Sunday, 30 December 2012

12 Events Which Made 2012

by Andrew Jones

It's nearly the end of 2012, a year which has seen heartbreak and triumph in equal measure. Sitting down to predict the events which would dominate 2012, few would have suspected that a Britain would have succeeded in winning the Tour de France. Of course there were those stories which were destined to be remembered forever; the London Olympics, a prime example. Where then is the world placed after 2012? For Britain it seems unlikely that 2013 will bring anything near the excitement and triumph which has characterised this year. The world continues on the path to a shaky economic recovery, with even more nail- biting Euro-crisis headlines to come. Sports has enjoyed a memorable Olympics with records being smashed at every turn; the previously unheard of double-triple was successfully defended by Usain Bolt. China experienced their leadership change whilst America re-elected Obama for another term of office. Therefore if 2012 has hurried by a bit too quickly, then here are a few events which you really should remember...

anti-Assad protesters
Bashar Al Assad's brutal repression of the Syrian people has never been far from the headlines during 2012. Originally Syria was an off shoot of the Arab Spring revolutions. This year has however seen the conflict develop into full blown civil war. Estimates suggest that the crumbling regime's battle to remain in power has cost the lives of 40,000 Syrians. Despite the bleak outlook heading into 2013, the seeds of victory for the rebels are beginning to emerge. December saw the USA join Britain, France, Turkey and the Gulf states in recognising Syria's National Coalition as being the official representatives of the Syrian population. The rebels themselves have made significant gains by taking the fight to the capital Damascus which has previously been the stronghold of the Assad regime. Though progress is being made, the devastation to the country coupled with Assad's continuing resistance means that Syria's recovery is likely to take decades.

The discovery of the Higgs boson represents one of the greatest breakthrough in physics of the year, if not the decade. In July, physicists working at CERN reported the discovery of a particle which possessed similar properties to the Higgs Boson, offering compounding evidence for the existence of the elusive “God particle.” The discovery of the particle helps physicists to better understand the workings of The Standard Model. The search for the particle has captivated particle physicists for almost half a century since Peter Higgs first presented his hypothesis of the Higgs mechanism in 1964. The particle being a part of Higgs theory plays a crucial part in Prof Higgs' explanation for why particles possess mass. Representing an investment of £2.6bn, the discovery if confirmed would help to usher in a new era of particle physics.

The Internet's contribution to the events of the year has been remarkably varied. From Twitter controversy, to Invisible Children's campaign to raise awareness about Joseph Kony. Though important at the time, they lack the scale and longevity to really be considered memorable. Gangnam Style by contrast, has taken the Internet by storm. PSY's song has averaged almost 10 million views per day. Recently in November, Gangnam style became the first Youtube video to clock up 1 billion views. PSY's exploits also include inspiring a variety of parodies which include Gandalf Style and Mitt Romney Style to name a few. Such widespread notoriety and popularity makes it seem only fair that if one song were to define 2012, it should undoubtedly be Gangnam style.

Rebecca Brooks and Andy Coulson under investigation
Woes which originated in the depths of the phone hacking scandal, characterised the year for the media of Britain. Selecting but a few headlines demonstrates the immense difficulties and uncertainties which face the future of journalism. The year for Andy Coulson and Rebecca Brooks will be one they would rather forget. Crucially however this year saw Lord Leveson report the findings of his investigation. Predictably the findings were filled with criticism of the media world, especially those engaged in the “dark arts” of phone hacking. Judgements were not only reserved for journalists though, but also for those politicians who regularly courted the media elite. Why might an investigation which is limited predominantly to a British sphere of influence be so emblematic of 2012? Focusing on the suggestions which Lord Leveson makes in the investigation, it is difficult not to be struck by the profoundness of his ideas. The propositions include a call for the foundation of the first press law since the 17th century. Whether or not the Government chooses to implement Leveson's ideas about press regulation, the report still represents a period of scrutiny of media ethics and practices. Coupled with recent investigations into Jimmy Saville, its is fast becoming impossible for the media to avoid the calls for reform any longer.

Felix Baumgartner's skydive from Space
(source: BBC)
Pushing the boundaries has appealed throughout history to a select few. Examining the limits of human endurance has been the subject of expeditions, death defying feats and extreme sports. Felix Baumgartner's skydive from 24 miles above the Earth's surface has demonstrated the dream to push limits is still very much alive. The skydive smashed aviation records which included the highest height ever achieved by a balloon, the furthest skydive, and the greatest speed achieved by a free falling human being. Felix endured speeds of 833mph in order to become the first human being to break the sound barrier whilst falling. Indeed many including Felix's own family were convinced that the stunt could not be achieved. The risks included falling into a “death spin” during the flight or having his blood to boil in seconds due to a tear in the space suit. The greatest service which Felix's skydive has done though, is to help inspire the current young generation which has previously lacked any form of iconic feats of space exploration. Where before, generations spoke of the excitement of the moon landings, perhaps the skydive from the edge of space will become the iconic space event for younger generations.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas from Portsmouth Point

'White Branches: Winter in South Parks, Oxford' by Oliver Stone

Some Christmas Reading:

Daniel Rollins explores the meaning of Christmas while Katherine Tobin investigates its true origins; Oli Price explains why Christmas is a bit weird; Jemima Carter argues that by hyping Christmas too early we set ourselves up for disappointment.

Patrick McGuiggan offers his Top 5 Christmas Covers while Dave Allen suggests the Christmas songs least likely to be covered.

Maisie Riddle shares her recipe for delicious Christmas gingerbread; Mary Mitchell offers you the mess-and-hassle-free gift of a virtual Christmas tree; Lizzie Howe presents the perfect Christmas murder mystery, 'The Case of the Stained Snowflake' and Nick Graham introduces his seasonal poem, Snow by the Seaside.

Tom McCarthy admires Caravaggio's desolate portrayal of Mary and Jesus as 'refugee mother and defenceless child'; and PGS pupils and staff offer some wonderful winter images: Winter Morning; Winter Landscape; Frosted Leaf and Lone Fruit as well as Oliver Stone's evocative 'White Branches' (above).

A very Merry Christmas to all of our readers from Portsmouth Point's editors and contributors.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Snow by the Seaside

Snow, sand and sea,
Such an unusual sight to see.

Snowmen towering high,
Like mountains rising up to the sky,
Looking out over the sea,
Their faces all smiles.

The beach huts,
Once all different colours,
Transformed by the snow,
Into small cottages - all white.

The snow covers everything,
Like a blanket of pure white,
It is crunchy and hard sometimes,
And other times soft and smooth.

Smudges of white fly through the air,
Missiles made of snow,
You must duck and dodge,
Otherwise… SPLODGE!

The normally golden sands glistening white,
Pebbles like glowing pearls,
Snow on roofs and branches,
Like icing sugar sieved onto a cake.

It is amazingly beautiful,
With everything smothered in white,
It is simply magical,
Like the mystic land in an ancient fairytale

Snow, sand and sea,
Such an unusual sight to see,
All in perfect harmony.

                                                                                                    Nick Graham

Photograph by Nick Graham

Doubt and Faith: Caravaggio's 'Adoration of the Shepherds'

by Tom McCarthy

The Italian Renaissance has given us its familiar icon of the Nativity of Christ.  Mary and Joseph kneel  in  radiant light before the Christ Child.  Shepherds approach bearing gifts, a lamb, a dove, a basket of eggs.  Above the stable in a blaze of supernatural light angels dance and sing.   From Hugo van der Goes, whose Adoration  caused a sensation when it arrived in Florence in 1485, to Ghirlandaio (1487), to Botticelli  (1500), to Correggio (1530), we see this  familiar iconography. Moreover, each of these great artists has a theological intent. 

With  van der  Goes, Mary and Joseph and eighteen  other figures, angelic and human, clad in courtly elegance, seem to contemplate the sadness of the future – the death of  Christ.  Ghirlandaio, who saw van der Goes as an inspiration, has the Infant lying in front of a Roman sarcophagus with a Latin motto:  “...the urn that conceals me will bring forth a god” – the resurrection of Christ.  Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity has twelve colourful angels dancing in the sky and a trinity of angels on the roof of the stable. Another angel is leading three kings to adore, another leads three shepherds; at the picture plane, three angels embrace three human beings, as devils disappear into crevices in the earth – the theology of salvation.  In  Correggio’s Adoration, sometimes called Holy Night , the light source is the Infant Christ, whose light irradiates his smiling mother and dazzles an attendant nurse – “lumen Christi”.

In the centre of each of these masterpieces there is the Infant Jesus, with Mary and Joseph devoutly kneeling. Angels attend – a handful in Correggio, fourteen in Ghirlandaio, a legion in Botticelli.  Each painting  underlines an article of  belief and appeals to the intellect, to reason.

With Caravaggio’s Adoration of the Shepherds, however, the traditional joyful topic of Christ’s Nativity takes on a sombre, sorrowful air. Giovanni Bellori, a contemporary and later biographer wrote of him: "The old painters, brought up in the tradition, were appalled... (There is) no decorum, no artistic sense. He painted all the figures in one and the same light and plane without any perspective”.
 It was painted in Messina between 1608-9 for the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli.   The first sign of its breaking with tradition is that, in this Church of the Angels, there are no angels, there is no heavenly light.   Then, mother and child are not the centre of the composition.  Instead in a wooden barn a donkey and ox stand patiently in the background.  Off-centre, Mary, small and frail, lies on the earth, slumped, exhausted.  The baby tugs at her face; she looks down and beyond him to stray straws glinting on the floor.  Roberto Longhi, a twentieth-century champion of Caravaggio, says of Adoration:

The Meaning of Christmas

by Daniel Rollins
A celebration of Christmas would be incomplete without some mention of the icon whose birthday the festival marks, Jesus Christ. He has influenced both religious and secular culture since his birth over 2,000 years ago. Even in our increasingly secular society, many children still know and perform the story of his birth in school nativity plays. Little girls long to be chosen to play Mary and boys usually want to either be God-honouring Joseph or wicked King Herod. The other children end up as innkeepers, wise men, angels, shepherds or sheep. The iconography of the birth of Jesus is almost as well-known as the icon of his death, the Cross. So let us examine a few of these icons.
Location, Location, Location
Luke’s gospel tells us that, while Mary was pregnant, there was a census requiring Mary and Joseph to go to his home town, Bethlehem, to be registered. While there, Mary gave birth to her first son, whom she called Jesus (Luke 2:1-7). So why did Joseph have to go to Bethlehem and why was Jesus born there? Biblically, there are two main reasons, first that Joseph was a descendant of the greatest King of Israel, David, who came from Bethlehem, which made Jesus a descendant of David; therefore, he could become King of Israel under Jewish law, essential to his role as Messiah within Jewish tradition. The other reason that Jesus was born in Bethlehem was to fulfil the Old Testament prophesy in Micah 5:2: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel...”

Therefore by saying that Jesus was born in Bethlehem the gospel writers begin to create a picture of who Jesus is: the successor to David, the great King for whom the Jews had been waiting.

Away in a Manger

One of the most iconic images of Jesus has to be the manger, the focal point of many carols, nativity sets and plays. The image of Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men and the shepherds all huddling around the Christ Child in the manger is very well known, but why did God send “his only Son” (John 3:16) to be born in an animal’s trough? This also has a biblical reason pointing to the nature and mission of Jesus; by being born into humble surroundings Jesus is presented as someone who came “not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28), living among ordinary people not living in a luxurious palace where you would expect to find a king.

Jesus being born into a dirty manger can also represent his step down from glory in heaven with his Father into the sinful, material world that he came to save, therefore showing us what he sacrificed in order to give mankind hope of salvation. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the story as it shows Jesus’ love for humanity in coming into a world where many people hated and eventually killed him.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Christmas Recipe: Gingerbread Biscuits

by Maisie Riddle

I chose this recipe to share with you because when I first made these biscuits they were delicious and I have never made any other gingerbread since. They are not too overpowering and are very tasty, especially for a Christmas morning!


75 g softened butter
50g caster sugar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g golden syrup
2 egg yolks
250g plain flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger


Heat oven to 180C/fan 160C/Gas 4.

Beat together the softened butter with the caster sugar until light and creamy.

Stir in bicarbonate of soda, golden syrup and the egg yolks until fully incorporated.

Sift in the plain flour, ground cinnamon and ground ginger then bring together with a wooden spoon.

Shape into two balls, knead until the dough comes together, then chill for 30 mins.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Why the World Will Not End on 21/12/12

Scientists at NASA have released a video explaining why, despite predictions of the Mayan Apocalypse, the world will not end today:


Why Christmas is a Bit Weird

by Oli Price

A Christmas jumper isn't just for Christmas

Before I start: this isn’t an attack on Christmas. I could never do that; it is my favourite time of the year. It’s just that I’ve been noticing that, as we get closer to the big day, everyone’s logical behaviour goes out of the window. And here I’m going to analyse it.
The Christmas tree: The Christmas tree came to Britain in the 1850s when Prince Albert introduced it to Victorian society; since then, it has become an essential part of the Christmas festivities. However, if you take a step back and look at the tradition of putting up and decorating the Christmas tree, you rapidly discover it is a bit strange. I mean, if at any other time of the year I were to bring a tree, predominantly an outside thing, inside the house, my parents would probably have me checked out by a doctor. However, once December hits, it’s not only acceptable to  bring trees into the house, but it is also perfectly normal to decorate your new living room foliage with lights and a small woman on top.
Christmas music: Do not mistake me, I really love Christmas music; however, there are some absolute shockers out there, for example Robbie Williams’ Christmas single, Walk this Sleigh, was so atrocious it probably increased the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses for that year. Furthermore, Chris Rea’s Driving Home for Christmas is a genuinely terrible song that wouldn’t get any air time if it didn’t have “Christmas” in the title; as such, every year this turd of a record is wheeled out and pumped through supermarket loudspeakers to my irritation.
The Christmas Jumper: On this matter, I’m going to make no apologies; I’ve never quite understood the appeal of the Christmas jumper. Furthermore, I had hoped that, like Christmas music, it would only have seasonal appeal, and that, once January hits, the Christmas jumper would go away for another year. However, sometimes this isn’t the case (see photograph above). Overall, these jumpers are incredibly naff and should only be allowed on Christmas day, if at all.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Photography Club: Winter Landscape

by Oliver Stone

Merton College: Oxford in the Snow.

The Curious Case of Fernando Torres

by Neil Chhabda

“Golden Bullet”. These were the exact words used by Phil McNulty to describe Fernando Torres after he single-handedly demolished Real Madrid in 2009. In 2010, he was described as “a player capable of reducing the best defenders in the world into rubble.” Fast forward two years and only a few people consider him to be decent, let alone world-class. After his record-breaking £50 million move from Liverpool to Chelsea, there have been very few highs and too many lows. So what went wrong? How could a player who was considered the best striker in the world suffer such a spectacular fall from grace? And is it possible for him to recapture that scintillating form again?
One of the reasons for his decline could be physical. Towards the end of his time with Liverpool, Torres suffered a serious injury and was rushed back to fitness without proper rehabilitation. As a result, he has lost about 15% - 20% of his pace and is no longer lightning fast. At the high level of football in the Premier League, this is a serious problem. He is still fairly quick, but much of his game was based around ability to beat just about every defender in a straight-line race. Furthermore, he still plays like he believes that he’s 23 and tries too often to beat a defender with speed, often losing the ball and winding up on the floor. If he is to recover his golden form, he must be more mature, accept he’s not as quick and work on other parts of his game, such as his anticipation and off-the-ball work. He’s not the first player to get older and he won’t be the last, but, like other world-class strikers such as Robin van Persie and compatriot David Villa, he needs to work on his movement, lose defenders and then put the ball into the back of the net.
Consistency has also been one of Torres’s biggest problems.  If you’re an avid read of this blog, you may recall that Fernando Torres was in Fergus Houghton-Connell’s worst team of the month for November, after some truly disappointing performances. In the first week of December, Torres scored 4 goals and was in BBC Sport’s team of the week. This sums up his time at Chelsea. He’s disappointing for long periods of a season, and then he suddenly bursts into life, giving fans a glimmer of hope. If he can maintain this form for long periods, such as his first 18 months at Liverpool, he should return to his old-self.
The biggest reason for his fall from grace is his mental state. If the Torres of old missed a chance, he would continue persisting and when an opportunity presented itself, even if it was only half a chance, he would score. He would do all of this in the same game. Nowadays, if Torres misses a chance his body language seriously deteriorates and he just looks a player completely devoid of confidence. If he gets into a scoring position, he looks to play a pass instead of putting the ball into the net. Instead of facing the goal and playing in the centre, he may go out into the wings, try too hard to get involved and end up being counter-productive. In all fairness, his confidence has improved and he does stay in the centre, but he remains a little too impatient and gets frustrated easily.

(source: Daily Telegraph)
In recent weeks, under Rafa Benitez, he has looked a completely different figure. His is still hesitant to shoot, but he no longer goes out to the wings, and always plays in the centre. If Benitez can bring back his confidence, there is a very good chance we will see some lethal finishing from Torres. He was one of the fastest players on the planet, but he was also one of the best finishers. He would come alive inside the box, and could score from just about everywhere, even the tightest angles. If he can get some of his truly excruciating misses out of his mind, and play with that confidence again, he will likely be one of the best strikers in the world.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

England in India: The Final Test

by Sampad Sengupta

Team England victorious in India
The last match in Nagpur ended in a draw, giving England their first Test series victory in India in 28 years. The series turned out to be a one-sided affair with England dominating all the matches barring the first one which India won. The drawn Test meant that England won the four match series 2-1.

On a slow, low pitch, the batsmen found in difficult to score freely. It was no paradise for the quick bowlers either as they had to bend their backs to extract some pace and bounce off the wicket.vIndia, playing with three spinners thought they might be able to tame the English batsmen who have been ruthless against the Indian bowlers throughout the series. They started well, taking a couple of early wickets, including the coveted scalp of England captain Alastair Cook, who has been in terrific form of late. The Poms however, bounced back with Kevin Pietersen and young Joe Root (making his debut) top-scored with 73 each, taking them to a score of 330.

The bowlers who turned the tide
As has been the trend throughout the series, the Indians started poorly, losing early wickets. Similar to the England innings, the middle-order restored some pride, with Kohli and Dhoni putting together a solid partnership. Kohli scored a century while skipper Dhoni fell one short of triple figures after being run-out by his English counterpart. They nearly managed to survive the entire day without losing a wicket, something which both teams have struggled to do this series. However, that was not meant to be, as England struck late in the day picking up 4 wickets.

Why We Love Frankenstein's "Monster"

by Lucy Cole

Johnny Lee Miller as Dr Frankenstein
and Benedict Cumberbatch as the Monster,
National Theatre production of Frankenstein, 2012

When we hear the name "Frankenstein", we all draw into our mind the generic image of the green monster, bolts protruding from his brain, that has been portrayed by the media ever since James Whale's Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein in the 1930s and repeated in numerous incarnations, including those of the Hammer House of Horror movies in the 1960s. But the original Frankenstein’s creature of Mary Shelley’s imagination (back in 1818) is far removed from this fumbling green being devoid of any kind of humanity. Whilst watching Kenneth Branagh’s interpretation of Shelley’s infamous novel, I was struck by the extent to which Frankenstein’s creature resembled a human child. I found myself, instead of feeling disgusted by the ugly, pieced-together monster before me, empathising with him and his endless suffering.

"Alone Bad, Friend Good . . ."

From his ‘birth’ the creature is rejected by those who should love him most; Dr. Frankenstein immediately abandons his role as father, abhorring his creation and ignoring its human qualities. Due to his differences, the creature is rejected from society and denied his humanity. Within her novel, Shelley seems to be commenting on the role of the external appearance of an individual in society’s acceptance of them, a topic still highly relevant in our society today. Although seemingly an abstract and unnatural concept, the creature seems to represent all those who are regarded as different, whether due to their appearance, their race, their religion or their mental capabilities, and are thus excluded by society’s in-group.

The creature crucified in Bride of Frankenstein
The Frankensteins of today may not be green or gigantic, but, like Shelley’s creature, they have been marked out as different from birth or childhood, and have consequently suffered for it for the remainder of their lives. They have sometimes been shunned or persecuted, such as the Jews in Germany and Eastern Euurope in World War II due to their race, or perhaps just prevented from engaging in the activities available for ‘normal’ people, as is often found with those with mental illness or learning disabilities. This separation from society, rather than reducing their suffering in fact appears to increase it, as it reinforces society’s belief that they are abnormal. It seems that despite Shelley’s highlighting of this problem, things have not changed from when she published the novel nearly two hundred years ago.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Photography Club: Winter Morning

by Jack Silver

“What the Dickens?”, “What the Dickens'?” or “What the Dickens's?” - a Devilish Dilemma!

by John Owens (OP 1953-63)

Librarian Jo Godfree graced the Charles Dickens bi-centenary issue of Portsmouth Point with a harsh – though in the end, and pace Simon Callow, just about conciliatory – piece about  Dickens's verbal bullying called 'I HATE CD'. Richard Ingrams, Editor of The Oldie, had earlier included in his January 2012 issue Raymond Briggs's tongue-in-cheek diatribe against the same 'great writer' on account of the 'apoplectic opulence' of his descriptions of the greengrocer's seasonal produce in A Christmas Carol:

'There were great, round pot-bellied baskets of chesnuts (sic), shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street … There were ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars; and winking from their shelves in wanton slyness at the girls as they went by …'

Rather than enter this debate, I refer the reader to my opening paragraph which contains the two genitives or possessive forms, “Dickens's” and “Briggs's”. Furthermore, allow me, as an Owens, to elect “Owens's” rather than “Owens'” as the preferred genitive form of my own name. Note too, in her fourth paragraph, Jo Godfree's airing of the variant “Dickens'” (that is, s-apostrophe rather than s-apostrophe-s) within five lines of the 'preferred' form “Dickens's” - preferred, that is, not just by me, who could be said to have a vested interest, but also by Professor Pointon in his fine essay (ibid.)on how myth becomes and stays history. 

As a revolting pedant I'm taking up the cudgels on behalf of the apostrophe – most abused and not the least significant of punctuation marks. I wouldn't, of course, place it in the same league as the paragraph in terms of the weight of meaning it might convey – nor, indeed, of the chapter break nor part opening, the big guns in the punctuation armoury. It doesn't, however, deserve the cavalier treatment meted out to it by writers of all types, shapes and sizes.

Matters came to a head in September as, en route from the Ardeche to Portsmouth, I used the Calais/Dover ferry crossing time to catch up on the said May issue of Portsmouth Point. Apostrophic abuse had been in my mind since I'd encountered in the Rhone Valley this astonishing piece of officialese:

Our French scribe lent 'water' the apostrophe saved in translation from “l'eau”, endowed 'bathing' with a double helping of '-ing' (in passinging, as it were) and gave us in “n't” an entirely new form of 'not', without which we have somehow muddled along for centuries (or century's as literary libertarian's might prefer to expres's it).

Next moment, looking up from the page, I saw a notice from ferry operator DFDS, kindly informing me about drivers' habits in their ships:

Monday, 17 December 2012

Review: The Hobbit --- An Unexpected Journey

by Ollie Velasco

Bilbo and the dwarves
(image source: Guardian)
Almost 10 years after the last film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was released, and set 60 years before the events in that saga, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey marks the first of three films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s bedtime story.
The 10-year-old son of the publisher of the original book described The Hobbit as ‘good and should appeal to all children between the ages of 5 and 9’. Though, when published, the book greatly appealed to adults and children alike, it is clear that An Unexpected Journey is much lighter than the Lord of the Rings films. In general it is funnier and sillier but still successfully retains some darker Middle Earth elements – such as Warg-riding Orc attacks and the threat of a mysterious evil power. The Middle Earth we see in An Unexpected Journey is also much better looking than in the Rings trilogy. It is greener and brighter with New Zealand’s beautiful landscape being shown off well by the second unit director, Andy Serkis (who also continues his role as Sméagol/Gollum), which reminds us that The Hobbit is set in a time of peace, where little Bilbo Baggins has barely a care in the world – that is, of course, until Gandalf turns up and the adventure begins.
The special effects are spectacular with some huge set pieces and there is an immaculate and almost unreal level of detail. Director Peter Jackson and his team chose to shoot the film controversially at 48 frames per second, twice the norm, and whilst some have claimed that this gives the film a plastic look, with others claiming that it hurt their eyes, the filmmakers say it will reduce motion blur and create a more immersive experience. Unfortunately, my local cinema wasn’t screening the film at this higher frame rate and therefore I watched the film at the standard 24 frames per second, but I would be intrigued to know what actual difference the higher frame rate would make, as I struggle to see how the film could become any more immersive.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Andy Serkis as Gollum
The high point of the film is undoubtedly the scene in which Bilbo and Gollum exchange riddles in an underground cave. Martin Freeman proves that there’s a lot more to him than just Watson from the Sherlock series or Tim from The Office, and is a perfect fit for the protagonist – we see a large change in his character that shapes all 169 minutes of the film. Andy Serkis is also exceptional as Gollum (though no one expected any less of him after the Rings trilogy) and confirms himself as the master of motion capture acting.
I fear that a common mistake among people criticising The Hobbit will be to compare it to The Lord of the Rings.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Hackers: My Last Duchess

Tom Harper presents his own take on one of Robert Browning's finest.

I stand on solid dirt, carefully
Crafted and Compiled beneath the shadow of the church. And you will say
‘O Noble Duke, the meadow past the fence is calling, fresh and vast’
But watch the light caress its skin.
It gently nurtures foolish kin.
No –
First the sun must set before my eyes
Before I attend the business of my mistress
Beneath the moon’s accusing glare.
Forgotten will my lady lie.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

'Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree'

by Mary Mitchell

I absolutely love having a real Christmas tree in my home.

Oh! Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches.

That is, for the first five minutes! Then I argue with my husband about where it should go, soon afterwards it starts to shed its needles and, of course, the baubles drop off.

For those of you who feel the same way, here is the gift of a virtual Christmas tree.


"Oh Tannenbaum" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio: 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Late, Great Patrick Moore

by Jeremy Thomas

Patrick Moore, at his home in Selsey, West Sussex
(source: Guardian)
Imagine a large auditorium in Central London, crowded with several hundred teenagers, eagerly awaiting the appearance on stage of one of their idols. Rapturous applause breaks out, cat-calling and foot stamping as the entire young audience rise to their feet and cheer wildly. Shambling onto the stage appears a large man, in a dark blue suit, an RAF Association tie, a shock of wild, grey hair and an instantly recognisable, trademark monocle. Surely there has been some mistake? This is no singer or TV pseudo-star, but a 70-something year old man, famous only for hosting a late-night, geeky TV show, on astronomy, and for playing the xylophone!

Unbelievable as it may seem, I actually experienced this phenomenon in 1997, when escorting a party of sixth form pupils to an A-level Physics conference at Westminster Hall. The sight of so many teenagers paying spontaneous tribute to Sir Patrick Moore was very touching and began to reassure me that my move into teaching, from research, might, after all, be worthwhile!

Patrick Moore (centre) with NASA astronauts
Piers Sellers (left) and Ken Ham (right), Portsmouth, 2010
(source:  BBC)
Sir Patrick proceeded to give an inspiring lecture on his belief that humans would inhabit Mars within 50 years, illustrated with a totally random collection of 35mm slides. The randomness of the presentation added to its charm, Sir Patrick merely ignoring the order of the pictures and talking intelligently and relevantly about whatever appeared on the screen when he advanced the projector!

The next time I encountered Sir Patrick was in a rather more personal fashion, when I was able to sit with him on board HMS Warrior, during the Gala Dinner hosted by PGS for the NASA Astronaut crew of Space Shuttle STS-132. Sir Patrick was rather less mobile by this time, but still held interesting conversations with those around him, insisting on screwing his monocle into his eye for any photographs! Captain Ken Ham, commander of the STS-132 mission, was visibly moved to meet Sir Patrick, knowing the part he had played in mapping the Moon for NASA prior to the Apollo missions.

England in India:Third Test

by Sampad Sengupta

After suffering defeat in the first Test, the England team have bounced back in style to register emphatic victories back to back against India, the latest being in the third Test match at Eden Gardens in Kolkata a few days ago. A brilliant team performance from England backed up by some very lacklustre cricket from India meant that England won by seven wickets on the final day, taking a 2-1 lead in the series.

There were a few changes to the sides as England brought in pace bowler Steven Finn to add some venom to their attack while Ian Bell returned to the middle-order. India brought in Ishant Sharma at the expense of Harbhajan Singh to restore some balance to a bowling attack which seemed out of sorts in the previous Test. Batting first, India struggled yet again, managing to put up only 316 runs which seemed inadequate on a pitch like this. There were not many substantial contributions throughout the innings as the England bowlers, led by Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar, dominated the play despite there being some signs of an Indian fight-back. England came out to bat, high on confidence, which was evident as they piled on the runs and took the lead. Once again leading the from the front was captain Alastair Cook, who scored his 23rd Test century (the most by any English batsman in Test cricket, overtaking the legendary Wally Hammond (OP)). He has now scored centuries in five consecutive Tests, creating a new world record.

If Indian supporters thought that their first innings performance was poor, they were in for more of the same in the second innings as they got bundled out for a meagre 247 which left England needing only 41 runs to secure a win. Nearly everything went wrong for India as all of their star batsmen failed to make any significant impact. If it weren’t for a fighting 91* from off-spinner Ashwin, they would have suffered an embarrassing innings defeat. England started off a bit shakily, losing 3 wickets for only 8 runs. Ian Bell then came in and steadied the ship, guiding them home safely.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Revolutionary Icon

With the publication of the new "Icon" issue of Portsmouth Point magazine, Daniel Rollins explores the revolutionary impact of the computer icon.

Mesopotamian writing,
c. 3,000 BC
Very few icons really revolutionise the world. While celebrities can influence culture and ideas motivate people, their effect is only minor and often do not really change much in reality. When something completely changes the way people work and communicate, when people interact with it naturally and when it gives thousands of people access to education, it can truly be called iconic.
Writing, invented approximately 5,000 years ago, is one such icon, letting people record and preserve their communication. Following on around 4,500 years later, the printing press allowed this communication to be distributed more widely. In the late twentieth century another revolutionary icon appeared: the computer icon.

The iconic Macintosh, 1984
(image source: 

The computer icon, as part of a computer’s Graphical User Interface (GUI) freed the computer from offices and houses of individuals who had learnt to program and use command prompt systems allowing it to become the everyday object it is today.  While personal and home computers began to grow in popularity during the early 1980s, they were still difficult to use and had to be controlled by a keyboard by typing in complex commands. The first commercially successful computer with icons and windows was the professionally aimed Apple Lisa, released in 1983; a year later the iconic Macintosh was released and sold 70,000 units in 6 months, bringing the GUI into the home. Bill Gates’ Microsoft soon followed Apple by releasing Windows, now the most popular Operating System in the world.
'One Laptop Per Child' Project (see below)
While the GUI has also allowed visual media such as picture and video to be viewed and manipulated by computers, something we now take for granted when using social media and photo-sharing sites such as Facebook and Flickr, it is not its greatest achievement. One of the reasons computers are what they are today is that they are easy to use and basic operations such as word processing and accessing the web and email can be done with very little instruction. This has allowed people from all demographics to make use of the advantages a computer brings; from the age of 2 or 3, children begin to use computers and older people are now starting to use computers for communication and leisure. This is possible because of the GUI’s intuitive feel; clicking on icons and windows on a screen is more natural than typing in complex commands.

Is Lack of Sleep a Problem for PGS Pupils?

by Hattie Gould and Annie Materna

(image source:
Sleep deprivation is a continual problem for teenagers and can be the cause of many stereotypical teenage characteristics, such as mood swings and… late homework. At PGS, getting a good education is the top priority; however, it is understandable that many pupils do extra-curricular activities such as sport (training sessions, matches, early morning fitness),  music (exam grades, orchestra, concerts) and drama. All of these take up a lot of time. For example, if you are involved in drama you may have recently been involved in The Producers; this would have taken up a lot of time with rehearsals in the evenings and when it came to production as the play finished late every night. Luckily, everyone who was involved in the production was kindly allowed to miss the first two periods of the day to catch up on some much needed sleep. What can be taken from this is that the school cares about how much sleep we get; this is because sleep is the key to our concentration, energy levels and our health and wellbeing.
Recently, a survey was carried out on fifty students at PGS to find out how many hours of sleep the PGS community is getting. The findings concluded that 42% of students at PGS do not get enough sleep! There are many reasons why people may not be sleeping properly; it may not be very serious and could just be something playing on your mind, a problem or something that you are anxious about, such as an essay or a school project, even a test or exam the next day. Maybe you are not getting enough sleep because you wanted to stay up that hour later to watch that programme you really like… Either way, we should plan ahead what time, roughly, we should get too sleep each night. This is because for our mind and body to work effectively we must have between 8 and 12 hours sleep per night. This is not the case at PGS: 47% of students receive eight hours of sleep per night, with only 11% of students sleeping more than eight hours. It was astonishing to find out that the maximum hours of sleep obtained by a PGS pupil was ten hours. This simply is not enough, for young growing adolescents.
'The Scream' by Edvard Munch
What happens if we do not receive enough sleep? Lack of sleep has a serious effect on the way that our brain functions; after just one night without sleep we feel grumpy, irritable and forgetful, it is also found that keeping your concentration is more difficult and your attention span decreases. If this lack of sleep continues over a few nights, then the part of your brain which controls ‘language, memory, planning and sense of time is severely affected’. In fact, ’17 hours of sustained wakefulness leads to a decrease in performance equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.05% (two glasses of wine). Which is the legal drink driving limit’. It is also known that if you are suffering from a lack of sleep then you may suffer from a difficulty of responding to quickly changing situations and making rational judgements. This may cause a problem for when you are driving; you may not be fully concentrated on the road ahead due to your tiredness which could result in a serious incident….

Monday, 10 December 2012

Premier League: Teams of the Month

by Fergus Houghton-Connell

November has seen a few surprises in the Premier League, including Arsenal coming from behind to smash Spurs and Norwich stunning Manchester United at Carrow Road. This month has had all that you could ask for (if you aren’t an Arsenal fan, that is).

Best Team of the Month

Michu - bargain at only £2 million

Goalkeeper – West Bromwich Albion – Boaz Myhill – West Brom have had a storming month, bumping themselves up to fourth in the league and I think that Myhill has been pivotal for them. Against Chelsea, especially, he was fantastic and thoroughly deserves his place here.

Left Back – Everton – Leighton Baines – Another fantastic player here. His vision, positioning and his storming runs down the wing have been particularly excellent. If only his strikers could finish, Everton would probably be in the top four now.

Centre Back – Manchester City – Vincent KompanyMan City conceded only one goal in all of November, a great achievement, and Kompany has kept his defence in order and has been impeccable.

Centre Back – Norwich City – Sebastien BassongNorwich have been unbeaten all month. A statistic that is made all the more impressive by the fact that they beat Man United too. Bassong has been at the heart of the Norwich defensive, which has been pivotal for Norwich.

Right Back – Manchester City – Pablo Zabaleta – He has been vital for City’s defence, as well as their attack with his runs down the right wing being especially effective for City, as he sends in cross after cross for the attack.

Left Midfield – Tottenham – Gareth Bale – Even when Spurs have played badly, Bale somehow manages to have a good game, as shown against Arsenal. His pace and skill are unreal and Spurs would be nothing without him.

Centre Midfield – Everton – Marouane Fellaini – He is Everton’s key player at the moment. If he performs, Everton perform. But Everton are putting too much pressure on him to score and that’s why they have been drawing so often.

Centre Midfield – West Bromwich Albion – James Morrison – His attacking presence has been key to West Brom’s success this month, as he played in Long and Odemwingie time and time again.

Right Midfield – Norwich City – Robert Snodgrass – Another player who has great pace down the right wing to play in Grant Holt time after time and he has been key to Norwich’s success.

Centre Forward – Swansea – Michu – Michael Laudrup, the Swansea manager, took a risk by playing him upfront, but it payed off magnificently, scoring twice against Arsenal. For £2 million, he seems like the buy of the season. 
Centre Forward – Tottenham – Jermain Defoe – He has had plenty of playing time and it has done him good, scoring a great double against West Ham and bumping Spurs up to fourth in the league.

Worst Team of the Month

There have, on the other hand, been some true defensive blunders, with both Aston Villa and Tottenham conceding five goals and some strikers scoring no goals all month.

Torres – far from his peak