Robert Hampton

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December 2011

1st December 2011

Retain the Train
Posted by at 11.46pm | Trains | No responses

Oh hello. Apologies for the gap in blogging. I could offer excuses but the simple fact is that I have been somewhat distracted over the past few weeks. I want to rectify this and get back into writing on this web site, and I hope that December will be a fruitful month.

Unfortunately, my return to blogging today is motivated by some bad news I received from the Friends of the 502 Group, a society I have been involved with since its inception.

We are a group of railway enthusiasts who have custody of two vintage electric train carriages. These two vehicles represent the the last surviving example of the Class 502 trains which ran on what is now Merseyrail’s Northern Line for the best part of 40 years. The 502s were built between 1939 and 1941 and were an early pioneer of features such as automatic sliding doors and the seating layout which became the de facto standard for suburban trains in the UK for the next 50 years. As such they are an important piece of British railway history and need to be saved for posterity.

Unfortunately we now find ourselves without a home as we have been asked to vacate the premises by our current landlords. The full story is over at the Friends of the 502 Group blog, but to summarise: we need money (a lot of it), and soon. We have just twelve weeks to raise £4,000.

We have an online donation page. Any amount, no matter how small, would be appreciated.

Here endeth the begging.

3rd December 2011

Cone off the Mersey Tunnels
Posted by at 11.24pm | In the News | 1 response

So, November 30th. It was, we were told, a national day of action by public sector workers, when the evil/heroic unions (depending on which newspaper you read) would succeed/fail in bringing Britain to a standstill (again, depending on which newspaper you read).

Merseyside, with quite a generous allocation of civil service workers, was poised to be badly hit, with dire warnings in the local press of CHAOS.

Did it come to pass? Well, the Mersey Tunnels were closed.

Photo of closed Queensway Tunnel entrance

For me it was a normal day, apart from Liverpool city centre being super-busy as strike-affected schoolchildren and their harrassed-looking parents descended for some retail therapy. As I watched the crowds in the shops, I found it hard to swallow the Government’s line that this strike was damaging to the economy.

The Sun (spit) and Daily Mail (urgh) have delighted in demonising the unions. They portray them as militant, 70s throwbacks, not living in the real world. In a masterpiece of tabloid doublespeak, they tried to portray the strike as massively disruptive to the general public, while at the same time downplaying it as a “damp squib”. The right-wing press conveniently ignored a BBC poll showing 61% of adults supported the strike. Jeremy Clarkson was definitely with the other 39%.

David Cameron meanwhile, seems to be trying to turn the term “leftwing” into an insult, similar to the way “liberal” has become a dirty word in America. The Guardian carried an interesting article on this phenomenon.

As I understand it, the government have decided that the public sector pension plan is going to be unilaterally changed, so workers will pay in more and get less at the end of it. They’re not being greedy, they’re not asking for more – they simply want to keep what they already have. Some private sector workers complained that they don’t get such a generous pension. Well, that may be true, but why should public sector workers sink to the lowest common denominator? Instead, private sector workers should be lobbying their employers for better pension provision (maybe they should form a union).

No-one should be completely immune to the effects of the financial woes we find ourselves in. But why are public sector workers being singled out when the bankers who got us into this mess are still paying themselves massive bonuses? “We’re all in this together,” after all.

My favourite quote came, as so many of my favourite quotes do these days, from Twitter:

"Parents, if it wasn't for unions, your kids wouldn't be off school today. They'd be at work."

It’s an excellent point. Rules about child labour, health and safety at work, anti-discrimination legislation and countless other laws, have all come about thanks in no small part to union intervention. If you want to go back to a country where 12-year-olds were sent down coal mines, then by all means abolish the unions, but that’s not a country I want to live in.

10th December 2011

Euro-n your own
Posted by at 10.15am | Politics | No responses

So a new EU accord has been reached and the only member not interested in supporting it is, er.. us. Thanks to Dave, Britain has been left isolated. As the Guardian succinctly puts it: The two-speed Europe is here, with UK alone in the slow lane.

Cameron says the deal wasn’t in “Britain’s best interests”. It certainly wasn’t in the best interests of Dave’s political career – his decision appears to be squarely about pandering to the Tory right and the Daily Mail.

There’s a debate to be had on Europe and Britain’s role in it. There are plenty of ways in which the EU could and should be reformed. Unfortunately it’s quite impossible to have a sensible discussion when the country is run by a party of little Englanders and the popular press is full of exaggerated and just plain made-up scare stories about “Barmy Brussels Bureaucrats”. Any debate would be strangled at birth by daft comments about straight bananas and butter mountains.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg (remember him?) — a leader of a supposedly pro-Europe party, continues to back the Prime Minister. Is there anything I can do, even as a meaningless symbolic gesture, to retract my LibDem vote in the May 2010 elections?

11th December 2011

Posted by at 11.42am | Television | No responses

Watch BBC1 for any length of time and you’ll soon encounter this year’s Christmas Promo. They’ve really gone to town this year, with seemingly every celebrity within a 20-mile radius of Television Centre being roped in to appear.

Look around online and you’ll find Scrooge-like characters describing this as being a cheesy waste of money. Well, maybe, but you could say that about 90% of the things that happen at Christmas time. As for me, I love the idea of all of BBC1’s stars getting together for a knees-up, where they sing, dance and unconvincingly pretend to play the piano. It’s a lovely effort which cements the BBC’s reputation as the only broadcaster worth bothering with on December 25th.

That said, it’s not a new idea – flash back to Christmas 1993 and a near-identical concept was used, although the cheese factor is ratcheted up by a factor of 10. There are no Christmas jumpers in sight, the producers of this magnum opus preferring the Birds of a Feather women in glittery dresses. Look out for a cameo from Andi Peters, which – despite its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nature – was the source of much good-natured ribbing on Live & Kicking.

Warning: contains Jim Davidson.

Note the heavy presence of Bruce Forsyth in both trailers. There is simply no stopping the man.

15th December 2011

Driving Home For Christmas (well, there’s no trains, after all)
Posted by at 9.43pm | In the News, Trains | 2 responses

Good old Metro, inviting its hard-pressed commuter audience to indulge in some collective gnashing of teeth:-

Britain faces a Christmas holiday railway shutdown with virtually no trains for almost 60 hours from 5pm on Christmas Eve.

Leaving aside the blatant lie (most services don’t start winding down until after 8pm on Christmas Eve), this isn’t really news, is it? The Christmas shutdown is a tradition going back many years, all the way back to the days of British Rail. And why is Metro making a big deal out of it now when the Christmas trains info has been published on National Rail’s web site for weeks?

There is a prober debate to be had about public transport provision over the Christmas period (the lack of Merseyrail on Boxing Day is often an inconvenience for me) but Metro – like its stable-mate the Daily Mail – is more interested in unconstructive whining.

Incidentally, the rail network doesn’t shut down entirely for two days: there will be teams of engineering staff out and about, taking advantage of two days without trains to do some serious work. For example, on 25th and 26th December 2004 the new footbridge over the West Coast Main Line at Liverpool South Parkway was craned into position, while this year Network Rail are replacing a bridge at Sandhills (although the work is too much for two days, so there are rail replacement buses a-plenty for Northern Line passengers on the 27th and 28th).

22nd December 2011

Every little… well, you know how the slogan goes
Posted by at 11.57pm | It's My Life | No responses

Tonight, for the first time, I set foot inside the giant Tesco on Park Road in Toxteth.

I was there to help my mum with the Christmas food shopping. She had picked up too much for one trolley and called me to request an extra pair of hands.

“I’m by the fruit & veg section,” she advised, “but I’ll come to the main entrance and meet you.”

“No need,” I jauntily assured her, “I’ll find you no problem.”

I was on familiar territory, I thought. I use the Tesco Superstore in Liverpool city centre all the time. It’s just around the corner from work and is therefore great to dash into on my lunch hour to pick up items. Now I was about to set foot in a Tesco Extra, but surely the difference can’t be that great… right?

My breezy confidence quickly evaporated when I walked into the building.

It was massive, and seemed to possess a TARDIS-like “bigger on the inside” quality.

I walked around the harshly lit shop for a good few minutes. I dodged harrassed-looking mothers with screaming kids, lonely twentysomethings picking up frozen meals for one and shifty-looking scallies trying their best to evade the security guards. There were signs screaming “3 for 2” and “Special Offer”. What there wasn’t any sign of was the fruit and veg aisle. I was lost. Lost in a supermarket.

I’m lucky mother’s sense of direction is better than mine (at least when it comes to groceries) otherwise I would probably still be there now, bewildered and confused in the confectionery aisle.

I’m not sure about Tesco and their ongoing plans for world domination, but their Park Road store is very nice. They have an entire aisle just for different types of frozen chips!

24th December 2011

Selection Box
Posted by at 7.04pm | Television | No responses

You can tell Christmas is here, because the Liverpool branch of Wilkinson had Creme Eggs and chocolate bunnies out on the shelves today. Until now I’d always thought that this sort of thing only happened in the minds of lazy stand-up comedians, but no. Still, I suppose it’s handy for anyone who wants to celebrate Jesus’s birth and death at the same time.

As ever, the TV companies wheel out the big guns at Christmas. I’ve been through the Radio Times, although the traditional circling of programmes with a red biro has been replaced this year by the setting of the digital TV recorder. Here’s what my TVonics box will be recording over the next few days.


Lapland (BBC One, 10pm): An obnoxious Birkenhead family go on a trip to Lapland and along the way learn the true meaning of Christmas. It doesn’t sound incredibly promosing, but the wonderful Sue Johnston is in it, so it won’t be a total waste of time.

Read the rest of this post »

25th December 2011

Christmas Hampo
Posted by at 11.00am | It's My Life | No responses

Christmas TreeIt’s Christmas Day, in case you haven’t noticed.

Back when I was a little kid, I got annoyed (probably thanks to influence from my mother) that the religious origins of Christmas were getting lost amidst rampant consumerism and secular merriment. A decade or so later and the position is somewhat reversed. What faith I had has long since evaporated and Christmas is a strictly secular celebration for me. In fact, I kind of wish they’d demolish that Church down the road from me – it’s the perfect location for a new Starbucks.

That said, there are plenty of aspects of Christmas which can be embraced by everyone. Peace on earth, goodwill to all men. Giving gifts. Spending time with loved ones. Thinking of those less fortunate than yourself. In fact, I’d argue that we, as a society, should perhaps set aside more than one day a year for those things.

Of course, many of our modern-day Christmas traditions are derived from old Pagan customs for Winter Solstice. Apparently one ritual involved building a fire in the woods and dancing naked around it. I think it’s high time for this one to make a comeback. Does anyone have any matches?

Merry Christmas everybody!

27th December 2011

Posted by at 10.30pm | It's My Life | 4 responses

Way back on January 1st I said I wanted to make video blogs. This proved more of a challenge than I thought, as it turned out that talking to a camera is hard.

Anyway, I had time on my hands tonight, so here is the first of what promises to be a series of at least one videos.

28th December 2011

Central Perk
Posted by at 1.37pm | Trains | No responses

Today was my first visit to the gym since Christmas. I’ve consumed rather a lot of mince pies in the six days since I last ventured there, and I paid for it today. On the treadmill today, I was a real Christmas sweater! (I thought of that joke four days ago, but had to wait until now to use it)

Going to the gym meant going into town, and going into town meant getting the train. Fortunately, the line and station near my house are not affected by the engineering works which have closed a big chunk of Merseyrail’s Northern Line, so I was able to get into Liverpool city centre without hassle.

I arrived at Liverpool Central for my return journey having just missed a train. This didn’t worry me – there was not long to wait until the next one and it gave me a chance to appreciate the very atypical atmosphere in the station.

Photo of near-empty Liverpool Central station

Shorn of all its trains except a shuttle to Hunts Cross, the Northern Line platform was a very different place. No crowds, no pushing and shoving, no jostling at the base of the escalators. It was quiet, peaceful, serene – like the Evergreen Forest before Bert Raccoon wakes up.

The commuter part of me almost wishes it could be like this every day. But railway stations, especially major ones in the centre of town, are not supposed to be this quiet. Seeing Central like this, almost deserted on a busy shopping day, actually made me quite sad.

30th December 2011

Reducing your Overheads
Posted by at 8.51pm | Liverpool, Trains | 1 response

During the first half of the 20th century, any visitor to Liverpool’s docklands could not have failed to notice the Overhead Railway. The imposing elevated railway ran for 6 miles along the city’s dock road, from Seaforth in the north through to Herculaneum Dock in the south, where the line curved inland and continued in a tunnel to the underground terminus at Dingle.

Photo of Liverpool Overhead Railway route diagram

The line proved popular with dock workers and the inhabitants of the residential areas of Dingle and Seaforth. It also tapped into the tourist market, as the elevated structure, 16 feet above the ground, offered excellent views of the ships and activity in the city’s docks, which were otherwise mostly hidden behind fortress-like walls.

The good times didn’t last, however, as the effects of pollution and salty sea air combined to corrode the iron structure beyond economic repair. The last trains ran on Sunday 30th December 1956.

Today, exactly fifty-five years after the line closed, I paid my respects by visiting the Museum of Liverpool‘s new gallery dedicated to the railway. The Museum is fortunate to have one of two surviving carriages from the railway (the other is held by the Suburban Electric Railway Association at their Coventry base) and this vehicle forms the centrepiece of the new exhibit. The carriage is displayed on a short replica section of elevated track, in an attempt to recreate the appearance of the railway accurately.

Photo of Liverpool Overhead Railway carriage

There are lots of interactive displays all around, including an excellent 3D scale model of Liverpool’s waterfront, showing how the railway fitted into the surrounding area. There’s also a treasure trove of memorabilia from the railway – tickets, uniforms, timetables, posters, even a guard’s whistle.

Photo of Model of Liverpool Overhead Railway Photo of Memorabilia on Display at World Museum Liverpool

The jewel in the crown has to be the restored Carriage No.3 itself. It used to be on display in the old transport gallery of Liverpool Museum. There, visitors could only marvel at it from a distance from behind a railing. Now, however, you can go in and sit down on the famed wooden seats. They’re uncomfortable, but I suspect it would still be a better ride than a Northern Rail Pacer.

Photo of Interior of Liverpool Overhead Railway Carriage

As with so many aspects of Liverpool’s history, it’s impossible not to feel a tinge of sadness for what has been lost. The city fathers of the time should hang their heads in shame for letting such a prize asset disappear. On the other hand, the steep decline of the city’s docklands in the 1970s could have killed the line anyway.

But… imagine if it had survived. Perhaps it would have been upgraded and folded into Merseyrail. Or maybe it would have been a lynchpin for the regeneration of the docklands, like London’s DLR. Would the Merseybeat musicians of the 60s have written sentimental songs about it, in the manner of Penny Lane and Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey? Today, it would certainly have been a wonderful way for visitors to see the city’s regenerated waterfront.

Unfortunately, all we’re left with is the memories, but the Museum of Liverpool can be proud of the way in which they are preserving what little remains of the Overhead Railway.

31st December 2011

2011 – more like Twenty E-Heaven!
Posted by at 5.04pm | It's My Life | No responses

2011 will surely be remembered as the year I lost my blogging mojo. Certainly from August until mid-December, there has been a dearth of postings. Well, it has been a quiet time in the world, after all.

The lack of activity here on the site is in stark contrast to the activity in my life. There’s been a hell of a lot going on for me – I just, er, didn’t tell you about it.

Travel was on the agenda: this was the year I left the UK for the first time in 25 years, when I visited visited Estonia. Less exotically, I started my Station Master blog (currently in hibernation, but back with a bang in 2012, I promise). I also found time in September to celebrate my birthday with a weekend in London, and had a smashing day out in, er, Birmingham.

Yes, 2011 was the year I got out and about a lot. I didn’t even allow the swiping of my iPhone, by an expert pickpocket, to dissaude me.

I got up close and personal(ish) with McFly at their Liverpool concert, after my friend Andrew got tickets. I also saw Beautiful Thing, in its original stage incarnation, in Manchester. I failed, however, to get tickets to the Olympics.

An event which required no tickets was Liverpool Pride, which was great fun despite a funding shortfall which enforced a change of location. 2011 was really the year when “gay” really did mean “happy” for me. The cap on it all came in the Autumn, when I gained and then lost a boyfriend (it lasted only a few months, but the important thing is it happened).

Finally, with only days to go, I fulfilled one of my new year resolutions for 2011, by doing a videoblog – believe it or not, this grainy, poorly-lit video promises great things for the future.

So that was 2011. Hopefully 2012 will be just as, if not more rewarding for me. Maybe I’ll even write a blog post or two about it. Or not. Happy New Year everybody!