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‘My Cultural Life’ – Mrs K Leetch

‘My Cultural Life’ – Mrs K Leetch

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.

 

Next from our staff entries comes an interview from Mrs Karen Leetch, Teacher of English and Head of Scholars at Stamford School.

The box set I’m hooked on…

I’m proud to say that until the lockdown, I’d never indulged in “binge-watching”. However, in the last few months, that’s all gone by the board and thanks to my daughter, I’ve been totally in thrall to “Money Heist” or “La Casa de Papel” as I like to call it if I’m trying to maintain that there’s some kind of educational  benefit and that I’m picking up Spanish phrases as I watch (mainly rude ones). My favourite character is the feisty, warm-hearted Nairobi. An then of course there’s “Normal People” and “Upload” (roll on series two)….

My favourite play…

The most powerful production of a play I ever saw was a 1990s production of “Death and the Maiden” by the Chilean playwright Ariel Dorfman, a chilling portrayal of how political crimes can come back to haunt us. My favourite plays, however, have to be the  educational debate and hilarious humour of “The History Boys” by Alan Bennett (either the original production which catapulted James Corden and Dominic Cooper to fame or the SES student production a few years ago, where Alex Keys’ performance as the cocky, knowing Dakin rivalled Dominic Cooper’s) and the superb interweaving of time, chaos, landscapes and thermodynamics in Tom Stoppard’s “Arcadia”.

My favourite author or book…

A very tricky question for me to answer, so I’ll have to plump for the most relevant to the lockdown.

“The Machine Stops” by EM Forster (better known for “A Room with a View”) is a startlingly relevant novella or short story, written 100 years ago, that now seems eerily prophetic of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Civilisation has retreated underground, people live in isolation in cells where their physical needs are catered for by an Alexa-style machine, any kind of physical contact is taboo, you need an “egression permit” to travel and all social contact is made through an illuminated screen akin to Zoom or Skype. Look it up; it’s extraordinary: https://www.ele.uri.edu/faculty/vetter/Other-stuff/The-Machine-Stops.pdf

Also on the theme of isolation, “A Gentleman in Moscow” by American writer Amor Towles is a beautifully written account of a Russian count who is placed under house arrest in a grand old Moscow hotel by the Bolsheviks and spends thirty years “in lockdown”, weaving a delightful web of warm and quirky human relationships around him in the process.

The book I’m reading…

At the moment, I’m reading two books. The first is “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers. I loved his novel “The Circle”, a prophetic work about the growing power and influence of tech giants like Google and our consequent loss of privacy, but this one isn’t impressing so far, in spite of the title. The second is “Homo Deus” by the Israeli academic Yuval Noah Harari, billed as “a brief history of tomorrow”. It was published in 2016, but begins by claiming in the first chapter that “The era when humankind stood helpless before natural epidemics is probably over”. Not a promising start from the standpoint of 2020!

The book I wish I had written…

That has to be “On Green Dolphin Street” by Sebastian Faulks. Set in 1950s America, it’s about the wife of a British diplomat based in Washington. In this particular novel, Faulks seems to be able to capture and articulate the complex workings of a woman’s mind and feelings better than any other author I know.

The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read…

I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never been able to get past the first few pages of “The Hobbit” and despite having visited New Zealand last summer, the films don’t grab me either. With respectful apologies to JRR Tolkien and his millions of fans, goblins and elves haven’t interested me since I stopped reading Enid Blyton when I was about eight.

My favourite film…

“The English Patient”, directed by Anthony Minghella – an epic wartime love story, beautifully shot and brilliantly acted by Kristin Scott-Thomas and Ralph Fiennes (before he became better known as Voldemort).

If I could own one painting…

At the moment, it wouldn’t be one by a famous artist but by an SES parent: Jane Hindmarch has been painting the most exquisite miniatures inspired by the local countryside during the lockdown and my current favourite is “Fields of Blue Flax, Rutland”.

The instrument I wish I’d learnt…

Anything! Living in a family of musicians has made me feel pretty stupid for not learning an instrument when I was younger. I did try to take up the piano at the same time as my son, when he was five, but thirteen years later, he was playing the Grieg piano concerto and I was still on Chopsticks.

The music that cheers me up…

Two completely polarised answers here:  either a late 1970s special, “Mr Blue Sky” by the Electric Light Orchestra” or some Gregorian chant (which echoes through the ages and always conjures Christmas and candlelit churches).

The place I feel happiest…

Probably Italy. I spent a “gap year” working for a travel company that organised walking holidays in Italy, learning the language on the job and driving all over the country in a Mercedes minibus. Siena was the base we always returned to after a trip and going out into the medieval streets first thing in the morning, with the sky blue, the swallows flying low and the smell of espresso and pastries in the air seemed like a metropolitan paradise.

The film/play I walked out of…

I’ve never walked out of a film or play, but I do remember watching a seemingly endless and entirely silent three-hour film at the Stamford Arts Centre about a year in the life in a Benedictine monastery. A man behind us walked out noisily after two hours, muttering that it had tested his vocation… and his patience!

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

Mostly authors, I think, although Leonardo da Vinci would be a useful addition as a Renaissance Man. Shakespeare would be a must (time for him to spill the beans about his secret life in Silver Street and tell us all about his actor brother Edmund); Christopher Marlowe would be the life and soul of the party, I’m sure (or have I just watched too much “Upstart Crow”?) Margaret Atwood would be a cat among the pigeons among that lot for her feminist views and dystopian speculation and finally, I’d invite the 18th century French author Voltaire, who could discuss optimism and whether this really is “the best of all possible worlds”. It would be tempting to invite Philip Larkin too, just to see if one of my favourite poets really was as miserable, racist and sexist in the flesh as biographies and his own letters suggest.

And I’ll put on this music…

Hot club of France with guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli – jazz at its best and most sophisticated.

 

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

 

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