Friday, 31 October 2014

What is Halloween?

by Will Hall

(source: wiki commons)

As it is already this time of year, although the weather doesn’t seem in sync with it at the moment, I thought about what Halloween really is, as it can’t have always been about costume parties in the past…

Nowadays, we carve pumpkins, go ‘trick or treating’ and have costume parties, but as you would imagine, the idea of Halloween has changed significantly over the years.

Supposedly, much like the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’, Halloween is a day of the year which is dedicated to remembering the dead. The most commonly recognised symbol for Halloween has to be a pumpkin, or a ‘Jack o’ lantern’ which refers to a carved and lit pumpkin. It isn’t very clear where jack o’ lanterns came from, but it is thought that the face that is normally carved into a pumpkin was used to represent a soul of the deceased. Some people prefer to carve turnips instead, although the numbers of people that carve turnips are definitely a minority.

Unfortunately, Halloween is one of those things in the past that we don’t really know much about, it’s just there and we don’t really know why. The origins of Halloween supposedly lie with Christians, and the Irish, but again, we’re not too sure. Now, after reading this, you probably won’t have learnt very much about Halloween, and I have to say that I’ve learnt less than I thought I would, purely because there isn’t that much to know. But, anyway, I thought I’d leave you with nice little Irish folktale that is associated with the Jack o’lantern: 

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Since When Did Ebola Merchandise Become Cute Collectables?

by Isabelle Welch

Throughout the past few months, I am sure you have all heard an awful lot about the 2014 Ebola outbreak. The epidemic is said to have killed almost 9,000 people worldwide, but that’s not holding some people back from turning what is being described as "catastrophic" for humanity into a joke and even attempting to ‘cash in’ on it.

Recently, I have found my newsfeed subject to countless memes and tweets taunting and ridiculing those affected and demonstrating how apparently ‘unfazed’ some people are by the fast-looming epidemic. Despite the fact Ebola has killed over 4,500 people in West Africa and there is an increasing number of western medics risking their lives to help the afflicted, a vulgar number of individuals still think that there is an element of comedy to be made out of Ebola, only taking notice of it to ‘get a laugh’ on social media.

Thanks to the Internet’s wearying capability of allowing users to take any sort of tiresome ‘joke’ and circulate it for 'amusement', even to the extent of physicalizing it, Ebola memorabilia even extends to collectable T-shirts, among other things. First of all I would like to point out that a T-shirt saying: ‘I went to Nigeria and all I got was this lousy T-shirt, and Ebola’ is both gross, and also factually incorrect -- Nigeria has been successful in containing Ebola.

There is also a company, Helanjewellery, advertising $63 necklaces featuring the image of the virus as if as if there’s something cute about the squiggly shaped killer organism. The same company ‘proudly’ manufactures ‘pray to end Ebola’ candles; presumably their hope is that the cure won't undercut their profit margins. They do claim that ‘a portion of each sale goes to support the Ebola Crisis in Liberia.’ I would however, be curious to know how big that ‘portion’ is.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Not Just for Kids

by Robert Merriam

(source: wiki commons)

I really like movies and often, when talking about movies, I am asked which is my favourite. I, being quite a boring person, have given this question a lot of thought; after all, you will doubtlessly be judged based on your answer. It is then slightly reluctantly that I give the answer: WALL-E.

Upon hearing this, people often respond by saying something along the lines of: “Isn’t that a kid’s movie?”

And now I’ll get to the point: can we stop calling anything that is animated and rated U a "kid’s movie"? Of course, there is nothing wrong with being for kids; in fact, WALL-E is for kids, but WALL-E is also for everyone else and I refuse to be ashamed of loving it so much. Some people call these types of films "family movies", which is slightly better than "kid’s movie", but still implies that it is only for families. You shouldn’t have to watch WALL-E with your family as a joke, you should be able to watch WALL-E with anyone: as a film in its own right.

WALL-E, in case you’re unaware, is about a lone (and mostly silent) robot living on Earth hundreds of years in the future. The Robot (WALL-E) is the last functioning part of a huge operation to clean up all the rubbish left by the now-departed humans. WALL-E’s peaceful life of working, collecting knick-knacks and listening to show tunes is interrupted by EVE, a probe sent back to Earth by the space-dwelling humans. As you might be able to tell, from my incredibly boring synopsis (the movie is better I promise), the film has an environmental message, but, apart from that, it is exciting, visually stunning and deeply touching. In fact it has a lot in common with 2009's Avatar but is, for my money, much better. I would bet, however, that you would be prouder to call that film your favourite than you would to call WALL-E or any other animated film.

It saddens me that people avoid or belittle animation simply because it has been used traditionally to appeal to children more than adults or because it doesn’t contain enough violence or language to be taken seriously. 3D animation is one of the most painstaking and work-intensive ways to make a film and the quality of  the works of PIXAR, DreamWorks, Disney and Blue Sky is often greater  than much of the stuff produced for older audiences. Of course not all children’s films are masterpieces for all ages but, currently, it seems that we only pay any attention to them if they have a catchy tune to go with them (I’m looking at you, Frozen).

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Why You Should Visit Auschwitz

by Fenella Johnson

Entrance to Auschwitz-Birkeanu
(source: Wiki Commons)

Sitting down to write about Auschwitz-Birkenau is hard. I’ve been putting it off all week -- where do you begin? 

It is not a place that can be expressed by words. I’d been thinking for a long time before I went about what to write -- maybe about the horror of the place. I expected to be horrified.

But, after going, it was not as simple as that -- not as simple as opening a Word Document and writing.

Sitting in a PRS classroom, we learn all the facts, all the figures, but how can we imagine it? 1.3 million people were murdered there. 90% of them were Jews. We know about the brutal, systematic murdering but we can’t begin to understand it. It is only when you are there that it really begins to take on meaning beyond some long-ago historical awfulness.

Auschwitz teaches you many things: about evil, about war, about how the world is not just black and white but grey, about how the worst things that can happen have been done by men to other men. It leaves you reeling.

guards at Auschwitz
It teaches you that these things were not done by the evil, ugly men of German Nazi cartoons, but by men who looked like Ralph Fiennes. It was done by a man in an office planning how many people could be killed by a tablet. Somebody was told to design the gas chambers. A man had to design the poster hung up in the shower room that in 5 different languages told the prisoners not to panic. A man had to organise the train timetabling for the Jews, a man had to design prisoners' uniforms. This is what Auschwitz teaches you -- that it wasn’t just Hitler and his ministers deciding and executing, but thousands of people completing their orders. 

As more and more Holocaust survivors are dying, the truth of the Holocaust is going with them. The Holocaust is being edited into this more palatable Hollywood version: Good vs Evil, Hitler vs the Rest, but it wasn’t like that. This is what Auschwitz reminds you.

What took place in Auschwitz was far worse than any classroom or book can teach you and that is why you should visit -- it teaches you a lesson that you cannot learn from a slideshow. And that lesson is different for every single person who walks through the infamous entrance to the death camp. That is why you should visit Auschwitz.

The thing about Auschwitz is that a place that commemorates death makes you feel alive. It makes you realise how small and how insignificant your humanity is but how important it is that you are humane. It makes you realise how fragile life is and that the worst things in the world are both nuclear bombs and guns --the worst thing is what a man can do to another man. That is why you should visit Auschwitz.

Men, women and children imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Gender Inequality in India: Is There Hope?

by Tanya Thekkekkara

India is one of the fastest-developing economies in the world, with the likes of Barack Obama describing the country as “not just a rising power” but one that has “already risen.” Yet this optimism is greatly overshadowed by the fact that it still remains weak socially because of its social disparities, distinctly gender inequality.

Sexual violence against women in India is widespread throughout the country. Against the multitude of cases reported, the Delhi gang rape case stands out the most. The sheer gruesome nature of the event highlighted the severe attitude towards women. This was India’s urgent wake-up call for change. India’s population went into a frenzy. Tens of thousands of protesters who marched in several cities and signed online petitions, were acting not just in response to this incident but also to express their anger at the way women in India are treated more generally. They criticised the apathy of the state in the face of rape and the severe deficiencies in the implementation of law and order. It soon became evident to people: India has a “woman problem.” Eventually, On September 13, 2013, a Delhi court sentenced to death four of the six men accused of the gang rape and murder of the victim. Although it provided some closure for the family, objectively it seemed that it was designed to please the public, without actually dealing with the complex socio-political factors behind the crime in the first place.

Not only is there the aspect of sexual violence, but also a strong “son preference” throughout a society that notoriously has high rates of female infanticide. According to the activist Rita Banerjee, within a span of three generations, India has systematically targeted and annihilated more than 50 million women from its population. One illustration of this is the distorted sex ratio: the 2011 census found that there are 940 women for every 1000 men in some states of India. This is due to popular belief that having sons is more economically beneficial towards the family as dowry won’t be needed.

The underlying problem
The underlying root of this problem is India’s brand of religiosity and the doctrine of the “honour of women” making it increasingly difficult to change the perspective of both genders in today’s society to address violence against women. This traditional mind-set originates from old Hindu beliefs that girls should be brought up to be good daughters and later obedient wives. The docility is a prized characteristic for Indian women. If in any circumstances a female deviates from social norms, they are considered to bring shame not only upon themselves but also upon their family and community who reciprocate by stigmatising and punishing the deviant, often by violence. This is further reinforced by the survey carried out by India’s National Commission for Women stating that 88.9% of the honour killings are perpetrated by family members. It is this concept of the social role of women that prevents India from achieving equality.  
What can be done in order to tackle the problem? How can we achieve change? 

Friday, 24 October 2014

Poem for Friday: His Inheritance?

by Nick Graham

A single gleaming golden sphere,
Through the azure sky draws near.
Shafts of light like liquid flow,
Through canopy to ground below.
Vaulted halls with walls of pine,
Through leafy ceilings sun doth shine.

A world he’ll never see.

The arid air,
Blankets the sand.
The fierce winds howl,
Across the dunes.
An everlasting sea of sand,
Bronzéd waves upon the land.

A world he’ll never see.

A glittering plain,
Littered with shards,
Streaked with blue,
Engulfed by cold,
Torn by razor-sharp storms,
That rake this wilderness.

A world he’ll never see.

Forests of steel,
Meadows of concrete,
Rivers of filthy brown,
Unbreathable, unbroken clouds.
No living thing,
But the human swarm.
Our proud gift,

A world for tomorrow’s child.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Short Story: Unnoticed

by Tilly Goldman

My name is Elizabeth Smith. If you’re reading this you probably already know what happened. Maybe you don’t. But this is what happened. What really actually happened.

It all started on Monday 19th September 1988.There was nothing unusual about the hospital. It was just like any old hospital. Of course we’ve all been to one sometime in the past.

It was quiet and blank, with only the occasional squeak of a trolley or hum of a machine. Oxygen bags hung onto frames next to sleeping patients. Wires and tubes pumping strange fluids into arms.

My Mother, lying limp in her death bed. My Father, sitting next to her, holding her hand and weeping. My Grandparents, nowhere to be seen.

Me trying to decide what to do next.

I pulled back the grey-blue curtain. I took a step to stand at the end of the bed.

My farther didn’t stir at all as I moved around the bed. His black eyes contrasted his red rimmed eyes. He kept muttering over and over, ‘not again. Not again.’ I had no idea what he meant at the time.

The rings on the curtain pole scraped. He looked up. A doctor stood there. Worry lines creased his forehead. Pity filled his eyes as he glanced from my father to me. He ran a hand through his badger-like hair. My father didn’t move his eyes from the doctor.

I had nowhere to go. But I was hungry; really hungry. So I headed to the café in the hospital. I took my place in the queue behind a rather large woman in a black strappy top. I couldn’t help cringing!

As I approached the counter I glanced at the cakes and spied the hugest chocolate cake in all of human history. It was soooo mine! But the woman behind the counter didn’t look at me at all. She just looked straight past to the man behind me. I didn’t really understand why, but I was used to being ignored. By everyone. I didn’t bother trying to get her attention. It wouldn’t work. I’d already tried.

So I left the counter and went to sit in. it had been such a long time the corner of the room. I wondered what the doctor was telling my father. The doctor…he was the first person to notice me since, well I’m not sure. It had been such a long time. It was weird; he had looked at me as if he known me somehow. And the pity in his eyes hadn’t seemed like it was for my mother.

No one spared me a passing glance as I stood silently up from the table. Or as I walked down the white corridors. Or as, I pulled back the grey-blue curtain.

I gasped and stumbled back. My mother wasn’t there.

It was my father.

His hair was starch white and thinning. His skin was pale and crumpled. And his heart machine was nearly flat.

No one noticed me as I wept and screamed. Not as they bustled in and out adjusting tubes and wires. Not as they checked the machines that crowded around the bed. Not as they…

The doctor with the badger-like hair stood staring at me. He hadn’t changed since I saw him an hour or so ago. The worry on his face made me cry harder. I didn’t understand!

How had this happened? What had happened? Where was I going?

I was running. Sprinting down the familiar white corridors. I didn’t know where to. I just kept running.

My father. MY Father! He…he was dying. Just like my mother.

I slow to a brisk walk.

Everywhere is different. It should be different. But everywhere isn’t different like it should be.

As I walk everything speeds up. People changing, buildings growing, colours mixing, houses crumbling, my world spinning upside down.

My eyes start to focus on my surroundings as the tears dry. I was in a graveyard. Standing in front of a grave stone. My eyes were still a little cloudy, so I can just make out ‘RIP’ and ‘loving daughter 1976-1987’ engraved on the stone. This girl had died the year before my mother went into hospital.

Then I froze.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Da Vinci is More Than the Brush

by Sian Latham

(source: wiki commons)
28 score years ago, a group of men were born, a group that were destined to be remembered for 500 years to come. However, between this time of giants, upon whose shoulders we have stood, time (as it is cursed to do) passed. As we all know, with the passing of time, things are lost to its cold grasp and we lose what was once common knowledge. Thus these giants were lost to many generations, names without any meaning to the everyday man. But they lurked at the edge of existence for 500 years, waiting for their memories to be cherished again.

Hold on a minute, Lost? We all know the names of Michelangelo, Galileo and Da Vinci, of course we do. Yet can you all tell me a lot about the reasons for their fame? Michelangelo was that painter guy, right? And Galileo the planet and telescope guy and Da Vinci, didn’t he paint the Mona Lisa? If this is what you are thinking, then you’re right. And so so wrong. There were many skilled painters and astrologists of the time, so why were these three remembered above all others for 100’s of years? Many people even consider them to have behaved as if they were a group of friends that met up for coffee every so often and helped each other through the hardships of life, while, in fact, Michelangelo was a generation younger than Da Vinci, and Galileo was born the year Michelangelo died. Sadly, since I’m to enlighten you on the genius of Da Vinci we must leave Michelangelo and Galileo here, perhaps to tantalize your taste buds to dip into the whirlpool of knowledge for yourself.

In recent years, media has once again breathed life into the sodden rags of history, plucking at its thread to find a key fact or figure to fill the imagination of the world. One such thread that seems to be pulled at incessantly is the one of Leonardo di ser Piero Da Vinci. The problem is, that within a single thread there are many fibres that work to compose the whole, and the media has the sharpest of talons that work tirelessly to fray the thread, pulling only minute fibres from the whole. The one, tiny fibre then becomes, in the media's version of history, the whole thread, the whole man.  As the great playwright and poet who writes of witches, royalty and star-crossed lovers is inexplicably tied to the quill, Da Vinci has come to be bound to the brush. Yet, I put this question to you, if a mathematician was to suddenly produce a published piece of literary work, would you then begin to refer to him as only ever having been a writer?  No, he would be a mathematician, just a mathematician with a high level of literature skills. The one triumph does not make the man.

(source: Wiki Commons)
So, as I stand here before you today, in the hypothetical shadow of a man whose speech I draw upon for inspiration*, I ask you to open your mind to the truth. I ask you to take what you know and combine it with more, to see the whole and not the minute. I ask you to listen with open ears. And it is in hope of those open ears and minds that I tell you that Da Vinci was not a painter, nor was he an inventor, nor an architect. No, for to label him as one, is to miss him completely, as if trying to catch a football with chopsticks, you may graze the ball, but you would never catch it. For,in fact, Da Vinci could lay claim to 11 professions: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and a writer. In many ways, I wonder if perhaps, in humanities quest for betterment and knowledge, we have become so focused within our main principle that another Da Vinci may never appear again. The evidence behind this? The fact that even trying to comprehend someone being a master in eleven professions is hard to compute and understand.  Which is perhaps the reason why, in Da Vinci’s Demons (probably the most accurate depiction of Da Vinci in modern and popular media) they still fail to mention or even  allude to the true extent of his capabilities and I wonder if this is because they fear a true portrayal would make the character seem unbelievable and fantastical.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Poem for Sunday: King of the Sea

by Roame Leaver

The claws hook with a steady eye
Overhead, twenty shimmering fins
As the saltwater parts.
No man can capture as quick as this.

The eagle seeks for perfection.
Dancing on the surface with his wings,
Magnificent like a King
Of the Sea.

Still, that is not enough.
Fearless, he swoops again,
Between two worlds he tears apart,
Gliding overhead until the time is

Friday, 17 October 2014

Eye Contact is a Wonderful Thing

by Nina Luckmann

On the day we were asked to hold a speech about something we were ‘passionate’ about, I found that I didn’t have much to say on anything, and so I resolved to take a break from social media for at least a week in an ‘experiment’ of my own. No Facebook, no tumblr, no Instagram or Snapchat. No watching those click-bait videos, ‘breaking news’ spam posts, or any link with the words ‘…you won’t BELIEVE…’ in the title. I logged off on September 23rd, and planned to come back no earlier than October 5th.

Here’s what I found. In the first week alone, I lost 2kg, completed ALL my homework the day it was set, dedicated myself to the long overdue rereading of ‘His Dark Materials’, cooked half of all recipes in Jamie Oliver’s '30 Minute Meals’ and learnt knife throwing. By week two, I was going on runs every day, had hiked through the New Forest and had got my head around Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘Being and Nothingness’

 . . . In reality, I spent the first few days silently lurking on Instagram, stalking pages of those I both love and despite, or playing game after game of Candy Crush. I still aimlessly scrolled through my newsfeed, or dash, reblogging posts I would actually laugh OUT LOUD at. I started, but still haven’t finished, GRR Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’. I still visited news-aggregate sites. I still clicked on videos. I still wasted time.

After a couple of days, however, things started to change. A few times, when walking to or from school, or in line at the hover, instead of taking out my phone to pass the time and ignore those around me I pretended to hate, I’d look around instead. At the world. At the people around me. Most of them looking at their phones.

The truth is, we are living a life of oblivion. Oblivion of reality. We inhabit a planet where the majority of the population is in a constant state of staring downwards, entranced.

Sometimes I’d catch the eye of an outsider like me. A freak without a phone. Adrift in this flood of bowed heads. A student, whose phone had  probably died. A middle-aged man, probably waiting for a video to load. But these were few. The majority were stooped, staring statues, transfixed by the windows in their palms. Eventually, though, I started to feel less lost without my phone in my hand. It would only come out of my pocket to call someone, or more often, text someone. My eyes met the world more and more, at eye level. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Ebola: Hope Amid Fear

by Ayesha Gyening

Fatu Kekula, student nurse, saves her family from Ebola
As Ebola reaches Europe, and Jeremy Hunt has told Britain that we should expect ‘ten cases by Christmas’ I wanted to share an inspirational story about the epidemic. Ebola, which has killed more than 4,000 people in West Africa, and is rapidly spreading across the globe, is a virus that causes viral haemorrhagic fever and has been deemed the ‘most severe acute health emergency in modern times’ by The World Health Organisation as the number of cases hit 8,400.

70% of the people who catch it are killed, a terrifying figure. What’s even more worrying is that symptoms may only appear up to 21 days after infection so it is difficult to identify if you have the virus thus enabling it to be easily spread. There is also no vaccination, which is why Fatu Kekula’s story is so amazing.

When her 53 year old father, Moses, developed a fever in Liberia, Fatu, a trainee nurse, took him to the nearest hospital. It was there that he unknowingly lay down in a bed where a patient had just died of Ebola, and contracted the virus, which can be spread through bodily fluids. The hospital soon closed down because nurses started dying of Ebola. Although she was rung by the family doctor, urging her to stop risking her life by caring for her family and leave them to die, selfless twenty two year old Fatu Kekula was able to keep three out of the four members of her family who were infected with Ebola alive after they were turned away by four hospitals who were full and unprepared for the over flow of people. After returning home with her father, who then infected the rest of her family, she called for an ambulance every day for two weeks, yet her calls were ignored.
Fatu's family: sister, mother and father

 In fact, lack of space in hospitals is a huge problem in Liberia, with many desperately ill patients lying motionless on the ground; too weak to even get up to go inside. In one video you can see a little boy attempt to get out of an ambulance and walk into a hospital, only to collapse to the ground, where he remained, unaided the hospital workers. It is ironic that although he was only metres away from help, he was still suffering.

Faced with the chance of losing her entire family, Fatu, who is in her final year of nursing school, took it upon herself to care for them, with the only help being a phone call from the family doctor who refused to go to her home.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

It Must Be True, I Read It In The Tabloids.

by Holly Govey

In such a connected society, news of events around the world is available at the touch of a button, and the influence of mass media has grown exponentially with advances in technology. Yet often we do not stop to consider the implications of the sources of our information or the motivations of the authors who bring it to us.

Media enjoys a seemingly bidirectional relationship with the public, who both influence and are manipulated by the way news is presented. Ostensibly objective, the media attempts to present a controversial topic from different angles in order to allow readers to formulate their own opinion about the stories which are reported. Furthermore, in many democratic systems, it is the role of the media to keep the public aware of what those in positions of power are doing with their authority. Unfortunately however, news reports can be controlled and manipulated by media figures, be it from a governmental source or by their backers, causing the tone, description, and amount of coverage to form a single narrative that conforms to set of standards and is biased towards a particular view.

This notion is exemplified by the recent coverage of the beheading of Western journalists by IS militants, reported to have been used as a propaganda weapon to compensate for the military losses they are suffering due to western air strikes. Albeit gruesome, the beheadings are a way of creating an impression of victory in order to demoralize their enemies and frighten the world into submission. In this way, through the creation of stories which are dangerous to report and sickening to read, the persecution of journalists has a particular insidious impact. In addition, media representations of Government officials and political parties have a direct impact on voting behaviour and amount to huge shifts in public opinion, as highlighted through the changing perception of the outcome of the Scottish referendum based on information received via the media.

Historically, warfare around the world has generated controversy over the role of media in covering international affairs. Disputes about media coverage have led to the exposure of the juxtaposition between the political impact of reports on public opinion and the media’s concern with rapid communication of news. Furthermore, the preoccupation of states with military matters, also conflicts with the political assumptions of a full disclosure of information. The role of national agendas within national media, compounded by the denial of physical access to combat sites, has in the past rendered journalists unable to report objectively and accurately on military issues. The Vietnam War is a significant example of this notion, as a “credibility gap” was allowed to develop between the negative media coverage and the more optimistic official announcements, resulting in a growing rejection of the Government’s handling of the war.

A Different View from North of the Border

by Alex McKirgan

During the summer vacation I spent some time with the Yes campaign for the Scottish Referendum. Apart from enjoying the experience of what more experienced campaigners have called the most exciting, vibrant political campaign in Scotland's history, the most important takeaway for me was the completely different perspectives of the Referendum of people down here in England and people in Scotland. Here, there was a massive sense of bewilderment. Some common reactions were "Really, you want to leave? Surely you know it will be a disaster." "The Union has been great, let's not throw it away."

Compare this with the reaction in Scotland. National identity has undergone a huge change in Scotland in the the last 40 years. After WW2, the main institutions holding together support for the Union were: memories of the War, the big nationalised industries (Coal, Steel, Shipbuilding etc) and the Trades Union movement and even with the SNP's first by-election victory in 1967, Nationalism was a fringe movement. English people cannot begin to understand the damage to the concept of a British Union that the Thatcher government caused. A government that was (and still is) widely revered in England, wrought devastation across large swathes of Scotland. She may have thought that the monetarist policies, high interest rates, de-industrialisation and the weakening of the Trades Union movement, were a price worth paying but it demonstrated to many Scots that they have a different political and cultural outlook to their cousins down South. The Conservatives (who until the 1970s went by the name The Conservative and Unionist Party) are still paying a price to this day. One of the most quoted jokes during the campaign was that there are more Pandas in Edinburgh Zoo (2) than there are Scottish Tory MPs (1). Failure to recognise the extent to which Scots have, in the main, a different set of cultural and political values leads to the surprise and bewilderment that we have just experienced.
Thatcher: wrought devastation in Scotland

Scots wanted more control over government because they felt they would make different decisions and make different judgements. Being 8% of the total population of the UK they were not surprised that they would frequently get a government that they felt did not represent their views, but they wanted that to be different. The most compelling phrase from Alex Salmond was that with independence, Scotland would always get the government it voted for. The movement for some form of devolution became irresistible and a Scottish Parliament was re-constituted after another referendum in 1999. At that point, most people in England thought the issue was settled but they failed to notice what was happening across the border.

For generations, the Labour Party had dominated Scottish politics. In fact, one of the main reasons behind using a Proportional Representation system for the Holyrood parliament was to prevent a permanent Labour majority. Indeed, the first couple of Scottish Governments were run as coalitions. From the 1999 referendum, the SNP started building what even one senior Westminster Tory described as "the best political machine in Western Europe". But this was not just  based on superior organisation. They were able to build on a growing sense that Scotland, a nation of 5 million people with substantial mineral wealth and an educated population, could be a successful independent country. Against all the odds, the SNP won an outright majority at the last elections for the Scottish Parliament. That was the key event that led to the recent Referendum.

Salmond and "the best political machine in W. Europe"
I started this article talking about the differences in perception between people on different sides of the border. The main argument for Better Together (and a view widely shared in England) was that the risks of Independence were just too great. When pressed to come up with a positive case for staying in the Union, the most positive thing they could say was "We will make it smaller and less relevant to you" i.e. Devo Max. The more sensible Unionist commentators admitted that of course, Scotland COULD be a successful smaller country but they thought it could be more successful within the Union. As the polls got tighter, English commentators descended into a hysterical "of course, it will be a complete disaster" narrative. You have no idea how condescending and patronising this came across to most Scots. The lowest version of this view was the old stereotype that Scotland is a welfare-dependent country living off a subsidy from England. The only flaw in this argument was the fact that it is not true. Yes, the Barnett Formula leads to higher government spending per head in Scotland but this is more than offset by government revenue raised in Scotland. Scotland runs a budget surplus. Of course there are risks and dangers but many Scots were excited and energised by the possibilities offered by independence and supremely confident in their ability to look after themselves in a globalised world. While the Yes campaign and UKIP both benefit from a prevailing anti-Westminster feeling, that is where the similarities end. The Yes campaign was hugely aspirational, youth-driven and outward looking. You only have to list 2 components of the Yes campaign to see the and pro-immigration - to see the difference.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Nerds Like Us

by Sophie Parekh

So, the twenty-first century has brought us many a cultural intrusion, such as hashtags, vlogging and shipping to name a few. However, it also appears to have popularised nerdiness on a phenomenal scale. 

Now, I’m not saying there weren’t nerds before 2000. There have been geeks since the beginning of time, but not quite existing in the same light. The nerds of old were, according to the movies, bespectacled, buck-toothed, maths-worshipping weeds who couldn’t walk two steps without gasping for their inhalers and were the sole target of the pumped up jocks who seemed to be made of steroids (see picture below):

But, during the last ten or so years, a new breed of nerd has evolved.

And they are cool.

*Gasp, shock-horror, falls off chair, goes into cardiac arrest, gets rushed to hospital and is now in the ICU* Okay, that might have been a slight overreaction… Nevertheless, the shock is well deserved. Look at these 5 pictures and ask yourself, what do they all have in common?

They are all, what could be stereotypically categorised as, nerdy. And yet, we look upon them as an integral part of our culture and do not question their place within it. They are not seen as something to be despised, and the principle for which they stand has in fact spawned many other sub-cultures in which we all indulge on occasion. For example, ‘nerd glasses’ seem to be a key feature of the ‘scene kid’ culture. In short, it is now okay to insult people in Shakespearean in public, whereas before we could only do it in the privacy of our own home.

I may be being a bit radical, but I fear that the notion of ‘jock’ or ‘sporty person’ is slowly but surely creeping out of fashion and behind the metaphorical curtains of subculture. Those who refute the idea of spending an evening huddled in the dark, binge-watching Game of Thrones for the eighth time and instead prefer to spend it going for a run *another cardiac arrest*. This is, quite rightly, viewed by most normal functioning members of society as crazy. But why??? I hear you ponder while staring with avid interest at your screen. And I have come up with a theory based on an extremely limited knowledge of psychology and an incredible talent for pontificating.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Nobel Peace Prize: The Right of all Children to an Education

by Isabelle Welch

Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize 2014

Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian child-rights campaigner, and Pakistani child education activist Malala Yousafzai jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. The prize was awarded for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to an education.

At 17, Malala is the same age as many of those in the Sixth Form form at PGS and the youngest- ever recipient of the prize. She narrowly escaped death after being shot in the head by Taliban gunmen two years ago whilst campaigning for girls' education in Pakistan. She now lives and studies in Birmingham and confessed that she was in her chemistry class, studying electrolysis, when the thrilling news was revealed to her.
I am sure many would agree when I say Malala is an inspiration. At 11 years old, she had already begun her fight for education rights. She expressed her outrage to the local newspaper regarding the Taliban’s policies: "How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to an education?" and was also writing a blog for the BBC, describing life under Taliban rule.
Since the failed assassination attempt, terrorists have said that they will attack her again if they get the chance; but Malala refuses to be intimidated. The only thing she admits is that she is ‘a little bit scared of ghosts,’ a phobia I am sure many of us can relate to, but, unlike many, she courageously declared: “I’m not afraid of the Taliban. No, not at all.”

I think it is easy to take for granted the fantastic education we receive at PGS and more importantly – as girls and boys - our unfettered entitlement to education. Malala forces us to acknowledge how lucky we are. In 2012 the United Nations declared the teenager's birthday "Malala Day" She stood up to address the UN’s dignitaries and told them about how she represents the estimated 57 million children around the globe who are unable to attend school.

Has Modern Art Lost Its Soul?

by Alice Priory

What is art? There is no definite answer to this question, but for me, art is something visual that reveals the artist's emotions or tells a story that we can relate to and create our own meaning for. It is what makes us fundamentally human- the desire to express what we see, how we feel, who we are, and to communicate this to other people.

I love the freedom you get when presented with a blank canvas, a roll of white paper, a clean fresh page, like waking up on a winter’s morning to a brand new world covered in snow. Your imagination is your only restriction as you add the first colour. You just need to set your mind free.

I believe that art is personal and ambiguous- everyone interprets a painting or sculpture in a different way. A good example is “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. The vibrant world spins around someone screaming in anguish, anger, confusion or maybe even happiness. There are no right answers.             

The Scream by Edvard Munch
40,000 years ago, the first painting was created. Using twigs, bones and horse-hair brushes, charcoal and crushed ochre was smeared onto cave walls, capturing images of herds of animal silhouettes hunted by tiny warriors carrying spears. The discovery, only this week, of cave paintings in Indonesia has shocked archaeologists with the realisation that humans have been expressing themselves through art 10,000 years longer than they originally thought. Not only do the cave paintings help us trace the first forms of art, they also hold historic value, revealing what the cave people felt and experienced during their lives. In these caves, the seed of art was planted and grew roots as a foundation for our creativity and imagination. Over time, art has flourished and adapted through artists such as Monet and Van Gogh who have shaped it and made it their own.

A stencil of an early human's hand in an Indonesian cave (c. 37, 000 BC)

But, 40,000 years later, these roots have been torn apart. Elements of art that are absolutely irremovable from its definition, like skill, refinement and thoughtfulness, are all destroyed at the broadly open, democratic gates of Modern Art. The People’s Art. Anybody can do it. No aptitude? No drawing skill? No sense of colour? It doesn’t matter because a blank sheet of paper or the contents of a litter bin can now be called art and sell for millions.

Many people believe Pop Art is where art “went wrong”, but I disagree. Andy Warhol’s work in particular celebrates common objects and people of everyday life by bringing vibrancy and colour into our world and is now one of the most recognizable styles of modern art.

No. It is even more recent artist such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin who have steered us towards cold, sterile and uninspiring art.

Mother and Child by Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst made an exhibition of distorted sheep, and cows sliced perfectly in half, all preserved in glass cases. Is this what art has become? The 20th century artist, Yves Klein created a painting worth $4 million dollars: A blue square. This untitled piece of artwork was just one of the 200 monochromes Klein painted in his life and supposedly represents pure space and religion. The fact that it is untitled, for me, emphasizes the lack of emotion and creativity which shows that if you are an artist with a well know name, anything can be sold as high end art, as long as you give it a symbolic meaning.

Blue Epoch by Yves Klein

In fact, our society has become so detached from the true value of art, that the price is now more important than the art itself. The more expensive, the more impressive.

I’m not saying that art needs to be complex and inaccessible, or that we shouldn’t be open-minded; however, some artists have taken advantage of this freedom. They have experimented and created a “soulless monster”. What does this say about our community? That we are dull and uninspired? I don’t believe we are, but why are we represented by a preserved cow and plain blue square?

When you watch the archaeologists entering the caves for the first time and flickering their torches on the stone walls that haven’t been seen for 40,000 years, you see animals brought to life thanks to the extraordinary craft of those first artists. It is this which modern art seems to find it so hard to capture or even to see in the world today: a sense of wonder and spirit. So, when I next take pen to paper, as an artist, I hope to re-create this and bring the blank page to life.

Sunday, 12 October 2014


by Alice MacBain

“Beauty”. Such is life that we must fixate our time and effort on something so intangible and indefinable. Is the notion of beauty truly important, or are we attempting to describe the indescribable? We need to look at the effects of our incessant analysis of people and their looks. Am I beautiful? Perhaps to some I am; perhaps to others I am the epitome of unattractiveness.

Beauty is a gravitational pull; it is far harder to prove its existence than you would, say, an apple’s, yet we insist on clinging to the idea and we find ourselves held by its attraction. People have different ideas of how it works and what it looks like, but most agree on the essence. But perhaps beauty does not actually exist.

In some cultures, the bigger your body, the more prominent and accepted you are. Yet in places like the U.K. and parts of the U.S.A. we fill our media with twig bitches who do not naturally look this way, and muscly yet slim men with almost unattainable bodies. The looks of these people then become ideals for many of the younger generations and they feel pressured to look the same, no matter what the consequences. In Venezuela, the mannequins are now being made with huge breasts and so the women there feel pressured into fitting that image. Because of this, Venezuela has one of the highest plastic surgery rates in the world as women spend the money they have, and don’t have, on silicone implants and enhancement procedures.

It seems to me that the perfect look of beauty is non-existent. If we tried to please everybody, each person would have big bums and small bums at the same time, round faces, square faces, oval faces and every other shaped face AT THE SAME TIME. We would be black, white, yellow, orange, beige and all the colours under the sun AT. THE. SAME. TIME.  It is impossible to look perfect because a) we cannot be simultaneously all of those things, and b) there is no overriding perfect. Instead, there is self. My self is how I look, and no one should tell me that it is wrong. Your selves are how you look, and you are not wrong. We are simply individuals obsessed with finding an overall look that does not exist.

Who decided that body shape mattered? Some of us aren’t born with the right bone structure to be slim; some of us aren’t born with the right bone structure to be “curvy” as we call it. Our culture contradicts itself so much in its beliefs. Someone who doesn’t have a flat stomach and a tiny waist, or is overweight is often considered not only unattractive, but lazy and undisciplined. And yet, a woman who is naturally slender is now often seen as superficial and vain. For some bizarre reason, we are unable to find acceptance in natural looks and bodies and thus must congratulate people on losing weight and becoming thinner yet damn those who already look like that.

Would You Put Stephen Fry in Prison?

by Filippa Furniss

(source: Wiki Commons)
Stephen Fry represents all that is British culture, intelligence and intellect. As a broadcaster, comedian, writer, presenter, actor, Fry has managed to integrate his timeless humour, and vast knowledge into infinite aspects of media for the better part of the last 30 years. An all-time favourite pastime of mine happens to be watching a horrifying number of QI episodes back to back on a Sunday, so I feel as if I’m quite well acquainted with Mr Fry by this point.

It may be this family-friendly, good humoured way in which Fry presents himself that shocked the world last week, as his new book More Fool Me was published. In this third instalment of his autobiographies, more of Stephen’s past is revealed in a very personal manner. His struggles with depression and bi-polarity are further examined and discussed, exposing Fry to the whole world to see. However, the issue which I wish to grasp upon is the matter of drug abuse, which Fry discusses openly for the first time.

More Fool Me reveals the depth of drug abuse, involving cocaine, which Stephen Fry plummeted into the late 80s. Fry discusses how it helped him to ease some of the darker moments of his depression, but quickly turned into no more than a hobby. In the past few weeks, Fry has faced much abuse from the media regarding to his past habits, which I feel raises an important question:

Is prosecution still valid to somebody who has abused drugs in the past?

What do I think? No.

What does the law think? It depends.

Up front, this may seem like an irrational and abrupt answer. Surely drug abusers must be arrested and prosecuted for their past crime? This is the basis for the query that I am raising. Throughout the media, we have hundreds of celebrities, such as Fry, discussing their pasts of abusing cocaine and other Class A substances. But why are these people not prosecuted? They have committed a crime, and are now essentially admitting to it. Surely this requires the standard jail time that can stretch up to decades? The Law, however, thinks differently. Upon doing my research, I was amazed that there is no law on past drug abusers. To summarise it simply (and I apologise to any qualified personal for my horrendously vague summarisation), it comes down to the police involved in each case as to how severe, if any, prosecutions are when the drug abuse has been in the past.

Personally, I feel that this seems unfair on those individuals involved in these cases. The abusers themselves have no power as to how the police react, regardless as to whether they committed the crime 10 years ago, or last Wednesday. This is very much why I feel that past drug abuse should have a set time limit on it, and once this number of years have passed, then the individual does not meet arrest, but rather support for tackling addiction.

Stephen Fry is a perfect example of this. More Fool Me speaks out to the world about his past struggle with his cocaine addiction. The key word in that sentence is past. The law is primarily written to protect its people, and to keep us safe. Drug abuse is therefore a crime for the clear reason that these substances are harmful to us! So why, therefore, should somebody who has overcome these addictions, somebody who has conquered a dark part of their life, now be prosecuted for their past actions? 

National Poetry Day: Summer Memories

Thursday, 9th October was National Poetry Day and Mr Richardson and a group of PGS pupils (see below) worked together on a poetry project exploring the theme of Remembrance, collaborating on the following poem, 'Summer Memories'


I remember at the beach…

A ruin on a cliff

Sitting on a rough red rock

With fish nibbling at my toes.


I remember on the sea…

The old blue wooden boat,

The dolphins jumping around us,

The sun sparkling on the water


I remember in the wood…

Green light shimmering through the trees,

Dappling the roof of the tent,

The noise of leaves crunching under foot.


Looking back on my memories

With the blood red moon above,

Jumping on the mattress before sleep,


I dream

In order to remember.

by Natalie Woodford, Venetia Law, Zac Choppen, Maddison Gould, Nick Graham, William Bates and Eloise Peabody-Rolf  

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Nature and Culture: The Cass Sculpture Foundation

by Phoebe Warren

The Cass Sculpture Foundation independently commissions original works from up-and-coming artists as well as established ones. Created by Wilfred and Jeannette Cass in 1992, the Foundation stretches over 26 acres of land holding an evolving display of 80 monumental sculptures. 

Upon viewing the collection at Goodwood, I enjoyed seeing Eve Rothchild’s work, which explores the meeting of culture and nature (see image above). The piece engages the viewer with its unique industrial aluminium construction mixed with overarching angles and geometry. This allows the viewer to connect with the piece, with our perception changing each time we move, and the harsh material creates further contrast within the meeting of human and sculpture.  

Viktor Timofeev’s work (see images above and below) also captured my attention. He uses geometry of an ‘X’ shape in his sculpture to contrast with the naturalistic environment of the woods. The theme of contrasts continues within the piece, since the interior is covered with a polished mirror steal, oxymoronic of the rusting steal exterior. The two elements balance each other to give a sense of harmony and completion upon viewing the piece.