Friday, 31 August 2012

DC versus Marvel

by Charlie Albuery and Hugh Summers

Marvel Comics

DC Comics

Since superhero comic books became popular in the 1960s, two  main companies have been vying for the attention of the masses. This is one of the most climactic battles in history, going down alongside such epic conflicts as Roundheads vs. Cavaliers, Red vs. Blue and, of course, Kramer vs. Kramer.
We are about to lay out the main points of the (clearly one-sided) argument, for you, the readers of this blog to make the decision for yourselves.
I, your friendly neighbourhood comic-book blogger, Charlie Albuery, am fighting for Marvel and my friend (although not for the next hour or so while we write this), Hugh Summers, is on the side of the (clearly inferior) DC Comics franchise.

Round 1 – Iconic Characters
Marvel – As a child, who didn’t want to be Spiderman? I know I did. The fact is, Marvel comics characters have permeated pop culture and become role-models and icons for generations of children. From Captain America, the living embodiment of patriotism, to Iron Man, the billionaire playboy with a heart of gold, Marvel’s characters span everything that we love about icons.
DC- Well, I don’t know about Charlie, but I myself was more of a Batman kid, with the Batman Begins film being released when I was seven, with a Batman who was dark and serious. Let’s be honest, Batman is far cooler to a small boy than a radioactive youth who lives with his aunt and flies around the New York skyline in tight red lycra shooting webs from his wrists. 

Round 2 – Villains
DC- The first thing to consider when deliberating between Marvel and DC villains is that DC villains have much, much deeper backgrounds than those of the Marvel villains. Superman has Lex Luther, an evil genius/ politician who’s out to rule the world. Now Batman has the Joker, a crazed psychopath who escapes from the most secure mental asylum in the world. I mean, he put a razor inside his mouth and carved a smiley face into his cheeks; all Spiderman has is a guy dressed as a goblin on a hover board and a robotic octopus.
Marvel-Awww, how quaint, a prisoner and clever Boris Johnson. Great. What super villains are really all about are POWERS: a mutant with control over all metal, an alien who has the ability to literally mould reality to his will, and, of course, Galactus, who can eat universes as if they were M&Ms. Those are real villains, real dangers. Also, for the record, the Green Goblin sometimes has an energy sword that is basically a lightsabre, I WIN.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Paralympics 2012: Opening Ceremony

Opening ceremony for the 2012 London Paralympics
(image source:

Daily Telegraph: "It would, (Hawking) promised, be an evening of exploration, and (he) urged the audience to “look up at the stars”. “Ever since the dawn of civilisation, people have craved an understanding of the underlying order of the world,” he said. “Why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” And thus — with a choreographed Big Bang almost loud enough to disturb the peace on the surface of the Moon — kicked off the brightest, busiest lecture he can ever have conducted . . .

 . . . After Caliban’s speech about an isle full of glorious noise had featured in the Olympic opening and closing extravaganzas, there was something beautifully apt about Miranda’s words in the context of the Paralympics: “O wonder! How many goodly creatures there are here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in’t!”  . . . Which is why the most symbolic moment of last night’s ceremony was when Sir Ian McKellen, playing Prospero, encouraged Miranda to fly upwards and smash through a glass ceiling. That is what millions of us are going enjoy over the next 10 days: the sight of blind footballers, wheelchair athletes and one-legged swimmers smashing glass ceilings as they confound our assumptions about what disability entails." Read the rest of the article here.

Guardian: "It was a ceremony of ideas. It was a brilliant stroke by the artistic directors to latch upon the theme of enlightenment, and to link it to two apparently quite different notions: a hoped-for lifting of prejudice against disabled people; and the 18th-century onrush of scientific knowledge and quest for the rights of man. The two prongs of this idea found their perfect embodiment in the person of Stephen Hawking, whose words urged the audience: "Look at the stars and not down at your feet … Be curious." This was a ceremony about the life of the mind as much as the body. "Look" was the keynote. At one point, the phalanxes of dancing, umbrella-wielding volunteers rendered themselves into the shape of a giant eye. Just as the intellectual enlightenment was about empirical knowledge, rational gathering of information and observation, so, the ceremony seemed to suggest, the only barrier to disabled people's fulfilling their potential was one of perception. Look again, was the message. Think again." Read the rest of the article here.

Daily Beast: "The genesis of the Games goes back to British casualties of D-Day and a Jewish doctor named Ludwig Guttmann, a refugee from the Nazis . . . (who) revolutionized the treatment of patients who had been swathed in plaster and left to rot in bed. Against fierce resistance and rooted prejudice, he got them out of bed and into the gym and the swimming pool. And when he found a group of them playing an improvised game of wheelchair hockey using upturned walking sticks, he saw that their competitive urge was as strong as ever and dragooned them into learning javelin-hurling and archery. The first, tiny prototype of the Paralympics was held on the grounds of the hospital in 1948, shadowing the Olympics held in London at the same time . . .

. . . .This year, the British government has pumped the Paralympics . . . the cruel irony that it is this same government that has taken an axe to welfare provisions for the disabled, slashing their benefits and aiming to force them back into work. Nor has it gone unnoticed that the French firm Atos, one of the corporate sponsors of the Games, is the same firm that is testing the disabled population for their fitness for work. Half of Britain’s disabled, meanwhile, are already below the poverty line." Read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Paralympic Athletes

Beyond and above,
The achievements of others,
A new type of athlete,

Victims of fate,
But not defeated,
They rise again,
In defiance.

A symbol of hope,
For those who suffer,
They light the way,
For others to follow.

All have trained,
All have competed,
All are worthy,
But few get medals.

All deserve gold,
For their efforts,
Their achievements,
And their determination.

                        Nick Graham

Image: Team GB Paralympic Logo

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Do Christians, Jews and Muslims Worship the Same God?

by Andrew Jones

Abraham and his family (by Jozsef Molnar, 1850)

When postulating the similarities between religious views of God, evidence provided by religious scripture offers the most effective means of deliberating these similarities. Particularly in addressing these concepts, the nature of the Gods involved form a key pillar on which to decipher whether Christianity, Judaism and Islam really worship the same God. The underlying origins of all three Abrahamic faiths do seem to lend themselves to a conclusion that these faiths do worship similar Gods. Yet the differing methods by which these Gods chiefly reveal themselves, combined with the ever widening differences between these faiths, could begin to undermine such an interpretation.

To deliberate the similarities between these religious views of God, the nature of the God perhaps offers the backbone to such an investigation. Perhaps one of the key aspects of all views on deities is their  omnipotence, revealed primarily through religious scripture although developed by centuries of scholars. Christianity, Judaism and Islam all share this view that God must be omnipotent. Judeo-Christian scripture highlights God's power, although primarily scholars have utilized the creation story as a perfect representation of God's omnipotence: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).” Despite the use particularly of the creation story by scholars to argue for the Christian God's omnipotence, other passages in the Bible display God's power: “Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? (Job 40:9).” These taunts to Job about the qualities of God, illustrate a Christian God's omnipotence. The Torah reveals similar views about the omnipotence of God, mainly due to the sharing of many Old Testament chapters with Christians, leading to almost identical impressions of God: “Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy (Exodus).” The Qur'an similarly refers to the omnipotence of Allah, indeed far more explicitly than the religious scripture of Christianity or Judaism: “If God wills, He can take away their hearing and their eyesight. God is Omnipotent (Chap 2:20).” These verses from the Bible, Qur'an and Torah display clear similarities between the Christian, Muslim and Jewish perception that God is omnipotent, suggesting that these faiths do indeed worship similar Gods.

As well as a shared belief in an omnipotent God, Christians, Jews and Muslims similarly believe that God is omniscient. Indeed these traits could be linked, as arguably God's omnipotence surely must lend itself to the following traits such as omniscience and omnipresence. Islamic religious scripture offers a slightly more explicit approach, when referring to this aspect of God, than the other faiths. With regard to omniscience, the Qur'an highlights Allah's possession of this trait: “Anyone who denounces the devil and believes in God has grasped the strongest bond; one that never breaks. God is Hearer, Omniscient (Chap 2:256).” This belief is shared amongst Christians and Jews, that God is omniscient, with the capacity to know the past, present and future of all elements within the universe: complete knowledge. As with the Qur'an, the Bible also displays God as being omniscient: “God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything (John 3:19).” Similarly, using the Torah, the nature of God is shown to include omniscience within Judaism: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God (Deutronomy).” Through these references to the nature of God as including both omnipotence as well as omniscience it is possible to begin to conclude that Christians, Muslims and Jews, do worship Gods with similar characteristics.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Recipe: Mum's Chocolate Cake

by Maisie Riddle
Mum's Chocolate Cake
175g soft margarine or butter
175g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
2 rounded tablespoons of cocoa 

Set the oven to 180.
Measure the margarine, sugar, flour, baking powder and eggs into a large bowl.
Beat well for 2 minutes until smooth and blended.
Mix the cocoa with 4 tablespoons of warm water in a separate cup or bowl.
Add the the mixture and mix until completely incorporated.
Divide the mixture between two round baking tins and level the tops (tins are 7 inches in length and 1 1/2 in depth).
Put them in the oven to cook for 20 mins, until well risen.
Remove from the tins, peel off the paper and leave to cool on wire rack.
Make white butter icing and add 2 rounded tablespoons of cocoa mixed with warm water to taste.

Ingredients for icing:
100g soft margin
225g sieved icing sugar

Blend together until smooth and creamy then add cocoa.
Sandwich the cakes together using the icing.
Then either separate the icing in two (for on top of the cake and in the centre) or melt milk chocolate on top of the cake instead. Either is delicious!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

First Man on the Moon

Neil Armstrong

"Neil Armstrong has died, aged 82. In 1969, he commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft, the first ever to reach the moon. As he became the first person to walk on the moon's surface, he famously said, "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind". His family released a statement: "Next time you walk outside on a clear night & see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil & give him a wink." NBC News, Saturday 25th August

"In March 2012, the press-shy Armstrong gave a rare interview in which he recalled his historic visit to the moon, the dangers of training to be an astronaut, the inspiration for his famous remarks upon landing, and more." See the interview here.

Image of the Earth rising over the Moon's horizon

"It is one of the few events of the 20th century that stands any chance of being widely remembered in the 30th. Despite its origins in Cold War paranoia and nationalist rivalry, Mike Collins recalls in interviews a brief moment of global unity: “People, instead of saying ‘you Americans did it’, they said ‘we—people—did it’. I thought that was a wonderful thing. Ephemeral, but wonderful.” Perhaps the most unexpected consequence of the moon flights was a transformation of attitudes towards Earth itself. Space was indeed beautiful, but it was beauty of a severe, geometrical sort. Planets and stars swept through the cosmos in obedience to Isaac Newton’s mathematical clockwork, a spectacle more likely to inspire awe than love. Earth was a magnificent contrast, a jewel hung in utter darkness, an exuberant riot of chaos and life in a haunting, abyssal emptiness. The sight had a profound effect on the astronauts." Read the rest of The Economist's obituary for Neil Armstrong here.

Neil Armstrong's footprint, on the Moon. NASA says that
the print will remain for up to a million years, as there is
no wind to blow it away (image source: BBC)

Read Jeremy Thomas' article on the Past, Present and Future of US Space Exploration.

See Daniel Rollins' article about the recent Mars landing here.

Read about the recent discovery of a new galaxy here.

Robert Hughes: Streetbrawling Visionary

by James Burkinshaw

Robert Hughes (1938-2012)
 The passing of Gore Vidal and Robert Hughes within days of each other feels like the death of the Titans. Both were masters of the epigrammatic put-down, but while Vidal presented himself as the last aristocrat, Hughes’ image was that of a street-brawler, a thug.”   Judith Flanders, Daily Telegraph

When I was at school, many, many years ago, we had something called "Art Appreciation Club", which involved a weekly pilgrimage to the hallowed Audio Visual Room, home to the school’s sole Video Cassette Player. Here, the miraculous new technology of video enabled us to experience two landmarks of twentieth century television:  Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation and Robert Hughes’ The Shock of the New. The contrast between the two presenters could not have been more stark. Clark was the product of Winchester College and Oxford, sleek and urbane, guiding the viewer from Renaissance to Rococo and Realism with patrician authority. Meanwhile, taking us from Cezanne to Warhol was a man who looked like a retired boxer, the rumpled, rumbling, rubicund Robert Hughes, possessed of a "plain-speaking pugnacity redolent more of the bars of his native Sydney than the salons of Paris or New York” (Daily Telegraph)He was also the greatest art critic and one of the finest writers of the last half-century.

Civilisation (Episode 1):

The Shock of the New (Episode 1):

Hughes always thought of himself not as an art critic but "a writer one of whose subjects was art.” Indeed, one of Hughes’ most acclaimed books was not a work of art criticism but a vivid and often harrowing history of his native Australia, The Fatal Shore, which mined hitherto unpublished source material to retrieve the lost voices of the convicts who were Australia’s founding fathers and mothers. It laid bare Australia's violent, often brutal, origins: "The late eighteenth century abounded in schemes of social goodness thrown off by its burgeoning sense of revolution. But here, the process was to be reversed: not Utopia, but Dystopia, not Rousseau's natural man moving in moral grace amid free social contracts, but man coerced, exiled, deracinated, in chains. The intellectual patrons of Australia, in its first colonial years, were Hobbes and Sade."  The Fatal Shore “told (Hughes') countrymen who they were" argued Peter Carey, "and what darkness we had to confront in order to grow up. He had grasped the cruelty of our birth and shoved it in our faces. Here, in this vast masterpiece, was the hell we were born into, and he would be our Dante.”

High Noon by Edward Hopper, 1949
His 1993 polemic The Culture of Complaint: The Fraying of America was an equally raw critique of his adopted country (where he lived from 1970), attacking both Right (“with somnambulistic efficiency Reagan educated America down to his level”) and Left (“The world changes more deeply, widely, thrillingly than at any moment since 1917... and the American academic left keeps fretting about how phallocentricity is inscribed in Dickens’ portrayal of Little Nell”). However, four years later, he wrote what he described as his "love letter to America", American Visions (see video below), an extraordinarily passionate as well as perceptive history not only of American art but of America itself. "Hughes was ultimately an American in spirit" notes Judith Flanders, "constantly searching for new worlds.” His evocation of Puritan New England could serve as a description of his own aesthetic: “Its newness was not mere novelty---they railed against that---but the deep newness of spiritual renovation . . .New Canaan, New Bedford, New Salem, New London represented not mimicry but transfiguration . . They had reconstituted themselves as a new people---an astonishing act of arrogance, or of faith: in fact, of both . . . Within a generation, the New England landscape could be perceived not as wilderness but as a sacramental space.”

Friday, 24 August 2012

Afghanistan: One Long Struggle

by Andrew Jones

British and Afghan soldiers talk to an Afghan civilian
(image source:

The history of Afghanistan has been one of undoubted bloodshed long before the Taliban's existence. Indeed for the British Army this marks the second theatre deployment into the region although this has for many been a far more shocking experience than they ever anticipated. The reason: IED's or Improvised Explosive Devices. For the soldiers on the ground it means that on a daily basis the threat of death looms with every step. It is this constant threat that has been referred to as "Afghan Roulette", where every step outside the safety of the base could be the last. Of the coalition forces stationed there the British force makes up the second largest contingent behind the US force. Therefore surely it is time for us to reassess the current situation and ask how long it will be before the British Army is able to return home.

Ministers try to reassure us that the date will be sometime towards the end of 2014, but, when Taliban fighters are constantly able to inflict significant casualties, it seems difficult to see how this deadline could ever be met. These problems are seemingly exacerbated when considering the implications of the Strategic Defence Review, which aims to cut around 20,000 jobs within the military. When, therefore, is the date for withdrawal really likely to be?

The most important factor in deciding the date for a British withdrawal will be the stability of the country, particularly the readiness of the Afghan National Army (“ANA”) to take on the security roles currently fulfilled by the British Army and the NATO force. Unlike previous examples, the Afghan war has been remarkably different, making a “victory” on the ground almost impossible. This is partially due to the method of warfare employed by the Taliban, particularly their use of guerilla-based tactics. It is this that makes it difficult to gain an accurate estimation of the Taliban's strength.  Comparing the casualty lists of 2012 and 2011 demonstrates the slow progress which is being made in restoring security to Afghanistan (52 personnel were killed in 2011 compared with 31 in the 8 months of 2012).

NATO commanders have agreed upon their exit strategy of transferring power to the Afghan National Army at the end of the 2014. Yet in 2006, a report filed by General Barry R. McCaffrey summed up the ANA as being “miserably under-resourced.” The ANA has been rapidly expanded in order to meet the NATO deadline of 2014 with a reported force of around 200,000 personnel. However, when considering that the NATO force combines some of the most technologically advanced armies in the world, the question remains as to whether the ANA is in any sort of state to take over. Indeed, perhaps most crucially, the lack of an aviation wing of the ANA means that the current date for transfer is possibly a recipe for disaster as they lack the air superiority which has been critical to the NATO success.

A Brief History of Space Combat: Part V

The fifth and final instalment of Bobby Abernethy's A Brief History of Space Combat, prequel to his award-winning Red Nightfall and Grey Dawn. Previous instalments can be read here: Part IPart II, Part III and Part IV.

2168-2217: The Age of the Missile

Frustrated by the deficiencies of lasers and ramming at Loge, a growing number of naval architects and tacticians sought new ways to break the tactical deadlock. Impressed by the effectiveness of mines and nuclear shells against undefended hulls, the Commonwealth naval designer Patricia Winters sought to develop a self-propelled nuclear shell that could track an evading target at extreme range, while being able to survive most point-defence fire. Her experiments led to the 2168 development of the torpedo. Designed to be fired from pre-existing cannon barrels, the torpedo has changed little from its first design, and resembles a long, tapering metal cigar, which carries relatively heavy armouring to protect it from laser and kinetic point-defence. The aft two-thirds of the torpedo houses a propulsion system, which in Winters’ day, was a miniaturised open-cycle gas core engine with a secondary plasma thrusters for use in a magnetosphere. The first torpedoes had a maximum range of twenty-five thousand kilometres, with the expectation that they would be used alongside lasers in long-range engagements. The fore third of the torpedo houses targeting systems and the warhead.

Winters’ nuclear warhead was her most important innovation. Though nuclear shells and mines had graduated from kiloton-yield implosion-type weapons to three- to five-megaton thermonuclear designs, the problem of much of the explosion’s energy being wasted in a spherical detonation remained. Winters’ design was a nuclear shaped charge. A thermonuclear device was enclosed inside a shell of x-ray opaque uranium, which upon detonation, forced the x-rays generated by the explosion to exit through a small hole in the front of the case, where a channel filler of beryllium oxide transforms the x-rays into heat, which transforms a liner in front of the filler into a jet of plasma that carries around 85% of the weapon’s energy into the target, enough to completely destroy a battleship. The liner’s composition is classified to this day, but its effects suggest a low atomic number metal to allow for a high-velocity, narrow jet. The shaped charge also provides a degree of standoff to the torpedo, increasing its lethality while minimising its exposure to enemy defensive fire.

Winters first marketed her design to the Confederate States Navy, which eagerly accepted it as a way of rescuing its large fleet of gunboats from obsolescence. Re-designated “torpedo boats”, they could now inflict crippling damage on a larger vessel, and given the relatively poor accuracy of battleship lasers at extreme range, it seemed likely that a large swarm of torpedo boats could launch enough weapons to outright destroy a battleship. The modern torpedo boat is a poorly-armoured but heavily-armed craft designed to survive in battle using its speed and manoeuvrability alone.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Hiroshima: A Different Type of Flame.

by Alex Cross

Watch that stopped at the moment of the Bomb's impact: 8.15 am 

“How many died?” Eerily this is the question which I remember from my dream as I awake at a very early hour to take a Shinkansen train from Kyoto to Hiroshima on August 6th, 2012. I must have been dreaming about the event that is commemorated on August the 6th in Japan. As we check out and head for the station opposite it’s strange how the heat and the business of the streets are calmed at this time. As we hurtle towards Hiroshima at 240 miles per hour, it seems that we are being transported to more than just another Japanese city.

Campaigning for peace
We arrive minutes after the remembered time of 815am, the moment the first bomb was dropped on this once industrial city. On approach to the Peace Memorial Park, we are surrounded by manifestations. Listening to the chanting and looking at the banners it seems these people are campaigning for peace. The park is full of people being addressed in English and Japanese by a UN official. In the heat, people listen attentively and fan themselves slowly as the choir begins to sing. It’s a busy, but welcoming, place.

Grassy mound housing
the ashes of the victims
As the ceremony ends, the crowd begins to disperse and form lines, queuing for the museum and various monuments around the park. I am drawn to an especially long queue heading towards the middle of the park. Instead, we begin to visit the various monuments around the park which remember the people who were killed in this area in 1945, including the grassy mound which houses their combined ashes.

6th August Memorial Museum
and Eternal Flame
The museum relives the story and the history of that day and demonstrates the terrible effects the nuclear bomb had on both Hiroshima and the people in the surrounding area. The museum is filled with fragments of the buildings which were directly affected by the fall-out of the bomb. Photos depicting some of the known effects on humans are demonstrated although the real extent of the damage close to the epi-centre is not described and remains an unknown horror. Letters line the walls of the museum calling for the end of such radical weapons and campaigning for the end of this destructive force. As I leave the museum, I am struck by a poem which is on the picture as we exit:

That autumn
In Hiroshima where it was said
“For seventy five years nothing will grow”
New buds sprouted
In the green that came back to life
Among the charred ruins
People recovered
Their living hopes and courage

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Travelling Diaries: Cars

by Tim MacBain 

Welcome to the first instalment of an infrequent series of me wending my way from A to B. I am no experienced traveller; being only 17, and having left Europe once, I cannot claim to know the ins and outs of journeying. However, there have been a couple of incidences that have stuck in the mind; let’s say I’m trying to be the Gerald Durrell/James Herriot of travelling. I do hope you enjoy.

The Car

Both my parents are exceptional drivers. Especially when they are in the passenger seat. Twitching, inhaling/exhaling sharply, giving ‘constructive criticism’ (as I like to call it), shouting garbled instructions/warnings. A particularly spectacular instance was during driving in Scotland. We were on our way back to the cottage we were staying in, driving through the Highlands. The car was sitting at a relatively blind T-junction, and the parent driving (I shall not distinguish between them, for that would be cruel) was feeling a smidgen nervous; the road we were turning right onto was rather a fast one. A gap appeared, and the driver went for it. And I mean WENT for it. The rev counter must have hit at least 3000 as we disappeared in a cloud of exhaust fumes.

Cue pandemonium.

Someone screamed, another shouted, and we careered our way onto the left hand side of the road. What we hadn’t realised, but found out later, was the low wall that was opposite us at the junction had been the only protection from a rather sheer drop. Well, all’s well that ends well…

However, I must extol the excellence of my mother’s driving (note how, when positive, the driver is named) when we were on holiday this year in Devon. In the small, single track back roads that the West is so full of, we were making our way down an exceptionally steep hill, with a blind bend at its base. We were just approaching this bend when suddenly a tractor whipped round the corner. Naturally, Mum slammed on the brakes.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Charlie Albuery’s Pick of the Fringe 2012

by Charlie Albuery
I’ve spent the last week submerged in the cultural cacophony that is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. If you have never heard of the fringe festival before, there are two things you need to know:
A – In our current economic climate, housing prices are plummeting. You really can afford to be living somewhere nicer than under a rock.
B – The Fringe is a theatre and arts festival featuring thousands of short, often non-traditional plays, musicals, comedians and concert acts.
I tried to see a diverse range of shows in my time in Edinburgh and experienced 27 in total. Therefore  without further ado I will begin with my fifth-favourite show and work upwards. So onward, dear cousins, to the realm of Mantua! Number 5…
5 – Shakespeare for Breakfast
Being roused at 7am to see a production of Romeo and Juliet is very rarely a good thing; as a result, my hopes were not high for this particular fringe show. I am by no means a Bardophobe; on the contrary, I often cringe at modern-day and ‘street’ adaptations of Shakespeare tragedies, but this one, unlike so many, was --- well, this one was --- well --- good.
The Shakespeare was mixed in among a parody of the ‘TOWIE’ craze currently (to the detriment of all that lives and breathes) seeming to sweep the UK, and some excellent comedy. The fourth wall was broken, but it was done in an intelligent and intriguing way. The acting was also excellent.
NB : If you’re an unwavering Shakespeare fanatic, then this probably isn’t for you; however, a basic-to- moderate knowledge of (and affection for) The Playwright of Avon is a must. And this is a must-see.
4 – Rhod Gilbert: The Man with the Flaming Battenberg Tattoo
Anyone who has seen or heard of Rhod Gilbert will know that he rants. That’s his ‘thing’; he rants. He rants to the level that the FOH staff were handing out ponchos to the front row to avoid droplets of his vehemence-induced sweat and spittle ruining their experience as he charges up and down the stage screaming in his terrific Welsh accent and pulling faces that never fail to draw laughter from the crowd.
This show contained three rants, each of which was completely unrelated to the others and absolutely hilarious.And while we don’t go and write comedy shows about our pain, we’ve all seethed at not being able to buy a single baked potato, being given a toothbrush for Christmas or being refused the final sandwich on a catering trolley for display purposes.

A Brief History of Space Combat: Part IV

The fourth instalment of Bobby Abernethy's A Brief History of Space Combat, prequel to his award-winning Red Nightfall and Grey Dawn. The final instalment will be published on this blog on Friday,  24th August.

2157-2168: The Age of Lasers

Beginning in 2157, the Solarian Republic Navy pursued the development of an anti-ship laser. Launched in 2159, SRS Glory, the first “laserer”, mounted three spinal free-electron lasers, each capable of delivering a single pulse with a total energy of 100 megajoules, or that same energy in pulses of 100 joules each. The SRN also took the revolutionary step of mounting the lasers inside the hull, meaning they had significantly greater protection than older hull-mounted cannon. The removal of external hull fittings also dramatically reduced the ship’s radar cross-section. Each laser could not destroy a ship outright. Instead, they were designed to remove mission-critical equipment, such as radiators, sensors, and cannon mounts, from an approaching ship’s hull from beyond the range she could strike back, before finishing the crippled ship off with nuclear shells. A disadvantage to this, however, was that the entire ship had to be reoriented to switch targets. Due to the lasers’ power and maintenance requirements, Glory also had a vastly larger crew than previous battleships. While older ships had had crews of a few dozen at most, Glory carried nearly a hundred and fifty crewmembers.

Powered by open-cycle engines, Glory retained the armouring scheme of wrapping water ice reaction mass around the hull, but also included a new revolutionary scheme designed to defend against lasers. Glory’s external thermal shield was composed of carbon-12 backed by a hafnium diboride ceramic layer, backed by a beryllium copper alloy layer. Carbon-12 ablates slowly when hit by a laser, carrying away heat and also creating a cloud of plasma that disrupts the beam. Hafnium diboride has high thermal conductivity while the beryllium copper acts as a heat sink, spreading heat from the ceramic layer over large area, thus preventing the ceramic from melting at the hit point. Beryllium also offers additional protection against neutron radiation. Glory also carried the standard Whipple shield and lithium deuteride anti-radiation layer. Below these, however, it carried a new water-based active cooling system, which was designed to further reduce damage by lasers.

The implications of Glory were staggering. Until then, battles had taken place at ranges of a few tens of kilometres at most, with only the development of the nuclear shell and cannon capable of firing shot at twenty-five kilometres-per-second pushing engagements beyond visual range. A laser-armed battleship, however, could conceivably engage targets at over one hundred thousand kilometres. Cannon-armed battleships were totally obsolete. Hysteria erupted in the Commonwealth on Glory’s launch, and the Solarian Federal Government admitted in 2210 that it had planned an invasion of the Saturn system using Glory and her two sister ships as the primary striking element before the Commonwealth could react. In response to the “invasion scare”, the Commonwealth began development of its own laserers with the Warrior-class.

HMS Warrior and HMS Black Prince were launched in 2161. With four 150-megajoule spinal lasers, heavier armour and point-defence, and more powerful engines, they were more effective than the Glory-class, and were briefly the most powerful warships in the Solar System. By 2166, laser-armed warships were the core of all of the Solar System’s navies. The first battle between these new battleships, however, would not take place between the Commonwealth and the Republic, but within Kuiper itself.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Poem for Sunday: A Deluge of Elvers

An elver is a young eel
(image source:

Standing to attention,                                                            
Tall and straight                                                                                
They wait -                                                                                         
Towering high -
Wellingtons -                                                                                     
By a big wide door,                                                                              
And expectant


Small legs
And tiny feet,
Hot with excitement,
Wriggle and push
Move around,
Step out,
And we’re off.

We’re out

Out on the road
In an old Morris Minor,
Sweeping down to the sea.

And we’re there.
Out into the salty air.
Clouds playing hide and seek,
Wind whipping the hair
Of a small girl in round-rimmed glasses,
Mouth breathing‘ohhhhh’
As we go
Down to the water’s edge.

Soak up
the sea’s treasures.

A deluge of elvers
Dashing …

Gliding and sliding
Glistening and writhing

In their millions.

A rhapsody of movement.
A magical melody …

Bold, cold
Jewels of jet
She won’t forget.

‘Can we take one home Daddy?’

And the day passes
And melts away quicker than

Home time.

One last look in the stream ..

Pushing and jostling,
Squeezing and teasing,
Nibbling and nudging,
The jewels of jet
She can’t forget
Are there.


Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Problem of Inspiration

by Jemima Carter

The start of the summer holidays this year, as always, heralded the making of an array of various resolutions; among them were all the regulars: exercise more, tidy my room, eat better, complete all of my work within the first week or so, as well as a couple of odder ones like learning the guitar and/or Spanish. Hmm. Needless to say, a few weeks down the line none of the above has got even close to being achieved. But why? I can’t exactly blame beautiful weather; in true British fashion, aside from a day or two when the temperature crept above 20°C, leaving everyone in a state of shock (and, more worryingly, undress on the streets), wind-swept days at the beach and soggy barbecues have triumphed over the hoped-for Caribbean conditions that never quite seem to make it to this end of the Gulf Stream.

Even worse, that most efficient of time-wasters, the Internet, has been less that functional for most of the time. Apparently, sunny Lavant is not the place to go for signal, be it of the Internet, mobile, or television variety, for the sporadic nature of all three is infuriating enough to drive someone seeking to occupy their hours right round the bend.  The lack of any decent time-wasting activities has led me to wondering what on earth I’ve been doing since July. I certainly haven’t achieved anything; the piles of work seem to have actually grown since the start of the holidays and the guitar lies dusty in a corner of my room, which incidentally has still not been tidied and vaguely resembles some sort of nuclear warzone. In short, no matter how long eight weeks is, I seem to be unable to get anything done in such a great length of time.

However, a few days ago, it hit me: if it’s not time that I’m lacking, then it must be something else.

Friday, 17 August 2012

A Brief History of Space Combat: Part III

The third instalment of Bobby Abernethy's A Brief History of Space Combat, prequel to his award-winning Red Nightfall and Grey Dawn. The next instalment will be published on this blog on Monday, 20th August.

Between the Wars: The Age of Explosives

Though the Twenty Years’ War was over, the Solar System was far from peaceful. The near-fifty years of peace that had followed World War III, the longest continuous period without war in humanity’s history, had been shattered. With the Saturn system still a disputed territory and none of the powers agreeing to a disarmament clause at the Rhea Peace Conference, the need to wage war in space remained.

An uneasy peace, the Pax Solaria as it is known in Dog Latin, began after 2115. The primary conflicts were land wars on rebellious Commonwealth colonies. The Pax Solaria, sometimes referred to as the “Age of Osterhagen”, after the diplomatic efforts of the Solarian politician Nadine Osterhagen, saw no major wars break out until 2153. Hatred and suspicion was the norm throughout the Solar System, however, and all three navies sought to gain an advantage over each other.

The first major new development came in 2122 with the invention of a new type of cannon by Lamarre Naval Technologies in the Solarian Republic. Looking for a weapon that could decisively breach Whipple shields, the SRN quickly adopted the CN17 25/20 cannon, which in addition to the standard solid and tandem shot, could fire a variety of high explosive shells. Multi-stage explosively-formed penetrators and high-explosive anti-tank shells promised to be able to defeat any Whipple shield. The design was quickly copied by the Commonwealth Navy and the Confederate States Navy, and by 2130 the Lamarre gun was the standard armament aboard all new battleships, beginning with the Solarian Gaillou-class.

With the end of the war, the Commonwealth began to worry about future insurrections on its colonies. The Navy put forward a design for an orbital support ship. Poorly-armoured but heavily armed, it could be used to quell uprisings in the first few days and support troops via an orbital bombardment during the invasion stage. Thus the monitor was born with the Humber-class. Monitors saw their first deployment during the Ganymede Troubles of 2133, and have served as recently as the Hyperion Massacres.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Elvis: 35 Years On

Elvis Presley: born 8th January, 1935, died 16th August, 1977.

"Before Elvis, there was nothing." --- John Lennon

'The young boy with the long, greasy, dirty-blond hair poked his head in the door shyly, tentatively, looking as if he were ready to withdraw at a moment's notice if you just said boo to him, using that look to gain entrance, determined somehow to make himself known.
He said, "If you know somebody that needs a singer . . ."
And I said, "What kind of singer are you?"
He said, "I sing all kinds."
I said, "Who do you sound like?"
"I don't sound like nobody."'
         Marion Keisker of Sun Studio, quoted by Peter Guralnick in Last Train to Memphis 

'Elvis contained more of America --- had swallowed whole more of its contradictions and paradoxes --- than any other figure I could think of . . . I understood Elvis not as a human being but as a force, as a kind of necessity: that is, the necessity existing in every culture that leads it to produce a perfect, all-inclusive metaphor for itself. This is what Elvis Presley turned out to be. Or, rather, turned himself into. Or, maybe, agreed to become. This would of necessity be a Faustian bargain.' Greil Marcus, Dead Elvis: A Chronicle of a Cultural Obsession

Why We Miss The Olympics

 by Fay Davies

After the closing ceremony on Sunday, I felt lost. The Olympics would no longer occupy a vast proportion of my time and Twitter output. I couldn't remember how to resume normal life. London 2012, as Russian ambassador Aleksander Yakovenko put it, 'was not bad'. It wasn't bad! Thank goodness. But why does it matter? Why do we care so much about the Olympic Games?
Maybe it stems from a desire to be the best. There is something incredibly emotive about seeing an athlete win a race, especially when it is replayed seven times in slow motion. It's a perfect visual metaphor for, perhaps, 'our country beats your country'. The competition between the countries themselves, let alone the athletes, plays an undeniable role in our love of the Olympics, illustrated perfectly by the medal table. It's almost as if a country's final position on the table indicates its general greatness. The New York Times went to great lengths to ensure that the USA was on top during the early stages of the games, changing the system to rank by total number of any medals and therefore placing them above China – who had more golds at that point. It just so happens that this system makes Great Britain finish 4th. The very fact that I am indignant enough to point this out is an indicator of how involved I became with the Games, and I doubt that I am alone. The Olympics is meant to be about something like 'the peaceful coming together of nations', but we are innately tribal really.
Part of the reason we care about the Olympics is because we care what other people think of us, and the rest of the world enjoy the opportunity for an inspection. The BBC news give a great deal of space to articles like 'How The World Saw The Olympic Games', showing such gems as this review from China's newspaper People's Daily: 'From the wrong national flag being hung for the North Korean women's football team in the women's football group match before the opening ceremony to losing keys to Wembley Stadium; from no toilets at the basketball hall to one baffling penalty decision after another...' In general, though, the Games let the host country demonstrate its superiority to the rest of the world. This phenomenon is no better encapsulated than by the opening ceremony. Comedienne Sarah Millican tweeted after the ceremony: 'Wowsers, well I think the Olympics went really well. Thought there'd be more sport but happy that we did well.' She speaks the truth: the desire to impress with this four-hour spectacular overshadows the actual purpose of the Games. Unless, of course, this is the actual purpose of the Games. To show off.
And what of the athletes?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Agent of Chaos

by Rob Bendell
The Joker
As terrifying as a villain who has a plan for utopia can be, somehow a villain who intentionally disrupts plans rather than designing one for them self is infinitely worse. The best example in recent times is the more recent portrayal of the Joker. This is a man for whom evil is an end in itself, for whom no victory is more exciting than being able to keep playing the game. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this is the fact that it is simply impossible to understand for any sane person. Add to this the Joker’s essential changeability, and you have a character that will never be grasped. From Hannibal Lecter to Gollum, from Bellatrix Lestrange to Jigsaw insanity seems to have an innate draw in a villain that reasonability and morality just can’t match.
Possibly the best well-known representation of this is the Heath Ledger Joker in Dark Knight. From the first moment we are introduced to him, other characters show our own reaction; a desperate clutching for understanding. The words said before the Joker reveals himself are ‘What do you believe in? This search for some kind of logic behind this essentially illogical character is perhaps what generates such fascination, and such fear. As the first film of the trilogy puts it, ‘This is a world you’ll never understand. And you always fear what you don’t understand.’