Friday, 15 December 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to Our Readers

A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our readers from the editors of Portsmouth Point.

We hope that, over the holidays, you enjoy reading not only this blog but also our new edition of Portsmouth Point magazine. The theme of this issue is 'Truth', with 30 articles ranging from algorithms to censorship, God to Joe Root, Herodotus to Ian Dury & the Blockheads. 

See Naeve Molho's stunning cover image for the 'Truth' issue below:

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Christmas Festivities Around the World

by Katie Sharp

As the festive season approaches, we fall into our regular holiday traditions, such as eating mince pies and reading “The Night Before Christmas” on Christmas Eve, and opening presents on Christmas Day. However, while we are aware of our own traditions, it’s often interesting to see the range of diverse and unique festive traditions from around the world.

Night of the Radishes

Every 23rd December, the city of Oaxaca, Mexico, holds an event dedicated to the carving of oversized radishes. The competition, formally created in 1897, mainly consists of intricate festive sceneries created with radishes.

Tió de Nadal

Tió de Nadal, or “Christmas Log”, is a Catalonian Christmas tradition where, on 8th December, a hollow log (typically decorated to have a face) is bundled in a blanket and “fed” until Christmas Day. Children are required to care for the Tió de Nadal until Christmas Day, when children hit the log with a stick until the log “defecates” presents to children that have successfully cared for the log.

KFC in Japan

After a very successful marketing campaign, KFC has become a staple Christmas tradition in Japan, with an estimated 3.6 million families enjoying the fried chicken on Christmas Eve. The tradition is so ingrained that KFC’s Special Christmas Dinner often requires ordering it weeks in advance, or otherwise queuing for hours.

Maximising Yuletide Happiness: The Economist's Christmas

by Miranda Worley

Inefficient gift-giving
Purple stripy toe socks – WHSmith vouchers – flowerpot-people ornaments – what do all these things have in common?  They all represent inefficient gift-giving.

As I am always telling my pupils, Economics is the study of efficiency. Efficiency means getting the most happiness (utility) from the scarce resources that we have.  So here is the dilemma: how do we maximise happiness at Christmas?  More specifically, how do I give gifts that generate the most happiness?  It has been estimated that each year Americans spend $100 billion on giving gifts which are perceived as having only $80 billion value by the recipients. A waste of $20 billion a year of utility.

Now the general rule about utility (happiness) is that it is maximised when the (opportunity) cost of the action is much less than the benefit gained.  So the ideal (Economist’s) gift would be (almost) free of cost to give, but generate much joy in the recipient.  As an example: I visited my sister; on the way, I stopped at a Starbucks and noticed that they were giving away, for free, old coffee grounds neatly packaged up, which reduces the firm’s waste and represents good corporate social responsibility.  It allowed me to give a gift to my sister that shows I know her and her current passion of composting; not only was she happy with her gift, which could go straight in the (compost) bin, but it also filled her house with happy coffee smells all that day and prompted a good shared experience in her garden examining her plants-manship too. Now, I’m not suggesting we should all give each other old coffee grounds all the time – that would be boring - but the idea is that we should know our recipient and give them a gift that yields them more utility than the lost utility to us of acquiring the gift in the first place. 

And so we come up against the main problem of gift-giving: knowledge (information) of what will give joy ... how do we really know what the recipient desires?  I have tried to overcome the information problem in various ways: from intercepting letters to Santa to recalling what the recipient gave me last year (surely a good indication of what they really wanted themselves?).  But none of these tactics is perfect.  Faced with demands for “a real unicorn” (?) or the biannual arms-race of mutual scarf exchange with sisters-in-law, perhaps we should stop and contemplate the joy that we are trying to give, not the stuff.

Photography: Light

by Ben Davis

 'Light' by Ben Davis

Inspector Javert: A Villainous Victim

by Isabella Ingram

We anticipate the presence of antagonist Inspector Javert long before he is first alluded to, over a hundred and fifty pages into the novel. Initially, he is an observer, watching the protagonist Jean Valjean “until he was out of sight.” He appears to possess the conventional attributes of a villain, with a “rare and terrible” laugh, “a dark gaze” and “an intensity about him that was almost a threat.” However, despite his villainous aura, Javert is a man with “no vices”, pursuing a life of “chastity” and “rigorous authority.” Hugo explains this apparent juxtaposition by describing the inspector’s most fundamental nature – he is a man of severe extremes. Whilst his principles of “respect for authority and hatred of revolt against it” are “admirable in themselves”, Javert obeys them to a degree that is “almost evil.” As the extremity of his principles is further emphasised, we become aware that such a violent moral rigidity is not a natural – nor convincing – quality of a human being. Instead, therefore, Javert is established as a metaphor for the law itself, rather than a mere agent enacting its doctrines. He “possessed the conscience appropriate to his function”, punishing all his criminals, just as the law decreed, with an equal and unforgiving cruelty.

Once this is recognised, Javert’s apparent omnipresence (“His whole life was contained in two words, wakefulness and watchfulness”) seems all the more appropriate. To truly represent the nineteenth century French Justice system, Javert has to be a perpetual oppression on the lives of the working classes. Hugo does not specify the “distasteful but necessary duties” that Javert has performed as the police inspector of Montreuil-sur-Mur, but we are informed that “his judgements were absolute, admitting no exceptions.” Just as the law allowed for minimal consideration of the nature and degree of crimes committed, Javert’s perception of morality is inflexible and ruthless.

Imagery is central to the portrayal of Javert’s outlook on humanity and ethics. Hugo’s statue motif, for example, accentuates the immovability of the inspector’s moral perception. This persists from Javert’s entrance into the plot, “the spy carved in marble”, to moments before his inevitable suicide, as he sits with Valjean and the wounded Marius in a fiacre: “the three tragic figures were thrown into relief – the seeming corpse, the spectre, and the statue.” Whilst the statue motif demonstrates Javert’s rigid ethical outlook, meanwhile, animalistic imagery is often ascribed to him to emphasise the primitive nature of his moral absolutism. Javert is likened to a range of creatures, from a “bulldog” to “a beast of prey”, but perhaps most powerful of all is Hugo’s allusion to “the Asturian peasants”, who believed “that in every wolf-litter there is a dog-whelp which the mother kills, because otherwise when it grows larger it will devour the rest of her young. Endow this dog with a human face, and you have Javert.”

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Ordeal of the Unfinished Adventures: A Percy F. Westerman and Angela Brazil Caption Contest

by Russell Olson

 The Caption Contest has drawn to a close, with winners being awarded prizes and congratulations by the Headmaster on Tuesday the 12th  of December. The competition entries breathed new life into yesteryear’s illustrations, delivering action, adventure, comedy and lashings of creativity. 

Students Sam Byron and Daniel Shillaker won in the student categories with Debbi King winning the Staff/Parent prize. 

The Top 5 Things About Christmas: Part III

We asked Ray Leach, Julian Davis and Olivia Watkins to list their favourite Christmas books, films, music and food, as well as telling us the best and worst presents they ever received. 

Ray Leach

Fairytale of New York
(Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan)
1) Favourite Christmas book: A fond memory I have from early childhood is being thrilled by 'The Jolly Christmas Postman'with varying stories and perspectives as well as three dimensional interaction, it certainly ignited my love for story telling. 

2) Favourite Christmas film: A film that can be quoted by myself and my family all year long without growing old, is one to remember: 'Elf' will be a family favourite until I have children. 

3) Favourite Christmas song: The Pogues blessed us with the 'Fairytale of New York' that I discovered seemed to be the only exception allowed for profanities in our household; it brings a smile to our faces each year. 

4) Favourite Christmas food/drink: A personal, and admittedly common favourite food at Christmas would be mince pies - no chance of having spares left over in our household. 

5) Best/worst Christmas gifts: I won't forget the year I received a pink doll's house that was seemingly twice my size. I will accept this as making up for the Christmas when I was gifted a whisk at the age of 10, I don't know whether it is fair or not to say I was clueless as to what to do with it... 

Julian Davis

1) Favourite Christmas book: a tough choice, but my favourite Christmas book is the The Grinch Who Stole Christmas - you can't go wrong with Doctor Seuss.

2) Favourite Christmas film: Love, Actually hands down. A wonderful, hilarious film filled with a myriad of quirky characters and just lovely to watch at Christmas time - plus with an incredible cast. One of the greats - easily.

3) Favourite Christmas song: 'Fairytale of New York' by The Pogues - great song. After that, the usual classics: Slade, Wizzard, maybe a bit of Buble.

4) Favourite Christmas food/drink: What to choose?  There is so much choice! Torn between mince pies, devils on horseback and pigs in blankets; they're all amazing.

5) Best/worst Christmas gifts: Probably something amazing when I was younger - if not a phone. The worst, shampoo.

Magical Realism: The Power of Symbolism

by Gabriella Watson

Defined as “a literary or artistic genre in which realistic narrative and naturalistic technique are combined with surreal elements of dream or fantasy,”[1] magical realism manifests itself throughout the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Crόnica de una muerte anunciada and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. Written in the same epoch – with Carter’s novel published in 1979 and Marquez’s in 1981 -  each novelist portrays the surreal using similar approaches while, at the same time, nuancing it in significantly different ways. Predominantly, both writers use symbolism in the presentation of magical realism but for patently different purposes. While Carter employs symbolism to communicate a message in that temptation is a detrimental flaw to humanity, Marquez, by contrast uses symbols to foreshadow the pinnacle of the novel; the death of the protagonist. However, although the intentions are evidently converse, both Carter and Marquez use symbolism to allude to biblical references, focusing on the influence of scripture and religion on their novels; another typical trait of magical realism. Superstition is also employed by each novelist as Carter and Marquez emphasise the role of the mother by way of telepathic abilities. Yet, while Carter uses superstition to protect the life of the protagonist, Marquez implements irony with telepathy; presenting a notable difference. Finally, both authors use magical realism to shape the mundane and ordinary nature of death into an extraordinary and fantastical manifestation. Notably, however, although Carter’s novel was published prior to the release of Marquez’s, narrative critic, Veronika Šimunková, has suggested that her inspiration stemmed from “the highly appraised Latino writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez”[2], revealing the foundations of magical realism over her own work.

Symbolism is arguably one of the most fundamental characteristics of magical realism which features heavily throughout both novels. Unlike Carter, who employs inanimate imagery, Marquez makes extensive use of animalistic symbolism. The cockerel becomes a prophetic omen in Crónica de una muerte anunciada to predict not only the death of Santiago Nasar but also the barbaric destruction to his body following the autopsy.[3] The bishop’s aberrant tradition of using the cockerel’s crests and destroying the rest of the animal’s body in order to make soup is expressed through the description of the “los huacales de gallos bien cebados”[4] (well-fattened roosters) who await their impending destiny of being sent to the slaughter. By contrast, whereby Carter uses symbolism to communicate the message that curiosity is a fatal flaw in human nature, Marquez uses this to foreshadow the fate of the protagonist. Here, his use of symbolism enshrines the Christian faith, substantiating the observations of critic Matt Mikalatos who noted that, “traditional magical realism will bring in Christian symbology.”[5] By using an application of animalistic symbolism, the author is perhaps making a biblical allusion to the death of Jesus Christ and the subsequent betrayal from one of his best loved disciple. Christ’s prediction that Peter would deny knowing him as a subsequent consequence to the crow of the cockerel reflects the betrayal of the local townspeople to Santiago who neglected the multiple opportunities to warn him about the plot to take his life.[6]

Short Story: Village Tales: The Christmas Nativity Crisis

by Nina Watson

It was Christmas Eve and Jane Appleby was leaning parched and harrowed, against the door of the village hall. Pint sized Shepards were trying to beat the living daylights out of each other with their crooks, Wise Men were shoving ‘frankincense’ up their noses in a bid to burn them off and the baby Jesus was currently missing a limb.Every year Jane got lumped with organising the nativity for the Christmas church service, perhaps because they thought she could deal with the tykes, seeing as she was the headmistress of the local primary school. She’d had nightmares of kings with no gifts and Joseph deciding to divorce Mary in the wake of her surprise pregnancy for months, and a permanent headache due to the extreme decibel at which the children shouted their lines. They hadn’t even rehearsed in the real performance space yet and Jane just wasn’t sure if the gold bejewelled manger was going to fit at the altar of the church. Wirey arms attached to a screaming pair of lungs wrapped around Jane’s legs, and she looked down to see the Virgin Mary (otherwise known as Ella Jenkins) wailing with her tea towel slipping off of her little head. “What’s wrong sweetheart?,” Jane asked wearily. “It’s Mickey! He hit my baby with his stick and now his arm has come off! HE’S KILLED MY LITTLE JESUS!” The little girl continued to cry as Jane looked over to see her lead Shepherd  proudly swinging Jesus’ detached body part from the end of his crook, the little savage. She untangled Ella from herself and handed her over to her Mother, snatched the arm and the rest of Jesus from the very disturbed Shepherd and started to walk home, thinking of where her old glue gun might have got to.

Roger and Rafa: Continue to Serve

by Sudeep Ghosh

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have officially ended the year as World Number 1 and 2 respectively. The pair have been subject to one of the greatest sporting rivalries of all time. In their last 10 meetings, Nadal won 5 times consecutively, which was instantly matched by Federer.

Although they are unquestionably two of the greatest tennis players of all time, the question of “who is better?” still remains unanswered.  Nadal currently leads the 13-year-old rivalry with 23 wins, against Federer’s 15. Roger Federer holds the record for most Grand Slam wins with 19. Nadal follows Federer closely with 16, but is also 5 years his junior. They have both won all four major Grand Slams, as well as an Olympic Gold Medal

One of the most striking aspects of the rivalry is the level of respect between the two players. In fact, they do not even acknowledge any animosity whatsoever. When questioned about the rivalry, Rafael Nadal stated, "If anyone says I am better than Roger, they don’t know anything about tennis". Roger Federer felt a similar admiration for the Spanish great. When asked about his relationship with Nadal, the Swiss replied, “I’m his No. 1 fan. I think his game is simply tremendous. He’s an incredible competitor and I’m happy we’ve had some epic battles in the past”.