Robert Hampton

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11th April 2014

The Mole Person
Posted by at 7.21pm | Books | No responses

Adrian Mole Books

Overnight came some very sad news from the world of publishing: Sue Townsend has died.

Townsend is, of course, best known for her character, Adrian Mole, surely one of the greatest characters in modern literature. Mole’s development from an angst-ridden teenager – obsessed with poetry and measuring his “thing” – to a neurotic adult unable to hold down a relationship was a masterpiece of writing and character observation.

There was some biting satire in the books as well. Townsend always manages to capture the zeitgeist of the time – the early books are a perfect 1980s time capsule (“Do you weep, Mrs Thatcher, do you weep?”), while later ones moved on to mock (with pinpoint accuracy) the realities of life under New Labour. There’s plenty of laugh out loud moments too – via Seb’s Tumblr I was reminded of the minute-by-minute account of a school trip to a museum, which I found hilarious.

For my money, Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction is my favourite. It’s funny as hell, like all the books in the series, but the part where Adrian’s son Glenn writes a series of letters home from his posting in Iraq, packs a real emotional punch.

Townsend wrote other books too (The Queen and I is excellent) but it’s Adrian Mole for which she will always be remembered. That’s a fairly good legacy to leave behind, I think.

23rd March 2014

Fully Booked
Posted by at 7.28pm | Books | No responses

One sad aspect of marketing to kids these days is the increasingly strict gender-segregation. In the minds of marketers, boys get to play with trains and guns and pretend to be astronauts; girls get cooking and princesses and pink (oh, so much pink). Of course, a lot of kids will naturally gravitate to those things anyway, but if a boy wants to play with dolls or a girl wants to break out the Lego, there shouldn’t be any artificial obstacles stopping them.

It’s not just toys that are affected. Books are increasingly being marketed specifically at girls or boys. If you think this isn’t a serious problem, check out the Amazon listing for The Boys’ Book: How to be the Best at Everything:-

Find out how to slam dunk a basketball, how to build a basic raft, how to write in secret code, how to find water in the desert, how to do an Ollie on your skateboard, how to work out which way is north without a compass, how to fly a helicopter, how to win at conkers, how to tie essential knots, how to take a penalty kick and how to build a campfire.

Now, here’s the listing for the equivalent The Girls’ Book:-

Girls can find out: How to keep a secret diary; how to make the ultimate playlist; how to encrypt your text messages; how to customize your mobile phone; how to customize your clothes; how to set up your own web page; how to do the perfect manicure; how to make a friendship bracelet; how to write a best-selling novel and much more!

Not only is this patronising to all sexes, it’s a major problem when society as a whole is trying to eliminate glass ceilings for women. Some decidedly mixed signals are being given out to kids. Therefore, it’s good to see the Independent on Sunday report on a new campaign, Let Books Be Books, which is seeking to end this sort of nonsense.

As IoS literary editor Katy Guest points out, splitting children’s books strictly along gender lines is not even good publishing:

Just like other successful children’s books, The Hunger Games was not aimed at girls or boys; like JK Rowling, Roald Dahl, Robert Muchamore and others, Collins just wrote great stories, and readers bought them in their millions. Now, Dahl’s Matilda is published with a pink cover, and I have heard one bookseller report seeing a mother snatching a copy from her small son’s hands saying “That’s for girls” as she replaced it on the shelf.

I think I read Matilda cover-to-cover about ten times when I was a kid. It’s a story about a child who is misunderstood and unappreciated by the adults around her; a fairly universal theme. Are people really dismissing it out of hand for 50% of the child population just because the main character is a girl?

30th December 2010

Twenty Ten – again

What a year 2010 was! It had twelve months, each consisting of at least 28 days. On some of those days I made blog entries. Here are the highlights.

I began the year in January fretting about an alleged Crystal Maze remake starring Amanda Holden. This story fortunately turned out to be utter bollocks. Ginger people again proved that (yours truly excepted) they have no sense of humour or perspective. Britain experienced a deluge of snow, and Merseyrail impressed everyone by soldiering on throughout, a feat which they would surely repeat next time we experienced awful weather… right?

I finally joined the Wii owners’ club, just as the console stopped being cool. My rekindled love for video games did not result in me getting rickets. I also celebrated my first Twitterversary and cautiously welcomed the iPad.

I also took time to blog at length about a US comedian no-one has heard of over here, illustrating my post with YouTube clips which have now been removed for copyright infringement.

In more serious matters, the Haiti earthquake occupied people’s thoughts as a humanitarian catastrophe unfolded in the devastated country.

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1st July 2010

“Not a very promising beginning.” “It might get better.”
Posted by at 10.45pm | Books | No responses

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is an annual award for the worst first sentence of a novel. This year’s winner, Molly Ringle, deserves a special mention:-

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss–a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.

(via Andrew Sullivan‘s blog)

15th April 2010

Posted by at 8.14pm | Books, It's My Life | No responses

I’ve just finished reading The Prostrate Years, the latest addition to the Adrian Mole canon. I won’t give a detailed review, except to say that Sue Townsend is still as adept an author as ever, and if you enjoyed the previous entries in the series, you’ll like this one. The book picks up the diary of Adrian Mole as he turns 40 and copes with the stresses of middle age.

I feel some sympathy with him, despite being a full 13 years younger. The last week has seen me falling asleep in front of the TV, poring over an Experian credit report and comparing ISA interest rates on MoneySupermarket. When did I get so old?

10th March 2009

Altcar Rob
Posted by at 6.12pm | Books, Trains | No responses

Cover of Seaport to Seaside bookAnother book arrived recently to add to my shelf-weakeningly huge collection of Merseyrail paraphenalia. Seaport to Seaside (out of print but obtained from a helpful Amazon marketplace seller) charts the history of the Liverpool to Southport and Ormskirk lines from their beginnings in the 1850s right up to the creation of the Merseyrail Northern Line in the late 1970s.

There’s lots of fascinating stuff in there which I wasn’t aware of. For example, when the line from Southport first opened, it only went as far as Waterloo, with passengers left to face a tortuous onward journey into Liverpool by road. (An experience that Merseyrail are trying to replicate every Sunday, judging by their upcoming engineering works page).

What did amuse me was some of the turns of phrase used in the book. It was published in 1981 or thereabouts, but occasionally feels like it was written 50 years earlier — it’s hard to read sentences such as, “telephonic communication is provided between driver and guard” (describing a feature of the new Class 507 trains), without hearing it in the voice of Mr Burns.

The saddest part is the plug at the end of the book for the now-closed railway museum at Southport, which makes specific reference to the old Class 502 train which was lovingly preserved there. Things have taken a turn for the worse since then.

1st January 2009

2008? More like Two Thousand and GREAT!

January was marked with a sentiment many Liverpudlians expressed in the final months of 2007, namely that while we wanted Capital of Culture year to go well, there was a nagging suspicion that it would go awry.For me, this question was resolved by the spectacular opening ceremony, spoiled only by Ringo Starr mouthing off on Jonathan Ross’s show.

Meanwhile, on the blog, I started a new regular feature, Hampo’s Book Club — if I interpret the word “regular” strictly, the next installment is due a week next Tuesday. I also took time to laugh at the nasty mobile phones sold by TJ Hughes, before getting incredibly maudlin and deciding to hide from Google, a daft decision which I swiftly reversed.

February brought us Liverpool: The Number Ones Album, a compilation of covers by — it has to be said — mostly second tier Liverpool artists. The good (Anthony Hannah’s cover of Relax) mingled with the bad (Connie Lush?) and the just plain entertaining (The Scaffold!).

I championed the humble semicolon, before spending an uncharacteristic three hours outdoors exploring the Wirral peninsula, and jolly nice it was too. Sun and Cloud returned for one of their occasional appearances.

In the news, the Children’s Commissioner said that maybe damaging children’s hearing wasn’t the best way to get rid of scallies hanging around outside corner shops, and a predictable knee-jerk reaction ensued. A brilliant photo appeared on Flickr of two smashed up Merseyrail trains.

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13th January 2008

Hampo’s Book Club, Part 1
Posted by at 3.50pm | Books | No responses

The first of a (hopefully) regular series, proving to everyone that I remember how to read.

The last book I read was Flashforward by Robert J Sawyer. It’s a book I purchased purely on an impulse — I needed to spend an extra couple of quid to push my Amazon order over the threshold for Super Saver Delivery and this popped up as a recommendation.

What immediately got me clicking furiously on the “Add to Basket” button was the fantastic central premise of the story. At CERN, various men with beards are carrying out an experiment using a particle accelerator. Unfortunately something goes wrong and the side effects are catastrophic: everybody on the planet — EVERYBODY, mind you — loses consciousness for just over two minutes. During that time, each person experiences a short fragment of their lives from 20 years in the future — a phenomenon the media soon dub “The Flashforward”.

Some spoilers ahead.

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9th November 2007

Spoiler Alert
Posted by at 7.37pm | Books | No responses

In the Guardian, Stuart Jeffries has a hilarious review of Boris Johnson’s new poetry book. Extract follows:-

Behold them, reader, and despair:
their lolling eyes, their glassy stare,
this formerly dynamic pair
In a double-seat wheelchair.

21st October 2007

Playing with his wand
Posted by at 6.30pm | Books, In the News | No responses


Harry Potter author JK Rowling has revealed that one of her characters, Hogwarts school headmaster Albus Dumbledore, is gay.

The religious right would be up in arms about this, if they weren’t already up in arms about Harry Potter generally.

It doesn’t seem to me like a particularly brave decision to retroactively announce that a character is gay, AFTER the books have been released and made all the money. Can Dumbledore even be considered gay when, as I understand it, absolutely no reference (explicit, implied or otherwise) is made to the fact in the books?

Anyway, look out for some unsettling slash stories to hit a fanfic site near you soon — just as soon as I’ve written them.