Meditation 58

As I sit here this evening, beside my candle, memories from my youth come to mind. These have been prompted partly by my time of life and partly by our current situation. Inevitably, retirement is a time for thinking back on our lives. Our minds are no longer filled up with the busyness of work, so they are freer to roam and inevitably we find ourselves revisiting paths already trod. Sometimes these moments of recall will arouse a smile or a laugh, sometimes feelings of pride, sometimes regret or even embarrassment! For myself the lockdown has created even more time and space for this, as the active retirement I envisaged has been put on hold along with everything else. But then, I have been active. After all, I have continued writing these meditations if nothing else.

I am aware that watching television has prompted memories of my youth. This is not to say that I have been glued to the nostalgia channels on cable to avert lockdown blues. It is possible to live in the 1970’s or 80’s or 90’s by watching them all day, I am sure.  I discovered this quite a while ago when my aunt from Canada came to stay with me and loved watching old 1970’s series on my cable TV in the afternoons. Every afternoon we were back in the 1970’s as if the world outside was in the 70’s too.  She still watches the old detective series ‘Murder She Wrote’ every weekday afternoon in her apartment on Vancouver Island. She has confessed to me that she must have seen every episode by now (all 264 of them!) and is now working her way through them all again. At least she has now moved on to the 80’s and 90’s!  In her honour, I filmed a spoof version of the show (actually of the cheesy title sequence) for my retirement cabaret. I called it, ‘Murder He Taught’. Some of my lessons have been murder at times: either for myself or my students or both!

No, I haven’t been gorging myself on nostalgia TV.  Like everyone else, I have been streaming away and sampling new Netflix and Amazon series. So I have been very much keeping up to date with my viewing. Well, inevitably these days conversations with family and friends end up with ‘What have you been watching on Netflix?’ so it is best to have something to share! The conversation usually continues with regurgitations of the labyrinthine plot of whatever series. I am being hypercritical. I tend to watch (and share with others) the shorter series as they tend to be more credible and entertaining than the longer ones, which drag out the plot like a piece of chewing gum until the holes can be seen in the middle.

I think watching and sharing TV series has kept us all going over the last year (as we have had little else to share). I include in that programmes from the terrestrial channels. This reminds me of when I was a schoolboy and sharing ‘last night’s TV’ with my friends in the classroom or playground. Of course, in those days nothing was streamed and nothing could be recorded either so if you didn’t see a programme when it was scheduled on one of the two or three terrestrial channels available you missed it. You would have to wait in hope for a repeat months later – or even longer! I remember at age 15, watching the first ever episode of ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’  and being really enthusiastic about it to my friends at school the next day. By the end of the series, six weeks later, most of the class were watching it and sharing the funny lines of dialogue. With all the channels now available and with streaming, I suppose that communal aspect of viewing is receeding now.

I have made a serious effort, living alone in lockdown, to watch series on the terrestrial channels on the right day and at the right time as scheduled, just as I would all those years ago when I was at school. This would give some structure to my viewing (and the week) and also something to look forward to in the evening. I have generally found that I have been more focused on the programmes and have enjoyed them more as a result. I have started to adopt the same regime with streamed programmes, by making my own schedule in the evenings.

From talking to my friends, I am not the only one who dips into streamed programmes and half watches them or records programmes which never get watched at all.  I think it is symptomatic of the malaise we have all been suffering: that inability to settle because of the unease caused by the situation we have been living through. To be honest, I haven’t indulged in ‘binge-watching’ on streamed channels over the last year as others have. I’ve taken in two consecutive episodes of a series at most. I guess I’ve been quite disciplined!

Recently the BBC has been showing past TV series to fill up the schedules, because the various lockdowns over the last year have to some extent affected the filming of current or future ones. Some of the series are old, dare I say it, venerable, such as ‘Fawlty Towers’ and ‘All Creatures Great and Small’.

Every Wednesday evening over six weeks at 9 p.m. I have recently been watching the re-run of the classic historical drama, ‘Elizabeth R’ starring Glenda Jackson as Queen Elizabeth I, a role that made her a star. The first episode of the series was screened on the exact date it had first been transmitted fifty years ago in 1971. I remember watching the series then. It was really useful as I was studying the Tudors in A level History at the time. I am unsure whether we had a colour TV at home by then. Or the correct television set. If you didn’t have a 625 line set you couldn’t watch BBC2 and would have to wait until the series was repeated on BBC1 (which it was). And of course, if you didn’t have a colour TV you would be watching in black and white, which would have been a great shame as, from my recent viewing, the costumes and sets were outstanding. It is odd but I do not remember watching the series in black and white or colour, though I did remember some of the scenes vaguely. 

Of course the presentation was very different from today: scenes were mainly filmed on videotape in the studio with inserted outdoor scenes shot on film. Also scenes were longer and heavier on dialogue than today. In fact, ‘Elizabeth R’ is a series of six separate 90 minute historical plays each with a different scriptwriter, focusing on key moments in her long reign. The formula had been a huge success with ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ a year or so earlier, with each of the six plays focusing on a different wife and with a different writer. I have a suspicion that this formula has influenced the structure of Peter Morgan’s recent series ‘The Crown’ about our own Queen Elizabeth.

Despite what now looks like an archaic technical presentation, the series holds up well because of the well-written scripts and the excellent acting, particularly from Glenda Jackson herself, who has to age from a young teenage girl to a very old woman (for those times) of 69. The scripts do capture  the dramatic events and crises of her reign really well and therefore were most useful at that time in bringing my dry A level History notes to life!

Revisiting the series in 2021, I enjoyed picking out the actors and actresses who were regularly on the TV in my youth and whom I wanted to emulate. At that time in my life, I wanted to be on that screen with them, in a costume drama. I wanted to be an actor or perhaps a TV scriptwriter. That has come about in a different way of course. I became a teacher of drama instead and wrote plays for my students.  I didn’t become a classical actor like Robert Hardy (who played the Earl of Leicester in the series), though I would have liked to. But then I can’t image Robert Hardy directing a school play or pushing pupils (talented or not so talented) through a GCSE Drama course. He has played Winston Churchill on various occasions so perhaps that would have helped!

The final scenes of the series depict Elizabeth’s death and closely reflect true events. In her final days, knowing that she was close to death, Elizabeth refused to lie down on her bed, let alone sleep. Instead she spent hours sitting up, on an cushion. The dramatisation has her sitting there in full regalia on a large high-backed chair, gradually going silent and refusing to indicate by even a nod to show her agreement that James VI of Scotland should succeed her to the throne. The scene includes the actual words of Elizabeth. Robert Cecil, one of her ministers,  politely tells her she must go to bed; to which she replies angrily, ‘Must is not a word to use to Princes, little man.’  Eventually, sitting on the chair, with a finger in her mouth like a child, she passes away. It is a remarkable scene, watching her using all her strength (ebbing away though it was) to resist death.  

Elizabeth reigned for 45 years until her death in 1603 and was the longest reigning monarch up to that point in our history and for many years afterwards: until the 18th Century and George III (60 years) then Queen Victoria (64 years) and our own Queen Elizabeth who has currently reigned for almost 69 years (as long as the first Elizabeth’s lifespan).

Elizabeth I  had spent the 45 years of her reign holding onto the crown despite initial political and religious upheaval, several rebellions, numerous plots against her life (and numerous attempts to get her to marry, which she refused) and even an attempted invasion by the Spanish Armada. So perhaps she can be excused for using the last dregs of her formidable willpower to hang onto her crown even against death. All her energies since she was a teenager had been spent in survival, to the extent that it was ingrained in her. So why change now, in old age, even at the point of death? Or was she scared of the after life, having a religious faith, of meeting her Maker with the blood of those she ordered to be executed on her hands? 

The scene conveys how difficult it can be to let go of power. We have been made very much aware of this in recent times with the scenes that played out in the White House last winter. Sometimes it is difficult to accept the inevitable, or more precisely, to accept that there is and will be a future without you. So, just as Elizabeth I refused to lie down on her bed, so Donald Trump refused to concede electoral defeat. Eventually, both had to give in to the inevitable.

Strangely I sympathise with these two powerful but disparate figures.

It is difficult to let go of the career that has defined you, especially, in Elizabeth I’s case, when it has defined you for a length of time. 

It is difficult to let go.

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until 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 Neilus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. 

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

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

MEDITATION 57

As I sit here gazing at the candle beside me, I am thinking ahead to the future. I imagine most of us are looking to the future this week as at last the gates of the long winter lockdown have opened – even if only slightly. Perhaps those of us who are prudent souls, are making short term plans rather than long term ones, if any. The dark clouds of disappointment have not quite dissolved into a bright shiny day. We have not quite reached a new dawn yet. So it is as well not to make too many plans to travel or meet up with loved ones and friends, incase they are scuppered once again by re-imposed restrictions.  Nevertheless, plans are a way of hoping for the future. Though we may feel rather downtrodden by the last long months, we must not give up hope. We have got this far. 

How will we view these strange times when they are all over? How will we look back? In one sense, as we return to some kind of normality and begin to engage again in our usual pursuits, it will be as if nothing has happened. The months of lockdown may begin to fade away in our memory, unless we have been seriously affected by the pandemic on a deeply personal level.  

Yesterday morning, on the first day of the lighter restrictions, I walked past the barber shop I usually frequent. There was a small socially distanced queue of customers outside the front door eagerly awaiting a haircut. I remember seeing that queue last summer, when the shop had re-opened after the first lockdown. It seemed to me as if the months in between had not happened. I have not yet ventured into my nearest town, Kingston, but I imagine when I do, I will see shoppers going in and out of the shops or queuing outside, just as before the lockdown and again it will be as if the lockdown has not occurred.  

Once we start milling around the shops, or share a meal and bottle of wine with a friend in a bar or restaurant or drive off into the sunset, perhaps the events of 2020 and most of 2021 will dissolve, unless revived by the TV documentaries which will inevitably be screened afterwards along with media articles, books and movies. But then we are not obliged to watch them or read them. After all we have already got used to screening the latest Netflix series to anaesthetise us from the pandemic and lockdown if necessary.

In Virgil’s epic Latin poem ‘The Aeneid’, Aeneas, one of the royal family of Troy escapes from the burning city with his lame father Anchises on his back and his son Ascanius at his side. Along with his band of surviving heroes, they flee the city by boat and after many adventures arrive on the shores of Italy. In the Roman legend, he is the first true hero of Rome and the ancestor of Romulus and Remus who, also according to legend, eventually founded the city.

At one point in the epic story, Aeneas cries out and weeps bitterly as he recalls the blood shed at Troy. In the poem, Virgil comments that Aeneas is suffering the ‘lacrimae rerum’, the ‘tears of things’. He further observes that ‘The world has tears as a constituent part of it and so have our own lives, hopeless and weary.’ He might have been describing our own pandemic. Our lives too have seemed  ‘hopeless and weary’ at times and we have been made acutely aware that tears, that suffering, is an inevitable part of our world, of the human condition.

This is after all what the Stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius is all about: acknowledging the tears and suffering in life and finding a way of accepting it. In our own post-Christian era we would add, finding a way of alleviating the suffering of others too.   

Hopefully, when the pandemic has receded, like Aeneas, we too will pause, look back and remind ourselves of the ‘tears of things’. Also, like him, hopefully we will be thankful that we have survived. Perhaps too we will be a little more grateful for what we have in our lives. Surely this enforced hiatus we have all been through has made us appreciate each other and ourselves more, along with the clutter and the bric-a-brac we have accumulated around ourselves.

For Aeneas and his companions in the story, the destruction of Troy became a painful memory, a past event. For us, though the lockdowns may become a past event, we may still be living with the virus for some time.  

There has been much inevitable speculation about what the ‘new normal’ will look like: in other words, what we will be able to do and not do. For how much longer must face masks be worn? Will office workers be working from home or back in their offices or both? When will our schools and hospitals and surgeries be back to normal? When will there be full gatherings in pubs, bars, and restaurants and in arenas, theatres, cinemas and in churches? When will air travel recommence at full throttle and when will it be as easy and casual as before? 

There will also be a lot of changes and the transition from lockdown to a kind of normality may take quite some time.  To some extent, just as Aeneas and his followers on the shores of Italy, we too will be walking in a new and different world for a while, perhaps for a long time, if not forever.  Let us face it, we already are.

These questions are obviously highly relevant to our own lives and to our society. But perhaps we should not be asking ourselves what we may or may not be able to do in the future but what we are going to be in the future. What have we learnt about ourselves in the last year? Will that change our own individual lifestyle and attitude to life and towards others in any way? Maybe we should be reflecting on what the ‘new normal’ will be for ourselves as individuals. Perhaps we should be saying, I am going to create a ‘new normal’ for myself.

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until 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 Neilus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. 

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

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

.

Lockdown

The ‘new normal’

Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’

Post-Covid

Aeneas

Roman legends.      

MEDITATION 56

If I had begun to write this meditation yesterday afternoon, I would not have been able to see the candle beside me clearly. The screen of my iPad would have been cloudy too. Yesterday morning I went to the eye clinic at Kingston Hospital for an examination and consultation. The examination was very thorough and involved two different liquids being squirted into my eyes by a nurse so that photographs could be taken of each eye. I was told that the liquid would make my vision blurred for up to five hours afterwards. In addition to that, the final examination involved an extremely bright light being shone in each eye. So when I came out of the clinic into the hospital car park and bright daylight, I felt a little disorientated, almost as if the ground was going from under my feet. It was a momentary sensation making me tread slowly and carefully. The blurring in my eyes went on for some time.

However, this temporary change of vision did not stop me for getting on a bus and going into Kingston for a walk along the river Thames with a take-way coffee. I needed fresh air and a wider view after being in the clinic. To my eyes, the swans serenely skimming through the water had a white sheen around them as if they were photographed in soft focus. Indeed, everything I looked at had a softer edge to it. I had to avoid looking into the sunlight, however, as the glare, welcome though it is in these days of early Spring, made my eyes smart. I also had to really focus on my coffee in its paper cup in case I spilt it all over myself.

I moved over to the barrier and rested my cup on it while trying to focus on the traffic on the river. Several canoes and a rowing boat with eight rowers at the oars scudded past along with the swans, geese, seagulls and little terns bobbing about. They were all enhanced with that soft edge because of my slightly impaired vision. I began to think that as we are coming into Spring and the lockdown will be slowly opening up, our lives are beginning to take on that softer edge and maybe a brighter future is coming into focus.         

When I got home, I did not feel like writing as the hospital examination left me a little exhausted. Medical tests and examinations, even though they may be straightforward,  always upset our personal equilibrium, don’t they? They are invasive even though they are for our own benefit. The personal equilibrium of all of us has been severely upset this last year. We have been truly shaken up. The relentless restrictions have been a major intrusion to our everyday lives and plans and like medical tests, they have been invasive too though also ultimately for our own benefit. Perhaps we can consider ourselves fortunate, as I am able to do, that the virus itself has not been a major intrusion in our lives. As I sat in the clinic yesterda, waiting for my appointment, I was reminded of how very precious our eyesight is and I thought how difficult this last year must have been for those who are blind or whose sight is severely or even partially impaired. I have been very fortunate.   

Now, this evening, as I sit here by my customary candle and write this, my eyesight is clear again.  But I keep thing back to yesterday and that experience of walking around Kingston with slightly impaired vision. It reminds me of my childhood and youth, when I lived in Redcar, in Cleveland by the North Sea. Sometimes if the weather was cold and turning to rain, a very light, delicate drizzle would come in from the sea. It made the horizon indistinct, with a soft blur, almost like an Impressionist painting or one by J.M.W. Turner. Perhaps that delicate drizzle, which was like looking through an intricate veil, is what inspired his blurred seascapes. We used to call this opaque mist, ‘sea fret’.  It was as if the sky was anxious and fretting before pouring out its tears of cold rain. Although it could be cooling and even refreshing, the arrival of sea fret was always the signal to leave the shore and go back into the High Street or home as rain was on its way.

At times, we have all been fretting in the last year and our anxieties may have blurred our vision too, making us get things out of proportion. Fretting was at the root of all that panic-buying in the supermarkets this time last year: all the trauma over toilet rolls and the intrepid pursuit of paracetamol. It all seems senseless now but was the result of that first shock of lockdown, which sharpened our instinct for survival. Just like myself in the hospital car park yesterday, we have felt disorientated at times. as if the ground were going from under our feet. It is as we have all been in a sea fret ourselves unable to see the horizon clearly, with the future just an indistinct blur.

Of course, the future is always an indistinct blur, despite all our plans for going here and going there. We do not know what the future holds and we are certainly not masters or mistresses of the future, though, with all our plans and projects we may think that we are in control. I seem to recall I made this comment in one of my meditations last Spring. I have come to see that perhaps I over-planned the early months of my retirement, with several trips abroad and various theatre visits with dear friends. As those early months coincided with the early months of lockdown, those plans have come to nothing or are hopefully being put on hold. I have been left with copious travel and theatre ticket vouchers to use when lockdown is over. But I shall be pacing myself  and the travelling and performances will no doubt seem so much more precious to me, having been deprived of them for a little while.

But not as precious as my eyesight.           

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until 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 Neilus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. 

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

Many thanks

MEDITATION 55

May I first mention, dear reader, two mistakes, in the last two meditations, which a couple of friends have very kindly pointed out to me. In Meditation 53, ‘I pad’ should read ‘iPad’ and in Mediation 54, ‘fit of peak’ should read ‘fit of pique.’ I stand corrected.   

Sitting here as usual beside my candle I am thinking back to a year ago, March 9th 2020, which was the last time I visited a theatre. It was the Royal Opera House, where I attended a performance of Beethoven’s only opera, ‘Fidelio.’ How was I to know then that I wouldn’t be visiting a theatre with friends again for some time in the future? Also how was I to foresee that eating a meal with friends in a restaurant would be a rare experience indeed over the months that followed? Then a few weeks later, we were in total lockdown and here we are now, still locked down a year later, despite a few months of respite here and there.

Beethoven’s opera is a very moving plea for political freedom. A political prisoner, Florestan, is unjustly imprisoned and about to be executed but he is saved by his faithful wife, Leonora, the ‘Fidelio’ of the title. Little did I know when watching the opera and being transported by Beethoven’s rapturous music, that we would be in a kind of imprisonment ourselves a few week’s later – but in a just cause.

Marcus’ stoicism has certainly been stretched to the limit within me in the last twelve months. He writes, ‘You have the power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this and you will have strength.’ This is true of course, but difficult when my iPhone wants to have power over my mind all the time and it is very difficult to have the strength to resist that insistent mistress, the iPhone!  He also advocates, ‘Confine yourself to the present.’ This has been most useful over these last months. Concentrating on and enjoying the present moment has helped me get through, as have family and friends, my dear friends. St Thomas Aquinas, the medieval theologian observes that ‘There is nothing on the earth to be prized more than friendship.’ How right he is.  

Where are we now, a year on? From the friends I have shared with, it seems we are all exhausted and burnt out with living on adrenalin as much as coping with the changing restrictions. We are like an old clock that has slowly wound down. And, much as it has been a comfort and support, our eyes and our brains are exhausted with technology, at least, mine are. I am streamed away and zoomed out, exhausted by a plethora of media platforms and endless choices for digital entertainment. I feel as if I am like a little over-tired child, unable to settle to anything yet refusing to give in and rest. Rest is what we will need when all this is over. 

In the last few days I have been in my garden inspecting my plants. When the weather is cold and rainy and especially when the sky is overcast or just dull and dismal with no sign of the sun, it is easy to forget that signs of Spring have appeared. Buds have emerged on my magnolia and apple trees and on my pink camellia shrub, the first slithers of pink are just appearing in the buds. My daffodils and alliums have also made an appearance, though they are not yet in bloom. Similarly there are new vivid red and green shoots on my rose bushes.

I think it is the same with our current situation: our eyes are dulled to the signs of hope (such as the vaccine) by the monotony of these months. We have been locked down into winter and probably have never felt winter so keenly or heavily. Though we have been overstimulated as usual by streaming and media platforms, these haven’t been enough to alleviate the weight of this winter. Usually perhaps we would get through winter by being overstimulated in other ways: by seeing people, going out for meals, socialising and partying over the Christmas season, jetting off to the sun, Christmas shopping or taking in a show or an exhibition. Most of this has been impossible or severely restricted. So, we have felt the weight of winter. 

It seems that we have felt the weight of winter on our shoulders to the extent that maybe we have not noticed the first signs of Spring at our feet.  We are all so exhausted with the physical and emotional demands of the last year that it is difficult to perceive the signs of hope, the light in the tunnel.        

The other day I came across a video clip on the BBC News website. It was from a frozen lake in Canada somewhere – the location was not specified. A man with a broad grin on his bearded face was joyfully dancing a Bhangra on the ice. Gurdeep Pandher had just received his first vaccine shot and was dancing to ‘share the positivity and joy he felt’.    

I have recently discovered a rare word from the 16th Century which is not in use anymore but should be at this present time. It is ‘respair’. It means ‘fresh hope and recovery from despair’. Now after long dark months of near despair at times, we are in a period of respair, a time of fresh hope and recovery. The man on the ice, therefore, was performing a dance of respair. Perhaps it is time for us to dance too, to dance in our hearts. To share the positivity and look to the coming months with fresh hope. 

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until 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 Neilus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. 

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

Many thanks

MEDITATION 54

As I begin to write beside my customary candle, I am feeling cabined, cribbed and confined, as Macbeth would say. I have been asked to self-isolate according to the NHS Covid app on my phone. I have six out of seven days still to run as I received the message yesterday. 

Of course I have decided to obey the instruction, annoying though it is. When I delved into my personal data on the app, I discovered that whoever I came into contact with had declared a positive test yesterday, so, it must be said, the app is very efficient. But it is also, to the best of my knowledge, wrong. I was supposedly in contact with this person on Saturday. However, I never left my house on Saturday, so it was impossible for me to be in contact with anyone, except myself and I certainly haven’t had a positive test.

My annoyance, of course, stems from an injustice, petty though that injustice is. I am reminded of my career as a teacher. Children and young adults have an acute sense of injustice and, in my experience, more than most other things, it arouses an acute anger in them. So too with adults. The sense of being accused of something we didn’t do digs deep.   It did with me yesterday. I smarted at it. ‘My gorge rises at it’, as Shakespeare would say; well it did rise. It is like being in a lunchtime detention and angrily watching your schoolmates playing outside the classroom window.

The injustice is, as I have already mentioned, petty and slight. It is nothing compared with those who are imprisoned for something they haven’t done.  Or those who are incarcerated by oppressive regimes because of their political views, ethnicity, sexuality or religious faith. Neither have I been asked to shield for many months as so many have, with little opportunity to see loved ones. As I write this paragraph, I ask myself why I am complaining at all through this blog. 

As I think back to yesterday, it was the loss of personal freedom that annoyed me most. But then, it is only for a few days, I have a freezer that is replete with food and none of us are going far at the moment anyway. Marcus would tell me to persevere, to endure this present annoyance. 

But I have been asking myself why was this sudden loss of freedom so irksome to me? I think there were echoes of those first weeks of lockdown almost a year ago: the sudden changes imposed externally by the government, the return of a twinge of fear.

None of us likes to forego our liberty, It is something we have all battled with over the last gruelling months and we have perhaps, over time, been reduced to a tired resignation about it. But our liberty has to be gently pushed to one side in the medical emergency we are still in for the good of others. Just as having the vaccine (which I had two weeks ago) is not just to protect ourselves but also to protect others. So I am asked to self-isolate, even if erroneously, for the good of others, just in case. In the same way, we wear masks and drown our hands in cleansing fluid, just in case and as much for the good of others as for ourselves.

 I am reminded of one of those occasions when my aunt Barbara would show me some of her numerous volumes of photographs, while staying with her on holiday on Vancouver Island. She was showing me pictures of my childhood and there I was as a toddler in a walking harness with her young and glamorous self holding the reins behind me. ‘You were so cute’ she said to me, I remember. I must admit to a cringe of embarrassment. I did not like to be reminded I was a toddler once and barely out of babyhood. There I was with my fat little legs – they are more shapely now of course!  

In the photograph I was squirming in those walking reins and itching to move off, to walk away, to be free.  It is a natural impulse -to be free. But the reins were there to keep me from falling over, from harming myself. We, too, at this moment are itching to be free of the reins of lockdown, to move on. And perhaps, yesterday, I was squirming in those reins again, because I had suddenly been reminded of them. 

The weather has not been too cold to sit in my garden. Sitting there, I read these words. ‘Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.’  The words are not by Marcus Aurelius but Anne Frank, who was in hiding with her Jewish family behind a bookcase in concealed rooms above offices in Amsterdam from 1942-44 during the Nazi occupation. Self-isolation is nothing compared to what she endured with her family or afterwards, when she was discovered.

The great French novelist Marcel Proust (1877-1922) says ‘Turn your griefs, your suffering into ideas.’ A suitable creed for a writer, and so I have written this particular blog.  

But I am not grieving or suffering. I am only annoyed.  And, like all of us, I am weary with almost a year of various versions of lockdown. It is weariness, grumpiness, a fit of peak. My apologies. But if you read a blog, you must put up with the shifting emotions of the writer! 

Perhaps Marcus can help us to endure what will hopefully be the last phase of lockdown, however long or short that phase may be: ‘When you arise in the morning,think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive and breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.’

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until 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 Neilus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. 

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

Many thanks

MEDITATION 53

As I sit here beside my candle writing this meditation this evening, I am thinking over the day’s events. I, a pseudo-philosophical emperor, have been rebuked by a philosophical ex-President. This afternoon, I have been reading Barack Obama’s memoir ‘A Promised Land’. In his preface to the book, he explains how he came to write it after he left office in January 2017. He explains that he wrote his book in longhand because he feels that using a computer ‘gives even my roughest drafts too smooth a gloss and lends half-baked thoughts the mask of tidiness.’ There is a hint of humility in this which is endearing.

Perhaps I should take him as my model and write my meditations in longhand first, instead of using my own mini-computer, my I pad. Then, hopefully, I will be sure that my blog will not contain ‘half-baked thoughts’ under the ‘mask of tidiness.’ I hope it doesn’t. But that is for you to decide, dear reader.

If I decide to write out my reflections in longhand, perhaps I should use the same stationery as Mr Obama does: lawyer’s yellow lined paper. He may use these ‘legal pads’ to remind him of his earlier career as a lawyer and to put him at his ease before writing. My little I pad, which has travelled everywhere with me, certainly puts me at my ease when I open it to begin to write.  

There are advantages to writing with a computer, which we are all well aware of. We are able to correct the text we are writing as we go along; to cut and paste words, phrases, sentences and even entire paragraphs or sections, moving them around the text at will. My handwriting is not of the best so I prefer writing letters, even personal ones, on my laptop or I pad. As Mr Obama says, whatever we write is given a ‘smooth gloss’ and a ‘mask of tidiness’ because we are seeing it in print on the screen, as I am seeing this meditation now.

Psychologically, seeing your words in print on the screen is a way of boosting your personal confidence. I have found this to be true. Most writers have issues with personal confidence. Seeing my words on my I pad screen in a lovely elegant font has often provided a boost to my confidence, more than my untidy scrawl on paper has! But then, Shakespeare’s handwriting was also an untidy scrawl so I am in good company, though I will never come anywhere near to his genius!

There are also advantages to writing in longhand, which can be a slower, quieter and more relaxed occupation than typing away on a keyboard. It can also give rise to reflection, as dear Marcus Aurelius obviously discovered when he was was writing his own meditations, which are the inspiration for this blog. Writing by hand can allow for time to stop and think. I am sure you can stop and think using a keyboard too, but there is always that tendency to want to quickly clatter away on a keyboard. I have to force myself to take my time.  These days we see so much text on various devices that our eyes can become strained and our brains addled with text; and not only the text itself, but also the light on the screen behind it. Writing in longhand, therefore, could be a recuperative alternative.

There is a danger to seeing our words or the words of others in print on a screen, which Mr Obama has pinpointed. ‘Half-baked thoughts’ are given a ‘gloss’, an importance, an authenticity even, which they may not deserve. ‘Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers’ says the old warning. In our own time, the warning might be ‘Don’t believe everything you read on a screen.’  Dear me: that warning could include this blog! However, I have always tried to be honest, sincere and truthful with you, dear reader.

The plethora of websites and social media create a miasma of fact, truth, half-truth, opinion, prediction, rumour and surmise on our screens, fogging our minds. The result is that it is often difficult to see clearly, to distinguish fact from opinion, truth from half-truth and a valid prediction from rumour or surmise. This is particularly true of social media.

I studied ‘O’ level Latin at school. The set text for the examination was excerpts from Book Six of  Virgil’s epic poem ‘The Aeneid’, where the hero Aeneas, after escaping from Troy, on his wande

rings visits his ancestors in the underworld. A phrase from the epic poem has always stuck with me in translation: ‘Truth veiled in obscurity.’ Virgil might be describing our media rather than the mist-laden, dark depths of the underworld. To traverse the underworld and avoid falling into the dank river Acheron, our hero Aeneas has to tread slowly and carefully. To find our way through the miasma of the media to arrive at the facts and the truth, it is often necessary for us to read slowly and carefully too.        

But, of course, often we don’t. We skim read quickly, especially if we are glancing at the news on a smartphone. This is the advantage of a smartphone, we have everything ‘on the go’, with the result that our minds are often ‘on the go’ too, reading too quickly and not digesting what we have read.

Reactions to the news on social media are also frequently made ‘on the go’, without thought, reflection, or reserve. Although it must be admitted that an initial response may be highly relevant. However, so many comments on Twitter and Facebook are knee-jerk reactions to events. They are often ‘too rash, too unadvised, too sudden’ as Juliet says of Romeo’s protestations of love in Shakespeare’s play, as was often the case with Mr Obama’s successor, and his endless tweets. 

I have also recently been reading a collection of the letters of Leonard Bernstein (1918-90), the American music conductor, pianist and composer. His works include several symphonies, ballet scores, film scores and of course the music theatre pieces ‘West Side Story’ and ‘On The Town’.

Bernstein was quite close to the Kennedy family and conducted a special performance of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, ‘The Resurrection’ with his orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, two days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22 1963. (Incidentally, almost four years later, Kennedy’s younger brother, Robert, was also assassinated, and Bernstein arranged and conducted the music for his funeral Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York).

Bernstein also appeared at the ‘Night of the Stars’ a memorial for President Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in New York on the day after the concert he had conducted. There, he gave an address to the audience, which is included in this collection of his letters. In his address he mentioned John F. Kennedy’s final speech, which he was to have made in Dallas on the fateful day when he was murdered. In it President Kennedy would have put forward the precept that  ‘America’s leadership must be guided by learning and reason.’  By ‘learning’ I presume that he meant not only appropriate reading and research, but also listening to others to learn from them. 

I sincerely hope this precept will be adopted by the new incumbent of the White House. I was very impressed with Joe Biden’s inaugural address which to me encapsulated not only the ideals but also the soul of America. I hope his term will be guided by learning, reason  – and a search for and respect for truth.’

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until 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 Neilus AureliusASMR on YouTube

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

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

Meditation 52

Happy New Year, dear reader!

As I sit here writing my first meditation of this year, I am gazing at two candles. One has a steady flame and the other a weak and flickering one. They arouse in me the conflicting emotions we are going through in this third lockdown. The weak and wavering flame brings to my mind the horrific trail of tragedy and suffering caused by the lethal and contagious second virus and all the fears and uncertainties that accompany it. The steady flame reminds me that vaccines have now arrived to combat it accompanied by a solid hope for the future. In these bleak times, mirrored by the gloomy weather, we must remember St Francis’ words: ‘All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the flame of a single candle’ – the candle of hope.

Since the year began, I have been getting through lockdown by reading books given me by friends at Christmas. A rare instance has occurred in my reading: chapters in a book I am reading have been mirrored by current events. The book is ‘Shakespeare in a Divided America’ by James Shapiro. Shapiro is an English professor at Columbia university and has written several popular books about Shakespeare and his plays as well as fronting his own BBC series. In his book he explores the enduring influence of Shakespeare on his country, and not only on its actors, directors and writers but also on its politicians and different classes of society. It is a fascinating read and shows how productions and approaches to the plays have also been influenced by the events of the day from the early 1800’s to the present.

In his opening chapter, he describes a particular production of ‘Julius Caesar’ at length. The production took place in the summer of 2017 during Donald’ Trump’s first year of office. It was staged in the 1,800 seat open air ‘Delacorte Theater’ in New York’s Central Park. The play was presented in modern costumes and with a modern setting, actually not so much modern as contemporary and totally up to date. Caesar was presented as a thinly veiled Donald Trump and was apparently a meticulously detailed portrayal by Greg Henry, who like Trump is tall and who sported a mane of blond hair. Some of Caesar’s plebeian supporters (like Trump’s) wore red baseball caps. The caps had ‘Make Rome Great Again’ written on them.

In the play Caesar is assassinated in the Senate with only the members of the senate present. The people of Rome are going about their business elsewhere. In this production, apparently the director seated some of them in the audience so when Caesar was murdered, they stood up and shouted out in shock, anger and outrage and mimicking Trump supporters. As you probably know, after the murder, Mark Antony gives an oration over the body of Caesar in the Forum, inciting the people to violence against the conspirators and murderers. The mob runs amok in the streets and in a short but brutal scene they beat an innocent man to death. He is Cinna the poet, whom they mistake for Cinna the conspirator. When he pleads his identity to them, they don’t care anyway and bludgeon him in their bloodlust.

I little imagined that a few days after reading this chapter, similar scenes would be played out in the U.S.A’s own Capitol in Washington. Yet again a mob armed with makeshift (and real) weapons was running amok and storming the Capitol. They were not incited by another Mark Antony but by another Caesar himself, who had not been assassinated himself but his hopes of re-election had (and his ego too, if that is possible). They were making their voices heard in the most destructive and violent way.

The director of the production I have briefly described above was Oskar Eustis. He gave a speech at the curtain call of the first performance. In it he remarked that ‘like Drama, Democracy depends on the conflict of different points of view. Nobody owns the truth. We all own the culture.’

His words greatly affected me. The conflict of different points of view, indeed freedom of speech, is not about who shouts loudest or who clogs the media most effectively with lies and unsubstantiated false information. Our media, as ‘Macbeth’ says ‘is smothered in surmise.’ Fake news, real fake news (not Trump’s version) is another contagion as lethal as the current virus.

Consensus and compromise are now seen to be the weak option and unworthy of a nation’s so called ‘sovereignty’, as has been sadly evident in this country in the last four years of Brexit. Similarly anything other than an entrenched position is seen as weakness. And yet our government has been forced to change their minds and their policies by the onslaught of the virus. Entrenchment and an pandemic do not mix.

In November, I attended an online seminar about the U.S. election results, given by my Oxford college and led by a panel of American alumni who had pursued political careers eventually after graduating. The consensus of the panel was that American politics has become strongly polarised as a result of the Trump years of administration. There was now no room for a middle ground. They felt that hopefully this may change and Politics in the US may become less relentlessly combative if Biden ushers in a quieter and less aggressive (and impulsive) administration.

Trump’s four year tenure of the White House could be summed up by a quote from another Shakespeare play, ‘Measure for Measure’:

‘But man, proud man

Dressed in a little brief authority,

Most ignorant of what he’s most assured,

His glassy essence, like an angry ape

Plays such fantastical tricks before high heaven

As make the angels weep.’

These lines not only apply to Donald Trump, of course. They could apply to other political leaders past and present. They could also apply to any of us who are in a position of authority over others.

How do these ‘fantastical tricks’ by those in authority originate? Perhaps the answer lies back in ‘Julius Caesar.’ In the play, Brutus says of Caesar:

‘The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins

Remorse from power.’

In Brutus’ comment, ‘remorse’ means mercy: if mercy is separated from power then greatness is abused or diminished. In other words, when the gaining and exercise of power is more important than the needs of the people. People should come first. Power should be used to care for and protect the people not to subjugate or exploit them. Or use them to bolster up a monstrous ego trip.

In these last ten months, we have been potently reminded of how fragile human life is. In the last two months since the U.S. Election, we have also been reminded how fragile democracy can be.

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until 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 Neilus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. I would also value any feedback on nzolad53@gmail.com or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

MEDITATION 51 (CHRISTMAS SPECIAL)

I am sitting here beside my flickering candle contemplating a very different Christmas from last year. We are in another lockdown in all but name, which has been announced as suddenly as the first one in March. Therefore Christmas is likely to be a quiet and subdued holiday and a muted festival. Like many other normal events in the last months it will seem rather strange, no doubt, and unusual. 

Traditionally it is a time for families and friends to get together, as we well know.  Many people make great efforts to travel to be with their loved ones. But with new travel restrictions and restrictions on how many people can meet in one place, this is not really possible this year. Some will be spending Christmas alone for the first time. Christmas is the time of good cheer but this year that cheer will inevitably be tinged with sadness, especially for those who have lost loved ones to the pandemic.

Yesterday afternoon, I was wrapping gifts for my family, gifts that they will not be received tomorrow as I am now not able to travel to Leeds for our own family Christmas celebration. But rather than leaving the wrapping-up operation until whenever I will be able to travel to see them, I thought I would cheer myself up by doing it now while watching a Christmas old movie. It did cheer me up or rather I  felt a twinge of real Christmas cheer in my veins. 

The movie was a very old one -you know how I love my old movies – the 1933 version of ‘Little Women’ based on the 1868 novel by Louisa M. Alcott. The opening scenes are set at Christmas in New England and several winter scenes follow with deep snow covering pine and spruce trees, paths and gates and snowmen carefully crafted. It is a cosy opening, like a Christmas card and ideal Yuletide viewing.  

But the dramatic situation is not so cosy or comfortable underneath. For we are in the midst of the American Civil War and the March family (who are the central characters), though dwelling in a large rambling house,are living in genteel but straightened circumstances. The mother (Marmee) and four daughters (Jo, Beth, Amy and Meg) are also coping with the absence of Mr March, who is away fighting in the war. 

There have been three later film versions (including one this year) and all in colour of course. But this venerable black and white version, perhaps because it isn’t in lush colour, somehow captures the shabby atmosphere of the house and the family’s near genteel poverty the best. Led by Katherine Hepburn as the tomboy and would-be writer Jo (who gives one of her best and most natural performances in a long career), the actresses playing the family are a real ensemble and really convey their love for each other and their enjoyment of each other’s company.

From the opening moments, there is a sense of money being short. They are almost improvising Christmas, giving each other little gifts which mean so much because each one has meant a sacrifice of some kind or other for each of them. They are making an effort as best they can and are able to be charitable too, sharing their Christmas breakfast with a poor family down the road and spending Christmas morning with them.  

I remember this scene from when I was a child in junior school. Our teacher read it to us just before theChristmas break during story time at the end of the day. I remember the snug warm classroom, as daylight was dimming through the windows. I giggled at the wrong moment and she said to me, ‘Neil you are like a champagne cork popping.’ I had no idea what she meant as I didn’t know what champagne was, of course.Needless to say, I have rectified my ignorance on numerous occasions since! Starting with hunting in bags of wine gums, when still a child, for the champagne ones! 

The Marches remind me of the Cratchit family in Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and Alcott, like Dickens, advocates charity to others, especially at Christmas time. No doubt she was influenced by his novel, which was published 25 years earlier.

The Cratchits are a larger family than the Marches and are much poorer. But, like the Marches, there is a real sense of them appreciating each other and everything about Christmas Day and the Christmas meal. It would be their most substantial meal of the year and Dickens is at pains to point out that they ate every scrap of the goose. A goose would be a low income family’s Christmas bird in the 1840’s. Turkeys were for more prosperous families and beef only for the wealthy. It is interesting that, after his change of heart, Scrooge buys the largest turkey for the Cratchits to replace their goose on the Christmas table. 

This year, because of the unusual situation we are living through, we are also improvising Christmas to some extent, like the Marches. But the basics of the celebration are still there even if we may not be able to see everyone as usual in person and will be using zoom or Skype or whatever platform to share their company instead. In that sense it will be a digital Christmas this year! 

There hasn’t been the opportunity for socialising, parties, and eating out. Or seeing a Christmas show or going to the movies.  It is a quiet and subdued Christmas this year, as I said at the beginning of this meditation. It is also an opportunity for us, like the Marches and the Cratchits to appreciate each other, to enjoy each others’ company, whether real or digital, and every moment of the Christmas celebration and everything about it.  For example, I have never appreciated receiving Christmas cards so much as this year.  

We must remember too that the event at the centre of our celebration, the birth of Christ, was itself a quiet and subdued affair. ‘How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given’ says the Carol ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem.’ 

With the new strain of the virus and numbers of those afflicted increasing, we are once again reminded of how fragile and vulnerable human life is, as fragile and vulnerable as the babe of Bethlehem. Yet that babe is our hope and our light. And the candles we light this Christmas are a symbol of light and of hope for a better New Year.

As Tiny Tim says: ‘Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Everyone!’  

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until 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 Neilus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. 

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

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

MEDITATION 50

As I sit here, gazing at the candle next to me, it is hard to believe that I have reached my 50th Meditation. I began them just over two years ago, so I guess I have posted one every three weeks or so. It has been a pleasure to share my ambling thoughts with you, dear readers: my final moments as a drama teacher; my travels; my visits to theatres and galleries; my thoughts on the tumultuous times we have been through and above all, my reflections on life, acting and being human. 

I wish to thank you for subscribing to them, especially those who have followed these meditations from the very first one. I also wish to thank my dear friend, Henry Riley, who despite his gruelling schedule at LBC Radio, has posted these reflections for me. Incase you think that these words sound as if I am saying ‘Vale’ (as Marcus would put it) or ‘Farewell’ because I have reached number 50, I am intending to continue with them, though there will be a break for a little while.

When I started these meditations, blogging was entirely new to me. I had begun to write a novel (a collection of short stories really) and had attended a writers’ summer school at Swanwick in Derbyshire. One of the myriad of things I learnt there was that it was important for a prospective author to have their own blog, if only to promote their own work.

A few years prior to that course, I had read Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’ and had been very impressed with them. I wondered if I could eventually write something similar, as a way of thinning out the thicket of thoughts in my head if nothing else. So eventually the idea for the blog came to me. And with the help of a few ex-students for photos, layout and posting, here we are!

It is a strange co-incidence that my name  – Neil – in Polish (where my father came from) is Neilus. My father’s sister, Barbara, who resides on Vancouver Island, calls me Neilus. So I came upon the name of ‘Neilus Aurelius’. There: I have spoilt the illusion now! Perhaps some of you have been thinking that I write these meditations, seated in a tent and wearing a toga like Marcus did. He may have used a tablet to write on just as I am now. 

However, I must stress that I am no guru. Like Marcus, I am writing these meditations as much for myself as anyone else. Because of that, I hope that they have become wider in scope than the self- promotional blog of an author. Several friends have suggested I create a podcast, a visual version. However to stay true to the spirit of Marcus, I feel that my blog has to be a series of written reflections. After all, Marcus was never on camera, nor would he have wanted to be, I think, in his private moments. Having read his ‘Meditations’, I have a sense that he was quite a private and introvert person.

In recent months, we have all been getting used to being on camera. Platforms like Face Time, WhatsApp and Messenger with their video call facility have become a wonderful way of keeping in touch in lockdown. The ability to both hear and see family, relatives or friends who live far away as if they are in your own room with you is a great comfort, especially to those of us who live alone. I had never really used any kind of video call (except Skype very occasionally) before lockdown.

Then there is also the phenomena that is Zoom, a platform which seems to have made itself very quickly indispensable in a matter of months. It has transformed teaching at every level and along with YouTube and I player and other streaming services has kept our spirits buoyed up in the recent dark months. Indeed, but for the Internet and online facilities our lives would have been very bleak indeed. They have fed our impoverished spirits at this time.

Imagine if we only had letters and the telephone to keep in touch with everyone in lockdown. We would have coped I am sure but life would have been bleaker and more fearful, I think.

Imagine being without streaming for entertainment (another recent technological development) and only having four or five TV channels to watch – or even 2 or 3 (as was the case in my childhood)! I am sure we would have been less restless. I have come to think that my unease and restlessness in the earlier stages of lockdown was magnified by having so many different viewing options in the evening. Sometimes I would flick from one channel to the other then on to I player, Netflix or Amazon Prime and in the end I would get fed up and watch nothing. I would end the day feeling more unfocused than when I began it!  My way through this was to watch a TV series on BBC, for instance, on the day and time it was broadcast (like in the old days). This gave structure to the evening and something to look forward to as well. 

I was also grateful to the National Theatre, who put a new production on YouTube every Thursday evening for something like 16 weeks. These were productions that had been filmed previously and shown in cinemas. They dated from over the last ten years, which is when cinema relays began. Fortunately for me, I had missed most of them when they were originally performed and watching a play filled the evening without having to think about what to watch.

Through Zoom, I have attended several talks by the Dickens Fellowship and heard actors Ian McKellen and Roger Allam in discussion for the Royal Shakespeare Company; I’ve watched a webinar on the US Election from my old college; and I’ve taken part in a regular meditation class and even in a one-day retreat. This is not to mention the numerous times I have chatted to friends on Zoom. I have a regular glass of wine and chat with two of my friends. One session went on for two hours: we just left the camera rolling, so to speak, when we needed to replenish our glasses and go to the loo!

Of course, meeting family or friends on Zoom will never replace being able to be with them properly, nor will it replace the physical presence of a teacher or lecturer in a classroom and neither will streaming theatre replace being able to watch a show live in a theatre. But all these things have been necessary for the present and a great comfort.

I must admit that initially I found being on camera on Zoom made me feel tense and I still do feel tense in meetings to some extent. It is partly being able to see myself on camera I think. After all, the camera doesn’t lie and sometimes I have looked at myself and realised that yes I am growing old! I have heard it said on numerous occasions that the camera makes people look fatter in the face than they are in real life. Having seen my face on Zoom, of course I fully agree! I am quite used to communicating in a classroom and performing on stage and being filmed, for that matter. But I think it is seeing myself on screen while talking that I find uncomfortable. Only yesterday, someone showed me (in a Zoom meeting) how to hide my face while talking so that everyone can see me but I can’t see myself. So maybe I’ll feel more relaxed from now on!

Even when sitting on the sofa in my lounge and talking to friends, I have felt quite tense. My posture isn’t relaxed and it is definitely unrelaxed when I sit on a chair in my kitchen. I wax reminded of this when I was watching an episode of the new series of ‘The Crown’ on Netflix. There was Olivia Colman as the Queen sitting on the edge of a chair with upright posture in one scene. It was exactly what I was doing a few days earlier in a Zoom meeting in my kitchen. When she was a child princess, the Queen was trained in that posture. I seem to have acquired it naturally through Zoom meetings. Perhaps many other people, up and down the country are sitting like the Queen infront of their laptops in their kitchens too!

Contributors on news programmes at the moment are often interviewed via Zoom. There are even discussions on programmes like ‘Question Time’ or ‘Newsnight’ where some guests are in the studio and others on Zoom. Of course the audio and video quality on Zoom varies considerably and cannot match the audio and video quality of the TV studio. More disconcerting, I often find myself looking at the room the speaker is zooming from rather than paying too much attention to what they are saying. Sometimes they film themselves in their lounge or study and I am wondering what books are on their shelves or admiring a picture or poster on the wall. In the heat of the events of the U.S. election recently, a lady Politics lecturer was interviewed on ‘Newsnight.’ She was obviously filming from her desk in her bedroom which was plain but neat except for the bed behind her, which was unmade! Either she was too busy all day to make the bed or she had got out of bed to give the interview. I hasten to add that she wasn’t dressed in her nightclothes! But the sight of that unmade bed behind her made me pay less attention to what she was saying and in a subtle way, have less respect for her.

I understand that you are now able to choose your own background if you want to. You can use a favourite location from one of your photos, if you wish. Dear me, we are becoming amateur film directors: ‘Is the background ok?’; ‘Is the lighting ok for my face?; ‘Can you hear me alright?’ We’ll be getting into make-up next! Or saying to the other person on the zoom call, ‘Hang on a minute, I’m just going into the lounge on the sofa. I photograph better there!’ followed by, ‘Wait a moment! I just need to put on the right light for my face.’ As Norma Desmond says in Billy Wilder’s film masterpiece about a faded film star, ‘I’m ready for my close-up, Mr DeMille!’ 

To be serious again, it has been wonderful that, through advances in technology, we have been able to stay in touch with eachother in different ways and to support eachother. We have become a digital community.

Before writing this 50th mediation, I looked back to my very first one. In that reflection, I concentrated on the candle beside me for a moment. Some words of St Francis came to me: ‘All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.’ I did not know then, in September 2018, that we would be living through a pandemic in 2020 and that the world would suddenly become a different, dark place.

As these meditations progressed and Brexit loomed, I imagined that, post-Brexit, the U.K., might become a different, dark place and Europe itself too, being splintered but not shattered. I expressed my concerns in these meditations from time to time. But fears about the effects of Brexit pale into insignificance compared with what we have been facing in these last months. 

Sometimes it has been difficult to find hope in the bleak months we have been through. But now in the News today, it appears that a vaccine is on its way. Perhaps by next Spring we may begin to emerge out of the dark tunnel we have all been in and meet our family and friends in the flesh instead of digitally.

In the meantime, in this very different, dark winter, if our hope falters, perhaps we should find a moment to gaze at the flame of a candle, unextinguished by the darkness around it.    

Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until 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 Neilus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.

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

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

Meditation 49

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!

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 Neilus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.

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

Many thanks,

Neilus Aurelius