Friday, 26 May 2017

Fifty Years Ago Today: Sergeant Pepper

by Mark Richardson

It was fifty years ago today.

May 26th 1967 saw the appearance of a record that was utterly unlike anything people had seen before. It had a strange and jokey title, a cover that was full of unexpectedly familiar and unfamiliar faces all jammed together and it was by a band that people knew well but, well, this?  What is it?

Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band absolutely came out of nowhere. No one had seen it coming, and when it did arrive it was utterly unlike anything anyone had heard or seen. Even the title was from nowhere: Paul McCartney misheard "pass the salt and pepper" on a plane flight as "sergeant pepper" and that set him thinking on the flight about whether it was an idea or if it could be a song. Out of that came the next step: how about it being a Band like the Beatles, but not the Beatles?

The group had reached the stage that they found being the Beatles almost intolerable. Ringo Starr refused to stay in the band unless they stopped touring, and none of them disagreed: touring had been unbearable, constantly underprepared and running from one venue to another, constantly assailed by friends and enemies seemingly everywhere, all wanting a piece of them. The studio was a sanctuary, and they were ready to make the most of it. They all wanted it make something that nobody had ever heard before, and supported by the producer genius George Martin, they did.

It had an incalculable effect. It remains the highest-selling album from the 1960s, it influenced countless bands thereafter, and it continues to represent some of their best ever work.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Celebrating Norway - "rømmegrøt og spekkemat"

by Sienna Bentley

The Constitution of Norway was signed at Eidsvoll the 17th of May in 1814, but at the time Norway was in a union with Sweden and for a few years in the 1820s King Karl Johan of Sweden actually banned the celebrations of the signing because the Swedes saw it as a provocation against Sweden and their royal family. The celebrations held on the 17th of May become a larger event when Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (the writer of the national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet”) took initiative to a children’s parade in Oslo in the 1860s.

Wednesday the 17th of May 2017 marks the most recent Constitution Day in Norway (‎Syttende mai (bokmål)), commemorating the signing of the constitution on that date in 1814. The celebrations are unique - marching bands, street parties, parades, traditional costumes and a ton of ice cream. While many countries around the world celebrate their national day with a military parade, ‎Syttende Mai is a party for everyone, especially for the children. The children’s parades entail marching, waving homemade Norwegian flags and carrying school banners. Children in Oslo pass the Royal Palace, where the royal family wave to them from the balcony.

Before they head out into the streets, many Norwegians will have a special breakfast which is often a potluck with their friends and neighbours, consisting of freshly baked bread, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and champagne. There is a custom of “eat what you like”, so really it’s mostly junk food, but what is traditionally eaten at the family table often depends on where people are living. Near the sea and rivers, eating salmon and trout is quite common but in the mountain villages, it can be rømmegrøt og spekkemat (porridge and cured meat - it’s better than it sounds, I promise).

Men and women take this day as an opportunity to wear their bunad, which is the traditional costume. It is common to wear a bunad at various celebrations such as folk dances and weddings but especially during the May 17th National Day celebrations. They vary greatly, the different colours, styles and embroidery are to indicate where in Norway the owner's ancestry lies.

Theresa May and the Cult Of No Personality

by Fenella Johnson

In a political landscape where a politician who claims she keeps her promises calls an election she promised not to in order to obtain a mandate she already claims she has for a policy she originally campaigned against,and she is still between 9-13 points ahead in the polls two weeks before that election-well,you might argue that the perceived public character of a leader no longer matters.You might argue that as long as a leader has no significant personality quirks,meaning that there is no chance of gaffes on the public stage,then you might argue that Theresa May (a woman so devoid of personality quirks she has been nicknamed the Maybot by some parts of the media)is the perfect candidate for Prime Minsister.You might do all this while casting an eye to America and the Donald’s latest tweet.After all,Jeremy Corbyn’s unique political brand of man who dresses like a geography teacher with socialist tendencies masquerading as Labour leader has hardly done his party any good in the polls.Theresa May’s weakness is her strength.She is very-and I’ll be blunt about it-boring.Her lack of personality is her greatest asset,because you can construct whatever image you want on it.

The image the Conservatives have gone for is ‘strong and stable’-one presumes her PR department was undaunted by the fact that someone who has just performed a U-turn over a policy in their manifesto has,at best,a shaky claim to stability.The Lib Dems-who are suffering their own leadership problems with Tim Farron-have been unable to pin the title of ‘lunch snatcher’ on her,following the removal of free school meals from the Conservative manifesto;perhaps,one suspects because the majority of the press are supporting her campaign.The Conservative posters on the campaign trail have chosen to campaign with her name imposed in sedate,large letters and the party she is leader of in typeface you have to squint to see.(Labour are performing a similar trick,but the other way round.)Meanwhile,on her campaign bus-the same she used while campaigning for remain,in case you thought that politics in 2017 was no longer doing the satirist’s job for them-her name is resplendent and her party’s nowhere to be seen.This allows her to operate beyond the brand of the Conservative party and the negative connotations that-for many voters-come along with it,allowing her to project an aura of safety .Remember:strong and stable.It echoes back to the 1924 General Election and Stanley Baldwin,the Conservative Prime Minister of the day,campaigning on the slogan ‘safe pair of hands’(something which May has often referred to herself as).Theresa May doesn't want you to think she’s exciting or is going to bring change-she wants you to think of her as capable and calm.

And it works.The real reason Theresa May called an election is because she knows she’s going to win:it will be a failure,the way things look at the moment,if she gets a majority that’s smaller than 60 seats.In the age of viral politics,in the age of reality tv show politics,where the USA decided Trump was a greater storyline then Hillary Clinton and Piers Morgan is a person who continues to be employed, there is something undeniably attractive about someone positioning themselves-whether it is true or not-as the antidote to all this.As sensible,safe.Again,that idea of being ‘strong and stable’.Theresa May’s buzzwords and slogans are not calls to arms-Make America Great Again!-but empty,factual.Brexit means Brexit,whatever Brexit means.

Poem: Hillside

by Bryony Hart

Dedicated to all those leaving Whitcombe House this year

There was no warning: the hillside was bare, 
ripped and raped of years of growth.

On our pilgrimage past Pierre du Sacrifice, 
the mulch-sprung pathway undulated as usual:
well-worn steps, twenty years' worth, engrained into our gait. 

As we descended, the expectation of cool pine and eerie silence - 
the silence of thick tall growth that canopies out light from the forest floor- 
was whipped from our memory.

If only I had known - 

That final descent in April would have been savoured, 
relished and branded for future sensations sweet:
muscle-memory of suspended ground
made from years of pine needles;
light elbowing through cracks in the thick blanket above;
shards of light - moted and moving;
darkness, shadows and exhilarating fear;
unravelling daylight at the wood's exit ...

replaced by a barren and shocking absence:

Nash-like tree-stumps, fallen branches, withered leaves, 
not even a whiff of decay.
Beyond decay. Fresh. Raw. A pillaging. 

We tentatively stepped through the debris, 
soldiers emerging from gashes after intense gunfire, 
and we ran our hands across the land's wounds. 

Crouching, we counted forty clear rings. 
And again, again, again another forty rings
reverberated from the tight epicentral core
to the calloused periphery.

Her narrow six years were traced and compared;
our four decades lay wide-open and exposed. 

Forty years ago a young farmer plunged saplings 
deep into this fertile earth. 

Today the land lay bare. 

 Bryony Hart 28/10/16

Questions of love trilogy - Part One: Do You Love Yourself? II - How I Cope with my Body and Mind.

by Holly White

Being able to accept my body meant I could see my hip bones; that when I lied down in bed they were sticking far out and my tummy dipped into a valley and the two peaks stood as mountains either side. I'd see how much I could hold, trying to hook my fingers around in some attempt to assure myself I wasn't gaining weight. I'd look in the mirror and stand sideways trying to asses if they were sticking out more from the previous time I looked, only a few hours ago. I was transfixed by them and what the represented - bone sticking out meant I wasn't fat. And if I wasn't fat I was pretty. I wanted to be able to arch my back forward and see the perfect, repetitive rise and fall of my spine descending down to where my proud hip bones resided. From the top of the ladder my vertebrates mimicked, they would snake off into a V and form my collar bones; two bones that held the weight of my world on, I wanted them to be so prominent you couldn't miss. Stopping and staring as you trace them with your eyes, I wanted you to see the grace I held. The framework leading effortlessly up my neck and to my face. The face I scrutinised everyday, every glimpse of a reflection, every time someone looked at me, assuming they didn't like what they saw. My eyes too small, the blue not bright enough, my skin covered in imperfections, my nose disproportionate, my lips not plump enough, my cheeks to puffy or maybe too hollow, my smile crooked, my teeth tinged and wonky, my freckles looking stupid, my eyebrows not full enough, my jaw unflattering, my hair dull, my voice croaky. I could go on but I'll stop.

So many things to change, improve and perfect to my standard; if I didn't feel pretty then I wasn't pretty and then I wasn't capable of being pretty to anyone else. I didn’t develop an eating disorder and I didn't start hurting myself but I carried a constant reminder that I was never going to be able to be beautiful. It didn't seem to matter to me that my parents constantly told me I was, because that's what I expected them to say; I cared only for what the people who didn't have any obligation to my existence said. For the people who had no regular involvement, impression, voice or imprint in my life, I cared for most the way they viewed my body. And it was because they  weren't in my life long, for at the most a few hours, this was the only impression we had on each other. They saw me, they judged me, they dismissed me. I wanted so badly to have some kind of reassurance it was positive thoughts and then I could take some twisted form of gratification knowing a stranger approved of my body. My body they would never see exposed, or touch or be in constant contact with because they were a stranger - and I wanted their approval. I based my entire self esteem off of a stranger's opinion I could only guess at. Now I have been through puberty and reached the other side, whilst I am not an adult, I will take it upon myself to say I have matured over these years and don't build my esteem from such a method as the above.

It’s taken me a long time to pull myself out of the hole of denial but I write openly with maybe a completely clichè ideology, to somehow spread a little more love and understanding of ourselves. And I write for our blog because it's the only place I know so far for an audience that may work in a similar way to my own mind - we all come together in one giant hub of life combined with every feature (about to be listed) that are going through our systems at such a high concentration: work, stress, anxiety, friendships, relationships, jealousy, annoyance, sex, lust, drugs, hate, love, sadness, happiness, anger and want. It's everywhere. It's consuming and it is in us.

Acrylic Paint Landscape (Time Lapse)

by Imogen Ashby

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Short Story: Grace

by Lottie Allen

Glow is low and it's dimming,
And the silence is ringing...
I stroll down the shadowed street, again finding myself able to relate to the song lyrics. I sigh, my breath creating a flurry of warm clouds to erupt, as I make my way through the dark side of the sleeping city. Ordinarily, I wouldn't walk home this way but after the ordeal at work I'm running extremely late and I can't miss my appointment tomorrow morning. Therefore, I'm taking the shortcut home. Just as I round the corner, a loud noise startles me and I rip my headphones out in sudden terror. Then, shake my head at my unusually jumpy behaviour when I realise the noise was only Big Ben's distant signalling of 11 o'clock.
I hesitantly put my headphones back in, attempting to block out the world around me and suppress my rising fear but I catch a peculiar, glistening in the corner of my eye. The hairs on my neck rise and I get the unnerving feeling that I'm being watched, maybe I would even go as far as saying I'm being followed. But it's not like I even work in the agency anymore, I would have no reason for anyone to want anything from me. All my clients have long since passed away. Anyhow, I whirl around, the tension and suspense of waiting kindling the fiery flames of fear slowly growing inside me.
Nothing. Typical.
Jessica, you're just paranoid. Stop fretting, I tell myself, firmly. I need to get a grip. I'm about to turn around and resume my walk home when a hand clamps down over my mouth, I jump in shock but find myself unable to scream. I jerk my head up, bringing my left heel into my captors groin and hearing a groan. I throw my head forwards, sinking my teeth into their hand and try to turn in the now loosened hold on me. A strip of foul-smelling material is shoved brutally over my mouth and under my nose, forcing me to breath it in. I try to twist around to identify my attacker and thrash, my head makes contact with someone's forehead and they let go of me. But before I can have any satisfaction or triumphant from my small victory, I become acutely aware of my sluggish movements. In panic, I scream but it's muffled by the material over my face and it's not like anyone would hear anyway. I slump to the floor, both welcoming and fearing the inevitable oblivion as I lose consciousness.
Is it possible to be wide awake yet your body is unresponsive and asleep?
I guess, that's what a coma is. I try desperately to open my eyes and squint but even the smallest movement causes a shooting agony to dance through my useless body. I am distantly aware of a voice droning in the background and listen hard to understand the words. But I can do nothing, I can't even twitch my muscles to tell them I'm awake.
"Jessica? Jessy, I miss you. The doctors say you're in a coma and that there might be a chance that you can hear me but I miss you Jessy, so much. Did you know, you've been sleeping for nearly three months now?" That voice. It's strangely familiar yet entirely new and unfamiliar at the same time. And who is Jessy? It can't be me...can it? I haven't been sleeping for nearly three months!
I try to sort through my distorted mind to find any memory of who I am or where I could be. I think I'm at a doctors because the girl, whoever she was, said something about the doctor talking to her. That is if I am Jessy. It's like sifting through sand, my thoughts slip through my fingers before I have time to grasp them and I'm left with nothing. Empty, confused, lost. The more I try to summon up my memories the quicker the slip away. I don't care about anything else at the moment. Just two questions.
Who am I?
Where am I?
If I had the ability to move I would be furrowing my brow in confusion, creasing my forehead into a frown. I'm baffled. How can you forget everything about you? Of course, I still remember that I'm English but if you ask me who my parents are, how old I am or even what I look like I will be lost for answers. Confusion courses through me, how is any of this possible? I remember my education, my times tables, quadratic formulas but I am lost for words at who taught me, how I know or when I learnt this.
So many unanswered questions. And no answers. Whatsoever. I want to scream in frustration, all I want are answers, is it really so difficult? To remember things? Only one word, that one word that means everything yet nothing to me...


The Celtic Cross and the Human Desire for Darkness

by Isabella Ingram

The Old Portsmouth Road (crossing the Hindhead Commons) (image: National Trust)
In 1786, an anonymous sailor was murdered along the Old Portsmouth Road – an old turnpike route running from London to the Portsmouth Docks, and traversing the Hindhead Commons. The murderers, who had befriended the sailor in a pub in Thursley, later stripped him of his money and cut his throat, before being arrested some hours later at the Sun Inn at Rake. They were hanged – and remained hanging for three years – on Gibbet Hill, Surrey’s second highest point and of close proximity to the sailor’s stone; a gravestone erected to mark the spot of the sailor’s death. The hanging excited fears and superstitions that came to be associated with Gibbet Hill, and subsequently the construction of a Celtic Cross was funded by Sir William Erle – a lawyer, judge and politician – in 1851, to expel these notions.

Today, both the Celtic Cross and the Sailor’s Stone are situated in The Devil’s Punch Bowl, a popular National Trust property, and serve as tourist attractions along “The Gibbet Hill Walk”. The National Trust website invites its visitors to “find the spot on Gibbet Hill where three villainous highwaymen met their end”, and reach the Celtic cross, beside which a sign now dramatically reads, “criminals were hanged on the gibbet and their bodies left to swing in clanking irons until they rotted”.

It’s a gloomy story of murder and the viciousness of crime and punishment. When I went to see the Celtic cross, a small family was sharing a picnic about three or four metres from its foot. Their focus was, of course, on the incredible view ahead rather than the dark, Dickensian structure behind. But it still seemed odd – to me, at least, after reading the sign – that the site of a hanging had, just over two hundred years later, become a picnic spot. The image of the family and the cross seemed to indicate something about the modern, western world’s touristic nature, and its reaction to suffering in any form, be it historic or contemporary.

Why are human beings fascinated by the morbid? In an article entitled “Morbid Curiosities” by Eric G. Campbell from Psychology Today, it is suggested that the human fixation with “macabre occurrences” derives from a desire to recognize our own fortune: “At that moment, I understood the terrible wisdom of suffering…Affliction can reveal what is most sacred in our lives, essential to our joy. Water, Emily Dickinson writes, is ‘taught by thirst’.”

Election View: Should Cannabis Be Legalised?

by Thomas Locke

The Liberal Democrats have unveiled plans to legalise cannabis ahead of the General Election.

The Liberal Democrats have confirmed that they would legalise selling and growing cannabis if they were elected into parliament. The party would permit the growing of the Class-B drug at home and they would introduce licensed shops to sell the drug to those over the age of 18. It is already legal to consume small amounts of the drug in some countries including Portugal, the Netherlands and Norway. The legalisation of cannabis began in 2001 with Portugal being the first country in the world to decriminalise the use of all drugs.

Cannabis has been illegal in the UK since 1928 when legislation banned the drug for recreational use as an extension of the Dangerous Drugs Act of 1920. To this day, under the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971, producing or supplying cannabis is a criminal offence with a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. Possessing the drug also attracts a maximum prison sentence of five years, although many argue that this law is not enforced. With the General Election coming up on the 8th of June, this could all be changed if the Liberal Democrats are elected.

Julian Huppert, the party’s Cambridge candidate, confirmed that the policy would feature in its upcoming manifesto, telling BuzzFeed News: "The market is run by criminal gangs and they have no interest in public health - the system is causing huge amounts of harm."

"The current approach is a disaster for young people, whose mental and physical health is being harmed by an increasingly potent product. There are no age checks, and no controls on quality or strength. ‘Skunk’ is widespread and the only ID you need to buy it is a £20 note.”

A Lib Dem source suggested that the Tim Farron-led party would also introduce social clubs across the country for smoking cannabis.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Politics of Eurovision

by Katie Sharp

Love it or hate it, the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the biggest international events. The 2016 Contest in Stockholm saw 204 million watchers around Europe (and Australia), making it the most watched event of the night in the majority of the countries taking part.

The Eurovision Song Contest (originally Eurovision Grand Prix) was created in 1956 in Switzerland to try to unify war-torn Europe through light entertainment, as it would give the countries in Europe a shared low-stakes event to compete against each other at.

However, owing to its international popularity, there are controversies surrounding the contest- particularly about politics. It is often argued that it isn't a competition of music, instead competition of who is popular and unpopular in Europe. Terry Wogan, the UK’s former presenter of Eurovision, stepped down from his role in 2008, saying “The voting used to be about the songs. Now it’s about national prejudices. We (the UK) are on our own. We had a very good song, a very good singer, we came joint last. I don’t want to be presiding over another debacle.” After the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War from 2003, the UK has failed to score very highly, entering the top 10 only once, in 2009. While it could be that the quality of the British contestants is the cause of this, it is most likely a result of the UK’s unpopularity in Europe after the invasion of Iraq, as shown by the UK receiving its first “nul points” in 2003, immediately after the beginning of the Iraq war.

The effect of politics is also shown in the “voting blocs”, where competing countries form alliances to vote for each other. These voting blocs were so influential that in 2009, national juries were introduced alongside the televote, providing 50% of the points for each country. However, the voting blocs are still recognised in Eurovision, as during the presentation of votes there is often booing from the crowd, particularly during the former USSR countries’ votes.