‘My Cultural Life’ – Mr K Mills
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!
Our first interview comes from Mr Kendal Mills, Deputy Head Pastoral at Stamford School:
The box set I’m hooked on…
Curb Your Enthusiasm. I think Larry David is comedy genius, and this long-running series in which he plays a ‘version’ of himself is the funniest TV comedy I’ve ever seen. My wife, Bex, is just as big a fan as I am, and ‘Curb’ (as we aficionados call it) is our ‘go to’ show. Each episode is improvised. All the actors have to work from is a brief story arch (sometimes) and they create the dialogue as each scene is shot. Most of the scenes are the product of a single take, and the characters’ reactions are often genuine – especially their laughter, which is infectious. Larry David (LD) routinely ends up in awkward social situations and falls foul of unspoken yet widely accepted rules and expectations. His character is intrinsically selfish, lacks empathy and doesn’t really care what anyone thinks about him. The result is comedy gold.
My favourite play…
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams
I studied it at A Level, and although I’ve been fortunate enough to see many equally and perhaps more impressive plays, this is the one that introduced me to the power of live theatre and the endless possibilities of dialogue in the hands of an expert, which Williams undoubtedly was.
My favourite author or book…
George Orwell. Every time. Orwell could write about anything, and he more or less did. If anyone wants to encounter fiction or non-fiction that is lucid, gloriously precise and endlessly readable, you can do no better than to pick up anything with Orwell’s name on it – whether it’s his grim imagining of a dystopian future (Nineteen-Eighty-Four), his exploration of a mid-life crisis and environmental destruction (‘Coming Up For Air’) or his examination of ‘Boys’ Weekly’ magazines, you’ll be hooked. Orwell led a fascinatingly rich and varied life, and that is strongly reflected in his writing.
The book I’m reading…
Stoner by John Williams. It’s one of those novels that immediately prompts the question, ‘Why on earth have I not read this before?’ Well, the answer is, I hadn’t heard of until it flashed up on my Amazon page under ‘Because you bought this, you might like…’ (genius!). I read a couple of customer reviews and ordered it immediately. It arrived on Saturday, I’ve nearly finished it (it’s now Tuesday) and I know I’ll be reading it again. Buy it.
The book I wish I had written…
The Road to Wigan Pier – Orwell’s account of his journey through the industrial north of England a couple of years before the Second World War. It’s not a cheery read, far from it, but it describes with unparalleled intensity the appalling living and working conditions of the 1930s.
For much of the time Orwell maintains a fairly neutral, journalistic style, but, at times, his horror and outrage at what he sees seems to take control of the prose itself – as it does towards the end of the first chapter when he watches, from a moving railway carriage, a ‘slum girl’ trying to unblock a drain: “For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. She knew well enough what was happening to her–understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold, on the slimy stones of a slum backyard, poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe.”
If anyone has ever doubted the existence of the north-south divide, read this book.
The book that saved me…
When the time came to choose my A Level subjects (1989) I opted for music (always a dead cert), religious studies and history. My decision to take English was a last-minute decision which owed more to the girl I was dating at the time than any particular desire to study literature. However, take it I did, and the first thing we were required to read were two poems by T S Eliot called ‘Preludes’ and ‘Rhapsody on a Windy Night’ which knocked me for six, as the saying goes, and convinced me I’d made the right choice. However, it was the Thomas Hardy novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles which truly ignited my love of literature. Tess’ tragic journey gripped me like nothing else I’d ever read – and it still does. I remember feeling utterly bereft when I finished it, and it wasn’t long before I went back for seconds. Tess (as we literature buffs like to call it) also switched me on to the Victorian novel, and I quickly became acquainted with other Hardy novels (The Mayor of Casterbridge, Far from the Madding Crowd and Jude the Obscure – which contains far and away the most harrowing passage in any novel I’ve ever read!), Charles Dickens and the Brontes.
The book I couldn’t finish…
Too many to list…
The Children’s Book by A S Byatt. I can’t remember why, but I had to admit defeat. It’s still sitting there, eyeing me with disapproval and disdain. Maybe I’ll give it another try one day…but I probably won’t.
The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read…
Am I ashamed not to have read Moby Dick? No, not really. Mildly embarrassed, perhaps, but I also know that I probably never will. As an undergraduate I used to worry about the ‘books I’d never read’, but as I get older, I read what I enjoy, not what I feel I should read. It took me nearly 40 years to get there, but it was wonderfully liberating when it happened.
My favourite film…
Unquestionably, Withnail & I – Bruce Robinson’s 1987 film about two young down-at-heel, ‘resting’ actors, played exquisitely by Richard E Grant (Withnail) and Paul McGann (I – or ‘Marwood’ as he’s listed as in the screen play), who decide to visit the Lake District in a desperate and ill-fated attempt to save themselves from a painful descent into alcoholism and drug abuse in late-1960s London (Camden). It’s quite possibly the most quotable and quoted film ever made, and every scene amounts to sheer perfection. Once you’ve encountered Withnail’s Uncle Monty (played superbly by the late Richard Griffiths), your life will never be the same.
My favourite TV series…
I loved Breaking Bad – as did everyone else who watched it – but in terms of my absolute favourite, it has to be The Sopranos, David Chase’s no-holds-barred portrayal of the New Jersey Mob led by the hugely compelling yet vicious and deadly Tony Soprano (played by the late James Gandolfini). A friend of mine once referred to it as a cross between Neighbours and Goodfellas, which, when I think about it, isn’t a bad description. The incredibly tight scripting and high production values raised the bar massively for TV drama, and I would argue that many of the boxed sets we enjoy today flow from The Sopranos.
My favourite piece of music…
Hymn to Freedom (Oscar Peterson – from the album Night Train). Simply the most sublime six minutes of jazz piano ever performed. I want it played at my funeral.
The last TV programme that made me cry…
Normal People. I can’t remember why, but I did. It’s a great show.
The lyric I wish I’d written…
From Born to Run (Springsteen): “Highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive.” Perfection.
My guiltiest cultural pleasure…
ABBA – although I don’t really feel guilty at all. I used to, when I thought it was important to be ‘cool’, but not now. In fact, I think some of their songs are among the best ever written, and their final album, The Visitors, is in my ‘Top 20’. The Day Before You Came is a song many writers can only dream of coming up with.
If I could own one painting…
Nearly anything by Edward Hopper. Vast open spaces, usually containing a solitary figure or building, with an undercurrent of mystery and sometimes fear. If I had to choose one it would have to be ‘Gas’ (1940), although it does make me shudder, and I don’t really know why.
The instrument I wish I’d learnt…
I play the piano and bass guitar, but I wish I’d learned to play the drums. Keith Moon, Neil Peart and Max Weinberg are three of my favourite musicians, and they’re all drummers. Sadly, only Weinberg is still with us.
The music that cheers me up…
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. My dad owned a couple of their records and, when we were kids, my brother and I wore them out on his old ‘radiogram’. Most people haven’t a clue who they are, but if you listen to five minutes of any track you’re likely to recognise it. For the uninitiated, I’d recommend a play of ‘Spanish Flea’ or ‘Tijuana Taxi’.
The place I feel happiest…
Apart from at home, it has to be North Norfolk. Bex and I spend as much time as we can on that stretch of coast, and we would love to retire there – although I suspect the exorbitant property prices will ultimately deter us.
The play I walked out of…
I once left an ‘am dram’ performance at the interval. Can’t remember the title of the play, but I remember it had something to do with cricket. It was dire.
I’m having a fantasy dinner party. I’ll invite these artists and authors…
George Orwell; Miles Davies; John Lennon; Siegfried Sassoon; Philip Larkin; Gene Kelly; Larry David. A recipe for stimulating conversation, plenty of laugher, music and dancing. What’s not to like?
And I’ll put on this music…
Walking in Space (Quincy Jones).
Underrated . . .
The novels of R C Sherriff. Greengates, The Fortnight in September and The Hopkins Manuscript are three of the finest novels you will ever read, but they’re sadly overlooked by the literary establishment and largely unknown to the general reader.
This will no doubt be considered some kind of cultural heresy, but, if pressed (very gently), I would have to say…the novels of Jane Austen. All of them.
In fact, the only things I consider to be as overrated as Austen’s books are the seemingly endless TV and film adaptations of Austen’s books. ‘Oh, dear, Mr Darcy!’ ‘Good grief, Emma’. I think the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson described them best: “Sterile in artistic invention, imprisoned in their wretched conventions of English society, without genius, wit, or knowledge of the world. Never was life so pinched and narrow. … All that interests or motivates any character is whether he (or she) has the money to marry with.” Regency Mills & Boon.
Read more ‘My Cultural Life’ entries here.
- Blue Plaques Unveiled
- Co-education at Stamford
- Stamford School Shortlisted for TES Award
- Celebrating A 50 Year Association With The School
- Prestigious Prize for SHS Student
- Annual Sponsored Walk Returns to Stamford Endowed Schools
- Debate Raises Money for Mental Health Charity
- 'My Cultural Life' Project
- Arts & Culture
- Cross Country
- Design and Technology
- English & Writing
- House Events
- Modern Foreign Languages
- Music News
- Sixth Form
- Stamford High School
- Stamford Junior School
- Stamford School
- Trips and Events