What I did during my gap year

What was I doing during 2021, apart from not-blogging? Well, because I’m a dynamic go-getter, I spent a fair amount of time slouched in front of the telly. In no particular order, here are some television events or products that I heartily endorse:

It’s a Sin (Channel 4)
Surely Russell T Davies’s finest output yet, probably because it is the most personal work he has ever done. An unflinching look at the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, told with humanity and heart. I laughed, I cried, I raged at the burning injustices – hospitals that locked up patients; the uncaring, ignorant press and the parents who abandoned their children.

There are bravura performances from Olly Alexander, Keeley Hawes, Lydia West, Callum Scott Howells, Omari Douglas, Nathaniel Curtis, David Carlyle and many more. A debate was sparked about whether LGBTQ characters should be played by LGBTQ actors. While I understand the arguments, I have to say that I don’t think straight actors could have brought the needed authenticity to these roles.

Also, there’s numerous opportunities to spot Liverpool doubling up as 1980s London. Watch it, but be warned: you’ll never be able to listen to Hooked on Classics the same way again. Available on All4.

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Still here

Hello.

It’s been – oh wow – nine months since I last blogged. Nine months. People have gotten pregnant and given birth in that time. I suppose you could say this was a pregnant pause (sorry).

The Robert of ten years ago would be horrified that he had left it this long without forcing an opinion on the world. Today’s Robert is more relaxed, and has realised that he doesn’t need to pour every single thought he has onto the Internet. Unfortunately, that seems to have translated into not pouring any thoughts out.

Without going into too many specifics, the last year or so has been tough. The effects of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, upheaval at work, general despair about the state of the country (nay, the world) have all taken their toll. Truth be told, getting through the day has been a struggle at times, and the last thing I’ve wanted to do when I get home in the evening is open up WordPress and start typing.

Are things better now? Not in the world generally – if anything, things are worse – but in my own life, I’m going to cautiously say… yes? I’m at the point where I actually feel like doing this again, at least for now.

I’m not going to make any promises on the blogging front, because history has proven time and again that I am rubbish at sticking to them. Also, frankly, it’s my website so the update schedule is my business and no-one else’s. I do have a plan of sorts in my head for what I want to do with the website in future, so you may see some changes.

Feel free to moan at me for not blogging more over on Twitter.

One Year

One year since the phone rang at 1am, just as we were going to bed.

One year since a nurse told me, with classic British understatement, that my mother had “taken a bit of a turn for the worse.”

One year since a 3am taxi ride through deserted Liverpool streets.

One year since I held my mother’s hand through latex gloves as she gasped for air.

One year since I told her that I loved her, despite not being entirely sure that she could understand me.

One year since that second phone call, after a couple of hours of dreamless sleep. The phone call that I didn’t want to answer, because I knew what news was waiting for me when I did.

One year.

If there is one thing above all else that still pains me, it’s that I never got to say a proper goodbye. I imagined one last heartfelt conversation, a chance to say what needed to be said. It never happened.

Say the things you need to say, to the people you need to say them to, and do it before it’s too late.

Flash! A-ah!

December 31st 2020 marks the end of an era. A massive upheaval, one which will affect all of our lives and change the way we look at the world.

I’m referring, of course, to the End of Life date for Adobe Flash Player. Not only is Adobe ceasing updates to the software, after nearly a quarter of a century, it will also actively prevent Flash content from being displayed in your browser.

The effect this will have on the average user is negligible. Most websites migrated away from Flash years ago in favour of newer technology. But for internet “old hands” like me, it is a significant moment, and one which stimulates the old nostalgia glands.

Flash burst onto the scene in 1996. At the time, the web was a text-only affair, primarily used for monitoring coffee pots. JavaScript existed but was mostly used for displaying annoying pop-ups and blocking users from right-clicking to copy and paste content (usually implemented on websites whose content you would never want to copy).

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Berlin’s station with no trains

Look into the history of Berlin’s railways and you will inevitably uncover a trove of information about the Geisterbahnhöfe or “Ghost Stations” that existed during the Cold War era. These stations were unfortunate victims of geography; situated in East Berlin, yet served by lines that mostly ran in West Berlin. After the Berlin Wall went up in 1961, these stations were closed; for the next 28 years, trains rattled through without stopping.

Thankfully such nonsense is in the past. However, for the past decade, Berlin’s transport network has had a ghost station of a different kind. This is the story of Waßmannsdorf station, whose first train arrived on 26 October 2020, a full nine years after it was built.

Waßmannsdorf Station Platforms
(Photo by Global Fish – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38739583)

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Charity begins at the home page

My birthday is approaching and, in lieu of any gifts, I am asking for donations to the Amyloidosis Research Fund.

In April 2020 my entire family was devastated by the loss of my mum, Dot Hampton. Her death has left a massive gap in all our lives, and the pain and grief are still very real, nearly five months later.

Robert with his Mum

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Love Shine a Light

On Saturday, the EBU presented Europe Shine a Light, a special show “honouring” the songs that would have appeared in the Eurovision Song Contest, had it not been cancelled.

I can’t stop thinking about the finale, where the would-be contestants all joined in singing Love Shine a Light, the UK’s winning song from 1997. Maybe it’s because recent events have left me feeling emotionally fragile, but the sight of a continent coming together like this moved me to tears. I’ve watched the video about 20 times in the past 48 hours.

Mum

Photo of my Mum

Today we held the funeral for my Mum, who passed away two weeks ago after contracting Covid-19. She was 72, which is far, far too young for this to happen. To say I am devastated is an understatement. Her death has left a hole in my life that can never be properly filled.

I don’t often share personal stuff on this blog, but I need people to know what a wonderful person she was, and what she meant to me. So here goes, with a blog post I never wanted to write…

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Pandemic! At the Disco

On 15th March I met my friend for lunch. That was just over two weeks ago, but it feels like ten years. In the intervening fortnight, life as we know it slowly ground to a halt.

While most of the world was celebrating New Year’s Eve, the WHO China Office was made aware of a new type of Coronavirus.

Nobody else noticed for a few weeks. Even as reports came out of China about mounting numbers of deaths, most people in this part of the world (myself included, I must admit) seemed complacent. When those first coachloads of unfortunate tourists arrived at Arrowe Park Hospital, I didn’t really think much of it. In early March, European countries started announcing restrictions on movement and border closures, but at the same time, I was cheerfully planning a trans-continental train trip for June, confident that it would all be over by then.

Three months after that first report to the WHO, there can be few people on Earth who are not aware of COVID-19.

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Europe: The Final Countdown

In a matter of hours, Brexit will take effect and the UK will be out of the EU. An eleven-month transition period begins, where everything carries on more or less as normal until the end of 2020. But after 11pm tonight, there is no going back to the European Union. Nothing has changed, and everything has changed.

Even as we leave, the rest of Europe tries its best to say a cheerful goodbye – singing Auld Lang Syne in the European Parliament and holding a farewell party in Brussels city centre. They can’t quite understand why we’re doing it, but Europeans have shown us immense respect and goodwill – far more than we deserve after the last three years.

I have no idea what happens next. Frankly, I am exhausted after three years following the twists and turns from 23rd June 2016 to today (long story short – we could easily have undone Brexit, but the Remain side simply wasn’t smart enough). Suffice to say, I don’t trust Boris Johnson, and his merry band of Brexiteer charlatans, one bit. We are heading for a future arrangement which will damage the economy and sell out the most vulnerable in society.

Scotland may become independent. Northern Ireland may end up joined to the Republic of Ireland. Can I blame them? Not really; I want to get away from England too.

“You lost, get over it” – I wish I could.