Scottish poet inspires Wishaw primary kids with captivating poetry workshop.

A primary school in Wishaw had a special visit from a well-known Scots poet and writer, which resulted in an exciting meal of ‘Neeps and Tatties’ for the students. The event was organized by the equality charity Nil by Mouth as part of their ‘Neeps and Tatties’ project. This project aims to use language to explore religious and cultural differences among people. The students, who were in primary six at Wishaw Primary Academy, engaged in various activities with Thomas Clarke, delving into the Scots language in preparation for Burns Night.

The highlight of the day was the reading of ‘Neeps & Tatties,’ a book written entirely in Scots by Carey Morning and illustrated by Anna York. The story revolves around two rival vegetable tribes who eventually set aside their differences and embrace a harmonious future. The book addresses important issues such as discrimination and prejudice, equipped with classroom games and activities that promote understanding of diverse cultures. It even delves into the significance of food and festivals in different traditions.

Since its launch in January 2021, ‘Neeps & Tatties’ has been used in over 1,000 schools throughout Scotland. To bring the story to life, Nil by Mouth collaborates with various Scots artists who conduct interactive sessions in classrooms. Thanks to funding from North Lanarkshire Council, 100 teachers received copies of the book, all of which were claimed within two days.

Thomas Clarke’s visit to Wishaw Primary Academy was made possible by the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Programme, which supports author visits to schools and community groups across the country. The purpose of the program is to make reading more accessible to all.

Emma Alexander, Engagement Officer at Nil by Mouth, expressed her enthusiasm for the event, praising Thomas Clarke’s warm and engaging demeanor. She also mentioned the long-standing fruitful relationship between Nil by Mouth and several schools in North Lanarkshire. The collaboration with the council and the Scottish Book Trust strengthens the bond and furthers their mission of creating a tolerant and inclusive Scotland. As part of these efforts, a digital version of ‘Neeps & Tatties’ is available for free download on their website, allowing schools and families to access it easily.

Teachers have reported that ‘Neeps & Tatties’ provides an approachable way to address complex issues. Having artists like Thomas Clarke bring the story to life enhances the campaign’s impact in building a Scotland that is more progressive and accepting, moving away from bigotry.

Thomas Clarke is an influential figure in the revival of the Scots language. His achievements include translating books like ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ and George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ into Scots, contributing to the preservation and revitalization of the language.

Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments: An Incredible Page-Turner Assessed

It’s strange how certain things stick with us and other things fade from memory. Whenever I hear the title “The Handmaid’s Tale,” one particular scene from Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel comes to mind. It’s the Ceremony, the unsettling ritual where Offred, the Handmaid, is forced to have sex with the Commander while his wife watches. None of the other horrific events in the book, like hangings and cruel treatment, hold the same power as that disturbing threesome.

Offred ponders, “Which one of us has it worse, her or me?” Both women, the fertile slaves and the barren wives, suffer in their own way. The women in Gilead – Wives, Handmaids, and domestic Marthas – are stripped of their rights. They can’t work, earn, speak up, or be alone. They are denied the right to read and find pleasure. Atwood doesn’t clarify which of these is the greater injustice.

In the introduction to the 2017 edition of The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood writes, “‘It can’t happen here’ was not a reliable notion. Given the right circumstances, anything could happen anywhere.” Her forthcoming book, The Testaments, aims to answer the burning question that has intrigued readers since the publication of The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985: “How did it happen?”

The arrival of The Testaments is shrouded in secrecy, building anticipation among readers. Even obtaining a copy to review has been a challenge, with the book being as elusive as if I ordered it from Amazon. The hype and excitement surrounding its release are unprecedented. It’s a worldwide launch with midnight readings and Atwood’s appearances generating immense buzz. The windows of Waterstones bookshops glow with an acidic green hue.

When the book arrives, a courier appears dressed in motorcycle gear, bringing to mind the emblem of Gilead on his back. The book is delivered in a jiffy bag with the stamped words, “All things come to she who waits.” On the cover, there’s an image of a handmaid in her distinct cloak and bonnet, and on the back, a girl with a ponytail and a single earring, symbolizing servitude and freedom, modesty and rebellion. The green satin bookmark adds a nice touch, flickering between the pages like the serpent’s tail in the Garden of Eden—although, it was actually the serpent who initiated the fall, not Eve.

Readers of The Handmaid’s Tale and followers of the MGM/Hulu TV adaptation have been pondering whether The Testaments is a prequel or a sequel, and whether it measures up to its predecessor. The answer to the first question is both. The prequel section explores the suppressed history of Aunt Lydia, a teacher of female morality in Gilead, and how the seemingly impossible transformation to Gilead came about. Aunt Lydia reflects, “I’d believed in the ideals of life, liberty, democracy, and individual rights that I learned about in law school. I thought they were eternal truths, something we would always defend. I depended on them as if they were magic.”

The parts where Aunt Lydia describes her arrest, the end of her prestigious career, and her internment in a sports stadium resonate with the chilling indignity and intensity of French Jews awaiting deportation to Nazi death camps in the Vélodrome d’Hiver in Paris. It takes very little—filth, hunger, fear—to turn her into an unwilling servant of the regime.

The sequel sections of The Testaments are narrated by two teenage girls: Agnes, residing in Gilead, and Nicole, living in Canada. Initially, I believed I had figured out who these girls were, but now, after reading the coda that mimics the transcript from a future academic symposium on Gileadean Studies—as both The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments end with such a transcript—I find myself doubting my conclusions. Atwood challenges us to question what is fact, what is fiction, who manipulates evidence, and who survives to tell the story. As one character remarks, “Gilead news is saying it’s all fake.” It rings a familiar bell.

Both books feature Marthas always baking, and it seems as if Atwood is weaving her own narrative, leaving breadcrumbs for readers to follow: May Day, Moon June, Commander Judd, the Underground Female Road. These details are sure to ignite discussions among enthusiastic fans.

However, The Testaments falls short in two important aspects: voice and setting. The Handmaid’s Tale was singular, providing the perspective of one woman, Offred. We saw the world through her eyes, even staring at her bedroom ceiling. In contrast, The Testaments divides our attention and empathy between three intertwined stories: Nicole, Agnes, and Lydia. Yet, throughout it all, we remain Offred, unable to fully connect with the new characters. In terms of setting, The Handmaid’s Tale was primarily set within the confines of Offred’s small world in Gilead—a chamber piece. Offred’s Gilead consisted of her bedroom, her home, and her daily walks. She lacked a book, a job, even the knitting allowed to Serena Joy. It was the boredom, rather than the rapes, that weighed her down. She called it, “The long parentheses of nothing.”

The Testaments takes readers on a journey across various locations: buses, boats, vans, woods, rivers, seas, schools, dentists, diners, hotels, condos, charity shops, and refugee centers. As the story progresses, it transforms into a road-trip buddy film, with prayerful Agnes and fierce Nicole forming an unlikely duo. Some of Nicole’s scenes are clichéd and practically scream “film franchise moment,” reminiscent of The Hunger Games but with bonnets. There’s a montage where Nicole learns various fighting skills, a makeover scene complete with tattoos and green hair, and a chaste night shared by Nicole and the muscular yet sensitive Garth.

Agnes and Nicole, in their undeveloped and formulaic characters, pale in comparison to the complexity of Offred. One of the aspects that made The Handmaid’s Tale so captivating was Offred’s memories of a time when sex was not sinful and strictly controlled. She reminisces about the joy and seduction that came with physical intimacy. She longs to be touched and even risks her life for forbidden love. Agnes and Nicole, still innocent and untouched, do not carry the same tension surrounding sexuality.

The horrors and oppressive nature of Gilead that shocked us in The Handmaid’s Tale are revisited in The Testaments. Once you’ve encountered one horrifying birth scene or witnessed a man being torn apart by Handmaids, it becomes repetitive. Nevertheless, Atwood’s prose remains as powerful as ever, filled with tension and simplicity. She infuses certain phrases with ironic rage, highlighting terms like adulteress, precious flower, Certificate of Whiteness, fanatics, and defiled. Through clever wordplay, she forces readers to question the limitations of language and its capacity for deceit. The plot is gripping, and I finished reading the book in a mere six hours. However, if The Handmaid’s Tale was Atwood’s masterpiece, The Testaments feels like a misstep. The Handmaid’s Tale ended with uncertainty, leaving readers with the unanswerable query, “Are there any questions?” Perhaps it’s for the best that some of those questions were never addressed.

Suffolk theatres plead for council to reverse drastic arts funding cut

Theatrical companies are urging a council to reconsider its plans to cut arts funding by 100%. The Suffolk County Council unveiled its budget cuts on Wednesday, which include ending £500,000 of financial support for the arts and museums sector. The council argues that these cuts are necessary to provide additional assistance to children’s services and adult care. Douglas Rintoul, from Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre, expressed his disappointment, stating that it feels like the arts are being devalued.

Seven arts organizations in Suffolk have been receiving funding from the council. These include DanceEast, Eastern Angles Theatre Company, First Light Festival, The New Wolsey Theatre, Primadonna Festival, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, and Suffolk Artlink. In a joint statement, these organizations voiced concern about how the decision will impact the people of Suffolk. They also pointed out that the funding cuts would only make a negligible difference to the council’s finances, as it represents just 0.057% of their revenue budget for 2023-24.

The council defends the cuts by claiming that they will provide more support for children’s services and adult care. Over the next two years, they intend to allocate an additional £42.7 million and £29.9 million, respectively, to these areas. However, Mr. Rintoul believes that there is a lack of appreciation for the contribution that the arts can make to the county’s health and social care systems. He is concerned that there is not enough openness to acknowledge this potential.

For Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre, the funding represents 80% of the subsidy committed to their engagement program, which benefits over 5,000 people. Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds uses the £100,000 funding it receives to run weekly classes for vulnerable members of society, including a sensory youth theatre for disabled and neurodivergent children. The artistic director, Owen Calvert-Lyons, expressed that they would have to make significant changes to their work due to the sizable funding cut and emphasized the importance of council support during such challenging times.

Even with the funding reductions, both New Wolsey Theatre and Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds have affirmed that they will not be shutting their doors. According to Richard Rout, the council’s Conservative deputy leader and cabinet member for finance and the environment, the council has given these organizations a 12-month notice period to seek alternative funding sources. He acknowledged the value of the arts and museums and assured that the council has carefully scrutinized its spending.

The council’s proposals will be put to a vote during a full council meeting on February 15th.

From Page to Screen: Spider-Verse Reshaping the Comic Movie Landscape

When it comes to the new film Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the cinematic landscape has changed since its predecessor. Back in 2018, the idea of a multiverse, where different versions of Spider-Man exist, was fresh. But now, this concept has become common in comic book films, especially within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, instead of capitalizing on the visual uniqueness of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which drew inspiration from superhero comic books, the focus has shifted to expanding the franchise possibilities of the multiverse. This misses the true appeal of the first film, which was its innovative use of visuals. In Spider-Verse, the multiverse meant breaking rules rather than following a formula.

The first Spider-Verse film stood out because of its fresh artistic style, blending traditional animation and comic book art with new technology. It evoked a sense of nostalgia by incorporating elements from classic comic books. As a result, Miles Morales, a relatively new character in the Marvel comics, felt timeless and just as iconic as Peter Parker.

Unlike other superhero movies that merely borrow certain elements from comic books, the Spider-Verse films bring the dynamism of comic books to life. They successfully combine the language of animation and film with that of comic books. For example, they incorporate onscreen written sound effects, like the iconic “thwip!” of Spider-Man. They also use “burst cards,” 2D drawings that appear during action sequences for emphasis. These moments feel like frozen panels come to life on the big screen.

What sets the Spider-Verse films apart is their execution of the textures and tactile qualities of print, something rarely seen in comic book movies. They utilize halftone, Ben-Day dots, and “Kirby Krackle” (clusters of dots used to represent cosmic energy) to enhance the visual experience. The production designer of Into the Spider-Verse, Justin K Thompson, stressed the importance of embracing the imperfections of print during the animation process. This includes implementing chromatic aberration, which recreates the accidental color separations and mismatched colors that occur in the four-color printing process.

Through a team of over 1000 artists and animators, Across the Spider-Verse takes the sensory overload of the first film to new heights. It experimentally explores what a Spider-Man story can be in terms of visuals. The film amplifies every formal element of its predecessor, such as animating certain characters at 12 frames per second (on twos) rather than the standard 24 frames per second (on ones) for 3D animation. This slight delay between frames creates a flipping page effect, enhancing the experience for the audience.

With the introduction of the character Spider-Punk/Hobie Brown, voiced by Daniel Kaluuya, the animators do something even more impressive. They animate different parts of the character at different speeds, reflecting his anarchic nature and creating a dynamic visual effect. Instead of simply moving on ones or twos, his body moves “on threes,” and his guitar moves “on fours.” This breathes life into his character and takes advantage of animation’s potential for creative expression.

In Across the Spider-Verse, the visual palette expands even further to reflect the vastness of comic book artistry. The film explores different universes in the multiverse, paying homage to various artists’ styles. For instance, Gwen Stacy/Spider-Woman’s universe showcases the expressive brushwork reminiscent of Robbi Rodriguez’s cover art for the Spider-Gwen comic. The directors made a conscious effort to incorporate the identities of more artists into the film. They studied the inking techniques of Rick Leonard, co-creator of Spider-Man 2099, while developing the visual style for the character. The film’s take on Ben Reilly, known as Scarlet Spider, derives inspiration from Tom Lyle’s original character designs, while also playfully poking fun at the brooding nature of 1990s comics. By exploring different art styles throughout the decades, Across the Spider-Verse embraces evolution and challenges the conformities of superhero canon and tropes.

The main villain of Across the Spider-Verse, The Spot, illustrates the film’s embrace of imperfections. Along with Spider-Man 2099, these characters maintain their underlying geometric sketch lines, resembling unfinished drawings. The Spot adds another layer with his appearance, covered in dark splotches against a white background, resembling a page with spilled ink. This visual irregularity reflects the character’s sense of being an accidental byproduct of someone else’s adventure, emphasizing his misshapenness. As Miles and The Spot travel between different universes in the sequel film, the visual non-conformity becomes not just aesthetic but thematic. It represents Miles’s resistance against being boxed into a predefined narrative by teachers and fellow Spider-People.

Often, contemporary superhero movies borrow storylines from comic books while failing to capture their essence. The Spider-Verse films, on the other hand, honor the true spirit of comic books. They go beyond mere adaptations and dive into the expressive potential of animation. In these films, the visuals are not just complementary; they are an integral part of the storytelling. Through their unique approach, the Spider-Verse films have inspired a new wave of varied and stylized animation in recent releases. They have reminded Hollywood of the importance of the entire creative team behind comic books, from colorists to pencillers, inkers, letterers, and cover artists. As opposed to treating comics as nothing more than intellectual properties, the Spider-Verse films break free from the formula and explore the true potential of comic book movies.

LSE remains London’s leading educational institution.

LSE has maintained its position as the number one university in London and fourth in the UK according to the latest edition of the Guardian’s Best UK Universities 2024 league table.

In addition to this overall achievement, LSE also received high rankings in various academic disciplines. The School claimed the top spot in ‘Accounting and Finance’. It secured a position in the top five for eight other subject areas, including Geography, Anthropology, International Relations, Management, Government, Sociology and Social Policy, Philosophy, and Law. Notably, all ranked subjects fell within the top six.

The rankings are determined by multiple factors, such as the quality of teaching, student-to-staff ratio, and potential career prospects.

LSE’s success extends beyond the Guardian’s league table. It recently ranked fifth overall in a newly established university league table by the Daily Mail. Moreover, it emerged as a joint front-runner in the UK for graduate salaries and secured second place in the country for continuation rates.

Expressing his views on this remarkable achievement, LSE’s interim President and Vice Chancellor, Eric Neumayer, attributed these excellent results to the unflagging efforts of the academic and professional services staff who are relentlessly committed to delivering a world-class education.

“As a School, we maintain our dedication to the global impact of social sciences, continuously producing exceptional research and teaching. Collectively, we strive to make positive contributions to shape the future of the world,” added Neumayer.

These achievements coincide with the recent opening of LSE’s latest state-of-the-art facility, the Marshall Building. This cutting-edge establishment accommodates various academic departments, along with a sports center, music practice rooms, and a café. Impressively, the building has also received excellent ratings for its sustainability initiatives, further solidifying LSE’s commitment to environmental responsibility.

LSE has also garnered recognition in various other areas including winning the prestigious Outstanding Entrepreneurial University award at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards last autumn. Additionally, the School made waves by introducing a groundbreaking master’s course on AI Management this spring. Moreover, LSE has taken substantial steps towards promoting diversity and inclusivity by launching several new initiatives aimed at increasing participation among underrepresented students in higher education.

This summer, LSE ranked first among London universities in the Complete University Guide 2024. Furthermore, in previous years, the School earned acclaim as one of the leading universities in the world according to the Times Higher Education World University rankings. Notably, LSE also secured the top spot in terms of world-leading research produced in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) in the previous year.