one brother decided to deal with the bats in his bathroom.

Bonus points for the delightful pun-ridden titles each show has: “Father Knaws Beast”, “Lingua Fracas”, “Odor in the Court”, that sort of thing.

Savage Lovecast

Dan Savage is the sex and relationship advice columnist for the 21st century. He’s the guy who managed to redefine a US Presidential candidate’s last name as something you can’t safely Google in a public place. For years, his Savage Love column has been the go-to source of information and advice for open-minded people everywhere.

He also does this weekly podcast taking questions from callers. As well as offering advice, tips and advice in his typically frank style, he will talk to other experts and occasionally go off on a rant about far right-wing politicians, usually whenever they are trying to advance their anti-abortion, anti-gay agenda. It’s fun, informative, and definitely NSFW (one of the sponsors is a sex toy shop).

This Way Out

The only “serious” one on this list. This Way Out is a half-hour round up of LGBT news and features which is distributed to 200 radio stations around the world, and is now also available as a weekly download. The show is produced in Los Angeles, so perhaps inevitably there is an American slant to much of the coverage.

The opening 10-minute “newswrap” is usually followed by an in-depth report on the pressing issue of the week, and maybe an interview with a newsmaker or performer. Clips of music by LGBT artists and reviews of gay-interest films and TV shows also appear.

Back in 1988 when production first started, it was probably a lifeline for many gay people, especially those not fortunate enough to live in big cities. These days, the Internet allows easy access to a wider community. But this show is still a useful digest of what’s happening in the world.

Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast

Richard Herring hosts this chat sh. Guests are drawn from the great and the good of the comedy world, which usually leads to an excellent hour or more of hilarious discussion and general faffing about.

It’s a very relaxed atmosphere, which is perhaps why the guests often open up about their lives to a surprising extent. The show even made headlines nationwide, when Stephen Fry revealed his recent suicide attempt.

At other times, however, the guests are just wonderfully indiscreet – Rufus Hound’s account of his run-in with Aggie (from Kim and Aggie) on Celebrity Juice is one of the all time best celebrity anecdotes. You won’t get that on Wossy.