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‘My Cultural Life’ – H Laventure

‘My Cultural Life’ – H Laventure

Mr Mark Zacharias, Head of English at Stamford High School, has started our latest lockdown project  – ‘My Cultural Life’. Inspired by the Times newspaper, amongst others: the Schools present interviews from individuals across our Stamford community, considering their cultural interests, loves and shortcomings.

We hope that these interviews help you to find inspiration during the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in, and that you enjoy learning a little more about us here at Stamford!

View all of our entries here.


Explore the cultural interests of Harry Laventure, Year 12 at Stamford School:

My favourite books…

An impossible question, but right now, I’d pick two:

1) The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde:

A joy from start to finish, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is saturated with the pomposity, wit, and materialism of its creator. From Classical allusions and extended similes expressing aspects of the natural world as deities, to meticulous details of especially lavish objects throughout history, to philosophical conversations that leave the reader feeling enlightened, this book spoke to me on more levels than one, tapping into many of my own personal interests, and playing on my mind for many days after I finished it.

2) And, of course, Homer’s Iliad

The very embodiment of the word “Epic” – both formally and informally – this poem, though by no means perfect, was and always will be an utter pleasure for me. Its influences on culture are unfathomable, and it contains many of the best passages in literature to this day, in spite of the fact that they are also many of the first. As far as personal connections go, I wouldn’t know where to start. Never has a work of literature provoked such an emotional reaction from me, and whether it’s the fulfilment of the simultaneously awe-inspiring, indulgent  and terrifying wrath of Achilles that Homer sets in motion from the opening lines, or the most moving of books – even on one occasion, for myself, to tears – between the now remorseful aforementioned hero and the father of the man he has just slaughtered and mutilated, the Iliad spoke profoundly to me. I know that I will read it many more times, I know that I will enjoy it many more times, and I know that I will be moved many more times.

The book that saved me…

Most recently, Dante’s Inferno:

I started this poem in the fourth week of lockdown and finished it in the same day. Despite knowing a lot about it, even having visited the poet’s tomb in Santa Croce, Florence – though he is actually buried in Ravenna, who refuse to return his once-exiled body – I still wasn’t sure what to expect. And gosh, never could I have expected the sheer beauty and enjoyment of the katabasis (a downwards journey) on which I embarked with Dante and Virgil. Starting it at a very late hour, and refusing to put it down until I had finished it, this took me to a place outside the four walls of my locked-down home, and though hell is never a place I will ever choose to go to – or, hopefully, end up regardless of choice –  the journey, and the poetry that dragged me there, made it feel like I was being lifted out of the depths, rather than pulled down into them.

My favourite piece of music…

If I am limiting myself to classical music and excluding opera, which my father loves, then it would be Sergei Rachmaninoff’s  Rhapsody on A Theme of a Paganini, Variation 18.

The entirety of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on A Theme of a Paganini is a masterpiece, but Variation 18 is the breath of fresh air that manages to stand apart from what could otherwise be described as a rather macabre piece. If you haven’t already, I implore you to listen to it from start to finish, all the way into and out of Variation 18, to fully grasp what I mean. It is a piece that has moved me to tears of both joy and sadness on more than one occasion, and it will always do so as it has ties to my grandparents that I shall not dwell on at this moment. Having self-taught both piano and guitar, this is a piece that I refused to attempt learning, until I deemed myself good enough to do it half the justice it deserves. And though it is among a few pieces that I consider too incredible to spoil with my lack of virtuosity – probably the highest compliment I can pay it – I could not stop myself from learning it, and – after religious degrees of practice – it is now a piece reserved for special people, and special moments.

The lyrics I wish I’d written…

I could have selected thousands of lines for this, but – as with everything on this list – these are my current favourites. I’ll let the lyrics speak for themselves.

“Oh the devil will find work for idle hands to do” from What Difference Does It Make? by The Smiths.

“After all jacks are in their boxes
And the clowns have all gone to bed
You can hear happiness staggering on down the street
Footprints dressed in red”

from The Wind Cries Mary, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience


“The guilty undertaker sighs
The lonesome organ grinder cries
The silver saxophones say I should refuse you
The cracked bells and washed-out horns
Blow into my face with scorn, but it’s
Not that way, I wasn’t born to lose you”

from I Want You, by Bob Dylan

If I could own one painting…

Boulevard Monmartre at Night by Camille Pissarro:

There are great paintings, and there are paintings that speak to someone on a personal level. This one happens to be both. I generally prefer the Renaissance period, but I believe that its masterpieces belong to the world and are best kept in a museum or gallery, rather than in a private home; as such, I have chosen here a more impressionistic painting. Pissarro’s Boulevard Monmartre at Night is located in The National Gallery (London), but is in the unfortunate position of being the room prior to Van Gogh’s famous sunflowers, meaning that most skip past it in their desperation to have a picture next to the latter. However, last year, as I was walking through each room, and doing my best to give each masterpiece the attention I believe they were due, this one really jumped off the canvas at me. I have even acquired a smaller copy canvas for my room. What a painting. Bewitching.

The music that cheers me up…

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles.

If someone asked me what my favourite album is of all time, I would say Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band without hesitation. 1967 may have been the best year for music ever, from Cream’s Disraeli Gears, to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, To Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?, to Love’s Forever Changes, and The Velvet Underground and Nico’s self-titled album, and yet, when they appear in the same year as the best album by the best band of all time, is there any real debate to be had? The psychedelic commentary on all aspects of “normal” life, transcending almost every genre, is masterful, and I have listened to it more times than I can remember. Of course, I could now insert an anecdote about how Lennon had a crush on my grandmother at uni, but I’ll leave it at that for now. That album really does have a special place in my heart. How could it be anything else?


Read all of our ‘My Cultural Life’ entries here. 

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