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‘My Cultural Life’ – Mr J Youngs

‘My Cultural Life’ – Mr J Youngs

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 Mr J Youngs’, Teacher of Modern Foreign Languages at Stamford School, cultural interests in our next entry:

The box set I’m hooked on…

This is a hard one to answer because I have watched so many good series while in lockdown. Honourable mentions go to The Stranger and Unorthodox – I got through the former in one weekend, and the latter in one morning – but right now I’m hooked on The Last Dance, the tale of Michael Jordan’s successes with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. I cannot claim to be a basketball fan but the tale behind the sport is fascinating; it gives an unbelievably profound insight into one of the greatest sportsmen of all time and the way in which he went about his work. What I found most interesting was the way in which Jordan’s teammates adapted to his approach – which included bullying and belittling teammates – because they knew they were in the presence of greatness and were fully aware that they would not achieve big things without him.

My favourite play…

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. This is probably because I studied it at A-Level so have a greater understanding of it than Shakespeare’s other works; that being said, I don’t think I’ve ever seen another play so full of witticisms, farce, love and fun.

My favourite author or book…

Choosing one book is an almost impossible task, as I have a very fluid list of eight titles that I loosely label my ‘favourites’. To choose one from that list would be to betray the others and I would feel terribly guilty! One of the books on said list is by Haruki Murakami, who is undoubtedly my favourite author; he has mastered the art of making stories that are full of magic, time travel, parallel worlds and the like, feel perfectly feasible and accessible. He has a gift for entering the mind of each character he creates and guiding the reader towards everything he/she has in common with that character. He seems to have an incredible understanding of the human mind that makes his fantastical stories feel real.

The book I’m reading…

I have always been guilty of buying new books when I have many unread ones at home, so when lockdown began I resolved to read all the unread titles on my shelves before buying a new book and, having managed that just after half-term, I have now moved on to my partner’s shelves and am trying some of her books. I have almost finished A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult; she’s an author I’ve never tried before, and am really enjoying this book. It’s the tale of a lone shooter taking hostages in an abortion centre in Mississippi, with the events told in reverse, hour by hour. It’s a clever concept and well executed.

The book I wish I had written…

I had a really tough time choosing between four books for this answer, but I have settled on The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Obviously, the money generated by the film adaptation is a big attraction, but I also wish I were capable of writing so poetically, particularly having chosen Death as my narrator. His most recent novel, Bridge of Clay, tries too hard to make every sentence spectacular but he got it just right in The Book Thief.

The book that saved me…

This book did not quite ‘save’ me, but it certainly had an impact on the way I live my life: The Choice by Edith Eger. Eger is a Holocaust survivor who made it through Auschwitz despite being brought to Josef Mengele’s attention for her talents as a dancer. This part of her story takes less than half of the book to tell, however, and the rest is spent telling the story of her career as a psychiatrist after the war and how she came to terms with the things she had experienced. Her message, and the one I have taken and applied to my own life, is summed up in the final lines of the book: ‘You can’t change what happened, you can’t change what you did or what was done to you. But you can choose how you live now. My precious, you can choose to be free.’

The book I couldn’t finish…

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver – a good family friend recommended it to me, but I am sorry to say I just could not get into it. Reading each sentence felt like a chore and the story started so slowly that I did not hold out much hope for any improvement.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read…

There are a number of these: Catch-22, The Catcher in the Rye, and Of Mice and Men spring to mind. All are classics that I really should have read by now!

My favourite film…

Jurassic Park. It is such a well-made film – the recent reboots’ use of CGI for the dinosaurs somehow looks worse than the animatronic dinosaurs they created back in 1993 and that says a lot about the original film. It is visually spectacular, the music is dramatic and perfect, the plot is clever and the tension in the main action scenes always has me on the edge of my seat even though I know what happens!

My favourite TV series…

This is a slightly unconventional answer: Season 1 of Homeland. The show deteriorated rapidly after that first season, so I think it is often forgotten just how good it was. You genuinely had no idea what to believe throughout the series – was Brody a terrorist or not? Was he, as a US marine, really going to commit a terrorist attack on US soil? I firmly believe that it would be regarded as one of the best TV shows of all time if that first season had been the only season and had ended with Brody detonating his suicide vest.

My favourite piece of music…

Jerusalem. For no reason other than the images of victorious Ashes test matches it conjures.

The last TV programme that made me cry…

Schitt’s Creek. A relentlessly witty and clever show that makes you fall in love with its eccentric characters. I am not ashamed to admit that I shed a tear when David and Patrick (an excellent representation of a gay couple on TV, by the way) got engaged.

The lyric I wish I’d written…

There are many from the band twenty one pilots (and that is the correct spelling!) called Vessel – their lyrics describe mental health in beautiful, often uplifting ways. If I had to choose, I would go for ‘there is no distraction to mask what is real’ from the song ‘Car Radio’.

My guiltiest cultural pleasure…

The Eurovision Song Contest. It bothers me so much that we treat it with such disdain in this country. The rest of the continent views it as a serious competition that celebrates unity, diversity and love, while we laugh derisively at it and consistently select awful acts to represent us. I was living in Vienna when Conchita Wurst won the contest for Austria – her face was all over the news, including the newspaper front pages, for weeks leading up to the contest and there was a palpable sense of pride and achievement in the city after she had won. I can only dream of the UK taking it that seriously. I watch it every year, embracing the few hours of unfiltered fun and excitement it provides.

If I could own one painting…

Der Kuss (The Kiss) by Gustav Klimt. This choice is undoubtedly influenced by my time living in Vienna. Klimt was an artistic rule-breaker who railed against norms and traditions and his work was often labelled perverted or pornographic because of its depictions of love, sex, and intimacy. When I got to know his work, which is everywhere in Vienna, I liked – and could sympathise with – his attitude towards pleasing everybody. His 1899 piece Nuda Veritas included the following quote from Friedrich Schiller: “If you cannot please everyone with your actions and your art, you should satisfy a few. To please many is dangerous.”

The instrument I wish I’d learnt…

The guitar – sadly, I tried to learn and even had three years of lessons, but I had neither the knack for it, nor the dedication to practise required. Subsequently, I chose a far cooler instrument and spent the last five years of my time at school playing the trombone…

The music that cheers me up…

Late ‘90s/early ‘00s pop – I defy anyone to stay grumpy after they’ve listened to a playlist of that era. You can’t go wrong with a good cheesy singalong.

The place I feel happiest…

Standing at the top of a wide, empty ski slope in the Alps with the sun in the sky and fresh snow in front of me.

The film/play I walked out of…

Communicating Doors by Alan Ayckbourn. Each summer, the coastal town of Aldeburgh in Suffolk (my home county) runs a series of plays in a small theatre just behind the beach. I was dragged to the theatre every summer by my parents. I would go reluctantly but always ended up enjoying what I saw until three summers ago when, going for the first time as an adult, I saw a nonsensical Ayckbourn play about time travel within a hotel room. It did not take long for us to agree to leave at the interval!

I’m having a fantasy dinner party. I’ll invite these artists and authors…

Gustav Klimt, and probably his protégé Egon Schiele, Haruki Murakami, Dave Eggers, and Marcel Proust. It would hardly be the most cheerful dinner party in history, but I am sure there would be much fascinating discussion about life (and death), love, happiness and, certainly, grief and sadness.

And I’ll put on this music…

Probably a compilation of all the artists I’ve been listening to during lockdown: Jack Garratt, Francis and the Lights, Tom Grennan, Gerry Cinnamon, Blossoms, and The Kooks.

I wasted an evening…

Watching The Last Thing He Wanted on Netflix. It stars Ben Affleck and Anne Hathaway and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more boring film. I only watched it about two months ago and, thankfully, I’ve already forgotten everything that happened in it.

Underrated…

Scrubs. I’ve been binge-watching it during lockdown and I still think it’s brilliant. It combines silly humour with really poignant approaches to difficult topics.

Overrated…

Without a doubt, Game of Thrones. I had lived a perfectly happy GoT-free life until the final season debuted and my partner was watching it – I watched along and, yes, I enjoyed the action and the drama, but what was all the fuss about?

 

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

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