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It's been a very busy week in the English department. In addition to creative writing success for Issy Arnaud and Noah Khogali, we had news of another competition win for Emily Orviss. Emily entered a competition run by award winning children's author Barry Hutchison to design 'the book of doom' which features in his novel of the same name. Emily's idea of a smartphone app was described by Barry as 'inventive' and saw her taking second place in the competition. Barry of course came to talk to all of the juniors about reading and his books in the Lent term and so we are delighted to see that his talk was clearly inspirational.
Emily, along with the rest of the 2nd Form, was also involved in the celebrations on 23rd April. This is a special day in the English department calendar as it is both Shakespeare's birthday and World Book Night. To celebrate Shakespeare's birthday, the cloister leading to the dining hall was decorated with homages to 'Othello', 'Twelfth Night' and 'Macbeth'. Later in the day, 80 lucky pupils were given a free copy of either 'The White Queen' or 'A Little History of the World' courtesy of World Book Night. We were thrilled to join in this national event to encourage reading and it nicely rounded off a very exciting first week of term for the English department!
This year, Glenalmond College entered the National Galleries of Scotland's 'Inspired? Get Writing!' competition for the first time. We were delighted to hear that Issy Arnaud had been awarded a prize for her poem inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson. On Thursday she travelled to a special reception in Edinburgh to receive a number of goodies courtesy of the National Galleries, the Scottish Poetry Library and the English Speaking Union in Scotland. Issy and the other invited guests also had the pleasure of hearing her poem read out in front of the painting which inspired it. In addition to this, her name was printed in 'The Scotsman' newspaper alongside the other winners.
Please click on the link to read Issy Arnaud's poem: Competition Entry
Second Former Noah Khogali heard today that he has been long-listed for a prestigious creative writing competition. The 500 Words competition is run by BBC Radio 2 and headed up by celebrity Chris Evans. Noah's entry 'The Detonator' was a compelling story about the lengths that people will go to in order to survive in a war zone. This is a phenomenal achievement from 90,000 original entries and we'll hear if he has made the shortlist at the end of April. Good luck Noah!
To read Noah's story please click on the following link: The Detonator
During the last week of October, just before half term, the 2nd Battalion Glenalmond Pals followed their elder peers in the now annual pilgrimage to the First World War battlefields of France and Belgium. It is very much the battlefields "experience" and so off they went singing about how far it was to Tipperary and urging those staying at Glenalmond to keep the home fires burning. However, it was certainly not a glib trip as documentaries filled the gaps and allowed the pupils to hear about the experiences of war from the veterans' own lips. Yet, nothing could have prepared them for the sheer quantity of graves that they were about to see and the quantity of names on the Thiepval Monument and Menin Gate.
Following a visit to the hospital where Dr John McCrae penned 'In Flanders Fields', we paused by the grave of 2nd Lieutenant Francis Faithful OG, the youngest OG to be killed in the First World War aged just 18 years. Here pupils laid a wreath and 'Flowers of the Forest' and 'Highland Cathedral' was played beautifully by Robert Wilson of Reid's.
To view photos from the trip please follow the link below,
While the tour has now become commonplace on the College Calendar, it certainly lacks no spark for the eager Lower Sixth who set off every year for the quaint streets of Stratford and the Shakespeareance, as it shall now be known. Usually the weather down in Englandshire is better than here at Coll and it would have been nice to know that we were heading for balmy warmth, long hot evenings and pleasant strolls in the parks of the town. However, the reports looked duller than a plate of beans on toast and the weather offered not much more than a damp squib of a weekend punctuated with hopeful snatches of sunlight to spur on the spirit.
On arrival at the Youth Hostel we unpacked and readied ourselves for the real-time research into Shakespeare's life and times. Yes, sure Sky Arts and the BBC have offered their views on Shakespeare of late, in this Olympic and Jubilee year. We have heard that Shakespeare might have been from Sicily, that he didn't write any plays, that he was a devious businessman, a murderer and a spy. We have learned that the real Shakespeare couldn't write his name and that his whole family was illiterate except him. Some will argue, forcibly, that there is no way a man could have a vocabulary so broad or have an in-depth knowledge on such an array of subjects. Yet for all this talk the rich, exciting and diverse texts that come under his name are quite simply breathtaking, awash with dexterity and intuition that voice the concerns of generations. The texts are what they are and, I suppose, that's all that matters.
This trip saw an eye-opening tour around all the major sites: Ann Hathaway's Cottage, Mary Arden's Farm, Shakespeare's Birthplace, New Place, Trinity Church and Hall's Croft. Along the way we learned about the allure and appeal of Shakespeare, about his wayward father, his shotgun wedding, rural conditions and a whole host of other interesting facts and ideas.
Yet the main reason for the tour is the plays we come to see. Yet again the RSC put on a tour de force in a simply brilliant, if politically incorrect, rendition of Richard III and then again a stunning version of Julius Caesar. In the former the stage setting was simple to contrast with the rich action of the plot and characterisation. The starring role was excellently handled and the deformities subtly rendered; the hump was not comically large as has often been the case. His limp was clear but unobtrusive and his hand bent and warped - much like his character - but the comedy stands out. It seems to me that while we can't entirely like him, we can't entirely hate him either. His ambitions for the crown aren't exactly opposed by strength and dignity but his merciless killing of the princes in the tower sends a little stream of revulsion in the onlookers. Best of all were the scenes when Richard attempts to feign piety, wrestle with one of the princes, be romantic and of course the famous "a horse a horse" speech that marks the beginning of the end for him.
The next night came as something of a sensual shock to the system as an all black cast took Julius Caesar to an African dictatorship gripped in a brutal civil war all too apparent in newspapers from the past twenty years. The AK47 toting rebels under Brutus wielded scarily serrated machetes around the stage as the action progressed from an earnest betrayal of an egotistical leader to the full blown warfare between two violent and determined rivals with Antony bearing the strength of the moral yardstick throughout. Of course, much later he will turn against Octavius, here learning the ropes of war and politics.
Once again, thanks have to go to the drivers Mr MacAulay and Miss Bircher who did a great job with the transport arrangements, getting us there and back in good time.
In the past few English lessons this May we have been split into two groups to complete an 'Apprentice' style task: to completely make up a new product for break time at school and advertise it with a leaflet, poster, magazine article and radio interview. One group did a blackberry tart called the Black Lady which was based on the playing card the Queen of Spades. My group did a really tasty sounding chocolate bar called Chooum with toffee and caramel in it.
The pressure was on when we found out that Mr Abbott from the kitchen would be coming to listen to our presentation and judge our promotion. This meant that we would have to do a good job! Overall, the task was fun, exciting and, most importantly, it was good practice of all of the skills that I have learned this year.
Alex Wainwright (3S) and Fergus Skinner (3P)
From 2011 the College will be working in departments to promote literacy and its support in promoting good learning and therefore higher achievement. Good reading, writing and speaking skills are at the heart of the education system and are assessed formally in the majority of examinations a pupil will sit. Not only this, it is an essential life skill which will be tested throughout life from university applications to job interviews and beyond.
Therefore we have introduced a whole-school marking policy designed to stress the importance of spelling, punctuation and written expression which will be used by all teachers on every written piece of work. In addition to this departments will develop subject-specific vocabulary lists and have started looking at ways of incorporating the teaching of reading and writing in all subjects. For example the Third Form Chemists have been doing some creative writing to help them understand chemical reactions and the junior biologists have been doing "pop-corn" reading around the class, a fun and mildly competitive way to engage readers when they have to read complex material.
The English department has opened up a Blog for readers to offer comments about their reading and the Library continues with the Reading Challenge. Next term there will be a whole school writing day and a new school newspaper has been developed to promote writing outside of class and we hope that initiatives like these will spread throughout the college and promote reading, writing and learning at a higher level.
RC Sherriff's well known play was written and first performed in the late nineteen twenties, giving an insight into the lives of a group of World War 1 officers on the front line over the period of four days. Unlike other works of literature on the Great War, this play focuses not on the horror of battle, but on the anguish of suspense, of waiting for something, anything, to happen - young and inexperienced officer Raleigh's first observation on the front line is 'how frightfully quiet it is'.
The Fourth Form and a select band of the sixth form will be studying this play and a unit on World War One literature so this was an opportunity not to be missed to see the play in the flesh. It was a very good evening!
The whole drama takes place in the officer's dugout, showing their daily relations rather than the actual fighting. The set at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow was low-ceilinged and intricately detailed, which, coupled with the soft and murky candlelight effect, provided the audience with the same feeling of claustrophobia as the characters. Through much of the play there was complete and eerie silence behind the conversation of the officers, while at other times the rumble of the guns could be heard in the distance. This grew louder and louder throughout the last scene so that the curtain goes down to the deafening booms of the bombardment, leaving the audience fearful and slightly shell-shocked.
The story includes very little 'action', focusing on the interaction between officers at mealtimes or after duties. The static conversations on schools, 'rugger' and the importance of pepper can be hard to follow, but poignantly convey the way the soldiers distracted themselves from what faced them. One of the play's key themes is the way in which different people coped - pretending to be ill so as to get sent home, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, colouring in circles on a bit of paper - quietly questioning whether any one way is better than another, whether we have the right to judge those who could not cope, for as Stanhope despairingly remarks in justifying his alcoholism, 'is there no limit to what a man can bear?'.
Developing subtly through the first half, the characters built towards the disastrous attack in the final scene with deliberate evasion of the topic. Osborne's reassuring schoolmaster's attitude provided a comforting medium between Raleigh's painful naivety and Stanhope's hopeless exhaustion, while Trotter and Mason, less complex characters, provided some comic relief - though not much.
At the very end of the play the curtain rose on the cast standing in two rows, hands behind their backs, the backdrop showing a vast list of soldiers killed in the First World War resembling the Menin Gate. This poignant ending serves to remind the audience of the immense number of men who reached their own journey's end defending our country.
Iona Gaskell (U6th Home)
All the world's a stage...
The annual Shakespeare pilgrimage for the Lower Sixth English pupils was underway early, stopping for Starbucks a good hour and a half into the trip at about 7.30am; we are keen if nothing else. Arriving at the youth hostel at 2.30pm we thought we had made good time and were soon off to tour the town and begin our sojourn into the world of old Bill Rattle Stick. Starting at the end we went to the grave in Trinity Church on the meandering banks of the Avon and then headed up to Henley street where the group could sustain themselves in preparation for The Merchant of Venice that night. The new RST is a delight with some of the old stage now used for flooring in the foyer and bars and the auditorium now with a thrusting stage that echoes the Globe. The performance was stunning as it was set in Las Vegas. Shylock, played by Patrick Stewart, was a casino owner and his employee Lorenzo was an Elvis impersonator. Portia's casket game set up by her late father was done in the form of a game show and the accents ranged from New York eye-talian to ditzy southern belle. Visually it was arresting and daring and the whole stuck together brilliantly. A great way to start. The next day we packed in a visit to Mary Arden's farm, The Birthplace and museum as well as the Hall's Croft and Nash House - now there's commitment! The final show on the tour, Macbeth, was more Jacobean in its delivery the major change being the exchange of witches for the ghosts of murdered children. It was chilling. The icing on the cake was a last minute tour around Anne Hathaway's cottage and as always a key highlight was the interaction with the actors post show in The Duck. We look forward to next year.
"Don't have daughters; they do your head in and then you die." A fitting if somewhat glancing review of King Lear, a dark but oddly funny (ha ha, not peculiar) play, famous amongst old people for reminding them of their eventual downfall. The real draw for our Upper Sixth was that it offered a live Shakespeare performance to complement the study of the set texts for the June examination (yikes). The other draw was of course the starring role taken by great thespian Sir Derek Jacobi - "He's in The King's Speech!" Yes he is and Gladiator, Cadfael (what?), Frasier, Evolution: Endgame (no idea either), The Rats of Nimh (as opposed to the knights that say ni) and lots more. The performance was also dotted with recognisable faces such as Gina McKee from Notting Hill, Atonement, Scenes of a Sexual Nature (ooh!) and lots more. Before I start sounding like an edition of Hello! I should tell ye about the show. It was the best King Lear I've ever seen, amusing, dark, impeccably acted and thoroughly engaging. The theatre was packed and suitably awed at the great performances on the stage. The set was simple and allowed one to focus on the stunning language and to be suitably appalled by the famous eye-plucking scene. All in all it was a great night out of Coll and a useful reminder of the nature of tragedy.