Robert Hampton

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August 2013

4th August 2013

That time of year again
Posted by at 1.08pm | Gay, Liverpool | No responses

Liverpool Pride screenI have to admit I was worried about Liverpool Pride this year. First there was the announcement of a new security policy, whereby the festival site would be fenced off, with guards posted at the entrances to ensure no alcoholic drinks were taken in. It all sounded a bit draconian.

Then my usual partners in crime – Scott, Dave and Andrew – all backed out of attending for one reason or another.

Still, I decided to go anyway, and it turned out absolutely fine. Rather than take part in the march, as I have done in previous years, I picked a vantage point in Queen Square and let the march go past me. When I arrived at the main festival site at the Pier Head, the security personnel were friendly and easygoing. Well, they were for me, at least – I did see someone being summarily ejected from the area, presumably because he was causing trouble.

Northern Rail penI gave the Stanley Street area a miss – I had memories of previous years when I have been squished into The Lisbon with barely enough space to breathe, let alone reach the bar. Also, it was a lovely sunny day, so better to stay outdoors where it was warm and there was plenty of space.

The atmosphere was friendly and jolly. I saw people of all ages, gay and straight, all mingling together happily. There were some frankly amazing costumes on display as well.

The performances on the main stage at the Pier Head were quite good, with enjoyable sets from the cast of Rent in Concert, Kameelion and Sam Callahan. I didn’t stick around for what must surely have been the highlight of the day – Black Lace – in fact I found myself heading home at around 5pm because I am old and feeble and felt tired.

It was an enjoyable day all round, and best of all, I got a free pen from the Northern Rail stand. Result!

More pictures from the march below. As usual it was led by the Michael Causer Foundation, with participants from unions, student groups, political parties, gay organisations and… er, Nando’s.

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11th August 2013

Dying on Stage (Screen)
Posted by at 7.21pm | Television | No responses

Cory Monteith’s death a month ago is not the first time that a television series has had to deal with an unplanned death. There have, sadly, been many occasions where the sudden death of an actor has forced scripts to be hastily rewritten.

Jim Davis – Dallas (1981)

Davis portrayed family patriarch Jock Ewing during the show’s initial years. He became ill during filming of season four and his appearances were restricted – in the few scenes where he did appear, he would usually be sitting down. Although Davis died in 1981, his character was not written out immediately. Instead, Jock was offscreen for several months “in South America”. Eventually, the writers incorporated Jock’s death into the show, and in this scene broadcast in January 1982, JR and Bobby deliver the news to Jock’s widow, Miss Ellie.

Technically, Jock was not killed off, but was only presumed dead, as the writers had toyed with the idea of recasting the role. In a bizarre postscript, a storyline a few years later involved a man claiming to be Jock Ewing showing up at the Ewings’ home, much to JR’s chagrin. This plot was resolved when an entire year’s worth of episodes were revealed to be a fevered dream of Pamela Barnes. American television is weird.

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19th August 2013

Miranda wrongs
Posted by at 7.55pm | In the News | No responses

Here’s something you should be outraged about:-

The partner of the Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories revealing mass surveillance programmes by the US National Security Agency was held for almost nine hours on Sunday by UK authorities as he passed through London’s Heathrow airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.

David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.

He was held for “almost nine hours”, just less than the maximum permitted under the Act. As the Guardian points out, this is unusual; only 1.2% of those stopped are held for more than three hours. The article goes to point out that anyone detained under schedule 7 is not entitled to legal advice, and is not entitled to even remain silent – outrageous, in a country that is supposed to value civil liberties and justice.

Why was he detained? No-one is telling at the moment. Some have suggested that he was carrying sensitive material on a USB flash drive. However, schedule 7 is supposed to only be used against people suspected of terrorism. Journalism (even journalism which embarrasses the Government) is not terrorism. The length of time he was held makes it look like an attempt to intimidate and harrass someone, and that is very bad news for a supposedly free press. To his credit, Glenn Greenwald refuses to be cowed:

I already share [Miranda’s defiance], as I’m certain US and UK authorities will soon see.

Pleasingly, this does seem to have caused a genuine fuss. The BBC news is currently leading with the story, as are several other news outlets. Keith Vaz and Yvette Cooper of the Labour party are asking questions, and so are senior human rights lawyers.

What with this, and the Government’s ongoing proposals for internet censorship, we seem to be sinking into an undemocratic police state. When Amnesty International is condemning your tactics, it’s safe to say you’re in the wrong.

I hope the debate continues and ends up with this draconian piece of legislation being scraped or drastically curtailed. I’m probably being far too optimistic there, mind you.

23rd August 2013

Miller Time
Posted by at 7.44pm | Gay | No responses

Wentworth Miller, star of Prison Break, is the latest public figure to declare that he’s gay. Rumours and gossip had swirled about for ages, heightened by paparazzi photos of him “hanging out” with a fellow actor. Speculation was so rife that in 2007 Miller issued a public denial that he was gay. It’s a shame that he felt the need to do that, but his belated U-turn is welcome.

His decision to open up about his sexuality was motivated, at least in part, by the current situation in Russia. He outed himself in an open letter to an invitation from the organisers of the St Petersburg Film Festival:-

Thank you for your kind invitation. As someone who has enjoyed visiting Russia in the past and can also claim a degree of Russian ancestry, it would make me happy to say yes.

However, as a gay man, I must decline.

I am deeply troubled by the current attitude toward and treatment of gay men and women by the Russian government. The situation is in no way acceptable, and I cannot in good conscience participate in a celebratory occasion hosted by a country where people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly.

Perhaps, when and if circumstances improve, I’ll be free to make a different choice.

It would be deliciously ironic if Russia’s anti-gay policies resulted in more people coming out publicly like this.

Miller’s announcement comes just a few weeks after another actor, Ben “Should have been the 12th Doctor” Whishaw, confirmed that he is gay (and in a civil partnership!). It’s great that an increasing number of high profile celebrities feel secure enough to live their lives openly.

26th August 2013

A Roby Illustrator
Posted by at 11.54pm | Trains | 1 response

Under the streets of London, tunnel boring machines are slowly carving out a new east-west route across the capital. Crossrail will provide a vital new railway route, making cross-London connections easier and taking pressure off overcrowded Underground stations.

A predictable complaint from some quarters is that London’s transport infrastructure is receiving investment while the rest of the country is ignored. But a quieter revolution is taking place in the north-west of England, and for tangible evidence of it, you need look no further than Roby, a small station in the suburbs of Liverpool.

Roby Station 1

This pile of bricks and soil may not look too promising, until you consider that until a few months ago this area contained nothing but weeds. These are the remains of Roby’s third and fourth platforms, removed when the railway line here was reduced from four tracks to two in the 1970s. At the time, rail traffic was in decline and two tracks were sufficient to accommodate the remaining trains.

Now, however, the tide has turned. Passenger numbers are up and a cursory glance at Northern Rail’s Twitter feed will tell you that commuters are increasingly fed up about being crammed into small, slow trains. The powers-that-be want more trains, running more frequently, and faster. To this end, Network Rail is working to reinstate a third track between Roby and Huyton. This additional track will permit express trains to overtake local stopping services, greatly increasing the number of trains that can run on the line. Should the Northern Hub scheme go ahead in its entirety, the fourth track will also be put back.

When these works are completed, TransPennine Express will operate a Liverpool to Newcastle service via this route. It will run non-stop from Liverpool Lime Street to Manchester Victoria, giving a journey time of just 30 minutes between the two cities. Compare with the current fastest journey time of 43 minutes (from Liverpool to Manchester Oxford Road). The train suddenly looks like a much more attractive proposition than the car.

More is to come: by 2015, this entire route will be electrified, and most of the old diesel trains will be gone, replaced by “new” electric trains (actually, refurbished trains from Thameslink). The Class 142 Pacers, wholly unsuited for this route, will finally be consigned to history.

Roby Station 2

There are already benefits to Liverpool from this scheme. In preparation for the revamped timetable, Northern Rail have reopened the train depot at Allerton in south Liverpool, employing local people in engineering roles. Meanwhile, TransPennine have opened a new train crew depot at Liverpool Lime Street.

It’s great to see real, tangible improvements taking place on the route once travelled by George Stephenson’s Rocket. Exciting times lie ahead…

29th August 2013

Posted by at 11.27pm | In the News, Politics | No responses

Shock news tonight as the Government’s motion on Syria was defeated in the House of Commons. The vote was expected to be a token gesture – the Prime Minister does not even have to consult Parliament on launching military action. Even so, the motion was expected to pass. However, the figures can’t be disputed – 285 against, 272 in favour. The only sign of the military tonight is an appearance from Major Miscalculation.

Nobody could deny that what is happening in Syria – with chemical weapons being used – is an act of barbarity almost beyond comprehension. I can’t understand, however, why chemical weapons are the “red line” that musn’t be crossed, when over 100,000 people have already died.

As The Guardian explains, Ed Miliband deserves credit for standing firm and successfully forcing this retreat, even when Tory sources are briefing that he is a “copper-bottomed shit” and a Number 10 spokesman accuses him of giving “succour” to the Syrian regime.

Labour is not opposed to military action; I think the party’s position can be characterised as “sitting on the fence”, but it’s good to see they’ve learned some lessons from the Iraq debacle. We should be very careful before getting involved in any conflicts anywhere. That’s not to say that not getting involved is definitely the right decision – only time will tell – but I’m pleased that Cameron’s gung-ho attitude has been rebuffed.

Despite the seriousness of the issues being discussed, BBC Parliament’s microphones still captured all the usual booing and catcalling, with one MP yelling “resign!” at the Prime Minister. The SNP MP Angus Roberts has just been on Sky News, saying that Michael Gove has been shouting “Disgrace!” at rebel MPs. It is not a brilliant advertisement for our democracy.

In tomorrow’s papers, expect a lot of point-missing political pundits arguing about the outcome of the vote and what it means for the careers of Ed Miliband and David Cameron. The important thing to remember is that public opinion is against military action, and tonight Parliament respected that.

Amidst all the partisan bickering, we must keep in mind the reason for this debate tonight: the situation in Syria. Send a few quid the way of the Disasters Emergency Committee.