Archive

Archive for November, 2011

Review: Fortress (DVD) – Borrow or Buy?

Wednesday, 30 November, 2011 52 comments

Four Stars: ****

“No B-17s were harmed in the making of this film!”

It is a war story which has been retold many a time, and yet it never gets old! The tale of a bomber crew up against all odds, who yearn to trade the flak-blackened skies for the comforts of home, as they struggle to complete their tour of duty. And there is no better example of this than the crew of the Flying Fortress Lucky Lass, operating from a sandy strip in the Algerian desert, during the 1943 bombing of Rome.

Despite having a pretty much unknown cast (Bug Hall, Donnie Jeffcoat and Sean McGowan anyone?), as well as the fact that it relies completely on CGI for the battle scenes, the quality of this B-movie was a pleasant surprise over the usual straight-to-DVD releases.

Seeing as there are only 12 flying B-17s left, the film-makers can be forgiven for not being entirely authentic (this is even addressed in the credits, in a very tongue-in-cheek manner) although only extreme levels of scrutiny will reveal any flaws. In other words, you would need to be the ultimate spotter, who can identify incorrect rivets on a gun turret window frame, to notice and/or be bothered by it.

For the rest of the time, the rapid pace of an air war makes us forget that we are looking at a digital rendering, persuading us that the Lass is airborne once more! She looks and sounds just as she should. The attention to detail is not just limited to the aircraft; it would have been so easy for the makers to use generic patch-work quilt landscape scenery, but when we find ourselves peering down the bomb-sight we see an actual rendition of the city of Rome, complete with Coliseum.

Much has been said about the inauthentic dialogue too. Some scenes go as far to suggest the crew are none other than the grandfathers of the lads who star in American Pie, because of the way they speak of birds and boozing during their down-time.

A side-plot even involves a home-made (and thoroughly illegal) still, in which the characters extract alcohol from aviation fuel to make their own moonshine. Fittingly, the still’s owner is a red-haired lad called Bert (Chris Owen), who was none other than the Shermanator in the teen romp comedies! He even speaks of his still in the same way his adolescent alter-ego might talk of an elaborately constructed beer pong game many years later.

But, while this portrayal has been criticised by some, I actually found it strangely authentic. So perhaps they do speak in a fairly modern way … apart from the odd moment, it is not at all that noticeable! Considering the grim reality of fighting in the skies, it is not surprising to learn that crazy hijinks were not an uncommon way to unwind on an airbase. To quote one of the actors: “There’s more to being a bomber pilot than just flying.”

As for the crew’s actual fate, well, just remember that their moment of glory will come at a time when there was still no end in sight for the war. Whatever they achieve now will soon be buried under more bloodshed, and many more young men will be sacrificed before peace is won. Watch this in memory of these magnificent flying machines and the people who flew and fought in them. It might not carry the same impact as Memphis Belle, but I’d certainly watch this one again.

Image courtesy of Pete Markham, Flickr.

Advertisements

Do you support tomorrow’s public sector strikes?

Tuesday, 29 November, 2011 2 comments

With tomorrow, November 30th, marking the date on which the major trades union will down tools for the day, how do you feel about the strike?

London goes on strike tomorrow (file photo). Credit: Peter Spooner.

Our reader Terry Winn, commenting on our Facebook page (do like us for regular updates if you haven’t already, by the way!), says: “I’m in a public sector union banned from striking. Wish we could to vent our fury over our treatment.”

“Our pensions are to be reduced and we may have to do this job till we are at least 68; almost impossible given the dangers. We are undermanned and told more cuts are needed, while the government introduce yet more tiers of management into the service. The pay of new staff is so low standards have suffered and we haven’t had a payrise for years.”

Meanwhile, Ryan Harrison says: “I’m sick of all these strikes and protests and riots and marches! Everyone has just got sodding greedy! If you havea job then be grateful for that. Everyone is just out marching for more all the time.

“Why cant people accept if they’ve had it good for so long that things are going to get a bit tough as we enter a double dip recession?! Work hard, keep your job and be happy. I’m sure if your bonuses drop now as soon as the economy picks up they will come back.”

Do you agree or disagree? Leave a comment below and please vote in our poll!

Gangway on HMS Belfast collapses

Tuesday, 29 November, 2011 1 comment

Refresh this page for the latest updates

A gangway between HMS Belfast and the shore collapsed into the River Thames this lunchtime.

Three workmen aboard the gangway reportedly scrambled clear as it fell into the water. London Ambulance Service took two people with “minor injuries” to St Thomas’ Hospital.

Lifeboats from the RNLI station at Tower Hill attended the scene, although luckily nobody fell into the river. The 170 people aboard Belfast are now being evacuated by boat.

London Fire Brigade attended the scene to repair the gangway. The fire service were, ironically, due to carry out a training exercise aboard her this afternoon.

Belfast, a Town-class light cruiser originally commissioned in 1939, is a museum ship operated by the Imperial War Museum.

The IWM has stated that Belfast will remain closed to the public until further notice.

It is not known why the gangway collapsed, although other reports suggest that it was undergoing maintenance at the time.

editor’s note: if you are the person who took the picture on the left, please get in touch – unfortunately I can’t find the person who posted it on Twitter!

Our reader Niyanta Shah sent us this picture of the collapsed gangway, from a different angle.

Credit: Niyanta Shah

Ealing teacher spared jail for groping air steward

Tuesday, 29 November, 2011 Leave a comment

An Ealing teacher who drunkenly assaulted an air steward has been spared a prison sentence.

Spared: Katherine Goldberg, who drunkenly groped a Virgin Atlantic steward, has avoided jail.Katherine Goldberg, 25, downed a bottle of whisky on a Virgin Atlantic flight and became so drunk that she became under the “alcohol-induced illusion” that the man was her boyfriend, Isleworth Crown court heard yesterday.

Goldberg, who pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to sexual assault and being drunk on an aircraft, was on board Virgin Atlantic flight VS602 from Johannesburg to Heathrow on 24th August when the incident happened. She was returning from a trip to South Africa where she had celebrated the end of her teaching exams.

Her behaviour was described by witnesses as “very irritating” because she disturbed them while they were trying to rest, said James O’Connell, prosecuting.

One member of the cabin crew “took an interest in her care” and tried to calm her down. O’Connell continued: “However, it was at this point that the defendant’s antics changed and became sexual in nature. She was heard to tell the air steward: ‘Let me and you go somewhere. You can touch me anywhere you want, I don’t mind.'”

“In her complete alcoholic funk,” added O’Connell, “she was confusing him with her current boyfriend and a previous boyfriend.

“She was somehow imagining this was her boyfriend with whom she was interacting.”

The court was told that Goldberg, who has been suspended from her job as a teacher at a Montessori school, has since admitted to having an alcohol problem, is now abstinent and attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings five times a week.

She also went on a one-month residential course after realising she had hit “rock bottom”.

Goldberg was fined £1500, ordered to carry out an 11-month community order and 80 hours of unpaid work, and to pay £250 costs. Had she received a 12-month order, she would have been forced to sign the sex offenders’ register, barring her from working with children.

Judge Andrew McDowall said: “I would be wrong to impose a lifetime punishment by preventing you working in a profession where you clearly have talent.”

https://thewestlondoner.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/opinion-why-is-brunel-universitys-student-union-trying-to-dumb-down-lectures/#comment-2465

Opinion: Why is Brunel University’s student union trying to dumb down lectures?

Monday, 28 November, 2011 6 comments

The picture below is a genuine advertisement that appeared in Brunel University’s student newspaper, Le Nurb, this month. It was sponsored by the Union of Brunel Students, which is campaigning to replace traditional lectures with school-style lessons for undergraduates.

Of course, doing so merely demonstrates that UBS’s Vice-President for Academic Representation, Craig Best, who is leading the anti-intellectual campaign, has missed the point of higher education.

“University is emphatically not about spoon-feeding and hand-holding through courses,” said Professor Anthony Grayling in a Guardian column some time ago.

The professor is, naturally, correct. Higher education is about self-directed learning where you read up on your topic in your own time, for your own intellectual enrichment. Being spoon-fed titbits in order to pass your exams merely reduces learning to lazy parroting, as recent generations are finding out to their cost.

“Students in a handout culture may fail to learn to take responsibility for their own learning,” added Dr David Hardman of London Metropolitan University. “In fact, there is now plenty of evidence that self-discipline is a major factor in student performance.”

Key to Dr Hardman’s point is “self-discipline”. Employers value graduates who can think for themselves and don’t need to have their hands held. Academic training teaches undergraduates how to reason through a problem and how to overcome it without being completely dependent on others. Best’s scheme will devalue Brunel degrees and make Brunel graduates less desirable to employers.

Ominously, Best’s scheme may also have implications for recent Brunel graduates whose existing qualifications may be called into question by his proposed scheme.

More importantly, from the intellectual point of view, dumbing lectures down into lessons degrades the learning experience for those who enjoy learning for its own sake. If Best was at all serious about improving the quality of learning, he would campaign for more seminars and other forms of guided learning. Instead he tries to drag everyone down to his level.

“Students learn a lot through working with their peers and on their own,” opines Paul Ramsden, visiting professor at the University of London’s Institute of Education, in the Times Higher Educational Supplement. “They see conventional lectures as far less useful than interactive ones, in which lecturers share their enthusiasm for their subject and motivate them to find out more for themselves.”

Introducing school-style lessons into universities will reinforce the “patronising culture that defines undergraduates as immature beings who cannot look out for themselves,” in Ramsden’s words. Best’s view of learning is childish and immature compared to the professional academics with decades of experience in the field. It is a shame that he is in a position of responsibility where he can negatively affect Brunel’s 17,000 students.

In the words of Prof Grayling: “Doing less for oneself at university is not to get a better deal; it is to get a worse deal. That’s going to be hard for some to grasp.”

The West Londoner attempted to contact Best prior to publication numerous times during office hours without success.

Fire on Uxbridge Road causes Monday morning misery

Monday, 28 November, 2011 2 comments

A large fire broke out near Parkfield Avenue just before 7am this morning, causing traffic chaos and misery for thousands of commuters and schoolchildren.

Aerial view of the affected shops. Credit: Sky News

The affected property is said to be Tops Pizza. London Fire Brigade were called to the scene at 7.15am and deployed eight fire engines carrying 40 firefighters. A wooden struture on the roof of the property is said to have caught fire, igniting the rest of the building.

Three people were evacuated from the flat above the pizza shop and ten others were led to safety from the surrounding flats.

No traffic is able to pass along the Uxbridge Road due to closures between the Lees Road and Long Lane juntions, with consequent tailbacks stretching for miles. Long Lane is reported to be at a crawl whilst traffic flow has been affected on the A40 near Hillingdon as motorists seek alternative routes to work.

There is no suggestion of any fatalities at this stage. The exact cause of the fire is unknown but it is linked to the wooden structure on the roof.

Map of the affected area. The pin marks the approximate location of Tops Pizza.

Image of firefighters extinguishing the blaze. Credit: Ben Beckford.

Greenford man jailed for part in Ealing riots

Monday, 28 November, 2011 1 comment

An Afghan man was jailed at Wood Green Crown Court on Friday for his involvement in the August riots.

Sabaoon Hillaman (left), of Ruislip Road, Greenford, was sentenced to a total of three and a half years in prison for violent disorder, arson and criminal damage.

At about 11pm on 8th August 23-yr-old Hillaman was seen on CCTV in the Ealing Broadway area, wearing a distinctive dark top with two stripes on one arm and a dark baseball cap. He could be seen in a group surrounding an overturned ‘SMART’ car which had been dragged into the middle of Bond Street.

Hillaman and the group tried repeatedly to set fire to the car. The vehicle eventually erupted into flames (see 2326 update) in the centre of the High Street while a group pelted police with bricks, bottles and other missiles.

Hillaman was also captured on CCTV setting fire to a second vehicle, parked at the side of the road. The group lit a bonfire in the middle of the road from which Hillaman removed flaming material from the bonfire and threw it through a smashed window, causing the vehicle to be completely destroyed.

The group then started smashing surrounding business premises and looting shops, while continuing to throw missiles at police from behind barricades they had made.

At one point Hillaman grabbed a fire extinguisher and threw it at the window of a barber shop, ‘Big Jim’s Trims’. He then repeatedly kicked the window, causing damage to the value of £3,000.

On 22 September he was arrested at his home address. In November he pleaded guilty to violent disorder, two counts of arson and criminal damage.

At the time of these offences, Hillaman was on bail to Woolwich Crown Court after pleading guilty to a substantial fraud.

Sergeant Robin Dodd from Ealing Police, in charge of the investigation, said:

“In interview Hillaman could offer no explanation as to why he had committed these offences. I, along with the rest of the community in Ealing, cannot comprehend what has led to this behaviour. Operation Withern is, at this very moment, continuing to arrest the others involved in this incident, and we will also be bringing them to justice.”