Nearly a hundred Chigwell pupils, staff and parents attended the annual presentation of the winning essays in the Howard and Mitchell Essay competition. This competition is open to Year 12 students, whose essays, initiated, researched and written independently, enter either the Howard (arts and humanities) or Mitchell (maths and sciences) contests.
This year’s winners were (Mitchell) Zuzanna Borawska, on “From Gutenberg to printing organs – the amazing story of 3D printing”, and (Howard) Olivia Mendel-Portnoy, on “To what extent was the improvement of treatment of patients in Bethlem Royal Hospital from 1815-90, due to the York Retreat?” Both talks were expertly prepared and confidently delivered, and the subsequent wealth of perceptive questions allowed the presenters to reveal how much they knew beyond what they had said in their talks. The presentations were followed by a dinner, which ended with some wise and witty words of advice from 2006 Howard winner, and now TV screenwriter, Laura Neal.
This year’s table competition was to produce the best map of Central London from memory.
This week’s Williams Project meeting saw Alex Wade of Birmingham City University give a wide-ranging talk on ‘The Happy Consciousness of Pac-Man’. The much-loved, chomping, yellow character was analysed not just as a game but as an influence and reflection of ’80s and modern society, whether it be in his RAVE-like habit of popping pills or in his consumerist desire to never stop eating. We’d like to thank Mr Wade for his excellent talk which enlightened us not just on video games but also gave us an insight into some of the wider aspects of our culture and technology.
Mr Wade started by warming up the audience with some ’80s jokes, before talking about ’80s culture and its parallelism to the game itself. He carefully explained the idea of Pac-Man, that you play as a small, yellow creature who must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts, all inside a maze from which there is no escape. As you get to higher and higher levels, the mazes become more complex and difficult to escape from. He spoke elegantly about the game’s popularity in the ’80s, and also about how it is perceived by some to be more well-suited to females than males, as the ghosts never die when they are eaten, but merely float back to the “ghost box”, unlike most modern video games in which the characters often die. He also kept the audience entertained with fun facts about the game – for example, he told us that the shape of the character Pac-Man was originally inspired by a pizza with one slice missing.
However, for me, the most impressive part of Mr Wade’s speech was the final part, in which he expanded on his ideas about Pac-Man’s link to capitalism. In a broad, sweeping gesture, he stated: “Pac-Man is all about eating.” And so, he went on to say, is life. Pac-Man must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts in order to live, so that it can eat more power pellets in order to eat more ghosts etc. In the same way, the population of a capitalist society are trapped in a cycle of consuming for the sake of consuming, buying more and more goods just to thrive in society. A cycle from which escape is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Of course, the hugely challenging question which this point causes us to ask is “is there a better alternative?” Would it be better to have a society with poor consumption (Communism) or one with excessive consumption?
A fascinating message delivered in a clear, confident manner, it is certain that all those who were present at Mr Wade’s talk will be thinking about it for a long time, and many thanks must go to the speaker for a thought-provoking session.
Professor Dronsfield, an old friend of the WP, and Dr Ferguson (retired Consultant Anaesthetist) presented a double-act on this widespread drug.
Ann told us about Leo Sternbach, the discoverer/inventor of valium: how, as a Jew, he escaped the Nazis in Central Europe and began a new life in the US working for pharmaceutical company Roche. Alan explained how, while here, he invented a series of tranquillisers, including diazepam, marketed as “Valium”, which is celebrated in the Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper. He stressed how luck and persistence were the key ingredients to Sternbach’s success, rather than “genius”: Einstein was right.
A fascinating and wide-ranging afternoon: it’s really interesting when scientists such as Alan and Ann are able to combine technical chemistry with the history and social context behind important developments.
Chigwell’s philosopher-in-chief and four Remove students (Adam Goriparthi, Max Humphreys, Tom Lockley and Michael Newman) led the Williams Project in a demonstration of the P4C (Philosophy for Children) method. We watched a ‘stimulus’ video about a near-death experience, in small groups generated questions we’d like to discuss, voted on the two we’d like to consider in more depth, and then had an open discussion on these two. Our two chosen questions were: “Can near-death experiences be medically explained?” and “If there were such a thing as life after death, why would there be life after death?”.
A really interesting afternoon. Mr Goodfellow’s P4C club will restart in September (Tuesdays of Week A, 4:15, RS1).
Cordelia Griffith (Howard Essay winner) and Katie Marshall (Mitchell) gave excellent presentations on their essays to a packed library, and dealt with some probing questions with cool skill. Cordelia spoke on “Does Dicey’s conception of the “rule of law” apply in a dictatorship?”, calmly and lucidly demonstrating how the Nazis, in their attempts to ensure that everything they did was technically ‘legal’, nevertheless broke some of Dicey’s rules about how a decent legal system would operate. Katie (“How close is a cure for Parkinson’s Disease?”) explained clearly and with passion some complex science, and focused on how stem cell research might ‘in a generation’ at least bring about clinical trials of the long-awaited cure to this debilitating illness.
The presentations were introduced by representatives of the judging panels, Graham Dixon and David Gower, who stressed the range and quality of this year’s entries, and the importance of letting one’s academic interests develop in ways not overly restricted by thoughts of ‘career’: the career will follow the interests.
Later the annual dinner was held, where we were addressed by Jessica Beagley (OC and former Mitchell winner). She reinforced the point made by the judges, explaining how her career had (already) taken many surprising twists and turns, from scientific research to political lobbying, yet with the common thread of her interest in physiology. It was a perfect way to end the evening.