As I sit here gazing at my candle I am aware that, as I write, the night is chill outside. Winter approaches and this is the first night of another full lockdown. All the more reason to gaze at the magnets on my fridge door and to hearken back to memories of warmer and sunnier climes and carefree times.
There are two new magnets in my collection for, though I was not able to go to Puglia with my friend Simon, we did have three days in Chichester and the surrounding Sussex countryside a week or so ago. Chichester is a cathedral town and the Cathedral itself and the gardens are quite stunning. Unfortunately the cathedral gift shop was closed when we were there. As I wandered around the town, it was difficult to find a shop that sold fridge magnets. It was equally difficult to find a shop that sold picture postcards. I guess they go together, being souvenir merchandise. Eventually, having gone a complete circle round the town one morning and ending up almost back to where we were staying, we discovered a cosy little gift shop, crammed with all sorts of gifts including magnets and quite a large selection of postcards.
Picture postcards are fast going out of fashion. Who these days would send a postcard when on holiday or on a visit, if they can instantly send a photo with a brief message from their phone instead? A photo taken on a mobile phone is more personal too. It is your own view, selected and taken by yourself and not by a photographer, probably years before (as if you look closely at some picture postcards, the photo is definitely not up to date). You can be in the picture too if you wish. You don’t even need someone else to take the picture for you as you can take a ‘selfie’. Plus it is less arduous and time consuming than sitting down and writing then addressing a card, even if you write the briefest of messages. Then, of course, there is the added chore of posting it! You are also able to send a message and text on your mobile phone to lots of people at once, of course, rather than writing lots of postcards!
And yet everyone likes to receive a card. I still enjoy sending them and receiving them. Some of my friends aren’t on social media and some don’t have an up to date phone so they appreciate getting a card, especially if they live alone. I used to have a notice board in my kitchen (before I began my fridge magnet collection!) and would pin postcards sent by friends on it. In those days, over the summer, it would soon fill up with a variety of views and reminded me of my circle of friends and family who sent them.
Perhaps the age of the picture postcard is fast ebbing away. It is an age that has lasted since the 1840’s (with the institution of the first ever postal service here in the UK – the ‘penny post’). Originally the postcards had reproductions of artists’ drawings of picturesque scenes and later on photographs of views were cheaply reproduced too (and cartoons of saucy seaside humour!). Hotels issued free postcards of their premises in their reception areas (and still do) as an advertising ploy.
They have become a document of social history of the last 150 years or more and an indication of how people spent their holidays over the decades, including the well to do and famous. So, they have been often quoted and featured as illustrations in biographies of famous personalities too. Sometimes both sides of the card are reprinted and the reader can have a tantalising view of the famous person’s handwriting (often far clearer than my own!).
Sending a card was a social tradition: sending one to relatives, friends and acquaintances to show them where you were staying on holiday with a brief description even if only ‘Having a a good time. Wish you were here.’
There were (and maybe there still are) plain postcards with no picture at all. There was room for the address on the front and a blank space for a short message on the reverse. I left a stamped and addressed postcard at my Oxford college for my degree results, I remember. But that was many years ago!
The postcard and it’s short message (with or without a picture) has been replaced by email or more accurately, by texting. On social media now, you can include not only a photo with your brief message, but even a short video. The advantage of texting in all its forms is that it is immediate and doesn’t depend on postal delivery. Though it’s always fun to receive a text from a friend on holiday, I still think there is something special about receiving a card, especially as so little private correspondence is sent by mail now. Also writing a postcard can involve a little reflection on the part of the sender whereas texting and twittering often involves no reflection or even thought at all! Witness the twitterings of the outgoing President of the U.S.A.!
On our little holiday we spent an afternoon in the village of Bosham which is on the estuary that goes into the English Channel. It is about 3 miles out of Chichester and is a peninsula which goes into what is called Chichester Harbour, a natural harbour of small villages and marinas. Bosham has a little arts centre with, yes, another cosy little shop where I purchased some more postcards and another magnet!
On arriving, Bosham has the look of a village inland with its thatched cottages, small lanes, picturesque pub and parish church and graveyard. There is a small river and a lock too.There is no seaside atmosphere and nothing particularly nautical about it either, until you arrive at a small marina, Bosham Quay, which is adjacent to the church and churchyard. Quite a few streets eventually lead to the water as the villages is skirted by the estuary. We very quickly found this out.
After leaving the car in the car park we walked down towards the water and decided to walk along the shore around the natural harbour to explore the other side. Then we noticed a cafe at the end of the road up some steps. So we decide to have a snack lunch there first, where they served the most filling homemade pasties ever.
It was when we left the cafe that we realised why it was up some steps as where we had been previously standing and admiring the view, was now completely under water. The tide was is and beginning to make its slow inexorable way up the street. If we had gone for our walk first, we would probably have found ourselves stranded on the other side. However the water didn’t impede our walk to the church and quay, admiring the quaint little cottages on the way and noticing that their little pretty front doors had not so pretty modern flood barriers.
Bosham was originally a Roman settlement, as was Chichester itself of course. It is now thought that the remains of Harold Godwinson, the last Saxon King of England, were buried in the parish church, after he was defeated by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Another king associated with Bosham is the Danish King Canute, who was King of Denmark, Norway and England with his own North Sea empire before his demise in 1035. Legend has it that it was here, at Bosham, that he commanded the waves to go back on his orders. We were unable to do so, of course! Canute was reputed to have magical powers, but is unclear from the legend, whether his attempt to force the waves back was an act of arrogant self delusion or whether he did it to rebuke his flattering courtiers. In other words, was his failure a reality check for his courtiers or himself?
I am once again reminded of the present incumbent of the Presidency of the United States who thinks he can push back the waves of votes he didn’t receive. But again, we are unsure whether this is his own act of self delusion or of his flattering staff. Though I have my suspicions.
We all need a reality check at times and this pandemic has been a global one, reminding us of our vulnerability and of the fragility of life. A reality check is only effective if we accept it, hard as it may be, and act upon it (as most of us have). There is now a glimmer of hope with news of a vaccine, which is wonderful news. The best Christmas present we could ask for at the moment. Here’s hoping it is effective.
Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until the next blog!
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A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neilus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.