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‘My Cultural Life’ – Mr W Phelan

‘My Cultural Life’ – Mr W Phelan

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.

 

Take a peak into the cultural life of Principal of the Stamford Schools, Mr Will Phelan:

Box set I am hooked on…

I have watched Band of Brothers countless times. It is quite old now (15 years I think) but can still be found online. If you haven’t seen it, do. It charts the story of the US Easy Company 101st Airborne Division in WW2 from training, via Normandy, Market Garden and Bastogne to Germany. It is the perfect foil for Saving Private Ryan. The characters in the series are the actual old men who speak at the start and at the end. It is harrowing at times but from what I have read an incredibly accurate portrayal of what these young men did from June 1944. I was also a great Game of Thrones fan and have recently loved The Last Dance which portrays Michael Jordan as more driven and more flawed than I had thought.

My Favourite Play…

I am a big Henry V fan, having studied Henry IV Part II for A Level and watched Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation at that time. I am fascinated by leadership in situations which are far more grave than mine, how leaders have fear and how they overcome this for the sake of others. It is a similar story in Band of Brothers, the title for which was taken from a speech in this play. I was a member of the theatre club when I was at school and played a principal role in Murder in the Cathedral by T S Eliot, who incidentally taught in the same room as me at RGS High Wycombe where I began my career. I am also very keen on A Christmas Carol!

My Favourite Author or book…

I do love a good Agatha Christie and particularly enjoy Hercule Poirot making an appearance. “And Then There Were None” is her at her best. The book which I keep going back to is Mark Steel’s book “Vive La Revolution” which is a bit naughty, very funny and very inciteful about the French Revolution. Steel is a left wing comedian and he tries to use his experiences at, for example, a G7 protest or at a football match to try to get into the minds of what it was like to be a revolutionary in 1789. The French Revolution is very difficult indeed to teach and learn at A Level and I used to give a copy of this to all my A Level students to help them understand the personalities, leaders and motivations of the time.

The book I am reading…

I am currently trying to read Michael Palin’s travelogue of “Around the World in 80 Days”. In the late 1980s, the Monty Python star attempted to recreate Phileas Fogg’s journey around the world. I enjoy travel and like to read about the experiences of others, particularly those associated with Monty Python, who were geniuses.

The Book I wish I had written…

Tough one this. I am not sure I would have the capacity to write a book. Before John Craddock, our School archivist, died, he made me promise to write the history of the Schools here. So I will have to now! Very rarely I read a book where I don’t want to get to the end; I savour it. “Erebus” by Michael Palin, the history of a ship which ended up at the bottom of an inlet in Northern Canada, was the last book I read like that and I love the idea of tracing a history, using archives and visiting sites, some of which are highly emotional.

The Book that saved me…

When I was about 14 I got quite into History (there is a theme here) and amongst the usual Marvel magazines I read the entire ‘Bolitho’ series by Alexander Kent. This was about a fictional officer called Richard Bolitho, and the books charted his career in the Royal Navy during the time of the Napoleonic Wars as he rose from Midshipman to eventually become Admiral. There were about 30 books. My Dad used to read them and I got the thumbed copy. I absolutely loved them; the places he went and the sea battles were compelling, but most of all, it gave me some vivid stories about how you should treat people with compassion, friendliness and as individuals. Bolitho was tough when he needed to be, but understood how to work with people. It sounds silly but I took a lot from this and still do today. I have just started reading them again. There is something nice knowing that my late Dad also enjoyed them.

The Book I couldn’t finish…

Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd” was VERY tough at school and I just lost interest. I am at the moment ambling around “Vietnam” by Max Hastings. He is normally very good (and excellent on WW2) but with this conflict, it is so impenetrable.

The book I am ashamed I haven’t read…

Definitely TE Lawrence’s “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”. I bought it, I read the first page then I haven’t gone back to it. I really should.

My favourite film…

A toss up between Star Wars (I was 5 when this came out, no one had ever seen anything like it) and Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Very, very funny – I could almost recite it word for word. The Knights who say “ni” is genius, as is the witch scene, which I show Year 7 students about the complete lack of any sense when it came to witch hunting. Having studied the 17th Century witch craze at university, it is a pretty accurate portrayal of the mass hysteria which infected Europe.

My Favourite TV series…

I do love Have I Got News for You and have watched it for as long as I can remember. It hasn’t been the same during lockdown with no studio audience. I enjoy a read of Private Eye so this has a similar theme.

My favourite piece of music…

I do love Elgar’s cello concerto played by Jacqueline Du Pre, who of course lost her ability to play after contracting a debilitating disease from which she sadly died. I also love anything and everything by The White Stripes. Jack White is another genius, but sadly not when he did the James Bond theme tune.

The last TV programme that made me cry…

My wife gets emotional about TV and films, I don’t unless it is a real life story. I don’t cry, but I can be very upset by the news, the horrible incident recently at the Tate Modern being a good example. Having kids makes you just that bit more emotional.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure…

I love a Top Gear/Grand Tour special with Clarkson, Hammond and May when they are travelling across countries. It is very un-PC and frankly I don’t agree with some of their views, but I do like the camaraderie and their relationships.

If I could own one painting…

I wouldn’t want to own it but I once saw the Ivan the Terrible painting when he has just killed his own son, which is massively harrowing and had a profound effect on me. I would love to have a Turner painting, something like The Fighting Temeraire, of an old wooden warship being towed to its final resting place by a modern iron paddle boat. I also love anything by Hogarth, and because they are prints, you can own them!

The Instrument I wish I had learnt…

I didn’t enjoy the clarinet for 5 years. I wish I had learnt the electric guitar – I could have been like Marty McFly or Jack White.

The Music that cheers me up…

Anything bouncy which motivates me to exercise does a great job of buoying me up. There is a terrific Ministry of Sound mix for runners which I have listened to in gyms and airports all over the world when travelling to recruit students!

The Place I feel happiest…

There is a small dot on the north coast of Cornwall called Trevose Head. Since the age of 5 I have gone there every year, firstly with my grandparents, then with my parents and now with my family. On the 4th tee on the short course, on top of the hill, next to the remains of the church of St Constantine is where I learnt to play golf. My children now play too. I remember my Granddad always used to break open the hard-boiled sweets and chocolate, and I now do exactly the same with my kids. Another way to look at it is with the poem “Seaside Golf” by Sir John Betjeman, who sums it up superbly.

The Film / Play I walked out of…

I have never done so! I have fallen asleep though in some with the children. The Princess and the Frog I slept throughout, much to my daughters’ massive irritation. Mind you, my father did the same in Star Wars, so it must run in the family.

I am having a dinner party, I will invite these artists and authors…

Winston Churchill (he was an author) Benjamin Disraeli (as was he), Cate Blanchett (who I have a bit of a crush on), and Shane Warne (a bit loose but I have read his autobiography and he is my favourite cricketer of all time).

And I will put on this music…

Something funky or some Motown. Craig Charles used to do a brilliant show on Radio 6 on a Friday night called his Funk and Soul Night. It was…funky. Winston wouldn’t like it, but hey…

I wasted an evening…

On the Xbox playing Red or Dead II (being a cowboy in the Wild West). I like gaming but it wastes so much time that I don’t have. It does switch my brain off though and I need that.

Underrated…

The Marvel comics: the stories are brilliant, hugely diverse and interlink with each other. They are also extremely detailed and wide ranging. I still like to pick up a copy every now and again and my son has just got into them too.

Overrated…

Glastonbury – or as we used to know it in Bristol, where we didn’t like the traffic and crowds, the Pilton Pop Festival. Massively crowded, muddy, everyone steals your stuff, you cannot see anything and when you do it is a rubbish set, then you get lost for ages and mugged on your way back to your tent which is over a mile away and nowhere near a loo. Stay at home and watch it on your TV, go to the fridge to get a drink and use your own loo in comfort. Live gigs though are different.

 

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

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