Robert Hampton

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August 2009

1st August 2009

Adventures in Public Transport, Part XXXI
Posted by at 7.24pm | It's My Life | No responses

Today was the Woodvale Rally, and I was supposed to be there representing Friends of the 502 Group.

No car, but that’s no problem. Yours truly knows his way around public transport, even more so thanks to Merseytravel’s web site which has PDF timetables for every bus in Merseyside. Seriously, it’s a fantastic resource, because each timetable has a little map showing the full route, so even if you’re unfamiliar with the area, you know where you are.

So: train to Hillside, walk to home of person who had event tickets for me, then number 49 to Woodvale. Simples! I even bought my Saveaway the day before to save time.

Train arrived on time at Hillside (or “Bootle Oriel Road” as the automated announcer insisted on calling it). This was where things started to go a bit wrong.

As I got off the train, it started raining. Really heavily. I walked along the main road for a few minutes, getting soaked, before it dawned on me that my usually reliable sense of direction had deserted me and I had no idea where I was.

Stopping in a bus shelter a few minutes later to consult my map (something I should really have done before I started walking) I realised that I would need to go almost all the way back to the station. Bah.

Now on the right road I saw a corner shop and — having forgotten to bring any beverages with me, and forewarned that refreshments at Woodvale are expensive — I went in to buy a bottle of water. Having already been delayed, I was held up further by a man paying for his Daily Mail using 2p coins.

I left the shop and strolled along the road, putting my change in my pocket next to my Saveaway. Or rather, where my Saveaway had been until a few minutes ago. Where was it now?


I really didn’t want to lose my ticket now. I had two bus rides and another train journey ahead of me. I didn’t hold out much hope of finding it, but I decided to retrace my steps. Walking past the corner shop and back the way I came — hurrah! There it was on the ground near the bus shelter.

I picked up the now soggy ticket, sandwiched it between two sheets of card to try and flatten it out, and walked back, passing the same corner shop for the third time.

I finally arrived, late and damp, having learned the hard way to invest in clothes with zip-up pockets.

(worth it in the end though! Check out the Class 502 homepage for more info!)

3rd August 2009

The Voice of Merseyside… in Oldham

Today marked the start of a brave new era, as the Liverpool Echo is now printed at Trinity Mirror’s Oldham printing press. According to Liverpool Confidential, editors are “acutely sensitive” that this move will undermine the paper’s credibility as a champion for Merseyside.

As I said when this news was announced last year, they are right to be worried. This is not an anti-Manchester thing, more a concern that the changes required to accommodate the move will destroy the paper completely. I’m particularly interested that an “evening” paper will now have a deadline of 7am! We had an example of the damage early deadlines can do only recently, when the Echo was unable to carry any news of Steven Gerrard’s acquittal until the day after the verdict was delivered, by which time it had been thoroughly gone over by TV, radio and the morning national papers and was generally old news. Yes, newspapers are being undermined by the internet, but it seems odd of Trinity Mirror to respond to that threat by making their publication appear even more irrelevant and out of date.

I haven’t been impressed with the Echo for years. Yes, they have run some important campaigns, but they are let down by sloppy reporting, sensationalism (count the number of times the words “CHAOS”, “TERROR” or “HORROR” are used in headlines) and an obsession with generally unimportant matters (car parking, Mersey Tunnel tolls, “Miseryrail”). Their good columnists (Will Batchelor, Laurence Westgaph) disappeared, while tedious rant-merchants like Joe Riley and Pete Price stay on. They’ve even dropped the Willie cartoon!

So I will probably be saving my 47p a day in future. My advice is to use the internet (I highly recommend Liverpool Confidential) or at a pinch, the BBC Radio Merseyside news bulletin at the top of each hour. But if you do this, for God’s sake, turn it off again as soon as the news finishes so you don’t have to listen to the rest of that station’s output.

5th August 2009

Quays Please Me
Posted by at 6.51pm | Out and About | 1 response

Every summer, Mersey Ferries operate special cruises along the Manchester Ship Canal. Every year I’ve looked at the leaflet and thought, “I must go on one of those,” only to find the leaflet again several months later and think: “I should have gone on one of those.”

I finally fulfilled my ambition yesterday, after my friend Andrew suggested we go. So at 10.10am we were one of several hundred people boarding the Snowdrop for the six-hour trip to Manchester, via Ellesmere Port, Runcorn, Warrington and Trafford.

I was slightly dubious that a six-hour trip on a ferry would be too much, but it turned out to be really interesting. There was a brilliant guide providing live commentary, which not only pointed out every landmark, but also explained the purpose of every ship and barge we passed. He didn’t even lose his cool when, as we passed under Runcorn bridge, an almighty blast from the ship’s whistle made everyone jump. There were lots of pensioners on board; I’m sure there was much changing of incontinence pads afterwards.

Tying up at Salford Quays, we had two and a half hours to kill before our “coach” (actually an Arriva double decker) turned up to take us home. We wandered round the Imperial War Museum for an hour. I was expecting a slightly unpleasant glorification of war, but there was none of that and it was a sober affair, focusing on the experiences and suffering of the soldiers on the front line. At the moment they are holding a special exhibition on prisoners of war which I highly recommend if, like me, your knowledge of PoW camps is limited to watching The Great Escape on a wet bank holiday weekend.

Then there was just time to check out the Lowry Outlet Mall, which depressingly had almost Clayton Square-like levels of shuttered shops. Just across the road, MediaCityUK — the BBC’s new effort to convince people they’re not too London-centric — is taking shape.

Still, a very enjoyable day, not least because I got the bonus experience of sitting on the top deck of a bus doing 70 along the M62 with a severe cross-wind blowing us sideways.

So, in summary, yes, I loved it and would definitely go again. The ship canal cruises can be booked online at the Mersey Ferries web site.

10th August 2009

Gym won’t fix it
Posted by at 8.08pm | In the News | No responses

If I had a personal trainer, I’d be making an indignant phone call to him right about now:

“In general, for weight loss, exercise is pretty useless,” says Eric Ravussin, chair in diabetes and metabolism at Louisiana State University and a prominent exercise researcher.

Actually I’m not particularly peeved about this information. I joined a gym six years ago (almost to the day, in fact!) and although I haven’t lost much weight, I feel healthier generally, so I’m happy overall.

The bad news: apparently the best way to lose weight is to… well, eat less. Bugger. Hampo likes his food.

12th August 2009

Posted by at 8.02pm | Trains | No responses

Travelling home is usually quite a relaxing experience. After a long day at work and gruelling(ish) session at the gym, it’s nice to sit back for the short journey home, reading my newspaper (or, as it was today, my shiny new RAIL Magazine — there’s a piece about the Class 502 in it, y’know).

Tonight though, the peace was shattered, along with a pane of glass in one of the train’s sliding doors, by a large stone which was hurled at us as we passed under Grafton Street bridge.

No-one was hurt, but it could have been a very different story, if the boy standing next to the door hadn’t moved away at the last second.

Unsurprisingly the train crew took one look at the damage and immediately took the train out of service. As I waited on the platform at Brunswick for the next one, I had time to ponder the incident. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a fairly minor event. It happens all over the rail network on a regular basis. I’ve been on trains before where missiles have been thrown at us (although this is the first time that — ahem — penetration has occurred).

For the smattering of passengers between Hunts Cross and Liverpool Central whose train was cancelled “due to an act of vandalism”, it’s a minor annoyance. But to those travelling in the centre car of unit number 508124 tonight, travelling by train suddenly feels a little less safe, and, irrational as it seems, I’m now glad that about half the seats in Merseyrail’s trains don’t line up properly with the windows.

14th August 2009

Cock and Bull Tory
Posted by at 11.39pm | Politics | 1 response

I would like to thank Daniel Hannan, Alan Duncan and Roger Helmer for removing any lingering doubt that the Conservative Party is still home to a lot of narrow-mindedness and general unpleasantness.

19th August 2009

Missing the (Power)Point

PowerPoint is 25 years old and the BBC is “celebrating” by pointing out the worst excesses of PowerPoint misuse. It will strike a chord with anyone who has ever had to sit through a presentation by a boss who knows a little bit about computers, but not enough. Money quote:-

You think bullet points make information more digestible? Think again. A dozen slides with five bullet points on each assumes that people are mentally capable of taking in a list of 60 points. If it’s a 30-minute presentation, that’s a rate of two-per-minute.

I once sat through a presentation which consisted entirely of a list of bullet points, rendered in the most ghastly and illegible colour scheme imaginable. Each one popped onto the screen via a low-tech animation which would not exactly put Pixar to shame. The speaker then pointed to the screen and read out the text, after which he would click the mouse to make the next sentence appear. This lasted for over 90 minutes.

20th August 2009

Senile is a river in Egypt
Posted by at 7.50pm | It's My Life | No responses

I left my bag in the gym changing room today.

This is not the first time this has happened. It is the first time I’ve got all the way to the platform at Moorfields station before realising.

One trip back to the gym, followed by a sheepish explanation to the woman on reception, and I have my bag back.

I’m 26 years old! The mind isn’t supposed to go until 60-ish, is it?

23rd August 2009

I’m coming up so you’d better get this party tarted
Posted by at 9.49pm | It's My Life | 3 responses

You can read any number of hand-wringing articles about the growth of the Internet leading to a reduction in actual face-to-face communication. This is, of course, nonsense. Most sensible Internet users (and I like to think I am one) will use Facebook, Twitter et al to complement other forms of communication, not as a replacement. In fact, I would argue that the growth of social networking sites is enriching friendships.

Take my friend Andrew, for example. He left for Australia a couple of weeks ago and will be away for a few months. In the old, pre-Internet days that would probably have been it as far as contact is concerned, except possibly for an occasional phone call; short due to the expense, inconvenient due to the time difference. However, thanks to the web, I can follow his every move on his photoblog.

Then there is Scott (aka the MerseyTart). I discovered his entertaining blog about a year ago. Anyone setting themselves the goal of visiting every Merseyrail station is already in my good books, and I said as much when I made my first tentative comment on his blog a few months back.

That comment led to Scott commenting here. Before long we were e-mailing back and forth and eventually agreed to meet up for a joint excursion onto the City Line, to “collect” a few more stations, and then retire to a hostelry for drinks.

That took place yesterday and it couldn’t have been a better day. I was going to write up my own account of the day, but frankly I couldn’t hope to improve on Scott’s version of events, so I’ll just direct you there instead (and please ignore the picture of me where I look really fat).

So, to summarise, the Internet can be great for meeting people. Just use a bit of common sense to avoid the nutters.

26th August 2009

McCalled off
Posted by at 9.14pm | Television | No responses

What to make of the news that Channel Four will drop Big Brother next year? First thing to consider: is this even the end of the show? Digitalspy reports that Five, ITV and Sky have ruled out a bid for it, so unless Virgin are particularly desperate for something to fling out on Bravo, this might be the death knell.

Yes, I hate Big Brother, but to be fair, I hated it long before it was cool to do so. Dominating Channel 4’s schedules for months on end (axing it will apparently free up 200 hours!) it was, until this year at least, impossible to avoid. Even the fairly highbrow papers would devote precious column inches to the show, and I had to listen to people at work prattling on about it endlessly (until this year, because no-one cares about it). It actually got on my nerves and angried up my blood in a way that’s hard to articulate.

On a lighter note, Channel Four are reportedly looking at a “long-running comedy soap” to fill part of the void — so looks like Brookside is finally coming back.