Saturday, 30 April 2016

Review: The Big Short

by Layla Link

In January I went to see the new film The Big Short at the cinema and was expecting the best after reading reviews from the Guardian (4/5), Rotten Tomatoes (88%) and The Independent (4/5). 

The film was a dramatic reeling of the 2007-8 financial crisis. It is set in 2008; Michael Burry, an expert in finance, realises that a number of mortgages are in danger of defaulting. He bets against the housing market by throwing more than $1 billion of his investors’ money into it. His actions then attract the attention of banker Jared Vennett and his team. The story goes on from there.

I have to say I was slightly worried, after reading a summary, that mainly included the words Wall Street, subprime home loans and credit default swaps. However, an age rating of 15 reassured me it couldn’t be too hard to understand. That said, some of the finance terminology was hard to follow - so director Adam McKay included some kooky cameos: Selena Gomez at the gambling tables; Margot Robbie in a bubble bath-to explain the plot at key moments (a device that I didn’t find as effective as the film-makers imagine).

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Life and Work of Audrey Hepburn: Working for UNICEF

by Hermione Barrick

"Nothing is impossible, the word itself says 'I'm possible!' - Audrey Hepburn

Hepburn endured German occupation as a child, feeling greatly fortunating for surviving through this Hepburn decided to dedicate the rest of her life to helping impoverished children in the poorest nations.

Hepburn received many awards and recognitions of her work throughout her life including being appointed Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF, being presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by president George Bush, in recognition of her work with UNICEF, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences posthumously awarded her the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her contribution to humanity.

Hepburn's travels were made easier by her wide knowledge of languages; besides being naturally bilingual in English and Dutch, she also was fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, and German.

Her family said that the thoughts of dying, helpless children consumed her for the rest of her life. In 2002, at the United Nations Special Session on Children, UNICEF honoured Hepburn's legacy of humanitarian work by unveiling a statue, "The Spirit of Audrey", at UNICEF's New York headquarters. Her service for children is also recognised through the U.S. Fund for UNICEF's Audrey Hepburn Society.

Some of Hepburn's field missions;

Hepburn's first field mission for UNICEF was to Ethiopia in 1988. She visited an orphanage in Mek'ele that housed 500 starving children and had UNICEF send food. On the trip, she said,

"I have a broken heart. I feel desperate. I can't stand the idea that two million people are in imminent danger of starving to death, many of them children, [and] not because there isn't tons of food sitting in the northern port of Shoa. It can't be distributed. Last spring, Red Cross and UNICEF workers were ordered out of the northern provinces because of two simultaneous civil wars... I went into rebel country and saw mothers and their children who had walked for ten days, even three weeks, looking for food, settling onto the desert floor into makeshift camps where they may die. Horrible. That image is too much for me. The 'Third World' is a term I don't like very much, because we're all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering."

What is Shakespeare's Greatest Play: Part VIII

To mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death (generally believed to be April 23rd), Portsmouth Point blog asked PGS staff to tell us their favourite (and least favourite) Shakespeare plays, favourite characters and favourite productions. Here are choices from Mrs Kirby and Dr Purves.

Mrs Kirby

1. What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why? 
Othello - no matter how many times I teach it, I always end up reading it differently (King Lear is a close runner-up).

2. What is your least favourite Shakespeare play and why? 
Merchant of Venice. I find it tedious and depressing (apologies to any Year 11 pupils currently studying it!). I've also never particularly enjoyed Cymbeline.

3.  Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why? 
Beatrice (Much Ado). She's smart, funny and refreshing.

4.  Who is the greatest Shakespeare villain and why? 
Iago, without question. No other villain is quite as compelling or enigmatic.

5.  Which Shakespearean character would you be most likely to fall in love with and why? 
When I was younger, I always had a soft spot for Mercutio (possibly because Romeo was unimpressive by comparison).

6. What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why? I was lucky enough to see Jude Law play Hamlet at the Donmar and was blown away by the whole production. My favourite film adaptations include Kenneth Branagh's Henry V and Trevor Nunn's Twelth Night.

Dr Purves

1     1. What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?
I don’t think I have a single favourite, and it can vary so much from one production to another that I might pass on this one.

2. What is your least favourite Shakespeare play and why?
I do not feel that I know them well enough to have a least favourite overall.  From the productions I have seen my least favourite would be The Merchant of Venice.  Although this was probably less to do with the play itself and more the setting and audience.  It should have been idyllic, a ferry over to Brownsea Island on a balmy summer evening, followed by a picnic, a play, and then a ferry back to Poole.  I didn’t mind the torrential rain so much, and the bats that flew across and around the stage added to the outdoor experience, but the laughter at the most racist aspects of the play made it an unpleasant experience.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Abseiling for Charity

by Tony Hicks

On Saturday 9th April, PGS' Paul Slater abseiled the Spinnaker Tower to raise money and awareness for Parkinson's UK. His mum has suffered for many years with Parkinson's. So Paul decided he would like to give something back to a fantastic charity, so that they can carry on giving their exceptional support. 

The great friendly staff there have been a massive support to Paul and his family. So, please, if anyone can spare a  little donation, it will make such a huge difference: 

The Greatest Financial Challenge Facing My Generation: Pensions

Alice Marchant's prizewinning essay (Young Financial Journalist of the Year competition).

When I grow up I know that I am going to face a lot of financial challenges, for example buying property, employment, new technology and more. However in my opinion, the biggest difficulty that my generation will face is pensions.

In the UK there are 11.4 million people at State Pension age or older. By 2050 this number is expected to increase to 16.89 million.

According to This is Money, £107.97bn was spent on pensions in the last tax year. Consequently, if the estimations are true and the government continues to spend such a large amount of money on pensions, they will be spending a mammoth sum of approximately £160 billion on pensions in 2050. This will be a huge problem for my generation as we will have to pay a very large chunk of our wages each month on taxes. Already, workers only receive 64% on average of what they earn. I understand that it is necessary to be able to fund the NHS, education, emergency services etc., however in my opinion it is very unfair that so much of what the English population earns is taken away from them. If the amount of tax we pay increases to keep up with the rapidly increasing number of over 65s, the amount we will actually keep will be unfairly low. 

The reason that the number of elderly people is so high is the fast advance of health care and technology in the UK. This can be shown by how dramatically the life expectancy has changed over recent years. In 1950 the life expectancy at birth was 68.7 years and has risen to 81.3 years in 2015. This massive increase is still taking place now: cures are being found, research is being done and new technology is being invented. I would not be surprised if the life expectancy continued to increase at the same rate, if not faster. With new technology being introduced using robots, self-driving cars, advanced breathing support systems and more, several accidents are being prevented and others are dealt with quickly and successfully. New knowledge is being discovered regarding cures for cancer and other illnesses, as well as operations and transplants.

What is Shakespeare's Greatest Play? Part VII

To mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death (generally believed to be April 23rd), Portsmouth Point blog asked PGS staff to tell us their favourite (and least favourite) Shakespeare plays, favourite characters and favourite productions. Here are choices from Dr Galliver and Tom McCarthy 
Pierce Quigley as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream

What is your favourite Shakespeare play? 
My introduction to Shakespeare was watching the BBC’s “Spread of the Eagle” when the Roman plays were broadcast.  I was still at Corpus Christi preparing for the 11 plus when they were shown but I recall being tremendously impressed by the version of Julius Caesar; especially the speech of Mark Anthony after Caesar’s murder ( alas, I’m too old to remember the actor and too lazy to look it up).  We later read the play when I was at St.John’s.  We seemed to read a play a term from the First Form onwards and had to learn chunks for prep.  I ended up having to memorise Mark Antony’s speech and Cassius’ one about the “ tide in the affairs of men.”  More recently, my understanding and appreciation of the play has been enhanced by reading James Shapiro’s “1599.”  I now have some insight into the political and religious allusions being made by Shakespeare to his contemporary audience.

What is your least favourite Shakespeare play? 
King Lear. I know that it’s moving, full of great poetry and a masterpiece.  I also see thanks to Shapiro, again, in his later book, “1606” and Clare Asquith in this week’s Tablet, that it’s full of significance for the politics of James I’s England.  Allowing for all of this, I cannot bring myself to enjoy it.  Partly, it was spoiled for me by a production at St.John’s when I was in the Sixth Form.  The master in charge of drama, who shall remain nameless but was an OP, decided that none of the boys was up to it and played the lead himself.  He played it rather as Tony Hancock might have done. Overall, however, the play is relentlessly depressing.  I can find enough tragedy in my study of history. 

Who is Shakespeare's greatest character? 
Greatest character” largely depends upon the definition of the adjective.  I’m not sure that I want to write a mini essay on this.  If we can restrict it to “favourite”, the answer is Rosalind in “As You Like It.”  I like her wit and strength of character. 

Who is Shakespeare's greatest villain? 
I reckon that persuading a husband to kill the king counts as villainy, so my choice is Lady Macbeth.  Notwithstanding her villainy, she has the decency, in the end, to see that she might not have done entirely the right thing. Again, at school we had to learn the speeches when she strengthens Macbeth’s resolve and when she appreciates the enormity of her actions.

Which Shakespeare character would you be most likely to fall in love with? 
It is not my practice to fall in love with a figment of someone’s imagination, so I’ll have to pass on this one.

What is the best production/adaptation of a Shakespeare play that you have seen? 
With regard to the best productions I’ve seen, it’s a close run thing between two fairly recent offerings from The Globe company.  A few years ago, they put on an outdoor performance of “The Taming of the Shrew”  in the gardens behind Portsmouth Museum.  The all-female cast made  great job of the play’s humour and, I suppose, did something to redress the balance of the theatre in Shakespeare’s day being an all-male business.  At The Globe, in 2013, I saw a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in which Pearce Quigley was hilarious as Bottom. 
The best adaption I’ve seen was last year’s film of” MacBeth”, starring Michael Fassbinder and Marion Cotillard.  Some liberties were taken with the text but, without diminishing the horror of their crimes, it was possible to have some sympathy for the MacBeths.; a genuine tragedy.

Tom McCarthy

Favourite play  
Antony and Cleopatra. Its imagery is astonishing.  A short phrase can conceal unplumbed depths of meaning.  In dismissing Cleopatra as a “tawny front”, a supercilious Roman encapsulates the cold reason of Rome as against the warm sensuality of Egypt.  Indeed the first scene of just 60 lines can be experienced  if read aloud as the whole play in microcosm: tight and lifeless Rome as against the glorious folly of “kissing away kingdoms”.  Its language is so glorious, too, that it should, like Milton’s Samson Agonistes, never be performed but only read and read aloud.

Least favourite play
Richard III.  It has no structure.  If it has a beginning, middle and   end, they are not necessarily in that order.  Richard is a bore or a comedian in spite of himself, probably both.  Also, the play ends with the Battle of Bosworth and, as Lady Bracknell says in The Importance... “we all know what that unfortunate movement (or battle) led to”.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Photography: Storm Clouds over Old Portsmouth

by Tony Hicks

I captured this shot of storm clouds over old Portsmouth this evening. A weird day: thunder, snow and rain all in an hour.

The Greatest Financial Challenge Facing My Generation: Unemployment

by Mimi de Trafford (shortlisted for the Young Financial Journalist of the Year competition)

There are plenty of potential pitfalls when it comes to financial security for my generation. Many people may have different opinions on what is to be considered the biggest. For instance, some people may think that housing will be the crucial issue, or that supporting an ageing population will pose the greatest problem. Fluctuating markets and currency or pensions could also be considered the pivotal threat. But in my opinion it is unemployment that offers the largest risk for coming generations.  There are many reasons that inform my opinion and I will discuss these in my essay. The issues that I will explore are: population growth, retirement age, immigration and technological advancement.

Firstly, I think that population growth will play a large factor in unemployment, as the more people that there are applying for jobs the harder it will be to find employment. It is estimated that over the next 25 years the population of the United Kingdom is expected to rise by approximately ten million people due to high birthrates along with other factors like migration. It is predicted that by the year 2039, the U.K’s population will have increased by 9.7 million. This is likely to result in higher levels of unemployment. It is simple maths that the greater the number of people next to a stalled number of jobs means that it won't be possible for everyone to have a job and as a result there will be much higher levels of unemployment.

Secondly I come to the related issue of retirement age.  Already the average retirement age has started to go up, as people have started to live longer. Recently, the average life expectancy for men has gone from 70 all the way to 79, so as people are capable of working for longer, this will result in fewer jobs becoming available for the younger generation.. It used to be that the general age that most people would retire was 65, but a number of things, including life expectancy increasing, have resulted in more and more people starting to retire later and in recent years retirement ages have sharply increased. This will be limiting the number of jobs that become available to younger generations.

Photography: Southsea at Sunset

by Tony Hicks

Sunday, 24 April 2016

What Did Margaret Thatcher Do for Feminism?

by Sam Kent

Margaret Thatcher was, in a sentence, a divisive yet historical political figure. However, regardless of political opinion, her motivation and urge to be proactive cannot be denied, and even the most partisan of Labour supporters could harbour some measure of admiration for her in that regard. Despite this, she is not, at least not in mainstream political culture, seen as a significant feminist icon or role model – and in that sense she is unfairly interpreted in modern society. 

This fact was brought to my attention by the attitudes towards Hillary Clinton as a feminist pioneer and a figurehead of cultural progression as she surges towards victory in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. With the Republican Party seemingly in turmoil and without a candidate with genuine general appeal, it seems as though she will be the one to break America’s run of 44 consecutive male Presidents (counting Grover Cleveland as both the 22nd and the 24th US President). In this regard, Thatcher is entitled to a great deal of praise, as she was the first female British Prime Minister and the only one to this day. Yet Clinton is receiving significant acclaim for her contribution to the gender equality movement in general, without yet having even been nominated as the official Democratic candidate for this November’s Presidential Election.

However, it should be stated that the success of one woman does not equate to progress for women in general. In 11 years as Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher promoted only one other woman to Cabinet. As well as this, she had little time for policies regarding childcare provision, and overall never associated personally with the feminist movement. Nevertheless, just because she did not consider herself a feminist, does not mean that other people cannot idolise her as one. She has, no-doubt, inspired many women with a profound interest in politics to follow their dreams, and has been a figure towards whom those concerned can look, and see that success is possible; even more encouragement can be found in the fact that she succeeded in rising up through the ranks of the notoriously-backward Conservative Party, realising her aims in a decade in which women’s rights and opinions were regarded with shameless insignificance within society. 

'Take Me Out': Why It's Time to Turn Off the Light

by Jasmine Nash

"It's 2016 - and yet thirty women are being
portrayed on TV as desperate for a man"
What happened to fine dining in a dimly set French restaurant on a Friday night? I am 10 years old and watching TV after a long, and what I thought at the time, stressful day at school. Behind me my dinner was cooking, spaghetti was spitting water all over the AGA top and bolognese bubbling away as I turned to switch on the small TV at the other end of the rectangular glass table. To my not so surprised younger TV fanatic self, there was once again another new dating game show aired on ITV. I dished out my dinner and began to partially watch the new show, ‘Take Me Out”, without taking too much notice of what was actually going on. Six years later and I have seen the show approximately five times, each time not truly taking into account what was REALLY going on.

Today, I am sixteen years old and as I dig into my beans and crumpets after a sincerely long and stressful day, my eyes and ears are drawn to the red flashing theme tune and intro on the TV screen, “Welcome to Take Me Out!”  “I’m DJ McGuinness and I’m behind the love decks tonight, I have thirty single women looking for a man to get jiggy with it”.  I rolled my eyes and thought to myself “Oh God, not this rubbish” and I was ready to turn over the channel to something more to my taste ('Come Dine With Me') - except I began to wonder: why doesn’t a confident woman dancing to cringe-worthy music descend from that “Love Lift”? And why is it always a man? It’s 2016 - and yet thirty women are being portrayed on TV as desperate for a man. In the near-to-last round of the show, the ‘mystery man’ judges the women based on their appearance and they ask the chosen two remaining girls one simple question about whatever they want. Then they walk up to them and turn off their light if they don’t like the look of them. 

This concept infuriated me. Firstly, because woman are being sexualised on TV by one-liners such as, “Ladies does he turn you on or turn you off?” when referring to their lights. Secondly, this is just as bad for men, as the girls judge them in round one purely on their appearance: “No likey, no lighty.” Aren’t we, as a society, supposed to be teaching the upcoming generation that life and love don’t depend solely on your appearance and that it isn’t OK to automatically decide whether you like someone or not based on their physical attributes? Younger people (i.e. the future generation) are watching this show and actually surprisingly liking it, which makes it look like it’s OK to judge people on their looks because they are so initially desperate for love.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

What is Shakespeare's Greatest Play: VI

To mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death (generally believed to be April 23rd), Portsmouth Point blog asked PGS staff to tell us their favourite (and least favourite) Shakespeare plays, favourite characters and favourite productions. Here are choices from Mr Robinson and Ms Meadows.

Mr Robinson

Mark Rylance as Richard III
What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?
 It's Midsummer Night's Dream. What can I say? I'm a sucker for magic and moonlight.

What is your least favourite Shakespeare play and why?
Cymbeline. I think Shakespeare was having a migraine when he wrote it, which is fitting, because that's how I feel when I read it. I've also acted in it twice. Pity me.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why?
I think it has to be Hamlet. He is Shakespeare's Everyman. The themes and emotions he travels through, and takes us on - grief, fear, anger, revenge, death, regret, fulfilment - are both universal and personal, intellectual and emotional. When the text and great performances of it come together, audiences are left changed.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare villain and why?
Iago, inevitably. Yes, his motivation is partially racial, partially due to be passed over for promotion - however, he seems mostly driven by a primal desire to destroy and ruin, a character without conscience, a sociopath. In this sense, his lack of reason, and singularity of purpose, is terrifying.

Which Shakespearean character would you be most likely to fall in love with and why?
Helena from Midsummer Nights Dream. I've always had a bit of a thing for tall women.

What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why (theatre, film or both - choose as many examples as you wish)?Or you could talk about other adaptations (such as books, poems, etc)
I've been lucky and seen a few, so it's tricky. For the sake of argument, let me say Richard III at the Globe, with Mark Rylance, our greatest current actor, playing Richard. Hilarity and moral darkness in equal measure. To capture an audience so completely with the sound of helicopters overheard is challenging enough - but to capture the essence of such a complex and divisive character is tougher still. Stunning.

Ms Meadows

1.   What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?

I really like all the tragedies as they are about human nature, human relations and human weaknesses and I love to see different directors' and actors' interpretations.  If I had to choose one it would probably be King Lear.

2.        What is your least favourite Shakespeare play and why?
I am not keen on the comedies ... unless they are done really, really well.

3.        Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why?
There are so many compelling and intriguing characters who offer different things, so it is difficult to choose.  Mine would have to be drawn from the tragedies and would be a matter of personal choice.   Lear is not ‘great’ in his choices and character but he is very compelling and is a sympathetic character.  I would probably go with him.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Friday Review: EU Referendum

Students from Years 12 and 13 debate whether or not the UK should remain in the EU.

Poem for Friday: A Promise

by Ananthi Parekh

A Promise
Isp. Brooklyn (2015)

A bond of words made between
People and places and things
By definition
Well my favourite of the four,
Supplied by my tiny engine:
The quality of potential excellence.
Although, that isn't the type of promise I'm thinking of
Yearning for
The definition for that one is:

A declaration or assurance that one will do something or that a particular thing will happen.

But that's soulless now isn't it?
That one is never just a one,
It's the one or one of a few
Not just some ethereal ‘one’

But a ‘declaration’
A Declaration
The word alone screams for an image of two lovers
Standing breathtakingly far apart despite everything
And talking, however loudly or quietly, because
Of everything, or anything, that's happened
And you can just imagine their heart and feelings
pouring from their lips like water from a broken tap
that should probably have been fixed long ago
But it hasn't
In this beautiful case
The tap wasn't fixed, and now,
Now the water, these words and feelings
Would keep going on until
there is no water left
And those ‘ones’ would stand staring
Two ones, staring at each other like deer,
Caught in the light of each other
And if this view of light is mutual
Then this ‘declaration’ would turn into an
assurance, that ‘one’ will do ‘something’ in particular,
Or that a ‘thing’ will happen
Because that is what's truly beautiful

The transition from memories and
Touches and meaning and feelings
From shared experiences that can be
Recalled by nothing more than a connection
Of eyes
From a reliance created by the familiarity of the curve of bones in
Someone's face

To a promise
Made by one, sealed by the other

Prince: “Sometimes It Snows in April.”

by Lucy Smith

This is the text I received from Mum this evening. Shock, of course, hardly covers it. I was raised on Prince, with his music permeating every aspect of my childhood, from family parties, to afternoons and evenings dancing with my mum, to car journeys at weekends, and summer holidays. I can remember being madly upset as a 6 or 7 year old child because my parents were going to see Prince play an arena show in Birmingham in the early 90s, and obviously I couldn’t go. Because I was a child who had school in the morning. I begged them to take me with them (or, rather, Take Me With U), sobbed whilst they were out, and ran downstairs as soon as they got home, despite it being the small hours, to question them on how it was. When the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago’s Billboards, an experimental ballet set to the music of Prince, was broadcast on British television for the first (and, I would imagine, only) time, we videoed it as a family, and I watched it again and again. Fortuitously, a run of Billboards at the Royal Festival Hall coincided with my tenth birthday, running from late-August to early-September 1996. So that’s what I did for my tenth birthday. I urge you to watch the dance sequence, if you can find it, from Billboards set to The Beautiful Ones from the Purple Rain album. It will move you to tears, assuming, of course, that the song by itself doesn’t make you cry already.

Prince’s music has been such a massive part of my life. Of course, there will be thousands of articles written remembering his contribution to music, and his mind-bogglingly expansive output (39 studio albums, numerous live and compilation recordings, and rumours of enough unreleased material in the legendary Paisley Park vault to put out a posthumous album every year for the next century), and I make no attempt to do his work justice beyond a brief comment on how much it has meant to me over the years. Prince’s music was a true fusion, in every sense of the word, and the man himself was a paradox. Showman and savant, His Royal Shyness was noted for his lack of ease on camera, yet on stage, in front of the mic or on the guitar, his performances were, to quote Little Red Corvette, “on the verge of being obscene”. Prince effortlessly managed to meld genre-upon-genre of popular music, blur the boundaries between race, gender and sexuality, lead multiple virtuoso bands that were both musically and visually pioneering, collaborate, write hits for others, play dozens of instruments, hit impossible falsettos, rock out a guitar solo, and mix the sacred with the utterly, utterly profane, whilst all the while dancing like a sprightly, funky 5’2” JB.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

We Have Lost A Genius Today

by Emma Bell

April is indeed the cruellest month. 

We have lost a genius today. Prince Rogers Nelson, one of the most inventive and elegant musicians of the twentieth century, played an incalculable role in the development of popular music.

He was a musician of prodigious talent. A multi-instrumentalist who blended funk, pop, r and b into an irresistible amalgam of joy that would make the dead get up and dance. 

He also provided social comment: harsh critiques on the America that bred discontent and separation in his landmark album Sign of the Times

I was lucky to see him in his prime; the memory of this charismatic and rip roaring showman holding the stage with flair and ease, teasing the crowd with glorious and exhilarating renditions of his back catalogue, will stay with me forever.

He was the sound of my teenage years, of my youth and my adulthood. 

And now he's gone and there will be no more more sly humour, barnstorming talent and life affirming joy.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together for this thing called life: and he led the band. 

Tonight I feel sad - and older. Thank you, Prince. Thank you for all that you did. How much more we might have known I cannot quite bear to contemplate. 

Rocket Science!

by Jackie Tyldesley

Wildlife Club are taking part in a project with many other schools to find out whether seeds are affected by going into space. A large number of packets of seeds of the Rocket plant were taken into space when Tim Peakes went up to the space station. The seeds have now returned to Earth and have been sent out to schools, along with identical looking packets which have stayed on Earth as a control. 

What is Shakespeare's Greatest Play: Part V

To mark the 400th birthday of William Shakespeare's death (generally believed to be April 23rd, 2016), the blog asked PGS staff to tell us their favourite (and least favourite) Shakespeare plays, favourite characters and favourite productions. Here, Head Librarian Dr Webb, Mrs Burkinshaw and Ms Rickard reveal their choices. 

Dr Webb

Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester in Othello
1.      What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?
I do not have a particular favourite.  I enjoy Twelfth Night for the way it plays with gender roles in the story.   There are aspects I enjoy when played well.

2.      What is your least favourite Shakespeare play and why?
The Winter's Tale - Hermione's treatment is a story of disempowerment for women and the long years of separation seem to achieve so little.

3.      Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why?
 This depends so much on the portrayal, a passionate performance can be enthralling. Years ago Robert Lindsay playing Richard III made a huge impression on me for the complexity that was communicated.

4.      Who is the greatest Shakespeare villain and why?
Iago fills me with horror. He acts without compunction destroying the lives of those around him.

5.      Which Shakespearean character would you be most likely to fall in love with and why?
I would have to combine the qualities from several characters to create something sufficiently three dimensional and attractive for love to be involved.

6.      What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why?
National Theatre's Othello with Adrian Lester in the lead role and Rory Kinnear as Iago set in a British army camp in Afghanistan.  The setting provided the perfect catalyst for Shakespeare's plot.  Iago's determination to subvert the officer's authority in the eyes of all and the mental anguish of Othello under pressure and seemingly losing his wife's loving support made perfect sense.

Mrs Burkinshaw

What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?
I love Richard III - the main character is so despicable and yet so witty and even charming. Much Ado About Nothing always reminds me of a wonderful summer at the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, fascinated by the sparring (and the chemistry) between Benedick and Beatrice (both on and off stage).

What is your least favourite play and why?
Hamlet - the central character and Ophelia are both so irritating! (Don’t tell Mr Burkinshaw – Hamlet is his favourite play, so he might be a bit hurt).

Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why? 
Lady Macbeth is my favourite character - so strong and yet so vulnerable, villain and victim, she has lent herself to so many varied interpretations on stage and screen. Endlessly fascinating.

90 Years of Popularity - But Does the Monarchy Have a Future?

 by Cicely Podmore

With the Queen turning 90 today and her birthday celebrations looming, it is natural to be astounded by the longevity of her popularity in an age where trends and celebrities only have transient appeal. In a 2015 YouGov poll, it was shown that 68% of adult Britons believe that the monarchy is beneficial to the country. It is unlikely that such a distinctly positive result would come from conducting a survey about any other celebrated figure. 

Of course, she is not the typical personality; neither famous for her talent, sex appeal or intelligence. So for what reason does she inspire such admiration and respect in strangers? One could argue that it is the Queen herself. Unlike most figures in the public eye, she has avoided scandal and remains a figure of morality and self control. Perhaps it is also her mysterious life which entices us. The lack of documentation of her private activities on social media means that our hunger for mundane information regarding her television preferences and favourite foods will never be satiated. This guardedness and consequent anonymity is appealing to our curiosity. Indeed, she is a rather sombre, emotionless figure in public, almost superhuman in her persistent duty, her stamina and her astounding mental and physical capability when many of her peers are incapacitated.

Certainly there is also an argument that it is merely her Royal blood and Windsor title which attracts people, and the fact that she stands for a bygone age; a living relic of past feudal systems and hierarchy. She is a direct link to history who maintains the legacy of famous monarchs such as Henry VIII and Elizabeth I who have been characterised to such an extent that they would otherwise seem unreal.

One must address whether the Queen's popularity comes from the idea that she is one of the last of her kind and people are fascinated by her, not for her individual identity, but just as people might flock to catch a glimpse of the endangered Asian elephant before its extinction.

The Royal family are also the glue of patriotism, the quintessence of Britishness. During Royal events, many people retrieve long lost Union Jack paraphernalia and a wild frenzy of national pride ensues. For example, her birthday this week has produced a host of branded party poppers, novelty cake stands and teapots and there is even a special edition shortbread tin. It all seems very bizarre, and yet many Britons will invariably end up with some such frivolous item of memorabilia.

One would not expect modern Britain to remain under monarchical reign. It seems strange that a rich, unelected white family is the figurehead for a multicultural, democratic country of diminished class divides. And yet, although the Royal Family should logically be redundant, there is every sign of their continued popularity with the front pages of recent newspapers dominated by pictures of Will and Kate having a nice time in India. Certainly it is more pleasant to look at Will and Kate feeding baby elephants than to read about terrorism and natural disasters and perhaps this is the crux of the matter; the Royal Family is a form of escapism for the everyday Briton. Escapism into the past and into a luxurious, almost romantic view of family life that is not representative of typical British homes. 

The Greatest Financial Challenge Facing My Generation: Technology

by Theo Rogers

The problems that my generation are going to face are going to be much greater compared to today’s problems. For example:

Technology: It will become much more advanced, which will allow hackers a greater opportunity to try and access peoples accounts and access their money. So when you use a contactless card to pay for an item under £30, you place your card onto or hover it over the machine which allows you to pay for the item (you don’t have to put in your PIN). There must be a transaction happening which is sending out Bluetooth type signals. As technology is advancing, imagine if the transaction could be intercepted and changed by a nearby hacker using readily available technology so that the money is transferred to the wrong account. Not only can you do this with a card, you can also pay contactless with your phone and even your watch. Barclays use a method called ping-it which allows you to transfer money to your friends. All your friends need is to be signed up to the ping-it method. This type of technology may not be far away as the same principle can be used in car theft. So when you lock your car with the wireless key fob a signal is sent to the car to lock it and to show this the lights flash, but now someone could stand at the end of the street with a blank car key and all they have to do is push their button and it stops the signal from reaching that car. Whilst they do this the signal information on the actual owners key is then copied onto to key of the potential car thief. So the problem is that technology could be helping people to steal your money. Lastly as the technology improves, people will need to adapt to it and like anything some people just don’t like change. In conclusion by improving technology in transferring money and for paying for items, hackers get a better opportunity in getting hold of your money and personal information.

Economy: If the economy starts to inflate, prices on items will increase. Meaning that people will start to find it harder to buy basic items, so people’s money now has a lower value. The main utilities people need are water, electricity and gas. So if these people are unable to light the homes and keep them warm, this will lower their standard of living. Transport is also key to people’s lives. If they are unable to get to work, they could be sacked because public transport and fuel costs will increase. This means they will not be able to afford to get to work. Without a job the household income will dramatically decrease. Also the ever rising cost of food means people are spending more in the shops, rather than spending their money on different things. E.g.  Household bills.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

'Las Fallas': Valencia Celebrates the Birth of Spring

by Charlotte Phillips

On a recent Spanish exchange trip to Valencia, I experienced the incredible local festival of 'Las Fallas', a huge celebration marking Father's Day, the start of the spring and the Patron Saint of Valencia (and carpenters), Saint Joseph. The streets of Valencia and the nearby towns and villages are lined with Valencian flags but the most impressive displays are the giant 'ninots' that can be found in every square. These are enormous figures, statues almost, made of cardboard, polyurethane, Styrofoam, cork, plaster and papiermache.

Groups of designers spend months creating the towering figures, who are often caricatures of well-known celebrities, politicians or children's television characters. On the final day of Las Fallas, processions of marching bands and children throwing firecrackers parade around the streets until 2 pm, when thousands of people gather in the Plaza Ayuntamiento for 'La Mascleta' organised, synchronised, pyrotechnical explosions all over the city that are earsplittingly loud. 

However, this is the least of the noise and excitement. At midnight, the incredible firework display is a backdrop to the main spectacle, the burning of the hundred of 'ninots' filled with fireworks. The fire and noise are unbelievable. These 20-to-30 foot models are burned to the ground, accompanied by the noise of thousands of firecrackers, fireworks and shouting Valencians. It is so loud that pregnant women are forbidden from attending, the ground shakes and many people faint. Hundreds of local girls, dressed in traditional Valencian dress are chosen to be 'Queen of the Fire' each year and will set light to the giant structures that often take years to make. 

The Greatest Financial Challenge Facing My Generation: Refugee Crisis

Edward Lovatt 

The most challenging financial crisis our generation will face is coping with the financial strain the refugee crisis in Europe is putting on the European Union (EU). This is because of many reasons which will be elaborated on further into the essay. For example the fact that finances in the EU are not in a good state is well known, with Europe having to repeatedly bail out and lend Greece money for many years now. Also many European countries do not have enough money to deal with all their problems in society and the problems of their own economy, like Spain which had an economic crash in 2009. Also the effects this mass migration is putting on the housing system in these countries is immense as just in our country alone we do not have enough affordable houses for our own population, let alone the new refugees being taken into the country also as the refugees have no Pound Sterling they cannot pay for anything the government is providing for them.
In Britain the main problem is the fact that we do not have enough houses to house all of our own population and the problem is the same throughout most of the EU. If we have to build more homes for the refugees a this means it will cost our government more to build more accommodation and this costs money around £38,000 for each house alone, or roughly from last years figures: £535,800,000 without services included, which is something our government does not have considering we are already £4.8 trillion in debt. We are expected to contribute heavily to the money being lent to Greece after their economic crash and other EU countries. The strain the influx of refugees is putting on the EU is evident as countries they are in are struggling to cope financially even more so than before the influx of refugees, more so than they were before, so needing more money from the EU. House prices in Britain are already growing rapidly so combining this with the fact that the refugees will not be able to buy their own houses the government will indefinitely lose money by even building and providing these houses. 
Also the migrants will not be able to buy food for themselves when they enter the country as they have nothing, so the government will have to provide them with money to spend here as well as for them to live off. This is not economical for our government or any other government in the EU. Also most of the EU is going into negative interest rates to weaken the euro or their own currency in an attempt to counteract inflation. This is not working for some, however Switzerland has been in deflation for almost a year now, which is good for the Swiss Franc and Switzerland’s economy. Having the refugees in the EU, is putting unnecessary strain on the already fragile EU economy as so much of the EU is now having to deal with over 160,000 asylum seekers (EU average) instead of the projected amount of about 70,000 (EU average). That is an extra 90,000 people to fund and those are a small proportion of the refugees moving through Europe legally.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The Future of Energy

by Oliver Gent

How we power our future will affect all of us, no matter how poor or rich, regardless of whether we want to be involved or not. It will affect our day-to-day lives and it will drive technology to new levels.

`How do we power ourselves?’ This is a common topic. We know that we should be focusing on renewable power and how non-renewable resources are damaging the environment. However, what is being done to develop energy technologies?

"More power from the sun hits the Earth in a single hour than humanity uses in an entire year, yet solar only provided 0.0039% of the energy used in the US last year." (Elon Musk, Tesla)

The total area required to power the world’s predicted energy needs in 2030 with solar panels is the size of Spain, with 20% efficiency. This removes the argument that solar panels will take up too much space, considering Spain's land area is 0.33% of the world’s entire land area, and 0.099% of the whole world’s area. Also the solar panels would be distributed evenly across the surface, to maximise efficiency in distribution. Using unproductive land like deserts would work very well.

Elon Musk, the owner of the company Tesla (and SpaceX), believes that solar technology is the solution to our energy problems. However, he thinks a large part of the problem is down to our inability to store the power effectively. Currently with reusable power, or any power produced at all, it has to be used immediately. This means energy companies have to base how much they produce on trends in our usage. This means any surplus power goes to waste if it's not needed. If we relied purely on solar energy there would also be the problem that during a cloudy period and at night the power produced is significantly reduced or not at all.

With Elon Musk's idea, energy would be available on demand because any surplus power produced would be stored and during low points of production, the extra power would be available. This means we need to accelerate the development of battery technologies to cope with these demands. Elon Musk is developing high-end super efficient electricity storage technologies for cars.

Elon also believes that every house should not rely on the grid. This means each house would have its own solar panels, with a house battery removing the problem of distributing power across the country, which is very expensive and inefficient.

This is not just an idea: the technology is available today and almost ready to buy for the consumer market. Tesla house batteries (called the power wall) are being released soon, costing between $3,000 and $3,500. With current household attitudes towards renewable energy, these systems could become common within the next 10 years. However if change is to be fast, people need to be able to afford the initial cost reasonably and understand the incentives to make the investment. 

Photography Club: Perspective

by Sophie Mitchell

Sixth Form Centre

Monday, 18 April 2016

What is Shakespeare's Greatest Play: Part IV

To mark the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare's death (generally believed to be April 23rd, 2016), the blog asked PGS staff to tell us their favourite (and least favourite) Shakespeare plays, favourite characters and favourite productions. Here Ms Brunner and Ms Hart reveal their choices.   

Ms Brunner

      What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?

It's usually the one I'm teaching - currently The Merchant of Venice. Antonio- the merchant of the play's title- is a well-respected and successful businessman. In the play he borrows a large amount of money from someone and then loses it, seeking to avoid the consequences and even taking the moral high ground. 

Some people say that the play should no longer be taught due to its appalling treatment of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, but I would argue that it still has a lot to teach us.  We live in a world full of prejudice and generic stereotypical judgements - and the recent financial crisis reminded everyone of the perils of irresponsible borrowing. Merchant may not be easy to watch in 2016, but it opens our eyes a little wider to the world around us.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why

Rosalind (As You Like It) gets my vote - she's quick, funny and wonderfully strident. 

    What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why ?

Charlotte Cushman: "the only
woman who could play Romeo"
Growing up near Regent's Park, the Open Air Theatre was almost as much fun as London Zoo - the combination of fighting over picnics and watching the stage was very appealing to me and my many siblings. I remember a memorably wet production of AMSND which was - well, wet. But an exciting introduction to Shakespeare nonetheless.

More recently, Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet leaves us in no doubt that  Shakespearean verse can be modern and relevant to a teenage audience. 

One production I'd gladly time travel to see would be the 1845 Romeo and Juliet at the Haymarket, where the star-crossed lovers were more crossed than usual- Charlotte Cushman, dubbed 'the only woman who could play Romeo', played the male lead. 

What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?

Miss Hart

King Lear.  I first studied this play at A Level and Mr Pike, my teacher, made the play come alive.  I remember one lesson where we had to stand on the desks and recite the Heath scene in Act 3 imagining that we were in the raging elements.  It was brilliant.  Fundamentally, what draws me to it is the complex relationship between parent and child, as well as the declining mental state of Lear.  I ended up writing about this play for my BA dissertation.  It is an all-consuming piece of drama that leaves you exhausted when you leave the theatre. 

Sunday, 17 April 2016

eBooks vs Real Books

by Ilana Berney

Whether you like fiction or non-fiction, sci-fi or romance, there is a book out there for you. However, unlike twenty years ago, there are many different ways in which you can now access and read your favourite book, with a so- called ‘reading renaissance’ happening as more and more people choose to buy their books on devices such as kindles or tablets, instead of the more traditional paper-based books. Since 2012, Amazon has stated that its sales of e-books has outstripped those of the traditional books, with 114 e-books sold for every 100 traditional books. As well as this, Amazon has said that its customers are buying, on average, four times as many books when owning a kindle than when they don't, leading to the ‘reading renaissance’. However, one question that is continually debated across the globe (and one which I shall be continuing in this article) is whether the e-books are better than the traditional.

Of course there are positive and negative aspects to both of the different types of books, and personally I believe that it depends on the person as to what type they prefer. However, for the purposes of this article I shall discuss the pros and cons of both the traditional and e-books. As a kindle owner myself, I can definitely say that one of the great things is being able to store many books on one device, allowing quick and easy access to all your books, instead of having to search through an entire, possibly overflowing bookcase for the book you wanted to read. But, having said that, the supposed problem of an overflowing bookcase can for some be more appealing than seeing just titles listed on a screen. The fantastic intricate designs on book covers is most often what draws someone to a book no matter how many times ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is muttered; with a kindle or other device, the colour that draws people over is often lost with just the title written in a list instead. However, bypassing the loss of colourful book covers, there are other aspects that are positive about e-books, for example the books themselves are overall cheaper than those that are sold in book shops. 

The average price for a traditional book is £7.99, whereas online a book can be bought for as little as £1.99 (depending on when the book was released and its popularity). The cheapness of the e-books attracts many people to them; however, does the cheapness of the books make up for the expensiveness of the kindle or tablet that was originally bought? The devices used to read the e-books are expensive and so this is where the traditional paper-based books have the advantage as, although you pay more, there is nothing else you have to buy in order to read it (unless you want a fancy bookmark to amuse yourself…).