As I sit here and begin to write this meditation, I do not really need the candle beside me. Even though it is the middle of the evening, there is still light streaming through the window. Perhaps I should begin writing a little later when the night draws in and when the flame will shine more brightly in the late night darkness.

In my last meditation, I was exploring the notion of being elsewhere: of escaping into the world of a book or a TV drama series or into memories through photographs of places we have previously visited.

I would really like to be elsewhere at the moment, but without having to go through the ordeal of a flight or train ride with present travel restrictions. I have begun to wish that I had learnt to drive when I was younger so I could go for a drive and then for walk in the countryside somewhere.

However. though I am saying to myself that I would rather be elsewhere because of three months of arduous lockdown, these last few days I have actually enjoyed being at home. Instead of Zooming on my laptop, I have been watching the birds zoom in and out of my little back garden. Ironically, now that the lockdown is about to be eased even more, I seem to have begun to enjoy being in my house. As this is my base in my retirement I suppose it is a good thing. And I count myself very fortunate to have a comfortable little house and garden to enjoy.

One of my home activities has been to sort through all the photos on my phone and laptop. I have obtained prints of some of them to put in frames for the lounge to replace some of the ones that have been gathering dust on my shelves. A long time ago, I bought a digital photo frame which has also been gathering dust and has hardly been used. So I have uploaded a selection of photos onto it. This means I can play a slideshow of my memories, of places I have visited, of my ‘elsewheres’.

Some of those pictures were taken in Pisa and Florence, where I had a short break with a friend just over a year ago. The digital frame is too small to do justice to the epic statue of David by Michelangelo. My photos cannot do justice to its grandeur either; no photograph can, except in concentrating on the detail. And my little facsimile of the statue at the end of my garden can’t either! I bought my own little David on a whim in the branch of Homebase very near me, just round the corner. When I left the shop I had to cross over the road with little David under my arm (not wrapped of course). On the other side of the road, I bumped into two or three of my students from school. It was an embarrassing moment, but after a few pleasantries I carried on walking as if carrying a copy of a great Renaissance work of art under my arm was as usual as carrying a bag of groceries. They didn’t comment in school after the weekend, which speaks volumes.

There was one statue in the David gallery in the Accademia that I hadn’t photographed. I thought I had as it greatly impressed me at the time. It was an incomplete marble statue of a slave of the god Atlas – the ‘Prigione Atlante’. Several other statues in the gallery were also incomplete. It was breathtaking to see each of these large figures emerging from a slab of marble as the statue of David standing at the end of the gallery must have done. I came to appreciate in a small way not only something of Michelangelo’s creative vision and artistry but also the sheer physical struggle it must have taken him to turn a huge slab of marble into this epic figure of David.

Like the other incomplete statues, the Prigione Atlante one was struggling and striving to be be out of its prison of marble. Its torso was writhing and turning towards the viewer. Its body seemed to be aching to be free from its cold marble womb, to take its first steps in the world like the Creature in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein.’

However, unlike the other statues, the Prigione Atlante had no head or face as it was more incomplete than the others. And as I have just mentioned, I have no photo of it. But the image stuck in my mind and came back to me a few days ago. I have checked my memory by consulting the Accademia Gallery’s website.

But why did I remember that incomplete work of art? Like the Atlas Slave we have been struggling and striving in this long lockdown and like the statue we are slowly emerging. However unlike the statue we are not headless or faceless. If you were standing in the gallery looking at this half-formed figure, you might imagine to yourself what the head might look like and what expression might be on the face. What expression will be on your face as you slowly emerge from the lockdown? Will it be fear or anxiety? Or relief and excitement? Or concern or wariness? Whatever our initial feelings, we must have hope. I do not think there is an accurate facial expression for hope. Because it lies in the heart.

Slave of Atlas. -Michelangelo (1530)

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until the next blog!

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Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

The candle beside me is flickering as I write this new meditation. This is because there is a breeze from my lounge window, which is open as it is still warm this evening. It is one of those long drawn out balmy evenings when twilight seems to stretch out forever and the darkness of night is an afterthought.

When I was a student, I used to love evenings such as this one, when I would slowly wend my way home to my little rented room through the streets of North Oxford, past large walled gardens, the night air heavy with the perfume of foliage in full bloom. Would that I was a student again, ambling aimlessly along those sweet-scented avenues under a sensual indigo sky. But the past is another country. Moreover, I do not want to be young again. But I would rather be somewhere else this evening, in another place.

However, now that I am retired I am free to amble aimlessly again should I so wish. Within the restrictions of the current unprecedented situation of course.

After another week of lockdown, I am beginning to feel ‘cabined, cribbed and confined’ as Macbeth says in Shakespeare’s play. I am sure I am not the only one to be feeling this way at present. Even though the lockdown is easing slightly, we are perhaps still apprehensive about the future and at times ‘cabined, cribbed and confined’ in our own fears. It is the uncertainty about the future and our lack of control over it that is the seed of our unease which leads to a lack of interest in the present and so inertia seeps in. And yet, as I have mentioned before, we have no real control over the future anyway.

These fears and worries are exacerbated by the media frenzy about the virus and mixed messages from our government and medical experts. Perhaps we should take advice from Mark Twain (the creator of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn), who wrote ‘I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which have never happened.’

Feeling ‘cabined, cribbed and confined’ can have the effect of shortening our perspective. It makes us long for wider horizons and breathtaking vistas. No doubt this is one of the reasons why people have dashed to the coast and to national parks despite the lockdown. We are looking for something above and beyond the relentless news which overwhelms us, something more expansive to escape into.

I imagine that is why some people threw themselves into binge-watching box sets of TV dramas when the lockdown began, not just to occupy the time but to be enveloped in an all-consuming storyline. For the same reason, sales of long 19th century novels increased substantially in the first weeks of lockdown: another way of escaping into an expansive narrative. That must be one of the reasons why I reached for ‘David Copperfield’ on my bookshelf and immersed myself in it again. It was comfort reading: a long involved story

that I know but don’t know, as there are always scenes and details that you don’t remember in a long novel. We have needed to escape into another world, whether between the covers of a book or streamed on a screen. It is a way of coping with the fears and frustrations of the moment. To be in another place, even if it is an imaginary one in a fiction.

I doubt Marcus Aurelius would have approved of escaping into a story. The novel didn’t exist when he was alive, let alone movies or television. However, there were the great legends and myths of the gods and goddesses and their dealings with mere mortals. There were also Homer and Virgil’s great epic poems about the legend of Troy which are expansive narratives in themselves. I think he would have looked at them for a message, a moral to help him through the lockdown (as we can do too of course in our own reading).

He would definitely have taken solace in philosophy, and especially the Stoic philosophy which he tried to live up to: to accept and endure. That is what we have to do at present: accept and endure. We can learn from Marcus and the Stoics, then, though it does seem rather a joyless approach. A good story can help us in our endurance, if only to take our mind off things for a while. It might even provide us with a way through.

As I have mentioned previously, Marcus would have used the contemplation of Nature to help him to endure too. As he writes, ‘Nature, all that your seasons bring is fruit to me, all comes from you, exists in you, returns to you.’ He would have gazed at the sky as can we. The sky is its own breathtaking vista (especially as there is so little air traffic at the moment). We do not need to hurry to the seaside or a national park to find it. We can lose ourselves in its immensity by looking up from our garden (however small) or our balcony or window.

Ciaran Frederick, who took the photos of Neilus Aurelius for this website, is an ex-student of mine and is currently studying photography at the South Bank University in London. He has found a different way of escaping to another place: by revisiting places he has been to through his photographs.

He has created a booklet called ‘Dreamland’ as a lockdown project. It comprises landscapes of places he visited in 2016 and 2017 in Iceland, Australia, Ireland and parts of the U.K.. They are places he would like to revisit but of course he can’t at present. Many of the landscapes are bleak and isolated with solitary barns, cottages, dilapidated buildings and stone walls.They remind me of the covers of the ‘concept’ albums of the progressive rock bands I used to love when I was Ciaran’s age!

His aim is to put ‘a positive twist on the depressing feelings of lockdown’. So though the locations and objects reflect the bleak feelings of emptiness in lockdown, inspired by Aerochrome film, he has coloured the images with different shades of blue and pink to

give a sense of calm and excitement. Therefore the forests, plains and overgrown grass and bushes surrounding the objects are varied shades of pink and the skies and waters are different hues of blue and green creating a vibrancy of hope.

Like Ciaran, we need to find our own calm and excitement and hope in the bleak circumstances we are living through. Though we may feel we are living a monochrome existence at the moment, we need rediscover the colours in our life.

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!

And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.

A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Ciaran’s ‘Dreamland booklet can be ordered on http://www.ciaranfrederick.co.uk

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

As I sit here gazing at my candle, instead of being aware of the final rays of the day’s sunshine through my lounge window, I am focused on the gathering gloom. I must confess that my spirits are rather low at present. They are being dragged down by the lockdown, I think, which has now made its weary way into its eighth week. Living alone in the lockdown and being in my first weeks of retirement is quite a struggle. It’s rather like being on a really fast waltzer at a funfair and wheeling around dizzily after you get off. And in this lockdown, it is like hurtling into a void within a void.

I am sure Marcus had his moments of melancholy. It is part of the human condition and emperors are therefore not excepted from it. Neither are writers of blogs! I am no guru, but only someone who wishes to share his thoughts and reflections with others. No-one is a guru. No human being is able to know the complete truth about anything or to be an inexhaustible fountain of wisdom, least of all myself.

In Shakespeare’s time, melancholy was not only acknowledged and accepted but fashionable. It was a pose adopted by young gallants writing sonnets to the objects of their affection, especially if they were unsure that their amorous feelings were reciprocated or if they were downright refused. Shakespeare’s own sonnets (which I am re-exploring at the moment) are no exception and Jaques in ‘As You Like It’ is a melancholic with his cynical and world-weary ‘Seven Ages of Man’ speech.

Hamlet of course is the melancholic par excellence, especially at the beginning of the play and has been christened ‘the moody Dane.’ I studied the play at A Level and fell in love with it. I related to Hamlet’s mood swings completely in my own adolescent angst. I wanted to play the role of course and learnt all Hamlet’s soliloquies for my exam and enjoyed doing so. However, I think I would have been more suited to playing Horatio, Hamlet’s good friend, a role I have played constantly in real life.

I once accused one of my sixth form students of being melancholic – he was being particularly moody in class – and had to explain the word to him. Thereafter, he brightened up because there was a big word which described his feelings and he used the word continually afterwards as young people will do when they find a new word that attracts them. He adopted a melancholic pose for ages afterwards. He had morphed into being an Elizabethan gallant, thought he did not produce any sonnets as a result.

I have been trying to identify why my spirits are low at present, dear readers. Along with many others, I am sure the lockdown has ground me down week by week. The first flush of online games and fun activities and contacting friends on social media and discovering

new ways of doing so is over. And you can only go up and down the Amazon to buy online purchases for so long.

I have asked myself what I am missing. Well, the theatre (though I am enjoying online archive performances of productions I have missed) and the cinema (though a lot of new movies are being streamed) and art galleries of course and concerts and the opera. Although I have seen so much theatre, movies and operas in my time (and especially over the last few years) that I cannot complain.

I think what I am really missing is the opportunity to share them with friends over a meal and a drink. I do not like going to the theatre or the operas or a movie or concert for that matter on my own. It is sharing these with others that makes them special. Yes going up to London to see friends is what I miss and of course the chance to visit friends around the country and most of all my family in the North and have friends visit me. Especially now that I am retired and have so much time at my disposal to do so.

I have of course been in constant contact with all my friends and family in these eight weeks and it is wonderful to see them on FaceTime or Zoom but it’s is not the same as being physically together. However, I’ve gone on safe distance walks with a few friends too in a local park which is wonderful and breaks up the week. And, of course, nothing can replace an embrace or a hug.

As I am at home a lot now, I’ve been looking at all the pictures on my walls. So many are from places I have visited. I have almost filled the doors and one side of my fridge with fridge magnets I’ve collected from places I’ve been to. Gift shops in museums and art galleries are magnets to me! And I have been scrolling down the photos on my phone and computer. I bought a digital photo frame years ago which I have hardly used so I’m going to upload a selection of them onto the digital frame to cheer me up in the evenings.

Traveling abroad is in the balance at present and I have had to forego two visits to Italy this spring. Fortunately my final Drama tour of Budapest took place in February before international travel restrictions. However I am a much traveled person, as regular readers of this blog will know. I didn’t go on a plane till I was 35 years old but have made up for lost time since! Perhaps I will make a list of all the trips I have been on. If I never travel on a plane again, I have certainly travelled enough! Again, it is seeng family and friends in other countries that I miss.

I have been thinking of my aunt Barbara, who lives on Vancouver Island. She has albums and albums of photos. Some of them are quite valuable to me as her albums go back to before World War Two when my father’s family were in Poland and there are pictures of my parents’ wedding which I had never seen. And of course there are photos of my childhood.

One I find rather embarrassing. It is of a chubby little version of me as a baby in walking reins. Every time I see it, I am back to being a teenager again and hot with embarrassment at being reminded I was an infant once. However, dear reader, I do look cute!

You see at the moment we are all in walking reins. We are unable to go where we want to for our own safety. And yes we tug at the reins because someone else is in control. We want to be out and about. We want to wander off (on a plane). Built we can’t at present. For our own good.

I suppose we are beginning to realise what we really value in these days of quarantine. We are being to value what we have rather that hanker after what we do not. And to remember all the riches we have experienced up till now.

Like Friar Lawrence in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (another part I’d love to play), who counsels the miserable Romeo because he has to go away in exile (to be quarantined effectively) and will not be able to see Juliet. He reminds Romeo that at least he has not been sentenced to death and keeps repeating the phrase ‘Thereto are you happy.’

A phrase we should be repeating to ourselves at this time.

Think – ‘Thereto are you happy!’

But an embrace or a hug would be wonderful!

Stay safe and well!

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!

And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.

A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

The flame I am gazing at is very steady this evening as I begin to write my meditation. However, now that we have entered the seventh week of the lockdown, my emotions have been far from steady. I take solace that Marcus Aurelius’ emotions weren’t either. From his own ‘Meditations’ it appears that he had a quick temper and could be quite impatient with others. At least he recognised these failings and was unhappy about them. I am sure that writing his meditations in his tent at the close of the day helped him to calm down. Writing this is helping me to calm down too.

Patience has never been my forte either! I am impatient for this lockdown to be over, as is everyone else, I imagine. I also seem to be suffering from inertia now and a lack of focus. I have discovered that inertia is exhausting, more so than intense activity! Everything can be done tomorrow. But then the world is in a hiatus at present. We are all in one long intermission, one long theatre interval. Except that we are not allowed to congregate together in the theatre bar to await Act Two!

Marcus teaches us that one way of coping with this lockdown is to connect with Nature and to exercise our innate powers of contemplation. That has been helpful, I must admit. I should be writing this seated at the table in my garden but the evenings are too chilly at present for that. Also to some extent I have stoically accepted the situation as he would try to do. But I think my stoic acceptance is now wearing thin after all these weeks.

Marcus also tells us to ‘take pleasure in all that is presently yours’, in other words to enjoy the moment. I mentioned in my previous meditation, that this is what Mr Micawber in Charles Dickens’ novel ‘David Copperfield’ is eminently able to do: to enjoy the moment and enjoy the company he is in, despite his continually desperate financial embarrassments. I have succeeded in enjoying the moment myself at times: listening to my music, sitting in my garden, reading and writing, watching movies and tv and streamed filmed theatre performances (especially productions I have missed). Most of all I have enjoyed distance walks in the company of a few friends in the local park and woodland which I have, to my shame, just discovered.

But despite these lovely moments, there is still that lingering unease, which is ever present and which we all feel. It is forever at the back of our minds, or fluttering in the pit of our stomachs. We are anxious for the lockdown to end and most of all for this horrific pandemic to cease. Like Mr Micawber, who was ‘hourly expecting something to turn up’, I am optimistic for the future and am sure this lockdown will end soon. But optimism does not take away that gnawing unease I have mentioned. Nor did it dissolve Mr Micawber’s unease either.

My impatience and unease are of course all wrapped up in the uncertainty of the future. Because of the pandemic, we have all had an acute awareness of the unpredictability of the future forced upon us. Also personally I am cast adrift in the uncharted waters of retirement, having finished finally in February. I do not possess an adventurous spirit (except artistically) so I must confess to being rather perturbed – or in the words of the Rodgers and Hart song, ‘Bewitched, bothered and bewildered’.

But then, we have to admit that the future has always in reality been uncertain. We have been so used to planning our lives because now we can book holidays and other leisure events so quickly and easily in this digital age. And of course our employment has to some extent planned our lives for us too. Yet we begin to think we are in charge of the future, dare I say it, masters of the future. This pandemic and the resultant lockdown have reminded us that we are not.

The young people I have taught and helped have always been aware of this uncertainty as their future steps have depended upon examination grades. This year with GCSE and A level formal exams cancelled, their anxiety is even more acute. Even though now officially this is none of my business and I am no longer involved, I do feel for them.

In my case, my school career has, in a way, been a series of projects leading to productions and fortunately for me, my final project was completed in February, which I count as a blessing. But now the holidays I had planned – to Italy and Paris) – will not take place, nor will several theatre and opera visits. I have come to realise how much I have over planned my own life in recent years in my semi-retirement. I hope that is one lesson I have learnt from these last weeks.

But how should we view the future now, in these days of uncertainty? Should we, like Mr Micawber be optimistic? Yes: or how else will we get through these dark days? Which brings me to another possible approach to this lockdown. So far we have explored the Marcus approach and the Micawber approach, as summarised above. Now I am going to explain the ‘Martin’ approach.

Martin Luther (148-1546) the theologian, priest and father of the Reformation was also originally a monk. Being a good monk he kept a garden and apparently an orchard. The story goes that someone asked him, ‘What will you do if you know that the end of the world is coming soon?’
He replied, ‘I will plant another apple tree.’

In that reply there is not only optimism, but hope. Hope expressed in a positive act.

So I have bought myself an olive tree for my garden. And in a beautiful notebook from Budapest, which a friend gave me, I have made a list of possible plans for my retirement.

I may share these with you in future blogs.

Meanwhile: Be optimistic, or even better, hope. Hope in the future. Do something positive each day.

Above all, stay safe and well!

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!
And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.
A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. Including a NEW EPISODE.
I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.
Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

Once again I am seated here beside a candle beginning my meditation. We are still in lockdown. The candle is still burning with a steady and bright flame. However, my own flame and that of some friends I have been speaking with, is flickering a little. This is because we are now into the fourth week of the lockdown and I am feeling a little flat, a little empty (as are my friends). It is not exactly boredom, but something deeper than that. A kind of ennui. And a feeling of ‘When will this end?’

In my last meditation, I suggested how Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher emperor and inspiration for this blog, might approach this lockdown. I imagined that he would try to accept the situation with equanimity in line with his Stoic philosophy. He would encourage us to make the most of the present moment, to connect with Nature and develop our contemplative powers. I called this ‘The Marcus Method.’ Now I am going to explore another possible approach, which might, incidentally help with the feelings I have described in the first paragraph.

I have recently been re-reading ‘David Copperfield’ by Charles Dickens. One of my retirement aims is to work my way through Dickens’ novels. At least those I haven’t already read, studied or dramatised! But, as I am ever one to be distracted from my aim, I decided to re-read’ Copperfield’ first. In January I saw the new film of the novel by Armando Iannucci, which was very entertaining and which made me want to go back to the original (as the film was a rather superficial reading of the novel in my opinion).

One of the characters in the story is Wilkins Micawber. When David is a boy, he is sent to London by his cruel stepfather, Mr Murdstone, and put to work in a wine bottling factory (which Murdstone partly owns). He lodges with the Micawber family, though usually has to find his own meals. The Micawbers are constantly in debt and avoiding their creditors or putting valuables into pawnbrokers’ shops to get ready cash. David helps them on several occasions.

‘David Copperfield’ is Dickens’ most autobiographical novel and Mr Micawber is based on Dickens’ own father, John Dickens. In real life Dickens worked as a boy in a boot blacking (boot polish) factory putting labels on the jars. This was because his father, like dear Wilkins Micawber, was constantly in debt and money was urgently needed. The Dickens family moved house on numerous occasions because of their constant flimsy financial situation when Charles was a boy (as do the Micawbers in the course of the story). In fact John Dickens, like Micawber was in the debtor’s prison for a while in the Marshalsea near London Bridge and Dickens, like young David, visited him there. The Marshalsea and its inhabitants are the centre of a later novel, ‘Little Dorrit.’

This was the most traumatic time for Dickens and he kept this period of his life secret except to his close friend, John Forster, who had permission to include it in his biography of Dickens after his death. Whenever Dickens strolled near the site of the blacking factory (by Hungerford Stairs, near what is now Charing Cross railway station) he would walk on the other side of the road or avoid it completely. But he did eventually find the courage to face his trauma by putting it into a novel.

Despite all that Dickens’ father put him through as a boy, his fictional alter-ego Mr. Micawber is affectionately drawn and appears as a larger than life and entertaining character. In a way he is a kind of philosopher himself, forever making long speeches and writing long, verbose letters (often of the begging variety). In total contrast to Marcus, he is a highly theatrical philosopher. His expounds his philosophy of happiness to the boy David:

“Annual income twenty pounds: annual expenditure nineteen pounds, nineteen shillings and six pence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds: annual expenditure twenty pounds, nought and six, result misery.”

From these words you will probably notice the contrast between Marcus and Micawber: Marcus tried to live out his philosophy, whereas Micawber makes little attempt at all.

Sometimes he expresses his despair. ‘In short I am forever floored,’ he says. And yet, he is also the eternal optimist. Though he is forever unemployed, forever selling his possessions or pawning them and forever having to avoid his creditors (by literally running away, assuming false names and decamping his family) he is always ‘hourly expecting that something will turn up’ to alleviate his disastrous financial affairs. And after several appearances in the story, he eventually does get a regular post in a law firm in Canterbury and is the one who unmasks the devious Uriah Heap near the end of the novel.

Through all these trials and tribulations the family somehow stay together for as Mrs Micawber frequently says: ‘I never will desert Mr Micawber!’ One minute Micawber is very low and will weep because of his misery and then the next he is dancing a sailor’s hornpipe or, red-faced, preparing his special hot wine punch.

At the moment, in this lockdown, we are experiencing the mixed emotions that the Micawbers feel as a result of a very different crisis to theirs. We may feel unsettled, uneasy and even low and depressed every now and then and then cheer ourselves up with music or binge TV or other online entertainment. Because of social media, even though we are physically in isolation, despite distances, we are able to cheer each other up with messages, video calls and we can even have parties and games together online.

In the novel, the Micawbers, because of their precarious finances, make the most of the moment. They enjoy themselves in the moment as should we. And they enjoy their family and whoever else is with them in the moment, as should we (whether they are physically or virtually present in that moment). This is another way of ‘taking pleasure in all that is presently yours’ as Marcus urges us to do.

Enjoy the moment, enjoy each other’s company (physically present or through social media). And, like Wilkins Micawber, be optimistic for the future, that this lockdown and, more importantly, this most horrific pandemic will soon end. I would call this ‘The Micawber Method’ to surviving the lockdown. I will explore another method in my next blog.

Stay safe and well dear readers!

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!

And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.

A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.

I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

As I sit here as usual to write my meditation, I am not concentrating on the flame from the candle in front of me. I am thinking about another light. Moonlight. Last night as I looked out onto my garden from the kitchen door, there was a full moon in the clear night sky. It was strikingly beautiful. ‘The watery eye of the moon’ (as Shakespeare describes it’s surface) was crystal clear all those miles away. There was a warmth about this moon, like a pale version of the sun. It was not silver and cold but a delicate coral and warm. A benign presence in the night sky. Comforting. A beacon of hope.

I have learnt today on the BBC News website that last night I had been captivated by a supermoon. This occurs when a full moon or a new moon comes closest to the Earth in its orbit and so from the Earth it appears slightly larger than usual in size and also appears brighter. The website page showed some stunning photographs of this supermoon from across the UK and Europe and several friends have posted photos too on Facebook. It has been dubbed a ‘pink supermoon’ because it appears to have a rose coloured hue, although in reality there is little colour difference to a full moon.

Among these photographs was an image of the supermoon above the city of Rome and its shadowy ruins. This made me think of Marcus Aurelius. No doubt he had seen a supermoon himself when he was in Rome or on the plains of Pannonia when he was on his campaigns. He must have engaged in a great deal of sky gazing, skies devoid of high rise buildings and planes of course. And, as I have mentioned before, his sky gazing outside his tent on his campaigns probably put him in the right mood to compose his meditations. His contemplation of the heavens may have fed his writings.

He felt a deep affinity with Nature and was in awe of it, writing of it in exalted terms: ‘Nature, all that your seasons bring is fruit to me, all comes from you, exists in you, returns to you.’ Even though he was a philosopher emperor, he acknowledged his indebtedness to Nature, to Creation. He recognised and celebrated his primal bond with Nature, with Creation.

We too in this lockdown are able to gaze at skies free from air traffic, to enjoy the clouds, the stars and the moon, be it from a garden, a balcony or the window of an apartment. And if we have a garden, we have more time now to connect with the earth again, to be truly grounded. Or to take a slow meditative stroll in the park or by flowing water.

The lockdown has given us the opportunity to be like Marcus: to exercise the contemplative side of our human nature. To recognise our own indebtedness to Nature, to Creation, a dependency which our world has disregarded and shunned and trampled on. We too can acknowledge and rediscover our primal bond with Nature. To do this we need to allow ourselves to slow down, to let go of our frenetic selves, to accept the quieter, slower pace of life which this lockdown has forced upon us. It might seem strange, eerie even because we are not used to the calm and the quiet. But once we get over the initial fear or uncomfortableness perhaps we can enjoy the calm and stillness and maybe even luxuriate in it eventually.

This I am sure would have been Marcus’ approach to the lockdown. As a stoic philosopher, Marcus would have strove to accept the situation too and hopefully with equanimity. For him it is not only the duty but the delight of a good man (or woman) to accept and welcome all that is allotted to them. He may be saying to us down the centuries, ‘Will you not be satisfied with your present state and take pleasure in all that is presently yours?’ Once we have accepted this situation we can make the most of it and be positive about it and go with this strange, slower and calmer pace of life. To take the opportunity to live in and enjoy the present moment. And be thankful for what we have, especially our loved ones and friends and of course our health.

After a very cursory look again at Marcus’ ‘Meditations’, I feel this would have been his approach to getting through the lockdown. This would be Marcus’ method.
I shall be exploring a few more possible methods in my next blogs.

Stay safe and well dear readers!

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!

And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.

A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.

I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

As I sit here watching the flickering flame of the candle beside me, the whole world seems to be a flickering flame in the face of the virus that has engulfed us. Not even emperors or the powerful of our own time are able to totally control it. It is a humbling corrective to their own towering self-confidence, should they possess it. Indeed it is a humbling corrective to us all, in our own little busy worlds, which have now perforce been interrupted in the most dramatic and sudden way.

In the wake of the week’s events in our own country, indeed across the world, it seems pointless, even crass and insulting to the suffering of others to write a meditation about anything else. I must admit to feeling numb and powerless myself, as indeed we all are, like someone standing stock still in the street when an accident happens, a neutral observer but unable to do little if anything to prevent it. Nevertheless, despite our fears and inherent panic at the spread of the virus and the sudden restrictions that have been imposed upon us, life must continue as far as possible. We must take up again our preoccupations and activities with calm determination and above all hope, hope for the future. The flame, though flickering, is not yet spent.

So with this in mind, I would like to share with you an exhibition I attended early last week before the closures at the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square. It was a display of David Hockey’s portraits. They included works from his teenage years in the 1950’s to the present day. The passage of time was very evident in the drawings, prints and paintings. This was because the portraits were of four particular sitters who are close to him: his muse Celia Birtwell, his mother Laura, his lover Gregory Evans, his print maker Maurice Payne as well as a series of portraits of himself.

They were executed in various locations around the world which gave the exhibition an exotic feel though being portraits there was equally an intimacy about them. Hockney is a fine draughtsman. His drawing skills are remarkable particularly in depicting the clothing of the sitters: the detailed prints of Celia’s numerous dresses for example. He is also an acute realist: these were not flattering portraits but carefully outlined the changes time had wrought on the sitter (including himself of course!). Yet though he accurately showed how the effects of age had changed the subject, the expression on their faces changed little and so their personality, their inner spirit seemed constant.

It was the self portraits that fascinated me. I have always been deeply moved by the realism in Rembrandt’s self-portraits (especially his ones painted in old age) and the realism in Hockey’s moved me too. It is Rembrandt’s eyes that draw you to him and they show you the ages of man: from quirky insecure youth to benign accepting old age. But in

Hockney’s portraits the eyes are always the same: they look startled, almost scared like a deer suddenly disturbed in a forest. I suppose this may be a trope that he uses for all of them and this startled stare even looks out at us from his first drawings as a teenager in his room in Bradford. This constant expression helps us to appreciate the different backgrounds and locations, the different clothes he wears over the years, the different media he uses at times and of course the changes in his face wrought by age.

But it is an odd expression. It is as if he has been caught in the act of painting, as if his art is reprehensible. The title for each one might be ‘The Guilty Artist’! That was certainly the cumulative effect they had on me. For a moment I wondered if it was something to do with his sexuality, with being afraid to be who he is, especially when gay men of his generation had to be closeted and furtive, when every expression of their sexuality had to be behind closed doors and there was always that fear of the door being suddenly opened and being found out, exposed. But this does not sit with the fact that he has been openly gay and even flamboyantly so for most of his adult life in contrast with his contemporary and fellow Yorkshireman, the writer Alan Bennett who only ‘came out’ in his later years.

Maybe that startled look does stem from a primal fear of being found out that was deep rooted from his teenage years.

Or perhaps it is something to do with the embarrassment about being in any way artistic and creative when you are brought up with an ordinary working class background. But then I may be reading something of myself into Hockney’s paintings. My own feelings of embarrassment were unnecessary really as the adults around me and my peers accepted that I wrote little plays and enjoyed acting. My primary school teacher encouraged me. She thought I would end up as a producer or director for BBC Drama.

And yet it is an extremely courageous act to commit a portrait of oneself to paper or canvas especially when it is realistic rather than narcissistic! There are times when I have shied way from writing this blog because I have been a little wary of committing myself to paper as it were. It is a private act that becomes public. Perhaps it is my childhood and teenage embarrassment taking hold again.

In one way I found the exhibition depressing. Walking around and gradually observing these five sitters (including the artist) getting older and older made me feel as if I was growing old with them! In truth they made me realise my own age. I am not young anymore myself. Looking back on my walk around these portraits with their constant expressions, I see that Hockney has hit upon a truth about human nature: our bodies grow older but we look out to the world with the same eyes we did as a child or young person. This can make us forget our real age sometimes: we think we are younger than we are in reality. As I have been working with young people for over half my life, yes, as others

have repeatedly pointed out, working with young people keeps you young, but it can also lead to self delusion at times!

Inevitably the restrictions imposed this week for our own good have also reminded me of my age and vulnerability. I am but four years off 70! Living alone has compounded this. I have always said that living alone is an art form, something in the coming days of isolation we may have to learn. But so many friends, neighbours and colleagues and of course family have been in touch for which I am so very grateful.

So I am once again reminded of the stained glass window in St Pierre de Montmatre in Paris. That abstract stained glass reminded me many years ago about all my family and friends, each one a bright and colourful pane of glass welded to the other by the molten lead of affection and love. We may be well aware at present that we are an individual and isolated pane of glass. We may even feel that our bright and cheerful colour has faded but the sun will still shine through it. And we need to remember that we may be a single pane but we are surrounded by the molten lead of affection and love.

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!

And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.

A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

It is quite a while since I sat here beside my candle to write a meditation. I have not had much time to be reflective as, like Marcus, I have been on a campaign and like him I have been in Pannonia for a while. Except I have not been leading a military campaign but a theatrical one and to modern day Pannonia, that is Hungary. The time has come around again for our annual school Drama tour to Budapest. Like Marcus, once again I watched the sun come up over the Buda hills, though not from a military tent (as he would have done) but from my hotel room a week or so ago.

The sun has come up, or rather, gone down on my final tour. It is hard to believe that it is thirty years since the first one in February 1990. As I sat in my hotel room the other morning and gazed through the window at the sun over the Buda hills, a dazzling disc in the clear early morning winter sky, many memories inevitably flooded in. Now that I am home again I am sure many more will stream into my consciousness and perhaps into this blog too.

But on that particular morning there was little time for nostalgic reverie. It was the morning of my final performances at the Kolibri Theatre and I had to be breakfasted and out of the hotel early with the technical crew so we had time to set up the production before the cast arrived. My final production there was ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and we were giving two performances: one at 2 in the afternoon and the other at 6 in the evening. I was too busy to be sad or nostalgic that day. But I did take lots of photos of backstage, the auditorium and the beautiful foyer. As the theatre is a children’s theatre, it is painted like a jungle with tigers, monkeys and exotic birds peeping out of the foliage. I had hoped to have a little time alone on the stage while everyone went to lunch but it didn’t happen.

Strangely it did last year, when we were performing ‘A Christmas Carol’. Somehow we had set up quickly and efficiently and when everyone else went to lunch, I did find myself sitting alone on stage in the stage lights looking out to the empty auditorium. There is an alert stillness about an empty theatre, especially when the stage is set and the performance will soon begin. There is an atmosphere of anticipation, an air of expectancy. As I sat there I felt the warmth of that lovely theatre seep into my bones. Memories flooded in more potently than in my hotel room just now. That is because the stage is where it’s at, not a hotel room. And so, as I sat there, it was then that I felt sad. And yes I did shed a tear because I knew that either then or a year later would be the end.

Prior to the tour, the 30th anniversary was celebrated at the school with a Gala Performance,which the Consul General of the Hungarian Embassy here in London and the Mayor of Kingston attending along with ex-Drama students who had been on the tours over the years and colleagues and ex-colleagues and friends too. Several friends, ex-students and colleagues attended the other two performances as well. So many people to see and so little time to talk to them all. The memories streamed in with them. A heartfelt thank you to all who came along!

I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs – it was in connection with ‘A Christmas Carol’ last year – that, as in Ancient Greek Drama, the director and actors’ aim is to create an invisible circle between the performers and the audience. Experiencing Wagner’s Ring Cycle of four operas at the Royal Opera House in autumn 2018 had reminded me of this. It is easier, of course, to create this circle in a small studio theatre than in a large auditorium like the opera house at Covent Garden. Nevertheless, it is a magical thing when it happens, like the magic ring at the centre of Wagner’s operas. I am pleased to say that it did happen, both in the school’s studio and the Kolibri Theatre.

During those performances at school and at the Kolibri, another circle appeared as if by magic as I watched the performances from the wings. For these were my final performances. My career as a teacher and director had come full circle. And all those students, the past ones in the audience and the present ones on stage, were part of that circle, that golden round, which extended to a country a thousand miles away. My heart was almost bursting with as much pride and excitement as when I watched our first ever performance in the school by Lake Balaton from the wings 30 years ago.

At the beginning of the second performance at the Kolibri Theatre, Janos Novak, the theatre’s director, made a presentation to me. It was a plaque: oblong in shape and of polished wood. It had a wooden marionette attached to it. There is a brass citation underneath in recognition of our 24 year creative friendship and officially making me an honorary member of the Kolibri Theatre Company. I do feel greatly honoured and very moved.

The marionette is very appropriate as because Kolibri is a children’s theatre, puppets are often used in performances, even for older children and young people. The puppet on the plaque is a Harlequin and is beautifully carved and painted in a delicate cream. The large diamonds of Harlequin’s costume are a contrasting peach in colour. He wears an orange hat and brown shoes. Harlequin is one of the oldest characters in European Theatre, first appearing as one of the stock characters in the Italian Commedia dell’arte plays, which began before Shakespeare’s time. So I am doubly honoured. Although I am too short and slightly too rotund to play the slim Harlequin!

The marionette is attached to the plaque by a piece of wire at the back of the head. Therefore the arms and legs are able to move. They clattered about in a plastic bag when I carried the plaque back to the hotel after leaving the theatre. Dear old Harlequin reminds me of how my life has been in semi-retirement. Like the puppet on the plaque, my hands and feet have been free to move but I have still been attached to the school through productions and the drama tour.

Now I am totally unattached. I am like Pinocchio: ‘I got no strings!’ But like Pinocchio when he first tries to walk without them I am a little wobbly on my legs. Losing his strings was a big deal for Pinocchio and it is for me. The fear of freedom threatens to blow me over. However, once I find my feet I am sure I shall be fine.

Like Pinocchio the marionette has a slender nose. His features are carefully painted onto his wooden face. Sometimes when I look at him, his mouth appears to be smiling, At other times he looks sad, as if he saying farewell. Perhaps he represents the theatre’s farewell. His eyes smile sometimes too, and at other times look wistful and sad. He appears to be a marionette with mixed emotions.

As have I.

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!

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A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.

I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

As I sit here by my solitary candle I am looking at the corner opposite me in my lounge. It is now empty. Today I took down the Christmas decorations and so the tree in the opposite corner is no longer there. My candle seems very solitary indeed now that the lights on the tree are packed away upstairs. Now that the garlands and cards are gone from my bookshelves too, the room seems empty indeed and cold as if a chill winter breeze has crept in though the window or under the door.

I am reminded once again of Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, when the Spirit of Christmas Future returns Scrooge to the Cratchits’ parlour and the corner where Tiny Tim used to sit is sadly empty. Of course, Scrooge changes heart when he wakes up in the present on Christmas morning. He helps Tiny Tim as much as he can and presumably Tim recovers from his illness and lives so the corner will not be empty at all. And of course I will be putting up the decorations and tree once again in December and, like Tiny Tim’s corner, my lounge corner will not be empty once more either. And it will once again glow with the lights on the tree.

At the end of ‘A Christmas Carol’ we are told that ‘it was always said of Mr Scrooge that he knew how to keep Christmas well’. We are also reminded: ‘May that be truly said of all of us.’ What does this mean? Scrooge’s sudden change of heart, indeed the opening of his heart in generosity to others, including those less fortunate than himself, did not end with that first Christmas season when he became truly alive. The spirit of Christmas remained alive in him throughout the year. Moreover, his heart had been opened for the rest of his days.

You may remember the phrase ‘A dog isn’t just for Christmas’, warning people not to buy a puppy for Christmas without being aware of the responsibilities of looking after it afterwards. Well perhaps Dickens is saying ‘Christmas isn’t just for Christmas’. We should keep the generous spirit of Christmas alight in our hearts even though the Christmas lights have been extinguished in our home. Just as, if we buy or receive a dog or puppy at Christmas, we have the responsibility to look after it, so we also have the responsibility to be generous and kind to others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves, all the year round. If we are looking for a New Year’s resolution perhaps this should be it. Or perhaps we should be thinking more in terms of a New Year’s attitude.

A few days ago, I mentioned to a friend that my lounge looked gloomy now that the decorations had been taken down and packed away. He suggested that we should put up different decorations for each month of the year, in line with the seasons I suppose. I do know that in Hungary (and I imagine other parts of Eastern Europe) people put up an Easter tree in their homes. This is very often a large bunch of bare branches decorated with ribbons and imitation eggs made from wood or papier-mache. The eggs are painted with traditional designs and are very colourful. I have a few on my Christmas tree! When I bought them in Budapest several years ago, I thought they were Christmas decorations!

My Christmas lights may be put away now but my solitary candle is still burning brightly. Perhaps in the year ahead, we should burn a candle to remind ourselves of the spirit of Christmas in season and out of season and to remind ourselves to live by that spirit. And

to encourage us, in the dark and uncertain opening days of this New Year and new decade.

Happy New Year.

Ave atque vale – Hail and Farewell! Till the next blog.

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!

And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.

A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius