Friday, 27 March 2015

Happy Easter from Portsmouth Point

Happy Easter to all of our readers from the editorial team at Portsmouth Point

PGJS Easter Bonnet Parade, March 27th 2015

Pack Up Your Troubles

by Sophie Whitehead

In the wild those that cannot keep up, cannot match the pace of other mammals, slowly and gradually become extinguished. They die and fade into the undergrowth and the cycle of life repeats. The animals become the very land others prey upon. Yet with humans its different. With humans, I found out, the very cycle is breakable; it is merely a tangible web where even the weakest can regain control if they want to. So I ask myself now Am I am the one with the power?

Im awake. My dream dissipates fast, fading into reality and Im thrown from my world of solace to one that I loath. Sunlight bursts through the barred window, dances off the walls, pirouettes on the floor and the room fills with an array of colours. Salmon pinks, rich ambers and feverish vermilions are my morning call. A flash of recognition crawls across my face and I stumble from my hazy utopia. Its early but my heart beats loud and clear, echoing through my chest and a feeling of bitter-sweet sadness gnaws at my heart. There is a quiet serenity to this time of the morning and I love it. Nothing else has awoken yet; in fact it is as if the world slumbers on wrapped in a duvet of tranquility until it decides it can face the day and awakes from its nest. I stare at the perpendicular lines that make up this room, folding over each other neatly in ninety degree parallels to each other, painted dutifully in Magnolia, the perfect colour. Of course. In the early days, a short while before things had started to go bad, he said he wanted to start up a refurbishing company. I, naturally of course, complimented his decision and from that day made a deliberate effort to keep scraps of cord, cotton and silks wherever I went, so that I could always sew up delights for his entrepreneurial mind.  We had bought the paint together, along with several other room supplies; an exquisite oakwood bedroom suite and an eighteenth century painting of the Sistine Chapel, which had been my personal favourite expenditure of the afternoon. I had always loved art, I felt it provided me an opportunity to escape the monotony of a day to day lifestyle into the world of the artist where your mind could explore whatever wisdom and experiences the artist wished to convey. It was always up to interpretation; there was never a right answer so I cherished this painting, and still do now. It is the only reminder of the life I had; a cruel in-between limbo linking my isolation now with my freedom then. It hangs above my bed and fills me with a creep of hope each morning that maybe, one day, things could be different. 

I shiver recollecting the fact that this room, my room, the one thing I own, is merely a cell to the unfortunate inhabitant trapped within it. The paint has chipped in the rusted corners and the carpet is slack and flaccid underfoot, trod on simply too many times by too many unearthing searches for help. Squashed and crushed down by my anxious paces and the reign of time alone. The refurbishing company never happened unless you would call renovating the top room in the attic just for my confinement, rehabilitating the house. Oh I dont mind really. For a long time I fought his battles, his nightly calls but gradually the hope I had within me fizzled out and I became as I am now, an empty soul irreducible to passion or love. I still have that oakwood suite, tarred and rotten as it is now, sitting along with my memories of that day but my most prized possession; the painting, takes pride of place centred on the wall so it is the first thing I see in the morning and my final thought at night.

My friends? Well I have little problem with friends these days, they grew jealous a long time ago. I ask myself if only they knew now? If only they knew how little Gracies life had turned out in the end, maybe they wouldnt have left and closed the door on friendships that Id had since I was an infant. But the rumours had grew, had they accidentally burned my number or was it that there just werent enough hours in the day to stop by and say hello? I dont know. I lost count of the poor excuses, the snickers, the whispers that had consumed me for months as slowly my friends diminished away. Yet I cant blame them. I was the one who did it. I was the one who chose a relationship over my friends. The law of karma was bound to trap me in the end; look at me now and look at them. As I remain still, a caterpillar that is forever trapped in its chrysalis, they flourish in their high powered jobs, with their omnibenevolent husbands on their arm and children that devote them with attention in suit. Meanwhile I turn to all manners of friendship I could find in my little room. Maybe it was this year or the year before or the year before that; my mind keeps little contact with time these days, that I befriended a small, round mouse and kept that as my cherubim to look over me in the dark nights. We had great times. I would feed her from my delivered food tray, hastily impelled under the door frame mechanically and she used to perch on my flesh until I was asleep. Then one day she was gone. A warmth in the night, a spark in the day extinguished. I wish I could go.
The room is alight with colours but the air is biting ice. Nothing could survive the algific conditions that feast here so at least I know I am safe. For now. It also helps that he is not here. Yet. He has not clawed his way into my little room of sanity that I maintain. Yet. I open my eyes a little and see a shadow lingers by the doorway, already dressed in a tailored suit, carefully manicured for the days events. When I first met him, thats what had appealed; his perfect ways. I thought I was so lucky, everyone had said it. How did Gracie get such a lovely man? How can Gracie possibly ever please him? I close my eyes tight, begging that he hasnt seen me, praying he thinks Im still asleep. A tender, salty tear trickles from my eye and I glance briefly, but with great intensity, at the battered alarm clock on my bed stand. Its one of those alarm clocks that show the time and the date and I had managed to buy it at an outstanding, discounted price at the neighbours car boot sale five years ago. I always remember that though. That day had been one of the only times I had ever seen my husband happy. The sun had been so high on that day, set so neatly in a bloodshot horizon, and I remember feeling so blissfully, uncontrollably content. All because, well, he had been.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Film: Romeo and Juliet Retold

Romeo and Juliet - retold by Year 9 pupils. 

Photography Club: Portrait

by Will Hall. This is one of a series of photographs from Photography Club, focused on the theme of Portraits. 

HMS Lancaster Leaves Home

by Tony Hicks

Type 23 frigate HMS Lancaster sailed from her home in Portsmouth on Saturday for a routine nine-month Atlantic patrol tasking. Hundreds of well-wishing friends and family waved them off from the Hot Walls and Round Tower.

Improving Your Memory

by Frederike Rademacher

As many of us know, exams are right around the corner and the pressure of trying to remember up to three years' worth of information is building. We begin to stress out when we cant remember something that we were taught previously. Panic. However, improving your memory intake is a lot easier then it sounds. We often think of our memory as unchanging and stationary in its development, yet just as we are able to improve everyday skills such as maths or sports through practice, we can also improve our memory.

We have two types of memory, long term and short term. We use our short term memory for everyday things like memorising people's names after meeting them for the first time. Research has shown that we are only able to hold about seven pieces of short term information at one time. Overload the short term memory and something must go. Long term memory is used for remembering past events and memories. Long term memory is used for remembering things that aren't needed instantly.

Your body is a temple. So healthy body means healthy brain, healthy brain means better memory. Anything that helps improve your brain's health automatically increases your memory intake; therefore, eating right, sleeping enough and stimulation through brain exercises such as puzzles. If you want to improve memory you need to really want it, concentrate on it to help embed the information you want to remember further.

1.         Focus
We're all guilty of trying to multitask whilst trying to revise that we end up forgetting the most well known aspect of revising: paying attention. Information requires time to engrave itself into our memory, so if it doesn’t make it into your memory recalling it again is close to impossible. If you quit multitasking then focusing becomes all the more easier.
2.         Smell, touch, see, taste and hear  
Although obvious, the more of our senses we involve the easier it is to recall or memorise something. The memory become much more potent; that's why we are able to recall smells from our early childhood and associate them with things that we smell nowadays. So if and when revising for a language, hear the word by repeating it, rewrite it, say it out loud. By doing so you engage multiple senses, increasing memory intake.
3.         Repeat it
 Repetition helps to memorise information, this is known as over learning. Repetition is effective because it allows an individual to emphasis on words or ideas. Yet cramming doesn’t help as we end up overloading the brain with one idea. Remember what I said about short term memory only able to hold seven pieces of information at a time? Well if you try and fill all those spaces with one piece of information then you’re left with no room at all for other information
4.         Segment
How are we able to memorise long phone numbers off by heart? We divide it into chunks that are more easily memorable, even though our short term memory is supposedly only able to hold seven pieces of information. We've been doing this automatically since birth, taking large bits of information and separating them into smaller more manageable chunks. This helps us to focus more on memorising those chunks as separate pieces.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Aircraft Carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt arrives in Portsmouth Harbour - Sunday, 22nd March

by Tony Hicks

USS Winston Churchill

USS Winston Churchill

USS Theodore Roosevelt passing No Man's Fort

USS Theodore Roosevelt passing St Helen's, Isle of Wight

USS Theodore Roosevelt, crossing the Solent

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Do We Need Electoral Reform?

by Anna Sykes

Did the Conservatives "steal" the election in 1951?
After having gained the most votes in British history in the 1951 election, many would question why in fact Labour did not come to power. There are various additional reasons as to why the Conservatives won, having secured a 4.5% increase in votes. This can be attributed to their re-emergence as fresh-faced, youthful party or even the changes to constituency boundaries and Representation of the Peoples Acts of 1948 and 1949. The Spectator even declared ‘that the Tories of 1950 are not the Tories of 1935’. However, this is not a discussion as to what the most important factors were for Labour’s loss of the 1951 election but a critical look at the failed British electoral system.

There have been various complaints and attempts to rejuvenate the ‘First-Past-The-Post’ electoral system currently used for UK General Elections to Westminster. Surely there is a reason that this is the only form of election left in the country to use this ‘flawed’ simple plurality simple, which provides a ‘winners bonus’ and a discouragement of turnout. Previous attempts of reform in recent years have been seemingly unsuccessful, with New Labour failure to implement the suggestion of the AV+ system made in the ‘Jenkins Report’ established under the Independent Commission on Electoral Reform. Following this, after the LibDems had managed to negotiate their proposed referendum on the implementation of AV, they too failed with an emphatic 70:30 rejection in the referendum that later followed in May 2011. Despite the fact that this was argued to be a referendum on Nick Clegg, as opposed to a legitimate referendum on the prospects of a new Westminster electoral system- there is clearly an air of debate with regards to FPTP. On the surface it seems to be flawed at every cornerstone. It promises ‘strong and stable government’ yet in 2010 the Conservatives were forced into coalition with the Liberal Democrats, meaning both parties have had to make considerable concessions on their proposed policies i.e. House of Lords Reform and constituency boundaries. Furthermore, many argue a key strength is that it marginalises extremist parties but this cannot be seen as strength when we are renowned for boasting the seemingly ‘pluralist democracy’ in which we live. This is also highly debatable with parties such as UKIP enjoying unprecedented levels of support since 2012, now enforcing its status having been the third most popular party in the polls for a significant amount of time.

Despite all this, the 1951 general election is a clear example of FPTP’s fundamental flaw. This is, that it strongly distorts the translation of votes to seats and this is clearly evident with regards to the figures produced back in 1951 but also 1983 where FPTP exaggerated the Conservatives performance, giving them a landslide victory. Under the current electoral system, a small lead over the second placed party is often translated into a substantial lead. However, with regards to the 1951 election- Labour won not only a greater number of votes but also a greater % share of the votes. The figures showed that although Labour polled 48.8% of the vote and won 295 seats, the Conservatives polled only 48% of the vote and won 321 seats. The Conservatives win was more than lucky. The results of the 1951 contest gave the runner-up in terms of votes an actual majority in the House of Commons; it is clearly evident that through this our British electoral system is neither fair nor legitimate in terms of representation. It is true that this result is partly attributed to the decline of the Liberals, as paradoxically whilst their electoral significance declined their theoretical significance grew. Ex-liberal voters were more inclined to vote Conservative and this therefore accounted for both their 40% increase in votes between 1945 and 50, and a further gain later in 1951. Yet this still does not answer the question. It is the fact that in 1951, numerous Labour votes were ‘wasted’ in safe seats, landing them 50 of the 60 largest constituency majorities. Therefore, we can assertively attribute Labour’s loss to the First-Past-The-Post electoral system, as Labour votes translated into increased majorities for MPs in safe seats, as opposed to gaining them the needed dispersed support in new and varied seats. The Representation of the Peoples Act 1948 and 1949 did various other things to stimulate the Conservative’s victory too. For example, Attlee’s abolishment of plural voting and separate university seats, which had played in Labour’s favour. Additionally, the introduction of postal voting, which Herbert Morrison stated were cast 10-1 in favour of the Conservatives.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Batting For The Other Team

by Will Wallace (Old Portmuthian)

When I came out (of the Conservative Party) last year, I received a bit of grief from some that had known me well enough to find the decision quite surprising. In that article, I stated: “I feel that I cannot be a part of something that is responsible for attacking the downtrodden yet helping the wealthy. That, to me, is wrong.” My criticism of the current Tory Party bases itself upon the application of a moral standard, and I think I should explain where this, personally, stems from.

I don’t believe in God. To any who read the Summer 2014 edition of the Portsmouth Point magazine (which you can read here), this will come as no great shock, as I laid out exactly the reasons why I simply cannot put my faith in such a flawed concept. Bizarrely, I still regard myself to be a Christian – just one who regards the supernatural, mystical elements of the Bible to be purely figurative, and instead seeks to live life by the ethical ideals expressed in Jesus’ teachings.

To me, the most important fight for anyone who holds such values – religious or not – is against injustice in all its forms. Take, for example, the fact that our government continues to exploit erroneous fears of rising immigration and “benefit scrounging”, as a means to distracting working and middle class voters from the fact that George Osborne has given millionaires a whopping tax cut, whilst slashing away at our public services and schools. This is wrong, plain and simple.

(source: Guardian)
It might be difficult to fathom, but I actually think that Ed Miliband will make a fine Prime Minister. The sad reality is that we’ve been barraged by news stories portraying him as a bit of a freak of nature. No, he isn’t terribly attractive – his voice is phenomenally annoying, and I somewhat doubt he has a future career in modelling. But if people actually took the time to listen to what he’s spent the last five years saying, rather than how he’s said it, then they might reach a more sensible conclusion.

Unlike David Cameron, who has shown in the last couple of weeks just how much of a pathetic coward he is, going to any length to avoid a head-to-head debate with the Labour leader, Miliband has consistently proven himself to be a man of some considerable principle.

Will Dry recently wrote an excellent piece on exactly this point: that it was Miliband who stood up to the powerful Murdoch media empire, prevented our government from sticking its foot into the Syrian Civil War, continues to rebuke the champagne-guzzling fat cats in the City, the crooked landlords who jack-up their rents, and the train companies whose rip-off fares hurt commuters every day.

David Cameron might look better in front of a TV camera (and lest we forget: his only other job outside of politics was working for a PR company), but has he ever, in his political career, had the guts to challenge the control and influence of the powerful in this country? I’ve written before about my admiration for Cameron’s leadership on the issue of marriage equality – but, at the end of the day, was he really at risk of losing his wealthy, tax-avoiding friends? The short answer is: no.

Put simply, I believe that Ed Miliband has made the fight against injustice his own. He has not bowed to the pressures that Blair could never handle – of being on the side of the voiceless many, even though it has hurt his reception in the press and amongst big business leaders. These are qualities that are far more important in a Prime Minister than having a nice face or lyrical voice, and indicate the courage and inner strength which we so desperately need from our leaders.

Waiting for 'Drones': 5 of My Favourite Muse Songs

by Marley Andrews

After a two year break following the release of The 2nd Law in 2012, the return of Muse with their seventh studio album, Drones, has been eagerly anticipated by many, myself included. With their intimate, impromptu UK tour selling out in only ten seconds, it is clear that Muse are most definitely back.

Having been a fan for as long as I can remember, it's always interesting to see which direction they choose to go next, from a musical perspective, and I admire their confidence and creativity in that they are not afraid to experiment with different styles. The 2nd Law was a great example of this, as they decided to incorporate more electronic elements into their music, taking inspirations from artists such as Skrillex and collaborating with Nero on the track, Follow Me. Again, Drones seemingly has a completely contrasting sound to its former counterpart, with the first single, "Psycho", presenting a more stripped back, blunt sound in comparison to the extravagance and grandeur expected of the trio, favouring a strong, punchy bass line instead. This song has arguably been in the making for the past sixteen years, featuring at the end of a performance of Agitated in 1999, and it remains practically unchanged as we hear it now, suggesting that Muse are somewhat stripping back their sound and returning to what they do best.

While Muse have written many well known classics such as Supermassive Black Hole, Hysteria and Plug in Baby, there are so many incredible songs that seem to have slightly slipped under the radar and happen to be some of my favourites. So while you're waiting for Drones to be officially released on June 8th, here are 5 of my favourite Muse songs that you may not necessarily have heard before.

5) 'Darkshines' 

Featuring on their second studio album, Origin of Symmetry, I only really discovered this one a few years ago. The contrast of the dark, moody verses and the powerful, emotive choruses makes this a definite must-listen.

4) 'New Born' 

The fast tempo and chilling piano intro are particularly effective in this song. Bellamy's vocals are absolutely flawless and the gradual build up of texture from the beginning make it engaging from beginning to end.

3) 'Map of the Problematique' 

I've been a fan of this one for a long time. Featuring on Black Holes and Revelations, the hypnotic vocals and simple but powerful instrumentals are what stand out for me. Truly a masterpiece.

'Palo Alto': The Best Indie Movie

by Isabel Stark

Film, for me, is the most interesting of mediums. The ability for creative minds take flat words and mould them into moving objects fascinates me. The whole process is much trickier than it appears. I first started my drama career at the tender age of 2, making an appearance as the Virgin Mary in a two-girl play with my then-4-year old sister. I then started starring in some of my sister's films – I starred as ‘Eloise’ the six year old who lives in the penthouse suit of ‘the Plaza Hotel in New York City with her Nanny, her pug dog Weenie, and her turtle Skipperdee.’ I then progressed to star in the original film ‘Isabel Poirot’ (Poirot’s niece), scripted, directed, shot and acted by Louisa Stark. It’s fair to say I’ve had my fair share of dramatic experiences. We often made short films when our friends came over – it was a luxury to have more than three people and the opposite gender available. Anyway, I know a little of the struggle trying to make something fulfilling and stylish in this medium; that is why I would like to take this time to congratulate (two years too late) Gia Coppola for her first film, Palo Alto.

Palo Alto. Alas, I do not have the skill to articulate my feelings towards this film in a way which mirrors its stylistic quality and coolness. Released two years ago, it’s been around for a while; however, being a small, wildly indie film there was little publication and screening despite it being a Gia Coppola film (actually her first film).  Yes, the Coppola dynasty continues. Francis Ford is her grandfather, Sophia her aunt, Nicolas Cage her aunt’s cousin. This cinematic royal was coupled with James Franco. The film is based on Franco’s book by the same name; the book is a collection of short, intertwining stories about students at Palo Alto High School- all semi-fictitious, yet with an underlying core of reality drawn from Franco’s own teenage experiences. I have the utmost admiration for Franco and his book despite it being brushed off as the work of an ambitious young man who clearly loves to read, who has a good eye for detail, but who has spent way too much time on style and virtually none on substance. Coppola manages to retain this style which is intrinsic to the book. She uses flat-palette backgrounds. Her costumes exhume hipness. The lead, Jack Kilmer, was refreshingly actually the same age as his character, Teddy, when cast (his first acting role) aged 17. 

I struggle to see how Coppola managed to create such a stylised film, but still to maintain naturalism and realism. Not much happens within the film, but that is the quality which gives it the authenticity Franco was ultimately striving for. This perhaps makes the naturalism prominent over style. The film revolves around Teddy and April and their two different social circles within school but at the heart is a muted and dulled will- they-won’t-they relationship. Palo Alto is constantly on the verge of something happening; however, it floats along, echoing the teens’ lives and empty dreams. Without turning into a fly-on-the-wall documentary, this was about as close to the realm of reality a film can get. 

Is It a Dream or a Goal?

by Kelvin Shiu

Is it better to have dreams or goals, or in fact none of the above? Every single person is different in their own profound way and what defines you is not what others see in you, but what you see in yourself. The word dream suggests a level of fantasy, it implies a concept of the imagination, something that will unlikely be achieved. However, in contrast the word goal suggests something which one can pragmatically strive forward to achieve.  There are those who strive towards their dreams and those who strive towards their goals. But, does there really need to be a line which defines which is which? Does it really matter which is which? Well, that ultimately comes down to the type of person you are as an individual. There is really no right or wrong answer. As a child, one is led to have a vast and wider imagination, which can lead to one pondering over much more fruitful futures than the aged mind of a teen or adult can be lead to believe.

Having dreams is an interesting concept because as humans we all experience limitations.  For example as a young child, you may dream of becoming a superhero with limitless power, perhaps hoping to one day be bitten by a radioactive organism which leads on to the development of supernatural abilities. However, as you age and develop knowledge you develop clarity in your senses and thoughts, and acknowledge the limitations in the world and the limitations that we face everyday being who we are. This pragmatism can dawn on you more and more as you learn more about the world. This seems rather oppressive to the mind, though. Having to acknowledge ones limitations, and restricting ones path all the time when pondering about which path to take. Often dreams are achieved, though, especially as not all dreams have to be interpreted as something unworldly and impossible. It is all a matter of perception and much is down to elements which are outside of our control such as luck.

When you use the interpretation of the word dream as something near to impossible this draws the unlikelihood of achievement up. However when you decrease your expectations, you often have a higher likelihood of achieving these so called dreams. Which leads me on to my next point: people who push their goals and aims so low that they end up stuck and unwilling to strive and aspire, because they do not believe they have what it takes, because they feel that lower expectations would make them feel satisfied when they each reach the end of their different paths. Some feel inert and stuck, unwilling to dedicate effort and time as they believe it is not worth it, given the likely fact that theyd failing. Due to different reasons such as the fact theyre not naturally gifted, intelligent or perhaps they convince themselves to believe that there have better things to do in life than dedicating it to these dreams or goals that lay far away in the horizons above and out of their reach. This perception is not one which will get you far in life. As clichéd as it may be- you never know until you try, and I dont just mean half heartedly committing but in fact dedicating 100% of yourself in achieving what it is you want to achieve. 

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Photography Club: Silhouette

by Tom Austin - part of a series of photographs on the theme of Portraits. 

I Agree with Nick

by Katherine Lemieux

(source: Labour List)
“I agree with Nick.” – the catchphrase of the 2010 TV election debate between the then-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the Conservative’s David Cameron, and, of course, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats. 2010 saw the rise in popularity of the Liberal Democrats, and with a 23% share of the vote (and 56 seats) they entered into a coalition with the Conservatives as the junior partner with great promises of making Britain more democratic.  However, since stepping into the role of Deputy Prime Minister, this certain “Clegg mania” has officially fallen flat on its face and, following a series of broken promises, it is no surprise that, with just under two months to go until the 2015 General Election, recent YouGov polls have shown the Liberal Democrats are set to win only 8% of the popular vote, placing far below the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP. 

I don’t have any strong party affiliations and therefore view all party leaders with scepticism and distrust; however Nick Clegg is definitely the worst of a bad bunch. Upon entering the coalition, he effectively discarded the Liberal Democrat manifesto in favour of compromised Tory-LibDem policies, which, despite there being no strong mandate for either party, have significantly damaged the Liberal Democrats rather than the Conservatives, who are still polling neck and neck with Labour. Clegg’s most notable failure is the raise in tuition fees following Labour’s introduction of them in 1998. After signing a pledge to not raise fees prior to the election, Clegg agreed just six months later, in November 2010, that universities should be allowed to charge up to £9,000 per year- talk about stabbing his own party in the back!  However, this is just one of Nick’s many empty gestures. There was the promise of electoral reform, flawed by a compromised referendum in 2011 on an AV electoral system that had only existed as a theory, and the childish refusal to support constituency boundary reforms, although pledging to do so in their manifesto, due to the Conservative’s refusal to pass through reforms to the House of Lords. As a politician, Clegg is weak and disrespected- I personally would not trust him with running our country.   

However, as a linguist, I must hold up my hands and admit I have nothing but respect for Nick Clegg. Being almost fluent in five languages (English, Dutch, Spanish, French and German), his skills are greatly envied amongst many who struggle getting to grips with one foreign language, let alone four! It also puts Cameron’s sole O Level in French to shame. 

Clegg not only uses these languages for personal use (he has a Spanish wife and Dutch mother) but also effectively in international government duties – he once held an entire meeting at the cabinet office with Herman Van Rompuy in Dutch and upon a visit to Germany in 2010 conversed easily in German whilst William Hague, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, held fast to his translation headphones.

Clegg’s ability as a polyglot is often unknown and although rightfully overshadowed by his political blunders, it is important nonetheless. Language is a key communicative skill and to have the ability to converse in any number of languages is a true gift. Clegg’s ease and willingness to talk to people in their native tongue shows his own appreciation of different languages and proves he is not as narrow minded as other politicians are perceived to be. 

Photography Club: Aged Sixth Form Stairs

by Eleanor Williams-Brown (edited by Thea Morgan) - part of a series of photographs on the theme of Portraits. 

Friday, 20 March 2015

Happy 100th Birthday, Sister Rosetta Tharpe

by James Burkinshaw

Born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, a hundred years ago today, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a prodigiously gifted singer and pioneering guitarist who deserves to be much better remembered than she is today. As singer-songwriter Joan Osborne notes, "Listen to (Tharpe's) recordings and you can hear all the building blocks of rock and roll." 

Rosetta Tharpe's distinctive singing style was shaped in her early childhood, listening to her mother, Katie Bell, singing old spirituals (they later recorded duets together). She was performing in public from the age of four. However, it was her family's move to Chicago in the 1920s that transformed her life and her music. Rosetta's dual attraction to the ecstatic religion of Chicago's Sanctified Church and the secular ecstasy of the blues guitar performed at clubs throughout the city forged her own, transcendent musical style. Performing in blues clubs, evangelical churches and at gospel shows, Sister Rosetta was bending notes in a manner more typical of a rock guitarist than a gospel singer twenty years before "pioneers" such as Chuck Berry (who, along with Elvis, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, fondly cited her influence on his own musical style).

Rosetta Tharpe was phenomenally popular in the 1930s and 1940s, but relatively few of her performances were captured on film. Two of the most memorable date from the 1960s (when she had already been performing for well over forty years). The first is from a Sunday morning TV show in which half of the choir look enraptured by and the other half disapproving of Sister Rosetta's virtuosic style - indeed, many gospel purists objected to the way in which she mixed sacred lyrics with a secular musical style; she was a "crossover artist" long before such a term existed.

Around the same time, someone at Britain's Granada Television (the producers of ITV's Coronation Street) had the inspired (if mildly deranged) idea of filming some of America's greatest gospel singers before a live audience on the platform of a disused railway station on the outskirts of Manchester. In the video below, Sister Rosetta arrives on the platform, like a true star, in a horse and carriage, before launching straight into a memorable performance of the gospel classic, 'Didn't It Rain?'. The song choice was presumably an ironic reference to the inhospitable Mancunian weather that obliged Sister Rosetta to perform in her overcoat, which makes the energy of her performance all the more impressive:

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Postmodern Jukebox

by Emily Tandy

Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox are a band, which, if you have not heard of them, then please Youtube them (there's an example below). 

Only if you have time on your side, though, because for the next few hours of your life you will now inevitably be watching and fan-girling over them. They are an incredible band that started as a group of friends just mucking about with ideas in their little New York apartment and are just coming to the conclusion of their first European tour, have appeared on Ted talks and have around a million subscribers on their Youtube channel. So, not only do I love their music, but I find them to be a really inspirational group of people too. The basic premiss for their music is to take popular songs and put them in different styles and eras. He plays with the idea of what makes a song that particular song.

I saw them live in Brighton recently; they are some of the most talented musicians I have ever seen. Hearing Stacys Mom as a 30s jazz piece was defiantly a personal highlight; the way that they manipulated songs into so many different styles effortlessly was incredible. It also shows just how music can be altered and is not fixed - taking it right back to its fundamentals. Is it the lyrics, the melody, the rhythm that makes it that song? How far can you change a piece of music, before it is no longer the same piece? They manage to propose these questions, while giving stunning performances. Its also really interesting to hear what distinguishes different styles and the subtlety that it requires to make a song sound utterly different. By just changing the way the same chords are played underneath the same melody and using the same instruments, it can create a different atmosphere to the piece.

They also highlight how music has evolved over the years. The main conclusion, I found, was: surprisingly little. The changes over time are actually really subtle and gradual. The fact that something like an Ellie Goulding song can sound great in the style of a sixties girl group amazes me. Especially given the amount of stick that most modern music gets, especially from those of older generations, saying that modern music is not as good as it once was. Surely, this proves that this isnt the case at all. Dont get me wrong - I am not defending all modern music, some is truly awful. However, some of it is really good and the ways that these musicians have managed to manipulate it to make it more accessible to other generations, is pretty impressive.

Religion in Schools: The Debate

On Thursday, 19th March, a panel discussion on the subject of "the treatment of religion in schools" took place in the Bristow Clavell Lecture Theatre, featuring 8 panellists (Jadon Buckeridge, Ms Burden, Will Dry, Johanna Horsman, Alex McKirgan, Mr Priory, Alex Sligo-Young and Ms Smith), chaired by Mr Lemieux and Flo Stow

Reverend Burtt introduced the evening, explaining how the discussion began with an article in Portsmouth Point magazine by Jadon Buckeridge critical of religion, which (along with an article on war and religion by Sian Latham) the Chaplain commended to all audience members as well worth reading (you can read the articles by Jadon and Sian here). Reverend Burtt described how Will Dry met with the Headmaster to agree to a public debate both in response to some of the ideas expressed in Jadon's article and in the interest of an open, wide-ranging discussion of the treatment of religion in schools. Flo Stow then introduced each of the panellists and invited four of them to offer opening statements.

Mr Priory began by saying he was pleased to be involved in discussing such a challenging topic and explained why the school approaches religion in the way that it does. He said that he had recently received one email telling him that, although the individual enjoyed the solemnity of the Christmas carol service, they wished it could have more humour, and another expressing concern that there was not enough representation of the voice of Christians in everyday school life. Mr Priory felt that this was indicative that the school was seeking to get the balance right between secularity and religion. He pointed out how such items in the news such as gay marriage, female bishops, the recent conflict between Stephen Fry and the Catholic Church, confirmed the continuing relevance of religion. He cited the roots of PGS itself, in particular the radical decision by Canon Grant in the 1870s to end the requirement that teachers be Anglicans and the appointment of non-Conformist, Catholic and Jewish staff, as representative of a long tradition of tolerance within the school. However, our relationship with the Cathedral  remained important to us as a school and, on a more personal level, Mr Priory worried about a broader shift towards the self in society as a whole; he argued that involvement in religious life can help people develop resilience, coping in particular with the central human experience of imperfection. He felt, also, that, whatever final decision each member of the school eventually makes regarding their religious (or non-religious) belief, they will have experienced what is available and can therefore make their own informed decision.

Ms Burden felt that agnosticism was the easiest position to defend philosophically, but personally could not believe in God and considered herself an atheist. She argued that the title of the evening ("religion in schools") was open to interpretation and felt that religion has some place in schools, but that the world is changing. Whereas the adults in the lecture theatre had all probably grown up with broad Christian worship in their schools, there has been a dramatic change over the past decade or so as the nature of our country has changed radically. On the other hand, she valued the cultural value of knowledge of Christianity - with regard to our literature, language, laws and social structures - but perceived that the religion itself was becoming increasingly esoteric and that society was shifting under our feet. 

Will Dry supported religion in schools and felt personally that it was more than just a relic of the past. He addressed the argument that state schools should not be funded by taxpayers to inculcate, arguing that the state is a function of society and that, as 59% of the nation defines itself as Christian (whether or not regular church-goers), the state (and state schools) should reflect this. This is not indoctrination, he argued, but the offering of a chance for individual pupils to make their own response. At PGS, for example, during religious services or prayers in assembly, pupils have the option to not participate but simply spectate respectfully. He pointed out that the sheer number of articles on religion in Portsmouth Point blog and magazine, from a religious to sceptical perspective, demonstrated both the high level of interest among pupils and the freedom the school offered for expression of personal opinion.

Alex McKirgan clarified that the purpose of the discussion was not to debate whether religion was good or bad but whether it had a place at PGS and in schools in general. He said the school should recognise that society has changed, that pupils of all religions and none should be treated equally. Church was a way of organising people before democracy and its role in influencing the moral code we live by should be acknowledged, but it was no longer a building block of our society. PRS was important (and extremely well taught at PGS). However, those with atheistic or agnostic perspectives should not have their beliefs labelled as inferior by the school and pupils should have the autonomy to choose their own values. Assemblies were important to foster a sense of community and PGS is an excellent, forward-looking, modern school. However, Christianity is simply part of broader moral and ethical values.  

Mrs Williams, from the audience, then asked the first question: would the world be better off with or without religion? Ms Burden said she wanted to say yes, that the modern obsession with the self is dangerous. However, she argued that religious belief is inextricably linked to culture, race, power etc (as evidenced by the recent persecution of the Yazidhi tribe) and that, although religion legitimises rather than causes problems, it still perpetuates existing sources of conflict and is therefore damaging. Will agreed that it was true that horrific acts were committed in the name of religion, but also much good was achieved. 50% of charity in Africa came from Christian organisations and the work of the Islamic Disaster Relief Fund (as learnt about in PRS at PGS) was invaluable. He also noted that Stalin, Pol Pot and others demonstrated that the non-religious alternative was worse; from the audience, Dr Richmond agreed, asking whether the world really was better off with secularism in charge. Alex McKirgan expressed concerns that the absolute certainties given by religion were dangerous and cited the chairman of the Senate Science Committee in the USA, who dismisses global warming because it is not in the Bible. from the audience, Mrs Dray responded that religion was not based not on certainty but was about what we can't prove - which is why the leap of faith is at the heart of Christianity.

2015 Ithaka Prize Winner: Lottie Kent

On Tuesday, 17th March, Lottie Kent won the 2015 Ithaka Prize for her IB extended essay on the Italian writer Italo Calvino and English novelist David Mitchell.  
For copyright reasons, Portsmouth Point is not able to publish the essay until the certification of the IB results this summer. However, here is Lottie's own summary of the focus of her prize-winning essay. 

"At the time it was published, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities was a pioneering work of contemporary fiction. Its themes and structures have been seen echoed in a multitude of later literature, not least in the work of David Mitchell. 

In particular, both authors seem fascinated with the distinctly postmodern notion of metafiction – that is, fiction that is “aware” of its own artificiality. In order to garner a more profound understanding of the relationship that Calvino’s novel has with Mitchell’s own debut, it was necessary to consider the specific ways in which similar metafictional techniques are emulated in both, and how these might provide evidence for the influence of Calvino over Mitchell. 

In exploring these issues, the following research question arose: “How do the metafictional devices of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities influence David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten?”"

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Are We At Risk from Quantum Computers

by Reetobrata Chatterjee

A quantum computer is a computer which makes use of the quantum states of sub-atomic particles in order to store and manipulate information. Put simply, this allows us to have a computer which works MUCH faster than normal computers. If a semi-decent quantum computer could be constructed (current efforts have very small amounts of computing power), then the entire banking industry and others could collapse before our very eyes.

A standard computer works very simply. All the data you provide is stored as a combination of 1s and 0s, using ever tinier devices called transistors, which have an on (1) or off (0) state. The data in each transistor is known as a bit, and they work in groups of 8, as bytes. As these bytes build up, you get kilobytes, megabytes and so on. This allows a group of n transistors to be in one of 2n states. More powerful computers have more transistors or those of a higher quality which fail less often.

But not quantum computers.

They use an entirely different way to store the data. This is called a qubit. Unlike a transistor, which can either be 1 or 0, using the ideas of quantum superposition to be 1 or 0 or both at once. This is similar to Schrodinger's cat, which was both dead and alive until the box was opened (If you don’t know what Schrödinger’s cat is, the video explains it really well).

This is achieved by using coils of a special metal called Niobium. If the current goes through the loop counter-clockwise, it will create a tiny magnetic field pointing up, whereas a clockwise current will have a downwards facing magnetic field. These are the equivalent of the classical 1 and 0 states. Drop this however to 0.2° C above absolute zero and the coils begin behaving like superconductors, wires with basically 0 resistance. This allows the system to enter the mysterious expanses of quantum superposition, where each individual qubit, could be 1 or 0, or since it’s superposed, both.

How will this affect us?

The government, banks and Facebook (and all other websites) all use encryption to keep your data safe and away from people who might want it for malicious purposes. The tightest security around this data, is while it’s being transmitted and stored. Generally this is in the form of public key encryption.

Take the number 10. If someone asked you to find its factors, it would be very simple (5 and 2). Now take the number 4453. Finding the factors of this are just a little bit harder. But a computer could do it. (The factors are 61 and 73 by the way, what makes this so difficult is that they have only 2 prime factors). If you now replace this number by one which is hundreds of thousands of digits long, which have only 2 prime factors, each thousands of digits long, the task becomes rather difficult. The current estimation to crack a 1024 bit RSA key, which is essentially a really, really large number with only 2 factors is 5.95 x 10211 years. 

As a comparison the universe is 13.75 x 109 years old.

Monday, 16 March 2015

16 March 2015: The Driving Test Turns 80 !

by Eloise Peabody-Rolf

Cars have been part of our lives since the first recorded sale of a manufactured motor car to Emile Roger of Paris, who bought a petrol-driven Benz in 1888. Today there are more than 27 million vehicles on our roads.  Driving is now considered a ‘life skill’, and applying for your provisional licence, then passing your driving test, is something most of us eagerly look forward to as we turn 17 – I know I can’t wait !

On 16 March 1935, voluntary driver testing was introduced in the UK by the Road Traffic Act, 1934, in an attempt to reduce road fatalities.  This voluntary testing was started to avoid a rush of candidates when the test was to become compulsory for all drivers on June 1 later that year.

Around 246,000 candidates applied for the first tests, at a cost of 7/ 6d (37.5p), and they had a pass rate of 63%. Between 9 and 16 half-hour tests were conducted each day by just 250 examiners. 

Top 10 Driving Test Facts

·         Mr Beene was the first person to pass the driving test in 1935: he paid the grand total of 7/ 6p (37.5p) to take the test

·         there were no test centres in 1935 so you had to arrange to meet the examiner somewhere like a post office, train station or town hall

·         the test was suspended for the duration of World War 2 and didn’t resume until 1 November 1946

·         in 1975, candidates no longer had to demonstrate hand signals

·         the theory test was introduced in 1996, replacing questions about the Highway Code during the practical test

·         driving was much more hazardous 75 years ago. 7,343 people were killed on Great Britain’s roads when only 2.4 million vehicles were in use - in 2008, 2,538 people were killed with 26.5 million vehicles on the road

What Happened to Football During the First World War?

by Will Pearson

A major part of the British recruitment and volunteer campaign during the First World War was established through sport. The adrenaline-filled fans at football matches, often with friends, were prime targets for the British Army, and so a great emphasis was put on football events, especially before conscription in 1916.

However, despite the focus very much being on the fans, players also volunteered in large numbers. In fact, of the 5,000 or so professional football players in Britain, 2,000 would join the army in 1914 alone. Whilst many of these volunteers joined individually, there were several instances that saw entire teams enlist together. The first, and possibly the most famous example of this, was Leyton Orient. When the team-captain, Fred Parker, joined the army, approximately 40 fellow players and staff followed his example. These players all subsequently joined the 17th battalion of the Middlesex regiment, which would famously become known as ‘The Footballer’s Battalion’. Such was the commitment of the regiment to the sport that Major Frank Buckley, commander of the 17th Middlesex, became the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers following his injuries in 1917.

Another well-known case of teams enlisting together was Hearts. The team’s decision to join provided inspiration for many Scottish players and fans to do the same. While this seems heroic and inspiring, the devastation of the War was such that of the starting eleven of 1914 seven had been killed by the end of the conflict. One of the players, captured by the Germans, Paddy Crossman, was so badly injured that his leg was labeled for amputation. He subsequently pleaded with German doctor to leave his leg alone because he was a footballer. The doctor acquiesced, but the wounds would eventually kill Crossman after the war.

The Khaki Final, 1915
When war was declared on 4th August 1914, it was expected that the Football Association would follow the example soon set by cricket and cancel all matches. But, despite opposition, matches were played in the Football League throughout the 1914-1915 season. There was still an FA Cup final in 1915, between Chelsea and Sheffield United, and it was named ‘The Khaki Final’, because so much of the crowd was in British Army uniform. The War Office took the big match as an opportunity for enlistment, and the Earl of Derby made a vigorous speech, stating, “It is now the duty of everyone to join with each other and play a sterner game for England”. Large portions of the crowd were persuaded by the speech, as stories of the horror at the Western Front had not yet surfaced.

For the remainder of the war, the Football League suspended its programme but allowed clubs to organise regional competitions. Much of the opposition to the continuance of professional football stemmed from the concern that many men preferred to play and watch football rather than join up. However, football was also seen as a useful recruiting tool. Football was a popular form of recreation for troops on both sides and could boost morale. On the 1st July 1916, men of the East Surrey Regiment, encouraged by Captain ‘Billie’ Neville even went over the top kicking footballs. This was probably intended as a distraction for nervous young soldiers but was widely reported as a demonstration of ‘British pluck’.

Many professional footballers served in the forces, and those killed in action included former Tottenham Hotspur player Walter Tull and Bradford Park Avenue’s Donald Bell – one of the only professional footballers to be awarded the Victoria Cross. On 12th June 1915 at Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée in France, former Celtic player Lance-Corporal Willie Angus voluntarily left his trench under very heavy bomb and rifle fire and rescued a wounded officer who was lying within a few yards of the enemy's position. Angus had no chance of escaping the enemy's fire when undertaking this gallant deed, and in effecting the rescue he received about 40 wounds, some of them being very serious. His actions also won him the Victoria Cross, and the event was described as the ‘most courageous action of any soldier in the history of the British Army.

Finally, women's football was huge during World War One, drawing crowds of 53,000 even after the war had ended. In the history of women's football, Dick, Kerr's Ladies are the most successful team in the world, and were formed at a munitions factory in Preston during the War. The First World War greatly improved the rights of women in Britain, as many saw them now as capable workers. However, this recognition was not just confined to the factories and hospitals, for the war also led to the foundation of the Women’s Football Association.  Despite the horrific effects of the war on domestic Britain, it seems that football was able to benefit greatly, while also suffering tragic loss.