Robert Hampton

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January 2012

1st January 2012

The Day After New Year’s Eve

2012 promises more than just the collapse of global capitalism and the fulfilment of ancient Mayan prophecies as foretold in a terrible film. Here (in no particular order) is what I’m looking forward to this year.

Liverpool Central reborn

Artist's impression of new Liverpool CentralLiverpool Central was highlighted in a damning report as one of the ten worst interchange stations in the UK, news which came as a surprise to no-one who has used the station. It’s dank, dirty and overcrowded – not good for Liverpool’s busiest station and hub of the Merseyrail network.

Change is finally coming this year; the squeaky escalators, brown formica panelling and chewing gum encrusted platforms will soon be swept away in favour of something rather more modern. It remains to be seen whether the refurbishment will solve the station’s main problem – that of the Northern Line platforms being just too damn narrow – but let’s face it, it could hardly be worse than it is now. The station will be closed for up to six months this year, which will be a lot of upheaval (especially for my daily commute, as Central is by far the nearest station to work). There’s no doubt, however, that it will be worth it in the long run.

Star Trek: The Next Generation in HD

TNG is celebrating its 25th anniversary, which – as well as making me feel really old – is the perfect opportunity to launch the remastered HD version of the series, to be released on Blu-ray this year. Normally I’d be thinking “oh hurray, a chance to buy the stuff I already own on DVD all over again,” but I’m refraining from this, because the video on CBS’s web site (linked above) looks gorgeous. The big question remains: will they manage to edit the racism out of Code of Honor?

The 2012 Olympics

Yes, really. Yes, it’s a horrendously expensive event which is taking away vital funds at a time of austerity. Yes, the capital will be a nightmare to live, work and travel in for the duration. And yes, the city will be a fortress where anyone dark skinned can expect to be Tasered within an inch of their life. But the pomp and spectacle of the opening ceremony will be amazing; a once-in-a-lifetime event for this country. It’s a shame I failed to get tickets, but I now have a Freeview HD box and frankly, 1080p is just as good as being there. Hopefully it will be Ken, not Boris, who represents London as mayor at the ceremony.

I won’t be watching any of the sport, of course. Well, maybe the men’s diving. Definitely the men’s diving.

Festival Gardens opening

In 1984 the Government gave Liverpool a ton of money to create a beautiful riverside park, complete with miniature railway, Japanese gardens and futuristic dome. The International Garden Festival was a huge success, attracting visitors from all over the country and leaving a lasting legacy for the people of Merseyside. Or rather, it would have, had the Militant-controlled city council not allowed the park to close and fall into disrepair. It’s a huge embarrassment to Liverpool that this was allowed to happen, especially after the Japanese government, horrified that their gift to the city had become overgrown with weeds, threatened a diplomatic incident.

Now, after 25 years of closure (excluding the brief existence of the amusement arcade/scally magnet Pleasure Island, which closed due to being shit) the Festival Gardens are about to come to life again. The opening, originally pencilled in for Summer 2011, has been delayed by almost a year due to various issues, but is finally expected to happen in the Spring. I’ve peeked through the locked gates to the park and it looks rather special. The Liverpool Echo got a rather more close-up view.


Following my jaunt to Tallinn last year, there will hopefully be at least one overseas trip this year as well. Like Joseph Stalin in 1944, I have my sights firmly set on Berlin. I’m also planning more Station Master excursions. Altnabreac, I’m coming for you!

I promise to be more active with my blogging this year: there will be blogs, tweets and videos from me throughout 2012, I promise.

5th January 2012

Diane Abbott is not a racist
Posted by at 9.19pm | In the News | No responses

That should go without saying. Unfortunately we live in the age of Twitter. Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter dearly, but it has its limitations when talking about controversial issues. Short, 140-character statements can sometimes fail to get the intended message across coherently. They can then be retweeted, shorn of any context a thousand times over, and before you know it you have a race row.

As Simon Woolley points out in the Guardian, a real and tragic example of racism has recently come back into the news. The real sadness is that the murder of Stephen Lawrence is being pushed down the news agenda by silly stuff like this.

10th January 2012

High Speed Wail
Posted by at 11.29pm | In the News, Trains | 1 response

Photo of Eurostar trainFinally, almost two years in, the Coalition Government gets something right, by approving High Speed Two, a new railway line between London and Birmingham. As the name suggests, the line would be designed for fast trains, running at 200mph or more. Journey times between London and Birmingham will be cut to as little as one hour on the new line. Other cities will benefit too, with trains continuing onto the existing lines north of Birmingham to serve Manchester, Liverpool and points North.

This initial approval is not the end of the story, as there is lots of wrangling still to come. Many in the Home Counties are unhappy that the line will cut through their back yards (literally in some cases), forcing them out of homes and causing much disruption, with no direct benefit to them (there will be no stations between London and Birmingham). The vocal, organised and well-supported Stop HS2 campaign will surely continue to fight the plans tooth and nail. This raises the exciting prospect of more protest songs like this one:-

A Bill to construct the line needs to go through Parliament, and although all three major parties support high speed rail in principle, some MPs – whose constituencies will be affected by construction – are threatening to rebel against the party line.

A lot of the complaints are about the cost – suggesting that £33bn is too much to cut journey times. This misses the point that HS2 is also about providing capacity. The existing routes between London and the North are reaching saturation point – they cannae take any more trains, captain!

Of course I’m happy about the news – it’s 120-odd miles of new railway, for goodness sake! After years of bellyaching about the state of Britain’s railways, it’s good to see the powers-that-be finally take an interest in tackling the problem. In a rare example of long-term planning, this 15-year project to will provide much-needed extra capacity on the rail network.

Also, the Daily Mail clearly hates the idea, which has convinced me it has to be worthwhile.

I do, however, have some reservations (they’re free of charge at any staffed station and are recommended for longer journeys).

Firstly, I’m worried that fares will be too expensive for the average punter. The HS1 commuter service from London to Kent charges a premium, and it’s almost certain that HS2 will be similar. The West Coast Main Line is rapidly becoming unaffordable to those unable to book a cheap Advance ticket or use London Midland’s slower service, and it looks like the new line could be even dearer. It would be a shame if HS2 turns out to be usable only by the well-off.

Photo of French TGVSecondly, I worry that investment in the “classic” lines will dwindle as attention is focused on the glossy TGV-esque trains. Many in Britain look enviously at France’s TGV network, but they may be unaware that many secondary SNCF routes have seen their services reduced or replaced by buses as investment has been diverted to the high-speed routes. Many of Britain’s minor rail routes are lifelines for the communities they serve, and I don’t want to see them sacrificed for the sake of a prestige project.

Despite these concerns, I look forward to the day when I can board a shiny high speed train at Liverpool Lime Street and be whisked off to London in just 1¾ hours. I’ll be 44 years old, so a relaxing train journey will be the perfect way to recuperate after my hip replacement.

13th January 2012

At Peace
Posted by at 11.14pm | It's My Life | No responses

Yesterday, at just after 3pm, my Auntie Betty passed away. Her death came after a long illness and was expected for quite some time, but it is still a very sad time here at the moment.

I visited her in hospital a couple of weeks ago, with my Dad. She was sedated and confused, so opportunity for conversation was limited. He just sat and held her hand, communicating more than words ever could.

Betty and Dad

For the last week, my Dad and his other sister spent every waking minute with Betty. Wealth and riches may come and go, but a loving family is forever.

16th January 2012

United We Scanned
Posted by at 10.17pm | In the News | 1 response

Esteemed documentary maker Richard Wilson has done a programme for Dispatches about the shoddy customer service that results when real human beings are replaced with computerised services. This slow move towards robotized customer service has been going on for years, so I’m amazed that Channel 4 have only just noticed it. Perhaps a commissioning editor there listens to Adam and Joe. (“The Easter Bunny gets funny!”)

I haven’t actually watched the programme. If I want to see Richard Wilson as a crazy old man irritated by every aspect of the modern world, I can watch his classic series Duck Patrol. But I was alerted by Twitter (cheers Seb!) that one of the features was about supermarket self-service tills.

I like supermarket self-service tills. Anything that reduces the amount of actual human interaction I have to do is fine by me. However, I was reminded of something that happened when I paid a visit to the Tesco Superstore in Liverpool city centre last year (I’m full of Tesco anecdotes, me).

I used the self-service till and happened to have a discount voucher with me, so I scanned it.

“Please insert coupon in the slot provided.”

Okey-dokey. I posted the coupon and waited for the machine to respond.

“Please insert coupon in the slot provided.”

Ah, right. The pleasantly-voiced computer hadn’t noticed me sticking it in her slot. Unfortunately the machine, believing that I was pulling a fast one, completely locked up, refusing to do anything else except repeat the coupon mantra over and over.

Noticing my problem, the supervisor came over. I explained my predicament to her.

“Ah yes,” she said, “this is a common problem. I know how to fix this.”

And with that, she placed her lips on the slot and gently blew into it. This satisfied the machine, allowing me to continue my transaction.

What a wonder of technology these machines really are. If the supermarkets ever follow through on their threat to replace staffed checkouts entirely with self-service machines, I can look forward to a wonderful future, filled with rows of shoppers lovingly French-kissing their checkouts.

It’s so exciting… I can feel an unexpected item in the bagging area just thinking about it.

18th January 2012

SOPA Opera

Photo of "closed"Today was the day of the great protest against SOPA, the draconian law currently being debated by US lawmakers which would introduce harsh penalties for anyone sharing illegally copyrighted content online. The proposed law is strongly supported by most of the large media conglomerates (and Louise Mensch) who want to crack down on online piracy. However, critics claim that SOPA is a broad and far-reaching piece of legislation which will stifle innovation and individual freedom online.

We were promised a day of action, with high-profile web sites “going dark” for the day to draw attention to the chilling effect the proposed law would have on online free speech. Lots of big names were mentioned, but did they actually follow through? Well, yes and no.

Boing Boing and Reddit both did a full disappearing act, in both cases replacing their usual site with a holding page explaining the protest.

Screenshot of Wikipedia homepage showing blacked out screenWikipedia, at first glance, was also blacked out… but their blackout was a bit of Javascript trickery. Disable scripting (or go to the mobile site) and the information was still there, enabling savvier schoolchildren to continue cutting and pasting their GCSE coursework.

There was much excitement when Google announced they were joining the protest, but their “blackout” was little more than altering the Google logo on their homepage. Therefore, SOPA is at least as important to Google as the 110th anniversary of the Uganda Railway.

There was a rumour that Facebook would join in. They did post an anti-SOPA message, but the site itself is unaffected, to the relief of the millions who need to attend to Farmville and post photos of themselves drinking too much.

All things considered, today’s protest is a bit of a damp squid.

However, the lacklustre effort made by some today should not distract from the fact that SOPA is a real threat, not just in the US, but worldwide. Look at the case of Richard O’Dwyer, a British man who is fighting to prevent his extradition to the US to face copyright infringement charges, despite the UK authorities deciding not to pursue him. If SOPA passes, US officials could be knocking on doors of people all over the UK. Think about that next time you’re tempted to use a Katy Perry song as background music for that YouTube video of your cats.

23rd January 2012

Poverty stricken

If you think benefits claimants are worthless scroungers, perhaps you should take a look at this article, published in the Guardian last week. You will be introduced to Thomas Bebb, a Liverpool man who wants to work but has been unable to find a new job since being made redundant by the council in a round of spending cuts last November.

He gets Jobseeker’s Allowance, but thanks to a crisis loan repayment and card debt (his bank refused an overdraft but happily offered him a credit card), he is left with just £20 a week to live on after utility bills are paid. He has plunged into a world far away from the £2,000 plasma TVs and massive houses that the Daily Mail pretends all benefit claimants get:

He goes once a fortnight to one of two local shops that offer heavily discounted food – packets of buy-one-get-one-free frozen burgers for a pound, two-for-£1 ice-cream tubs for his younger children who stay with him at the weekend, a bag of frozen chips, which, if he rations it correctly, he can get four meals out of. When that runs out he eats rice and pasta which he gets for 25p a pack at Tesco. “Sometimes you have to eat crap.”

Bebb looks healthy, but admits he sometimes feels wobbly when he does the 45-minute walk to the job centre (a £3.80 day bus pass is usually unaffordable), because he hasn’t eaten enough. “Sometimes I’ve had to stop because I’ve had the shakes, dizzy.”

Should we expect the Old Etonian Prime Minister and his cabinet cronies to understand any of this? Mr Bebb knows the answer to that question:

“If the prime minister can go out and spend £100 a night for his dinner and I don’t get that a fortnight, where’s the justice in that?”

26th January 2012


Liverpool could have an elected mayor by May this year, if certain news reports turn out to be accurate.

The mayor would not be as powerful as London’s (for example, Liverpool’s mayor would lack the sweeping powers over transport and policing enjoyed by Boris Johnson) but would be in overall charge of the city’s day-to-day running. In theory, there would be less beauracracy and more accountability.

It all sounds great, until you see the terrifying list of potential candidates identified by the Liverpool Echo. After sensible people like current council leader Joe Anderson and LibDem councillor Paula Keaveney, we get Ricky Tomlinson and – yikes – Phil Redmond (“Being mayor is a bit like a Scouse wedding”). I don’t know why they didn’t throw in Jimmy Corkhill and Harry Enfield in a curly wig for good measure. Perhaps Ken Dodd could take over; his zero-rate tax policy would be popular (at least, until voters realised it only applied to him).

Hopefully we will get someone rational, not a celebrity candidate or the next Derek Hatton. We could hardly fare worse than Doncaster, who elected the English Democrat candidate Peter Davies in 2009. His valuable contributions to civic life have included “stopping political correctness” and saying that Britain could learn from Taliban family values.

28th January 2012

Where the Tweets Have No Name

Ironically, the latest victim of a Twitter mob is… Twitter itself.

On Thursday the microblogging site announced a new policy on deleting or withholding Tweets. A lot of users have interpreted this as censorship and have gone so far as to call for a Twitter blackout in protest.

I’m all for a good Twitter mob wielding virtual pitchforks, #flamingtorches and 140-character protest chants. But in this case the mob is wrong – here’s why:

  1. The new policy is almost exactly the same as the previous one. Twitter has always responded to legitimate demands to remove illegal content, such as DMCA takedown notices against tweets linking to pirated content. The main difference now is that content can be removed on a country-by-country basis rather than censored worldwide.
  2. Oppressive governments will block Twitter anyway. During the height of the Egyptian protests last year, the internet was effectively turned off in that country. During the disputed 2009 election in Iran, the government blocked access to Twitter and other social networking sites, forcing users there to find ways round the block. In China, Twitter is blocked entirely. Is a censored Twitter worse than no Twitter at all?
  3. Twitter is being open and accountable about their policy: affected users will be informed when a Tweet has been “censored”, and Twitter has teamed up with Chilling Effects to list all takedown notices it receives, so users can see for themselves what is being censored.

Mashable has a good post about Twitter’s announcement and why the new policy could actually be good for activists in the long run.

31st January 2012

Marrying Hate, Repent at Leisure
Posted by at 11.01pm | In the News | No responses

Some good old fashioned anti-gay opinions were spouted at the weekend from a senior figure in the Church of England, because there is apparently no more pressing social issue in the world today than two men kissing. This time it was the Archbishop of York, who said in a newspaper interview that, while civil partnerships were OK, gay marriage should not be introduced in the UK:-

“I don’t think it is the role of the state to define what marriage is. It is set in tradition and history and you can’t just [change it] overnight, no matter how powerful you are,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“We’ve seen dictators do it in different contexts, and I don’t want to redefine very clear social structures that have been in existence for a long time and then overnight the state believes it could go in a particular way.”

Dr Sentamu fled Uganda during the rule of Idi Amin, so you’d think he’d be a bit more careful about comparing people to dictators. If the Church wants to stick to its narrow definition of marriage, I think it is wrong, but in a free society it should be free to do so. However, it cannot enforce these rules against the wider population who are not bound by the Bible (or specifically, Dr Sentamu’s interpretation of it). They should be free to marry whomever they want.

I agree with David Cameron on very little, but I hope he pushes forward with the gay marriage consultation in the face of a backbench revolt. Or should that read “revolting backbenchers”?