Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Short Story: Mirror

by George Andrews

I woke. Startled. Sunlight flooding in through the window, stabbing into my eyes like shards of glass.
“You’re late.” My sister.
“For what?” I mumbled, in a more irritated tone than was probably necessary. I saw her scowl through my smudged vision.
“School, retard. Get up.”
“Go away.”
“Make me.” I pulled the duvet up over my head and shot a few distorted curses out towards her. I heard light footsteps leaving my room, and got up a few minutes later. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of doing what she said, when she said it. I opened my eyes as wide as possible in an attempt to adjust them to the light. My sister was stood in the doorway, arms folded.

“I’m seriously bored of you,” she said with a disapproving tone, and walked off. I heard the front door open, then close again. Quickly, I moved towards the stairs, in something that was more of a skip than I would like to admit, and checked she wasn’t pulling the same trick again. No, of course not. She wouldn’t miss a single second of school. I sighed as I retreated back into my room. Rolling back on my bed, darkness began tugging at the corners of my mind, dragging me back into the dark abyss of twisted nightmares.

I heard the rattle of keys in the front door. My eyes darted to the digital clock beside my bed, no time for adjustment. 15:58.
“Oh sh-“
“What is wrong with you?” My sister stampeded into my room, slightly less light-footed this time. “You can’t just decide when to go to school. It’s a tiny bit compulsory. You’re not messing up your life.”
“I don’t really care any more.” This wasn’t true, it was just to serve the purpose of annoying her as much as possible.
“Well I do, so stop being selfish and deal with it.”
“You love this, don’t you?” I smirked slightly
“What?” She was too obviously taken aback. She knew what was coming.
“You know what.”
“Enlighten me.” Her voice shook a little as she said it. It didn’t come out as confidently as she intended, rather blatantly trying to keep up a hard exterior. She was only ever good at being on the verbal offensive.
“Having the authority. Control.”
“That’s a complete lie! What about Mum?” We had now reached shouting level
“What about Dad? They’re both dead.”
“How can you say that? Mum’s still-“
“When was the last time you saw her?” Silence. I could see tears forming in her eyes. She stared at me, blankly. Although the tears were now creeping down her face, her features held no visible trace of emotion. Wordlessly, I left the room, never losing eye contact. I slammed the door behind me, and didn’t hear her move. I don’t know how long I sat slumped against the door frame. I usually felt some satisfaction after getting the last word in after an argument, but I felt nothing now. I grabbed my keys, scratching into the soft wood of the cabinet they were on and strode to the front door. I held it for a second, weighing up my options, then found myself outside the gate, and running down the road.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Isles of Wonder

by George Neame

The five rings join to form the Olympic symbol
(source: Daily Mail)
There is no doubt that designing, directing and producing the ‘greatest show on Earth’ must have been an arduous task, but, finally, on Friday 27th July, Danny Boyle and co sat down to watch their creation come to life before the world’s eyes. With £27 million at his disposal, Boyle (British director of blockbusters such as Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting and 127 Hours) had stated he did not intend to match the jaw-dropping spectacle of Beijing’s ceremony four years ago (which, by the way, had a staggering budget of £100 million), but, instead, wanted to return the Games to the people and celebrate ‘something unique about this country’. With this in mind, 25 minutes before the show was scheduled to start, Boyle addressed the audience to thank the thousands of volunteers who had helped the ceremony come together, claiming ‘this is their show’. And it certainly was.

‘Isles of Wonder’ was the name of the show itself, and, although there was little wondrous about the rolling rural set that covered the floor of the Olympic Stadium prior to the countdown, there was definitely something magical and spectacularly British about it. A variety of live animals, from sheep to geese, were herded around the makeshift fields, and cricket was played by men and boys in outfits that were intended to celebrate the success of British costumed drama. It was slightly unfortunate (but exciting nonetheless) to have to watch the livestock be cleared in time for the ceremony to start and, at 8.59, the screens turned to a huge countdown, following numbers across London, such as speed limit signs, street markings and No.10 Downing Street. Then the show began.

A short film flies the audience from the source of the Thames right to the Olympic Park itself, before Bradley Wiggins, who recently became Britain’s first Tour de France winner, steps into the spotlight to ring Europe’s largest bell. At this signal, a young boy begins to sing Jerusalem, joined by choirs from Scotland, Wales and Ireland with other traditional hymns and songs. Whilst the volunteers below continue to enjoy the pastoral setting, Kenneth Branagh alights from a horse-drawn carriage, posing as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and climbs ‘Glastonbury Tor’ at the far end of the stadium. ‘Be not afeared,’ he proclaims, ‘The isle is full of noises’. Such a speech from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest is fitting and resounds throughout the rest of the ceremony, as it seems the directors aimed to ensure the ceremony highlighted that Britain is full of noises and much, much more.

Fireworks over the Olympic stadium
(source: scallywagandvagabond.com)
Beginning slowly, the rumble of drums is heard, led by deaf percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, building up to a loud shout as 2,000 volunteers emerge from around the stadium, tearing up the rural landscaping as they swarm the ground. This is, of course, the Industrial Revolution. Enormous chimneys rise from the ground and a cacophony of noise fills the air, in order to imitate the pandemonium of the time (“pandemonium” a term coined by John Milton to describe Hell in his epic poem, Paradise Lost). In the midst of all this, though, there is a moment of abrupt stillness, a pause to remember those who lost their lives in the two world wars. Then the stadium is filled with a variety of cultural and historical references, from men in bright Sergeant Pepper-style suits to a replica of the Windrush, the ship which brought the first West Indian immigrants to Britain after World War II. To the backdrop of chanting, drumming and dancing in unison, which could easily be mistaken for some religious ritual, four golden rings swing into the centre of the stadium, a fifth being raised from the sea of people below. As all five connect, a shower of fireworks rains to the ground, before the smoke clears and the men and women beneath stare up at the internationally-recognised symbol of the Olympic rings hovering in the air above them.

The Queen’s entrance is a grand one, one which will undoubtedly go down in history.  

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Leonardo 2012: Leafing Through Childhood

Katie Green won the Year 7 Leonardo Prize on Wednesday, 27thJune, for her poem, Leafing Through Childhood

A tree.
Branches make up that tree.
Leaves cling to those branches.
A man.
Special moments make him what he is.
In those moments, key seconds, determining their effect.

Engraved in the branches of that man
Are the moments that decide who he is.

Stored in one, his first romance.
Age fourteen, they bump in the corridor.
Blue eyes, blonde hair,
She enchants him.
Their first kiss,

On another, his first exam.
The leaves tell of him entering
Anxiously glancing around.
The clock ticks and he hurries to finish.
The results come back.
He failed, teaching him to work for what he wants.

His first day of senior school,
Whisper the leaves.
He huddled into his books,
And started to cry,
Lost in an endless sea of bodies.

The leaves, the branches, tell of the tree.
And we listen, hoping to gain insight, into what’s
Behind the rough bark.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Can We Pull it Off?

This article by Jasper Oswin was originally published in Portsmouth Point magazine's Olympics edition.

The conversation often starts with the confident opinion that ‘No one can carry this off like the British. Look at the Royal Wedding!’ However, it usually concludes with an angst-ridden “Can we pull it off?’ We are torn between imperialistic hubris and post-imperialistic self-doubt. I love this quintessentially British fusion of optimism and pessimism, our attempt to prejudge our capability to deliver a problem-free twenty-nine days of Olympic and Paralympics Games. Hanging over the nation is the intimidating precedent set by China at the Beijing Olympics of 2008, raising global expectations to an extraordinary level, not least with their spectacular opening and closing ceremonies. Indeed, there is currently much controversy about the extra forty-one million pounds-worth of funding that the British government has found for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics at a time of austerity and cutbacks elsewhere.

The path to achieving this dream of an iconic, problem free, London event began in a smooth vein. The site for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park was selected and Great Britain’s hosting was off and running at the sound of the starter’s pistol.

The world watched, eagle- eyed, waiting for Britain’s first slipup. However, contrary to expectations, Sebastian Coe and his Olympics team seemed to be managing everything with exemplary skill and focus. It seemed that there would be no big mistakes, everything would be managed smoothly.

The only problem that no one had anticipated was: Britain itself. Following a peaceful protest in Tottenham, on the 6th August 2011, following the  fatal shooting of a local man, Mark Duggan,  scuffles between protesters and police swiftly developed into severe disturbances throughout London, including rioting, 
looting and arson. These outbreaks spread to other cities in England over several days; at times, it 
seemed that the British police had lost control of extensive sections of some of Britain’s largest cities (and the sites of major Olympics events in 2012): London, Birmingham and Manchester. A shocked world was watching and a question arose as to whether the London 2012 Olympics would be safe to visit. A concerned Olympic Committee suddenly had to spring into crisis management mode, trying to convince millions of people internationally not only that order had been restored but that it would remain that way for the forthcoming Olympic event. The rioting had raised serious questions as to the capacity of London’s Metropolitan Police and the police forces of other British cities to secure Britain’s streets for the 2012 Olympics. The after-shock of these violent crimes had echoed around the world, even causing a number of people overseas (and in Britain) to sell their Olympic tickets rather than risk a visit to the United Kingdom next summer. 

From the Archives: How Britain Re-Invented the Olympics

Olympic mascot, Wenlock,
named in honour of Much
Wenlock's "Olympian Games"
(source: wenlock-mandeville.com)
 Peter Galliver explains how the modern Olympic Games might never have taken place had it not been for Britain.

 Arguably, the Olympics have been a feature of English sporting life since the seventeenth century. Robert Dover, a lawyer, some time between 1601 and 1612,  organised games in Chipping Camden, Gloucestershire . . . claiming that his games drew on the example of the sports of the much- admired Ancient Greeks and stressing their role in promoting social harmony, reinforced with an element of military training. In a collection of poems published in 1636, the games are referred to as “Olympicks.” These games, held on the Thursday and Friday of Whitsun week, included running, jumping, horse-racing, hare-coursing, various forms of combat and dancing. Later on, shin-kicking was added to the repertoire.

 . . . In October 1850, Much Wenlock’s first “Olympian Games” were held on the local racecourse. The core activities included athletic contests, foot races of various distances, jumping and throwing events. Alongside these, however, were also football and cricket matches and games of quoits. These early games also featured novelty events such as wheelbarrow races and a race for old women, with the prize being a pound of tea . . .

Read Dr Galliver's complete account of how Britain re-invented the Olympics .

Thursday, 26 July 2012

How The Olympics Began

Head of Modern Languages and Classics, Benedict Lister, explains the origins of the Olympic Games (this article first appeared in Portsmouth Point magazine).

Herakles diverts the river (from
Temple of Zeus, Olympia)
Long, long ago, Herakles (Hercules to his Disney friends) had a serious dung issue. A thousand cattle had been doing what cows do for thirty years in the stables of Aegeus and Herakles had to give the cowsheds a spring clean. Instead of shovelling his way through the fetid faeces, he simply diverted the streams of the two local rivers, washed away the mountain of manure and the job was done. With time on his hands, he organized some athletic competitions in honour of his dad, next to a low hill between the two rivers. His dad was Olympian Zeus and the Olympic Games were born.

Pelops' chariot -- note its flimsiness
(designed for speed, not safety)
This combination of determination, deviousness and glory (rather symbolic of the ancient Olympics to my mind) is reinforced by the other legend related to the beginnings of the games, the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos.  Pelops wanted to marry the local king’s daughter but any suitor had to beat the king in a chariot-race to secure the marriage. The price of defeat was death and many young heads were already nailed to the battlements by the time Pelops arrived. The only way he could win was by bribing a servant to sabotage the chariot. Oinomaos’ chariot duly collapsed during the race and he was flung to his death. Pelops had won his bride and was honoured at Olympia as a hero ever afterwards. It was Pelops, according to legend, who held the first chariot-racing competition at Olympia.

The Olympic Games were celebrated every four years between mid-August and mid-September (very hot, but a quiet time of year for farmers). The earliest recorded Olympics were held in 776BC. They became, as the Olympics are today, the most prestigious sporting event in the known world in which athletes, mostly professional, travelled from all over the Mediterranean to Olympia for the glory and prestige which victory in the five-day event would bring. But although victory brought nothing more than an olive wreath and a few woollen ribbons tied round the arms and legs, on his return to his native city the victorious athlete would be richly rewarded. He could expect sponsorship and might be paid simply for participating in lesser events in addition to the large cash prizes for victory. Just as today, victory at the Olympics brought enormous material benefits as well as fame to the individuals concerned.

Winner presented with a red woollen ribbon
(note the Olympics official carries a stick)
The stakes were therefore very high. There were no second prizes. It was victory or nothing (if there was a tie, no prize was given), and cheating remained a perennial problem. Numerous measures were introduced to keep things fair. Ten special officials were chosen by lot to supervise the athletes before and during the competition. In the month before the Olympics the athletes had to stay in a local town and train under the supervision of these officials (although they could bring a family member or professional trainer). As today, special diets went in and out of fashion to help optimize performance and an experienced doctor was on hand to offer advice. Athletes considered unfit were not allowed to compete. The officials carried sticks and could and would publically whip competitors or trainers who broke the rules (a punishment normally reserved for slaves). Heavy fines could be imposed, especially for bribery, and the money from such fines was used to pay for bronze statues of Zeus.

So much for the dirt; what about the glory?

Paris – A View from the Other Side

By Melissa Smith

I recently returned from a ten-day stay in Paris (well, just outside) with my French friend Marie and family. I left home eager to explore the city I’d only seen before in romantic comedies and painted on Impressionist canvases. With guidebook in hand, I was ready to see and do the things that those visiting Paris usually see and do. How it is that, ten days later, I left not having visited the Arc de Triomphe, seen the Mona Lisa in the Louvre or even been up the Eiffel Tower seems strange.

The truth is a Lonely Planet or Time Out can only show you so much of a city. They can show you the places to be, the things to do and the people to see, but only someone who knows these things like the cereal aisle in Tesco can show you what you’re missing out on.

I stepped out onto the Metro platform on my first day there, only half understanding what we were going to be doing (as is the nature of these things) and followed the family along the cobbled streets of the Marais quarter, past the countless Jewish bakeries and fripe (vintage) shops.

After meandering the busy maze, we ended up a fair distance away from where we started at the Marché d’Aligre. We attempted to stroll through, a difficult task in itself what with the sea of regular market goers with their wicker baskets brimming with the fresh fruit and vegetables lining our path. We pushed past the outstretched arms of the stall owners – “Goutez! Goutez!” - and emerged amongst the tiny epiceries and shrunken cafes of the other side.

After this, we wandered through the park where Marie’s brother and sister learned to walk. It’s amazing how an area peppered with real memories and experiences, even if not your own, can change the way you perceive it. To an ‘I Heart Paris’ t-shirt-bearing school trip, it was just a fenced-in area of grass with a few benches and a couple of dodgy slides, but, as I watched the two siblings smiling warmly at the place that holds the memories of their childhood, it became more than that.

A quick falafel lunch break later and we were back on our feet. This time we headed towards a more popular area, picking up some tea in Paris’s first tearoom Mariage Frères, some ‘Bensimon’ shoes (apparently the shoe of the moment for the jeunes of Paris) and a Berthillion ice cream on the Isle de Louis, which we ate on the sunny banks of the Seine. I admit that last thing wasn’t exactly original, but you can’t go wrong with a quickly melting ice cream in good company. I felt very much like I was in Paris at least.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Oli Price's Holiday Blog

by Oli Price

Hotel Gavilanas, Menorca
When I agreed to do this holiday blog, I expected to have a wealth of material that would end up as a hilariously written article about my family’s disastrous holiday, as is usually the case. However this year everything was going swimmingly: we arrived in the right country, with the right number of bags and the right number of family members --- a new personal best. To top it, we were at a lovely hotel off the coast of Menorca and the hot sun reacquainted me with my shadow, which I hadn’t seen for about six months. Lovely. So far, this may not make nice reading for anyone stuck in England, but fear not --- in typical fashion, the holiday did take a turn for the weird.

It started with a “relaxing” (yet mandatory) meeting with our tour rep, Danny, who proved to be the most gormless man in existence. For someone who supposedly had knowledge of this place, he did a poor job in sharing it; his telling us Ferreries was a “fun” and “vibrant” town left me looking for his lobotomy scars. For many of you who are not as intimate with the history of Ferreries as I am now, it is a small, boring town with about three shops and a church that Jesus’ friend’s brother went to once. This town was so bad that, for some reason, we decided that we must have come at the wrong point in the day or something. We went back four times: Ferreries is a dead town.

One of the hot-spots of Ferreries, Menorca
The guide book's “hot-spots” for Ferreries were the church and “un gran jardín” --- a rather large garden owned by one of the town’s residents; it’s a nice garden but not worth a second or third visit. After this tedious ordeal, I decided a nice read by the pool was what I needed. Unfortunately, I was reading Keith Richard’s autobiography which just made my own day seem even more mundane.

For the rest of the week, I tried to compensate for the action-less beginning, so I thought I would give scuba diving a go. I had envisioned a scene from a Bond movie, with me just strolling down the beach with a gas canister and a harpoon gun. The reality was very different. We had to sit just at the edge of the water whilst the various hand signals were explained; this wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been in a black wet suit in 40°C heat. However, at least I was the source of amusement for a German couple who took photos of me sweltering in what I can only describe to you as a black full-body aqua-gimp suit. They were calling me “Schweinefleisch Junge” which roughly translates to “Pork Boy.” 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Why The Dark Knight Rises Was Amazing. And Why This Means the Sequel is Doomed

by Charlie Albuery
First a warning: I am about to spoil The Dark Knight Rises for you. If you have not yet seen it, GO AWAY! Go watch the film, then come back and let me pick apart the plot twist that will ruin Batman continuity for years to come.

Marion Cotillard as Talia Al Ghul
(source: youbentmywookie.com)

I should point out that I loved The Dark Knight Rises, in my opinion one of the best blockbuster films ever created, and quite possibly my favourite film ever, but I AM about to argue that director Christopher Nolan has now ruined Batman forever (a little pun there).
Christopher  Nolan is an amazing director, but he was the director we needed, not the director we deserved (I’m not even sure what my point is there, I just really wanted to say that (a Dark Knight reference btw)), and he'll make some really brilliant films, but no more of them will feature Batman, which means that, in all likelihood, the Batman sequel will not be of the same calibre, and, above all this, Nolan has ruined the film Batman’s continuity for years to come.
Allow me to use a simple metaphor. Nolan is the equivalent of a magician who decides he will really surprise and amaze his audience by pulling a rabbit out of his hat (the rabbit is Rhas Al Ghul’s daughter and the hat is the film --- you still with me on this?). Unfortunately, the fallout of his trick is that he now owns a rabbit and he has to live with the rabbit (the awkward-but-cool plot-twist) and its waste (the rabbit’s waste is the fallout of the plot-twist, i.e. that Batman now has a son on the way (more on that later)), but, not wanting to be lumbered with the rabbit, he immediately quits his magic show and allows his assistant to take over the show (the assistant is the new Batman director and the show is the series of Batman films). The assistant is then forced to try to resolve the rabbit issue and create a good new show (i.e. film) with the rabbit (but this is exceptionally difficult) or he can throw the rabbit away (someone call the RSPCA!) and try to create a new show without it.
I’m like 80% sure that made sense. Anyway I will now briefly explain why the new director will seriously struggle to continue the Batman films in their current continuity and will instead have to ret-con (“ret-con”: comic-nerd-speak for ‘pretend it never happened’) The Dark Knight trilogy.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Amy Winehouse: A Tribute

by Gregory Walton-Green

Dedicated fans paying Amy their last respects
(source: theepochtimes.com)
On the 23rd July last year, British music lost one of its most enigmatic modern singers. Amy Winehouse was found dead of a drug overdose in her London flat. We all saw the images of devoted fans crowding to the scene, the flowers, the crying masses, and read the stories of her friends, family and the journalists, who all took sides, who had ‘seen it coming’ and felt that ‘she led to her own demise’ or who sympathised with a ‘confused girl’ who had ‘lost her way’.

(source: lucire.com)

Amy Winehouse was not a prolific songwriter. Her first album, Frank, was largely ignored, but her second, Back to Black, was widely acclaimed (see videos below). After that, she wrote only a handful more songs. Her drug habit spiralled out of control with the limitless resources of money she now had available. She degraded slowly, changing from a chirpy, friendly girl to a recluse, who hated the media, hated the public, hated her life. She could no longer visit her favourite haunts, like her local Cambden pub, where she used to sing jazz-style music for fun, for she would be recognised and hounded by the press. As her mental condition worsened, her hair seemed to grow ever taller, her tattoos more numerous, her make-up and clothes more outrageous. With Amy no longer on form, demand for Winehouse-like songs increased exponentially, with a host of sound-alikes, none possessing her unique vocal tones. It seemed that almost every new British female artist was being compared to her, leading Adele to exclaim in annoyance: ‘We’re a gender, not a genre!’

When only a child, Amy realised she wanted to sing professionally, and convinced her parents to send her to a performing arts school. She even set up a female vocal duo, ‘Sweet n Sour’ with a classmate. She hated the record company she signed up with, swearing profusely about them and claiming they only cared about making money.

When Amy died, people were of very mixed opinions, many making light of the situation or saying it was less important than the massacre of the children in Norway that took place the day before. Recently, Mike Winehouse, the singer’s father published a book, Amy: My Daughter. Hopefully reading it may help remove some of the callousness of many people towards Amy’s problems and help them realise she was a gifted individual, who impressed millions with her amazing vocal skill, and perhaps it will help heal those who knew her well, now that the immediate shock and pain of her passing has ebbed.

How should we remember Amy?

Batman Through The Ages

by Charlie Albuery

(source: bat-blog.com)

‘Eight years after Batman took the fall for Two Face's crimes, a new terrorist leader, Bane, overwhelms Gotham's finest, and the Dark Knight resurfaces to protect a city that has branded him an enemy.’

This is the blurb for upcoming Batman film ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. Sounds gritty and exciting, right? ‘Of course it does,’ I hear you cry, ‘Batman is, and always was, gritty and exciting!’
How wrong you are, my friends. Wind back the clock to 1966 and a very different Batman film is about to be released:
Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin (1966)
(source: platformnation.com)
The Dynamic Duo faces four super-villains who plan to hold the world for ransom with the help of a secret invention that instantly dehydrates people.’
These were Batman’s film origins, starring Adam……West (if you don’t get that joke you need to watch more bad superhero films), clad in skin-tight spandex and punching people so hard that words describing the impact ("Sock!", "Biff!", "Pow!") spontaneously appeared from thin air.
The stark contrast between these two films inspired me to go back through the annals of history to watch every Batman film in order to give you, our valued readers, the essence of Batman’s film evolution since his 1966 debut.
Jack Nicholson as The Joker
(source: TV Guide)
Batman (1989) – Most people declare this the first ‘proper’ Batman film, following the false start in the sixties. It featured a strangely passive Batman (Michael Keaton) and was dominated by the villain of the piece, The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson (best known, of course, for playing Torrence in The Shining). The film featured an excellent noir art design and was thematically focused on drawing parallels between the heroes and the villains.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

New Galaxy Discovered

Spiral galaxy BX442
(image source: Cosmos Magazine/Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics/Joe Bergeron) 

A new observation has revealed a spiral galaxy about 10.7 billion light years away, the first unambiguous discovery of that kind of galaxy from that cosmic era. Read more here.

Leonardo 2012: Hide and Seek

Imogen Davies won the Year 8 Leonardo Prize on Wednesday, 27 June, for her poem, Hide and Seek.

Laughter bounces off the walls,
The eliminating sun smiles down on us,
Counting, running, finding,
A childhood memory embedded in my mind.

Seeking out the right spot,
Opening closets,
The kitchen pantry,
Empty and cold.
As black darkness spills out,
I secretly slide behind the pillars of food,
And slowly shut the door …

The dark starts to strip me of my senses,
Strangling me in the cold.
I don’t want to hide here anymore.
Struggling with the door:
No escape, stuck and alone.
I hear them all scamper past
As I helplessly bang on the door.
Fear engulfs me.
All I can do is lie here.

Time freezes.
Nothing moves.
An unchanging world.
No rules, regulations or requirements.
Only darkness and the unseen.

And then a voice!
The door handle bursts into life.
Blinded by a sudden overwhelming light,
And a shout:
“I found you!”

Winner of the Grant House Photography Competition 2012

'Butterfly' by Chloe Wheeler

taken at Cumberland House Natural History Museum, Southsea.

Winner of the Grant House Photography Competition 2012

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Portsmouth Point Poetry: Satan

Commentary by George Laver

Satan by William Blake (based on a design by Henry Fuseli)
(source flickriver.com) 

This fortnight’s selection is a shorter piece by English poet and artist Mervyn Peake (9 July 1911 – 17 November 1968), entitled Satan. Although Peake’s poetry is not as widely recognized today as that of some of his contemporaries, he wrote an impressive number of intriguing, entertaining and, at times, comical poems and novels. His artistic career was one of diverse imaginative scope; among his works are included war poems, nonsense lyrics and fantastical novels, although it is his philosophical, Romantically-tinged pieces which have earned him the greatest part of his recognition.

Peake began his career as a painter and secured several art exhibitions throughout the 1930s, as well as illustrating various children’s books (including one of his own, Captain Slaughterhouse Drops Anchor), while teaching at the Westminster School of Art. It was here that he met his wife, Maeve Gilmore, with whom he had three children, Sebastian (born 1940), Fabian (1942) and Clare (1949). His applications to become a war artist during World War II were repeatedly rejected and this eventually led to his nervous breakdown. Despite this, Peake’s career as a writer and artist continued almost unfalteringly; between 1943 and 1948, he completed two of his most well-known literary works, the novels Titus Groan and Gormenghast. Much of his most vivid poetry and art was inspired by his 1945 visit to the Nazi concentration camps, where he witnessed at first hand the death and suffering.

During the mid- to late 1950s, Peake’s health began to decline with the onset of Parkinson’s Disease. Despite this, he managed to complete the third instalment of the Gormenghast series, Titus Awakes, which was published in 1959, and a few poetry compilations. His condition steadily worsened, with failed attempts at electroconvulsive therapy, until his death in 1968.
Satan is the first piece in the posthumously-published compilation, Selected Poems (1972). I believe that the poem’s appeal lies in its Milton-esque manipulation of vivid imagery and drama along with compelling philosophical and theological questioning. The closing lines of the work may lead us to interpret it as an enquiry into the importance of evil’s existence to artistic power and effect, but the reader is drawn also to the unusual “fish” metaphor in the fourth line; Peake seems almost to suggest that the “sin” he describes is necessary if we are to become distinct from the shoal and achieve any degree of excellence (poem below):

Friday, 20 July 2012

Superheroism: Leave it to the Billionaires?

by Tom Harper

(image: deviantart.com)
As many of you may be aware, today marks the release of The Dark Knight Rises, the ultimate instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. Superhero fans across the United Kingdom will undoubtedly be converging inside cramped cinemas to discover the fate of the Caped Crusader, and I would be lying if I said I won’t be one of them. Although I am normally detached from the world of comic-con-esque flying men in spandex protecting both the world and their identities at the same time, what fascinates me about DC’s Batman is similar to what fascinates me about Marvel’s Tony Stark: these are the superheroes without the superpowers.

True, their extreme wealth is a key factor in their ability to fight crime with such high-tech gadgets and gizmos, but, when one truly thinks about it, their only extraordinary trait is their determination to use every asset they possess to fight injustice when all else fails, and is that not something that anyone can do? Does a lack of X-ray vision or invisibility deny us the possibility of making the world a better place? Should super heroism be left to those whose bathrooms are the size of tennis courts or who have fallen into a vat of toxic waste and survived?

In order to answer this question, I have first had to explore those who live in the world today with special gifts but choose not to use them to ‘beat up bad guys’. After filing through countless stories of men moving mighty masses with their minds, I have put forward three that I believe to be the most extraordinary:

1. The Rubber Boy
Add caption
Five time Guinness World Record holder Daniel Browning Smith is the most flexible man alive and the most famous contortionist. He has been in many professional basketball or baseball games and has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, ESPN's Sports Center, Oprah Winfrey, Ripley's Believe It or Not, Cirque du Soleil, The Discovery Channel, HBO's Carnivale, CSI: NY, America’s Got a Talent and even Men in Black 2. Daniel has been suitably named ‘The Rubber Boy’ as he is able to perform such feats as dislocating both of his arms to fit his entire body through an unstrung tennis racquet!

(image: lounge.moviecode.com)
Daniel’s ‘superpower’ is closely related to the ability of Reed Richards, or (as many comic fans know him) Mr Fantastic, who, despite having the upper hand in this comparison due to his ability to stretch his limbs to extreme lengths, still has the trait of marvellous flexibility. Therefore, due to Richards’ role in the Fantastic Four, surely Daniel could also use his powers for a better cause rather than impressing the American public. His contortionism could allow him to squeeze through small gaps to rescue trapped civilians, perhaps.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Poem for Thursday: This Human Race

Another casualty; we’ve already lost the war.
Lost here forever, what are we fighting for?
Another fallen hero, a shadow on the ground-
‘Ever in our hearts until salvation’s found.’

We’ll destroy ourselves, this human race --- power-hungry people.
A collision course is in place.
We’ll destroy ourselves, this human race-
Live and let live, for our children’s sakes.

Destruction lies in the enemy’s hands,
Enemies are within us. Here they stand.
The only way to stop us is when no-one’s left to kill-
This man has a family, that man who’s lying still.

What does it mean to you? Yet another story to fill your News?
What does it mean to us, when we’re not the one’s picking up the pieces?

We’ll destroy ourselves, this human race --- power-hungry people.
A collision course is in place.
We’ll destroy ourselves, this human race-
Live and let live, for our children’s sakes.

                                                                                  George Chapman

Image: Unknown soldiers' graves (source: Daily Telegraph)

Photo: Sea Swift

by Daniel Rollins

This is a picture of a boat (obviously) that was on the slipway next to Portsmouth Harbor Station.
A few people elsewhere of the internet have asked how I created this image with it's subtle distortion and vivid colours... so here is how:

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

How to become a successful author

by Nick Graham

On Saturday, 30th June, popular author Ellen Renner gave a talk and ran a workshop in the Memorial Library as part of the Portsmouth Festivities. I was lucky enough to attend both of these events.

During the morning, Ellen gave a talk about two of the books she has written. The first book she talked about was called Castle of Shadows. This was her debut book and was published in 2010. It is very hard to get your first book published, as most publishers will want to look at any previous books you have had published and how much money they have made. However, there is another way in; Ellen entered Castle of Shadows into the WOW-factor competition for unpublished books. This was a large gamble because, when she entered the competition, she had only written 50 pages of the book. Only the first few pages were needed for this stage of the competition, but, if she made it through to the next stage, she would need to have a finished copy of the book. She managed to be long-listed, meaning that she had to write the whole book in just a few weeks! Fortunately she managed to finish with nearly a week to spare. She then went on to win the competition and the book was later published by Orchard Books.

Ellen Renner gained inspiration for her book from several different areas, including real life and current affairs, as well as art and other literature.  The book was written just after the end of the war in Iraq, and contains a weapon of mass destruction. It also features a very dodgy Prime Minister! The main inspiration for the book was a piece of art, which featured a king dangling from a trapeze to place a card on top of a massive card castle. She used her chain of thoughts stemming from the picture to gain inspiration for her story. Her chain of thoughts went roughly like this:

King → Kingdom → If the King isn’t running the kingdom, who is? → politics → dodgy Prime Minister.

The story is based on an alternative history, very similar to early Victorian Britain, just after the end of the Industrial Revolution. The king also has a daughter called Charlie (11 years old), whose mother disappeared years before. At the start of the book, Charlie finally finds a clue about why her mother disappeared, and becomes determined to find out more. There is also a secondary villain in the form of the housekeeper, who has a henchman (the night watchman, called Watch) armed with a gun, the only person in the whole of the castle to own one. As in every good mystery story, the hero has to have a sidekick, this time the gardener’s boy, called Tobias. Castle of Shadows is a high-paced adventure story packed with mysteries and secrets, originally written for readers aged 9-12 years, although it can be enjoyed by readers of all ages due to the many complex layers within the story.

Ellen also talked about another, called City of Thieves. This is the sequel to Castle of Shadows, and is about Tobias and his dark secret, which is revealed near the end of Castle of Shadows. This book was also published in 2010 by Orchard Books.

During the afternoon, Ellen Renner ran a workshop to help aspiring young writers, orientated on how to write good stories. She talked about essential points to do with each section of writing. Here are some of Ellen's tips and guidelines: 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Miriam Margolyes in "Dickens' Women": A Review

by Ollie Velasco

On Sunday, 8th July, while the nation watched Andy Murray lose out to Roger Federer in his closest Grand Slam final yet, a packed David Russell Theatre (DRT) was lucky enough to host Miriam Margolyes for a one-night-only performance. The award-winning British actress performed her show, Dickens' Women, on the site of the original Portsmouth Theatre - where it is believed Dickens himself once performed - at Portsmouth Grammar School, as part of her global tour to celebrate the bicentenary of Charles Dickens' birth.

The event was certainly popular; with tickets sold out, the audience started to arrive nearly an hour before doors opened, hoping to grab front-row seats in the intimate venue. Once everyone was seated, however, and pianist Benjamin Lee had set the scene with a piece of fitting original music written especially for the show, the buzz of excitement changed to one of anticipation as the audience awaited Miriam Margolyes’ entrance.

And she didn’t disappoint.

The booming voice of a drunken woman made the audience jump, as they saw the actress stagger onstage, in character. Wobbling drunkenly up to interact with the front row, Miriam instantly drew the whole theatre into her world --- and into the world of Dickens. The minimalistic set (which suited the relatively small stage of the DRT well) and pianist further enhanced the atmosphere.

Miriam explained her love for Dickens: “(His) personality transcends his books and the characters explored in Dickens’ Women were chosen not only because they are some of the most colourful and entertaining characters in Dickens’ writing, but because they were based on real people in his life --- people he fought with and cared for, loved and hated.”

Monday, 16 July 2012

"C'etait tres bien!": Teaching at Solent School

by Nathaniel Charles

1. Our Visit to the Solent School

On Friday the 24th of May, Al Harding, Louisa Dassow, Katherine Tobin, Izzy Stark, Dillon Hoddle and I were standing at the school arch waiting for our taxis to the Solent School with a vague feeling of trepidation. Soon, however, the taxis arrived and we had a fifteen-minute taxi ride, during which Mr Crenel talked in astounding depth with the taxi driver about Pompey’s future prospects.

We arrived at the school and had five minutes to do some last-minute revision of our roles and then we began the lesson. Any worries we had were soon sent packing by our pupils’ obvious enthusiasm and willingness to learn. We were teaching the rooms of the house and relatives, using a PowerPoint that Mr Crenel had made. We began by laying down basic vocab but moved onto memory games run by Katherine and Izzy with me acting as their not-so-glamorous assistant. Dillon and Al were in charge of a game that involved teaching directions, after which we went into the school’s wonderful gardens for a five-minute break.

We then went back to our groups and did some group-discussion work on our pupils’ homes; by the end of the session, we had all grown fiercely loyal towards our groups. However soon it was time to head back for PGS in time for period 4.

We all hugely enjoyed the experience and the taxi ride home was filled with enthusiastic chatter about how fantastic it had been and how much we would miss our groups. Izzy summed it up the best, though, with “C’etait tres bien!” 

Mad Dogs and Englishmen: Why Britain is a Dog-Loving Nation

by William Wallace

Last Wednesday was an important date in my family’s diary – it was our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s tenth birthday, and a landmark occasion for all of us. For most, it may appear bizarre that we actually took the time to celebrate the birth of our dog, but I can assure you that there is some justification for it. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that there are others who share a similar fondness for their pets – it certainly is something we British have become known for – yet it is the close relationship between Man and dog that bears the greatest affection.

The notorious pioneer of Romantic English literature, Lord Byron, wrote of his own dog as possessing “beauty without vanity, strength without insolence, courage without ferocity and all the virtues of Man without his vices” Byron was known to be deeply fond of animals, particularly his Newfoundland dog named Boatswain. When Boatswain contracted rabies, Byron attempted to nurse him without fear of being bitten and becoming infected. He commissioned a lavish marble monument for his beloved dog and wrote those stirring words in his eulogistic poem, Epitaph to a Dog. He accurately sums up what dogs now mean as the steadfast symbol of “man’s best friend’ Man’s best friend: call me mawkish, but I’d go so far to argue that it isn’t just a friendship but a relationship founded on commitment. Why else do people react in such a way when dogs are harmed, killed or just simply die? Marley & Me is a classic example – it’s difficult not to feel some sort of grief or sympathy when the title character passes away. It’s often the case that we react more strongly when a dog yelps in distress than when a grown man does. Is it the dog’s innocence? Adorability? Or is it the recognisable connection that we feel with dogs, as they have become an integral part of households up and down the country?

So what am I getting at?

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Real Olympic Flame

by Jeremy Thomas

Princess Anne carries the Olympic Flame
(source: foxcrawl.com)
As the Olympic torch relay has been in Hampshire this week, and passes through Portsmouth today, many people in the area will be excited by seeing the flame pass by, burning atop the magic, golden torches held by each of the relay runners. Something that caught my attention in a recent TV news bulletin though, was the escort runner who popped out of the accompanying bus at one stage, carrying an object I am very familiar with, one that has sat on the fireplace in my mother’s living room since the near-total demise of the Welsh coal industry in the 1980s. This was a miner’s Davy Lamp, selected for its reliability and safety to keep the Olympic flame burning during the relay, against all odds, since the Sydney Olympics in 2000. It seems that, if the torch flames do go out, the shiny, gold Davy lamp is produced from the bus to relight it, thus ensuring the continuity of the original flame lit on Mount Olympus several weeks ago.
So, why use a Davy lamp, invented in 1815 to save the lives of coal miners, to carry the modern Olympic Flame? Surely there must be a high-tech electronic method these days? Perhaps even  a ‘flame app’ to replace the real one? The remarkable thing is that there is still no better or safer way, so safe in fact that the burning lamp can even be carried, in a suitable seat cradle, on passenger aircraft en route from Greece to the Olympic host nation.  How did Sir Humphry Davy achieve such a successful design, nearly two hundred years ago, a design that has changed very little ever since?
Well, he did so mainly through his knowledge of Chemistry and Physics, combined with a working appreciation of Victorian mining, perhaps gained from his upbringing in the Cornish town of Penzance, surrounded by the mineral mining industry of the area. Cornish tin miners, though, did not face one of the most devastating hazards of the coal mines in Wales and other parts of England. This was ‘firedamp’, an accumulation of methane gas which exploded violently, especially in the dusty atmosphere of the mine workings, when exposed to the naked flames used as lamps by miners in those days. Through experimentation, and building on the less practical designs of other people, Davy came up with a beautifully simple solution.