Robert Hampton

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June 2013

4th June 2013

OU? Oh, you
Posted by at 11.24pm | It's My Life | 1 response

The last few weeks have been quite stressful, as my studies on Open University course MST121 came to an end. My final assignment was due in on 15th May, and then the final exam took place yesterday. Between finishing that assignment and doing some serious cramming for the exam, I’ve had virtually no time for anything else.

The prospect of an end-of-module exam was quite terrifying. I have not sat an exam since my GCSEs in 1999, and reliving that experience – the rows of desks, the dead silence, the invigilator solemnly roaming the room – was not something I was looking forward to.

The exam was held at the Gateway Conference Centre in London Road. I arrived half an hour before the 2.30pm start time to find my fellow students milling around, chatting amiably to one another. I felt a tinge of regret for not going to a single tutorial – in retrospect, I could have done with the support from my fellow students and tutor. But they were held in Wallasey, for heaven’s sake. Who wants to go there?

My one blind spot – trigonometric identities. I can get my head around plain trigonometry easily enough, but trying to understand that cos²θ + sin²θ = 1, and applying that to rearranging equations – well, I found it difficult. I devoted extra time to studying it, but hoped that it wouldn’t come up in the exam.

The Maths gods were not listening. Not only did it come up, but the question was 9% of the total mark. Bah.

The first part of the exam was multiple choice, which sounds easy, but the questions required some involved working out of answers, and all the possible choices – 8 for each question – were plausible (no ITV phone-in quiz answers here). In this section, there were no marks available for showing your working – you’re either right (in which case you get 4 marks) or wrong (in which case it’s a big fat zero).

I almost ran out of time, too. The exam paper was designed to be completed in two hours. At the end of the three hour time limit, I was still scribbling away. I had left a couple of the multiple choice questions to come back to later – in the end I just guessed the answers, as I didn’t have time to do them.

Although I’m not completely happy with my performance, the pass mark is 40%, and I’m fairly confident I’ve managed that, at least. Results are released on 19th July – until then, I’m enjoying the summer without any study work to do. 🙂

17th June 2013

Left Hanging
Posted by at 11.16pm | Out and About | 3 responses

Emirates Air LineAfter the stress of my exams, I decided to unwind by giving myself a holiday. First, I headed off to the Isle of Wight, the story of which I am writing up over at my other blogpart one here, and part two here, with part three to follow shortly.

After a few days there, I decided to go to London to spend a happy weekend in the capital. My accommodation was The Strand Palace Hotel, an altogether too luxurious place for a pleb like me (they had a man in a top hat opening the front door!) but why not push the boat out once in a while? It’s in a brilliant location on The Strand, within easy reach of most of the theatres, Covent Garden, the London Eye and (ahem) Soho. The only downside was that I didn’t get to ride the Underground much, as most places I needed to go were within walking distance.

One mode of transport I did get to ride was the Emirates Air Line … or the “Arabfly Dangleway”, as London-based blogger Diamond Geezer would have it.

This new cable car across the Thames, linking Greenwich to the Royal Docks, opened in June 2012. It is the “brain” child of London’s ever-popular mayor, Boris Johnson. As you may have gathered from the name, the Emirates Air Line is sponsored by the Emirates airline, who paid to have their branding on the cable cars and stations, and also for cutesy details like referring to the cars as “cabins” and journeys as “flights”. This sponsorship helped to offset the construction costs, meaning the cable car didn’t cost a penny to the taxpayer… oh, apart from the £24 million cost overrun which had to picked up out of TfL’s budget.

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18th June 2013

London Wander Round
Posted by at 9.56pm | Out and About, Stage | 1 response

So what else did I get up to in London? Well…


PastoralI always like to see a play when I’m down in London. This time round I eschewed singing Mormons and naked Italian men in favour of an altogether more sedate affair, Pastoral at the Soho Theatre.

This was a strange story of nature gone mad, following a group of friends who are stranded in their flat when some catastrophe causes plants to grow exponentially and animals to turn feral, destroying anything man-made in their path and leaving people fighting for their lives.

It’s a dark comedy; sometimes very dark – it’s not every day you see the killing and eating of an Ocado delivery man played for laughs – but overall it was an interesting idea, with great performances from the cast and some brilliant special effects (not easy in a small theatre on a tight budget). It was something a little different, and I enjoyed it immensely.

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30th June 2013

Ich möchte mit dem Zug fahren
Posted by at 8.57pm | Trains | 1 response

DB locoI’ve become rather addicted to The Man in Seat Sixty-One, a comprehensive web site containing a phenomenal amount of info on train travel worldwide. A lot of the data has been gleaned through the author’s own personal experiences, so it contains advice that the official railway web sites do not reveal. I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the past week or so clicking through the various options available.

International train travel is, of course, slower and usually more expensive than getting on a plane, but much more environmentally friendly, infinitely more exciting and with less chance of being groped within an inch of your life by some burly security guard (which may or may not be a plus point). Of course, cheap flights have opened up new travel opportunities, and that’s not to be sniffed at, but there’s definitely something to be said for the journey being part of the experience.

I want to get out and see more of the world, and if I can indulge my rail enthusiast side as well, even better. Therefore, I’ve been reading through it and compiling a shopping list. So far, here’s what I have:-

Amsterdam by train and ferry
Greater Anglia, Stena Line and Nederlandse Spoorwegen offer a through ticket between London and Amsterdam via a ferry, with prices starting at just £45 one way. I’ve wanted to visit Amsterdam for ages, and throwing in an unusual train journey would add to the fun. Save a spacecake for me!

Berlin by sleeper train
Berlin is brilliant, as I discovered during my visit there last year. It’s easy to get to by train as well. I want to go there again, and I could get there by taking the Eurostar to Paris, then getting Deutsche Bahn’s City Night Line overnight sleeper service. This train, consisting of modern sleeping compartments, leaves Paris at 6.45pm each evening, arriving in the magnificent Berlin Hauptbahnhof at 8.30am the following morning. By booking in advance a sleeper compartment can cost as little as €104. Wunderbar.

Coast to Coast across the USA by train
This is the biggie. A four-day trip by Amtrak from New York to San Francisco via Chicago. It’s expensive (roughly $900 if I want a sleeper compartment), but looks like it would totally be worth it. I mean, just check out the scenery! Also, I could pretend to be Jessica Fletcher on Murder, She Wrote (she always seems to be taking Amtrak trains and encountering shady characters). And of course, the cities at each end (New York and San Francisco) have their attractions too.

I hope to do at least one of the European trips mentioned above some time in 2014. The American voyage is a more long-term plan – there would be a lot of planning (and saving of pennies) needed. I just hope I can get there before the Republicans close down Amtrak forever, as they keep threatening to.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to my next railway adventure – travelling to Scotland on the Caledonian Sleeper with my friend Ian. I can’t wait – although I’ll have to, because I’m not going until September.