Robert Hampton

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August 2012

2nd August 2012

Countdown to Pride: Raising the Flag
Posted by at 11.16pm | Gay | No responses

One of the best sights this coming Saturday will be the waving of the rainbow flag everywhere. Since its original creation in (where else?) San Francisco in the 1970s, the six coloured stripes of the LGBT have become a universal symbol for the gay rights movement.

Wherever you go in the world, displaying the rainbow flag or similar symbol is a handy shortcut for shops and other businesses to say to passing trade: “don’t worry, you don’t have to pretend the man you’re with is your ‘friend'”.

While it has been somewhat co-opted by big business and politicians looking to score brownie points, it still remains a potent symbol of diversity and political activism. Wave the colours with pride. 🙂

An American news site has a lovely interview with Gilbert Baker, the original designer of the flag.

Rainbow flag fluttering in sunlight

(flag image from Wikimedia Commons, by Ludovic Bertron, New York City, USA – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

3rd August 2012

Countdown to Pride: Oh, just some general comments
Posted by at 10.04pm | Gay, Liverpool | No responses

It’s nearly here! Tomorrow at noon the Liverpool Pride march sets off from St George’s Hall, leading in to an afternoon of fun and frolics as Liverpool’s gay community and its allies take over the Pier Head and Stanley Street for the day.

The Liverpool Echo is appealing for photos, and you can guess which ones are likely to appear in Monday’s paper: yes, among the thousands of people at the event, there will be the outlandish ones: bondage fans wearing leather chaps, men wearing dresses, other men wearing very little at all (although last year it was a bit too chilly for that).

There are complaints from some quarters (see this comment piece on Pink News, for example) that Pride is doing more harm than good. While colourful floats, thumping dance music and rainbow-draped sexuality is a lot of fun, pictures of hedonists and drag queens don’t really do much for the image of LGBT people, especially when the battle for equality is not yet won. I respectfully disagree. While I appreciate and share the desire to appear “normal”, I don’t believe that Pride is “harming” the ongoing campaign for equality in any significant way.

Let’s be honest: the people who tut disapprovingly at Pride events are not usually fans of the gays anyway. Does Cardinal Keith O’Brien distinguish between the gay leather fetishist and the gay smartly-dressed accountant, when he describes their relationships as “grotesque”? When Brian Souter poured huge amounts of his personal wealth into campaigns against the abolition of Section 28, he wasn’t specifically targeting the twinks parading with glitter in their hair and tight Speedos – he despised us all equally. Peter Bone will still think that gay marriage is “completely nuts”, even if the two women involved are smartly-dressed suburban Daily Mail readers.

So, my advice to anyone celebrating Pride tomorrow: get out there, enjoy it and wear whatever you want, whether that’s a leather thong or a sailor suit or (gasp) jeans and t-shirt. To quote a wise man: “If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for who we really are.”

5th August 2012

Ponderings on Pride
Posted by at 12.34pm | Gay, Liverpool | No responses

Yesterday’s Liverpool Pride event coincided with a torrential downpour of rain during the march itself, which meant that umbrellas were as much a part of the parade as rainbow flags and sailor hats.

Liverpool Pride march at Lime Street

Still, the weather cleared up later that afternoon and there was a big crowd again at the Pier Head. It felt like a much more confident event than last year, with none of the “oh noes we have no money” feeling that pervaded in 2011. Everyone there, who ranged in age from kids to pensioners, seemed to be having a good time.

Looking forward to next year!

6th August 2012


Commodore 64An icon of computer geekery turns 30 in August. No, not me (that’s next month). I’m talking about one of the most popular home computers ever built – the Commodore 64.

The late 1970s and early 1980s were the time when computers finally moved out of university laboratories and corporate payroll systems and into people’s homes, as computer manufacturers – including Apple and Atari – introduced the first generation of microcomputers. These small self-contained systems could be connected to a TV set, giving Joe Public a window into the world of computing, in a limited fashion. By 1980 the Apple II and Atari 400 were well-established, although with a price tag of circa $1,000 they were still rich people’s toys.

Commodore were, perhaps, slightly late to the party – their earlier computers, the PET series, were mainly used in small businesses and schools. That policy changed in 1981 with the advent of Commodore’s first machine targeted squarely at home users, the VIC-20. Its capabilities were limited even by the standards of the time: only 5K of RAM and 176×184 screen resolution, meaning some very chunky graphics. However, at $300 it was substantially cheaper than its rivals and in its first year on sale it sold over 1 million units. This was partly thanks to a memorable TV ad campaign featuring William Shatner, who implored parents to buy this proper computer for their kids instead of a mere video game.

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12th August 2012


In my previous post I waxed lyrical about the C64 as it celebrated its 30th anniversary.

But what made the Commodore 64 so popular? A big factor must have been the huge library of games. There’s no way of knowing the exact number of games released for the system, but it almost certainly numbers in the thousands.

Here I list some of the key games in the system’s history.

Jupiter Lander (Commodore, 1982)

This was one of the very first C64 games and it was a straightforward port, with enhanced graphics, of an earlier VIC-20 game (which was, in turn, a rip-off of Atari’s Lunar Lander). It was made available on cartridge, despite the extra manufacturing expense compared to tape, as Commodore believed (incorrectly) that long load times from tape would put off consumers.

It’s a straightforward game – land your ship on one of the landing pads. Guide your ship into the opening while applying the correct amount of thrust. If you come down too fast, you will miss out on bonus points.

Although fun (and of some historical interest), it’s an incredibly simple game. Once you’ve got the hang of landing the ship, there isn’t really much more to it. However, things would get a lot better for C64 gamers…

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14th August 2012

Olympic Nitpicking
Posted by at 7.21pm | In the News | 2 responses

Well, the Olympics are over. After the grand opening ceremony largely silenced the naysayers, the sport began and a nation held its breath to see if London really could pull this off.

By and large, we did quite well, in terms of both the games organisation and the number of medals won. I’m not a sports fan, but I had BBC1 on in the background constantly, and several moments stand out: Andy Murray winning a Wimbledon final at long last; the cyclists winning… well, almost everything; Tom Daley winning bronze and celebrating as if he’d won gold; and immigrant Mo Farah winning two gold medals, silencing the Daily Mail and other whingers who bemoaned “plastic Brits”.

Despite (or perhaps because of) TfL’s dire warnings to stay away, the transport problems failed to materialise, with the Tube, train and DLR lines holding up remarkably well. The army covered admirably following the G4S embarrassment. The empty seats in the venues were sad to see (especially for people like me who tried and tried to get tickets, but were ultimately left empty-handed). I hope the ticket allocation is handled more sensibly at future Games.

The BBC have been big winners, receiving deserved praise from all sides for the breadth and depth of their coverage, with every event covered live on the brilliant Olympic web site and via 24 dedicated channels on Sky and Virgin. Commentators and presenters, mindful that a high number of non-sports addicts would be tuning in, took time to explain the minutiae of the sport. They cheered on Team GB’s victories, but other countries were not overlooked, and the line between patriotism and one-sided jingoism was well-observed. Clare Balding and Ian Thorpe (despite his habit of saying “look” at the start of every sentence) deserve particular praise for their punditry.

So on Sunday, all that was left was to bring things to a close. Much has been written about the piss-poor closing ceremony, so I won’t go over it here. Suffice to say a parade of pop stars of varying levels of has-beenness was not an appropriate way to close what was an amazing two weeks.

And what of the much-discussed legacy? Well, our ruling class demonstrates a lot of signs that they are learning the wrong lessons. David Cameron is now demanding that competitive sport be made compulsory in all schools, sneering at “Indian Dance” lessons, and decrying the “all must have prizes” culture that exists mainly in the mind of Daily Telegraph columnists.

David Cameron, I suspect, has never suffered the indignity of being picked last for a team, or finishing a cross country run so late that everyone else had got changed and gone home (I was that soldier). Forcing competitive sport on me put me off any form of exercise for the best part of a decade, and my health suffered as a result. For the sake of every computer geek with poor hand-eye coordination, other forms of physical education must be provided.

Now that the 2012 party is half-finished (Paralympics still to come of course), will be there be lasting change? Certainly the games have provided a real lift to the national mood. Even the grumpiest soul must have been cheered up by the scenes on display. British athletes competing for the honour rather than the money; the thousands of volunteers giving up their time to become Gamesmakers; London, at its best, beamed onto a billion TV screens worldwide. Indeed, Monday morning seemed to bring a collective post-Olympic depression, as people realised it was over.

Will there be a permanent change to the nation’s psyche, though? It would be nice to think that, after seeing the years of training and preparation put in by the athletes, the youth of the nation will use that as a model rather than the cynical “instant fame” celebrity culture. It’s naive and simplistic to say – as some have this week – “if you work hard, you can achieve anything”. With inequality and class privilege still ingrained in British society, you need more than a strong work ethic to succeed (indeed, one-third of the UK’s medallists were privately educated). However, Team GB still provide better examples to follow than those shown in Big Brother, Britain’s Got Talent and OK! Magazine.

Sadly, I’m not sure there will be such profound change. The tabloids, which for the last fortnight have carried pictures of beaming gold medallists, will surely now return to the sexual exploits of footballers. Bankers will still be greedy. Nick Clegg will still be useless. And — oh, joy — The X Factor returns to ITV1 this Saturday.

Hmm… I think I can feel the cynicism returning.

15th August 2012

Branson’s Pickle
Posted by at 8.15pm | In the News, Trains | 3 responses

Virgin Train at Liverpool South ParkwayThe West Coast Main Line, linking London with Scotland via Crewe (with branches to Liverpool and Manchester) has faced big upheavals in recent years, with passengers enduring many years of engineering work to upgrade the line and its trains. It doesn’t seem like long since that work finished, but another big change is now on the horizon, as Virgin Trains – who have run the service since privatisation in 1997 – make way for FirstGroup.

The news that Virgin have lost the franchise to operate trains on the West Coast Main Line came as no surprise to anyone, as the news leaked out nearly a week ago. Still, the official confirmation at 7am this morning prompted a big response, including an angry reaction from Richard Branson.

There was a mass outpouring on Twitter, with hundreds of tweets to @VirginTrains commiserating with them about the end of their tenure, and many more heaping scorn on FirstGroup. It seems that Branson comes a close second to Jobs in nurturing brand loyalty.

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29th August 2012

There’s a ley line runs down Mathew Street… no, wait – it’s a stream of urine
Posted by at 7.48pm | Liverpool | No responses

Last year, as the August Bank Holiday weekend approached, I asked a work colleague if he was attending the Mathew Street Festival.

“No,” came the reply, “too many dickheads.”

I remembered that conversation as I read today’s news about the Mathew Street Festival, Liverpool’s rollicking bank holiday extravaganza of tribute bands and public drunkenness.

There is a £400,000 funding shortfall for next year’s festival, and the event could be dramatically scaled back. Speculation is rife that the outdoor stages will be dropped, with the festival returning to something resembling its original format, focusing on bands performing in bars and other indoor venues.

Frankly, a rethink of the event is long overdue. The last time I went was in 2010 and, although the music was OK, the atmosphere was odd. It was quite clear that many people were there strictly to consume as much alcohol as possible. Although there were, in theory, alcohol-free zones and a ban on glass bottles, neither were enforced, and I saw a gang of scallies gulping down bottles of Carlsberg and classy women passing a wine bottle around. By around 3pm there were already plenty of people staggering around in a paralytic state.

Back to this year: I was in town doing some shopping on Saturday afternoon and I saw a large group of lads lugging three crates of lager through the streets in preparation for the festival. It was at that moment that I resolved to spend the Bank Holiday weekend as far away from Liverpool City Centre. That’s even before we get to the chaotic public transport arrangements – Merseyrail is surely the only train company in history who would respond to special event crowds by running fewer trains.

It’s hard to disagree with Frank McKenna of Downtown Liverpool in Business who called the event “a glorified p***-up that does not showcase the best of the city.”

This really is a case where smaller is better. Take the event back to its roots – a celebration of Merseybeat music that the whole family can enjoy, rather than an excuse to emulate the decadence of ancient Rome. Hell, if they do that I might even go next year.