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.

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Neilus Aurelius

As I sit here by my solitary candle, I am not gazing at its steady flame but at the lights on my Christmas tree, which is standing in the corner of the lounge opposite me.

Christmas is my season. I suppose now that I have white hair and a beard of sorts and have begun to look ‘Santa-esque’, it should be my favourite season. I have certainly always preferred it to the forced festivities of New Year.

Even though I live alone and spend most of Christmas week with my family up North, I still decorate my lounge and make a lot of fuss over the tree. On my travels in recent years I have collected trinkets and baubles to adorn its branches. Every year I try to put the decorations up around the first Sunday of Advent (generally the first Sunday in December) and leave them up until the official end of Christmastide (the feast of Epiphany on January 6). They are a cheering sight in these bleak and dark days of winter, especially when I arrive home from my family after my Christmas visit, to my solitary residence again.

Last week I took a friend to the Charles Dickens Museum in London. It is a tall townhouse in Doughty Street, in Bloomsbury, not far from Russell Square. The house was the first marital home of Charles and Catherine Dickens. They lived there from 1837 – 1840 and during that short space of time, raised the first three of their ten children there (Charley, Mary and Kate). There Dickens finished ‘The Pickwick Papers’, wrote ‘Oliver Twist’ and ‘Nicholas Nickleby’. And it was there, in his late-twenties, that he very quickly rose like a comet to international fame.

Though now a museum, there is a homely atmosphere as you walk through its rooms. There are also mini exhibitions on display and, as might be expected, at present, there is one on ‘A Christmas Carol’ which Dickens wrote only a few years after he moved (in 1843). This is the best time of year to visit the museum as every room is festooned with Christmas decorations in early Victorian style, including, in the corner of the parlour, a Christmas tree. I am honoured to think that my own tree is likewise in the corner of my own parlour! The tree’s branches have colourful ribbons on them and small thin candles (tapers) . There were no flashing electric lights in those days or electric light at all and in the gloom of the parlour, lit only by candles or oil lamps and the fire in the grate, the tree’s candle lights must have been as warm and spectacular as our own electric ones are now.

Charles Dickens virtually invented Christmas, through ‘A Christmas Carol’ and his other annual Christmas stories.

However he was only bringing together traditions that had existed for years before, even if some may have declined by then. Just as Shakespeare created our image of Ancient Rome in his play ‘Julius Caesar’, so Dickens, in his novel, creates the heartwarming image of Christmas that is now indelibly etched in our national (indeed international) consciousness.

However, we must remember that he wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’ spurred on by his own acute social conscience. Ever the champion of the poor, as he was only a few steps from abject poverty himself in his childhood, it was the plight of children born into poverty that abhorred him most. At the centre of the book is the scene where the Spirit of Christmas Present, as he is about to leave Scrooge, opens his cloak to reveal the children of Ignorance and Want, who beset Scrooge with outstretched hands.

The book was written in Dickens’ despair at the conditions of children living on the London streets and on the streets of other major cities, heightened by the current economic depression known as the ‘Hungry Forties’, where the failure of two successive harvests left many walking the streets in starvation. He was also sickened by the use of child labour in the mines and rather than petition Parliament, he decided to write a short work of fiction instead, exposing the ignorance of the wealthy and powerful classes to the ‘want’ of the poor.

What would Dickens have to say about our own Christmas in 2019 with its own child poverty, a growing homeless population, food banks, ineffective universal credit scheme, and children slipping into drug abuse and knife crime? And successive governments that are not ignorant but refuse to see and act. What indeed?

And what would he make of the last three years of political machinations and parliamentary drama around Brexit? He would have seen huge opportunities for comedy I am sure. And what of our new Prime Minister? Dickens loved creating eye-catching names for his characters and took his time over inventing them. I fancy he might have dubbed him ‘Mr Boris Brexit Bombast’. And yet, having seen our new leader so often in the news recently, despite his attempts to be Churchillian, he does not appear to be a 19th Century Dickensian figure either, as his voice and manner are more those of a licentious 18th Century Tory. Indeed a periwig would sort out his uncontrollable hair.

Dickens wrote a story about a Christmas Tree, which he calls the ‘new German toy’ as the practice of a tree at Christmas had been introduced into our country by the German Prince Albert, the young Queen Victoria’s consort, a few years before. His tree has ‘glittering tapers’ (like the one in the museum), miniature doll’s furniture and musical instruments, imitation fruits and sweets and a host of other trinkets, including rosy-cheeked dolls hiding behind the green leaves.
What of my own tree? Yes there is a string of lights like glowing icicles and a host of different baubles and trinkets, some purchased here and many from my travels. I must admit to an aversion to Christmas trees in stores, bars or hotels that have identical baubles: all gold or blue or red or whatever and often with fake gift boxes at their base. They look so unimaginative and half-hearted. But better a tree than no tree at all I suppose.

In the Dickens story, as he looks at the tree he is gradually reminded of ghosts from the past. What am I reminded of? Well places that I have visited and the dear friends who were with me. I have decorations from Paris, Rome, Florence, Assisi, Venice several from Budapest of course, San Francisco and other places in California like Monterey, San Simeon and L.A. and Vancouver. There are even several from the Vatican – but I didn’t steal them! And there are those that were given to me by family and friends. And, like Dickens, one or two trinkets remind me of one or two friends who are no more.
The Christmas Tree is a light bearing tree. To those of us who are of the Christian Faith, it symbolised the coming of Christ into the world, the light that lightens all people. For Dickens it is a ‘commemoration of the law of love and kindness, mercy and compassion’ reminding us to think of others and help them at this time.

The evergreen fir tree has links with the winter solstice and so to the tree of life which is common to so many faiths and cultures. So the Christmas tree is also the Tree of Life. It is a perennial symbol of light in the darkness. And of hope too.
As I look at my own tree I see all those things. Yes my tree is a tree of life. My life.

As Tiny Tim says in ‘A Christmas Carol’:
‘Merry Christmas and God bless us everyone.’

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Neilus Aurelius

As I sit here with a candle before me as usual, I am not gazing at its flame but at the darkness in the room that surrounds it. One of the advantages of using an I Pad to write is that it has an illuminated screen so I am able to compose this meditation without the benefit of an electric light above or beside me. Indeed, I hardly need a candle at all to see the keyboard.

Marcus, of course, all those centuries ago, would have had to resort to candles or oil lamps to write his own meditations. His own tablet would not have been lit from within as mine is! I am sure that, like me, he must have gazed into the darkness between writing down his sentences. Perhaps the darkness helped him to get his own thoughts together too. Alternately gazing at the candle flame and at the gloom, at the light and at the darkness, he was able to shape his thoughts into sentences.

One thing is certain: he would have been far more aware of the dark than we are. We never need to be completely in the dark with electric lights everywhere and TV and computer screens beaming at us, not to mention the little screens forever in our hand. With all these sources of light, we hardly notice the passage of the night hours at all unless we are unable to sleep for some reason. But Marcus would have been more aware of the night hours, the hours of darkness.

Perhaps he wrote because he slept little. I read in Mary Beard’s recent book about Rome, that the city’s inhabitants slept little at all, because of fear of fire and violence outside their dark and flimsy wooden dwellings. Perhaps Marcus’ legionaries enjoyed being free of that fretful city fear as they camped out in the stillness of the fields and plains, in those moments when they were far from the lurking enemy.

It is humbling to sit in the dark. It reminds us of our place in the universe, in the cosmic order of things; that there is a vast immensity beyond our own paltry private world of nagging individual concerns. Looking up into the night sky, especially in the summer when we can sit in the warmth of the evening to gaze up at the stars, can help us to appreciate this. But sitting in a room in the dark can bring this home to us too.

Technology in its myriad forms has, I think, made us proud and arrogant as if we are in total control and lords of creation and of course we are not in total control. News of a natural disaster is enough to remind of this. And our slapdash intermittent control of creation has resulted in disastrous results for our fragile and vulnerable Eco systems, which we are now only too aware of.

We are most aware of the dark in the wintertime because it creeps in suddenly during the late afternoon and is still there when we wake up in the morning. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Christmas is so wonderful: it is a season of light, of cheer, of conviviality; of bright lights and comforting company against the ever-encroaching dark. For we do all have that primal fear of the dark inside us. You only have to walk down a country lane with no street lights at night or across an open field in the dark to experience a twinge of that primal fear; to share that gut feeling those Roman city dwellers must have had at times. Especially if you are unable to get a signal on your phone!

A few days ago there was another attack by a lone terrorist in the London Bridge area. Darkness has suddenly crept into our lives again accompanied by that primal fear. Except it was the darkness within that terrorist’s soul that took over him and then his victims and so us. Darkness is always with us.

The future of our country is in the balance with an election looming and the ever-present uncertainty caused by Brexit. We are walking towards the future in the dark. But then we always are walking towards the future in the dark. We really do not know what is around the corner. Perhaps part of our anxiety or annoyance about this is because technology, as I mentioned earlier, surreptitiously makes us believe we have all knowledge at our fingertips, that we are omniscient, all knowing. Therefore we should know everything about the future and certainly the media and politicians want us to believe their version of it. But we need to remember that we are in the dark and to accept the dark and cherish what light we have.

I am now sitting in a room away from home. I am staying overnight in my old Oxford college, Pembroke. My room overlooks the chapel quad. It is one of my favourite views so I am so pleased that I have been allocated this room. It is night and very dark in the quad as I look out of the window but there are lamps shining in brackets from the walls.The walls were a biscuit brown in the winter sunshine when I arrived, but now they are a pale grey, not eerie but welcoming. From the darkness in my room, those lamps look so comforting, especially the one immediately opposite me, lighting the stairway to the Hall. It is no longer a lamp but a beacon in the gloom.

That is what we are called to be: beacons in the gloom, comforting each other and hopefully guiding each other. That is what the two young victims of the London Bridge attack, Jack and Saskia, were. They were beacons in the gloom; working on a prison rehabilitation programme to create a little light in the darkness of the lives of others. They were what the poet W.H.Auden would call ‘affirming flames’.

Darkness and light are incompatible. I am reminded of a quote in my first meditation over a year ago. It is by St Francis of Assisi: ‘All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light from one candle.’

Let us believe this in our dark times and like, Jack and Saskia, be affirming flames.

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Neilus Aurelius

As I sit here once again gazing at the candle by my tablet, I am reminded of all the candles that have been lit last week to commemorate those who fell in the two World Wars and conflicts since.

For many: as World War One and World War Two are so long ago now, they were remembering deceased ancestors, who they probably never met. For some: they were remembering close family members who died in recent conflicts and for those in the armed forces, comrades in arms who fell beside them in battle. We are all remembering those who were victims of the horrors of war and the sacrifices they made, willing or otherwise.

To truly remember of course you would have to have experienced the carnage personally yourself or to have personally known someone who died in one of those conflicts. For the rest of us we cannot imagine the horrors. But we still take time to pause and remember and hopefully say a prayer for peace.

These remembrance ceremonies tend to be military occasions with flags and uniforms (armed forces or auxiliary services). Though I am sure they are remembered at this time, there is little emphasis on all the civilians who suffered: the victims of bombing and concentration camps, ethnic cleansing of one kind or another, the refugees and migrants, the victims of military occupation and the re-drawing of maps.

In recent times, the ceremonies have places less emphasis on military glory so much as remembering the cost, incalculable though thecost is: not least the severely wounded and mentally scarred trying to rebuild their lives and their families and loved ones trying to support them. A recent survey showed that a majority of the homeless in our cities are ex-members of the armed forces with mental health problems.

I am reminded of my own family. My father and his younger sister were aged 7 and 4 when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Eventually when Russian forces occupied where they lived (in what is now Lithuania) they were transported with their mother and grandmother to Siberia. When Russia joined the allies they were released and gradually moved through Russia to Tehran in Persia (now Iran) and were re-united with their father who, having been freed from a labour camp was now once again a diplomat and in charge of placing Polish refugees in camps. He arranged for my father and the family to go to India (where the most comfortable camps were and where my father kept a pet mongoose and went tiger hunting and where his sister, my aunt Barbara, danced in Polish costume infront of an audience that included Ghandi). Eventually they came to the UK and settled in Nottingham and my father came to Teeside and married my mother and here I am. His sister Barbara married and eventually emigrated to Canada. It all worked out for them in the end – or did it?

I think that deep down inside they never stopped being refugees. The effects of their war experience echoed through their lives. They found it difficult to settle which came out in a variety of ways which I will not go into here save to say that they both suffered from forms of depression and that, at times in my life, I have too. My father is no longer alive but I visit his sister on Vancouver Island nearly every year. She is a colourful, generous and highly extravagant lady for whom money has had little meaning. But then, as she reminds me occasionally: when you have been a little girl dumped in a Siberian village begging for potatoes, money has no meaning. ‘Learn Neil’ she says, ‘learn.’

It is not enough to remember: we have to learn from the past too.

Jut before we joined the European Community in 1974 (when I was student) I vividly remember the Daily Mirror reprinting a cartoon from VE Day in 1945. It was by Lowe, the famous cartoonist of the war years who was renowned for his caricatures of Churchill. The cartoon showed a horrific battlefield and a lone wounded soldier trying to reach up to a blackened sky. The caption underneath read ‘Never Forget’. It was therefore, the Daily Mirror’s powerful visual statement in support of the U.K. joining the European Community. Many readers of the Daily Mirror at that time would have gone through the war and may have seen that cartoon when it first appeared. The cartoon was reminding us to learn from the previous conflict. The newspaper was underlining that joining the Common Market (as the EU was then also called) was not just an economic strategy but also a means of ensuring peace, a peace we have enjoyed in Europe for over 70 years.

Between 2014 and 2018, there were numerous programmes on television about the First World War. I am unsure whether this was before the Brexit referendum in May 2016 but there was an item on the local London news where Nigel Farage was taken to the World War One battlefields and the cemeteries there. He was visibly moved and in tears. But why could he not learn from what he saw, from the history all around him? Why could he not connect?
It is not enough to remember: we have to learn from the past too.

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Neilus Aurelius

So here I am once again gazing at the candle on the table beside me. Like the flame, memories are flickering in my consciousness. For this week it is 30 years since my first visit to Hungary. That was the planning trip for our first ever Drama Tour. And now I am planning for the last one next February. ‘In my end is my beginning’ as T.S.Eliot says in his poem ‘East Coker.’

It is also 30 years since we were rehearsing our first show on tour – ‘Julius Caesar’ – and I have just reminded one of the cast members of this by text. As I mentioned earlier this year, in one of my blogs (or meditations!) on that planning trip I was stumbling into history. For on the Tuesday of that week, the new Hungarian republic was declared and Soviet rule was ended. If you remember, I witnessed all this in the school we visited at Balatonalmadi, by the shores of Lake Balaton. It was in the Headmaster Sandor’s office in fact and there all the staff and ourselves watched the momentous events in Budapest on television.

Next month we shall be reminded of another thirtieth anniversary. For less than a month later, on November 9, the Soviet East German government also capitulated, allowing the free passage of citizens from East to West Germany. And so the Berlin Wall, which cruelly separated East from West Berlin for 28 years, began to be joyfully dismantled brick by brick by the people. Formal demolition took place between June 1990 and November 1991.

As I write this, I am listening to a cd which reminds me of the events in Berlin. It is a live concert performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with its magnificent choral final movement, Beethoven’s hymn to universal brotherhood (and sisterhood).

The concert took place the following month, in December, twice – in both East and West Berlin, on both sides of the Wall. The concerts were therefore a huge symbolic gesture and who else to conduct them but the great Leonard Bernstein, conductor, pianist, composer of symphonies, ballets and ‘West Side Story’ and a passionately committed musician with deep political convictions.

It was decided that the soloists, orchestra and chorus would not only be from East and West Germany but also from London, Leningrad, New York and Paris, symbolising the allied powers that had defeated Germany in the Second World War. Therefore not only would East and West Germany be joined in music but also the former victors and the former defeated from East and West.

The choral piece in the final movement of the symphony is a setting of the ‘Ode to Joy’ – ‘An Die Freude’ – by the poet and dramatist Schiller (1759-1805). For this concert the words were changed to ‘An Die Freiheit’ – ‘Ode to Freedom’. There is a legend that Schiller had

written ‘Freedom’ rather than ‘Joy’ in an earlier draft of the poem. Clearly singing the ‘Ode to Freedom’ rather than Joy was another deeply felt symbolic gesture in the concert. Bernstein writes in the cd sleeve notes that ‘If ever there was an historic time to take an academic risk, this is it,’ and that he was sure Beethoven would have given his blessing.

What of the performance? Despite enlarged chorus and orchestra there is a warm intimacy about it, like two soldiers from opposing sides shaking hands over a barrier. There is also precision and clarity and it is clear that not just Bernstein and his four soloists, but also every individual orchestra player and chorus member is giving their heart to this performance. As did the recording team – it’s an amazing recording even after all these years. Needless to say, the performance has been re-issued on cd, DVD, blue ray and streaming prior to the celebrations next month. Do take a listen.

Even though the words of the final poem were changed from ‘joy’ to ‘freedom’, there is a pervading infectious joyousness about the performance especially in the final ensemble moments. The performance is not only a deeply felt expression of Beethoven’s vision for humanity but also a reflection of the buoyant mood of the time of the performance. As Justus Frantz, the organiser of the concert, said at the time: it was a ‘festival of jubilation.’ After so many years, East and West Germany was reunited. Already Poland and Hungary had received their freedom again, and soon, with the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, so were the other nations that formed it. I remember it being a heady time and in its positive sense, anything seemed possible. In my childhood and youth, the Soviet Union seemed impregnable. It was impossible to believe then that it was disintegrating or that several years later, those newly free nations would seek and be granted membership of the European Community.

It is therefore tragically ironic that at this time of remembering the collapse of the Berlin Wall, my own country should be seeking to leave the European community. Hopefully we will not create another wall between us and the EU but will maintain a friendly, respectful and healthy relationship in the future. But that barrier, however small, is being created. Furthermore we must not let the aggressive use of language create a wall between us, as has been evident in our own parliament in recent months. As we will no doubt view those events of 1989 in Berlin being re-run in the media in the coming weeks, we should remember that the people of East Germany were truly celebrating freedom from an oppressive and totalitarian state. Our exit from the EU bears no comparison as the EU is not an oppressive and totalitarian regime, though there those, including some of our politicians in their colourful rhetoric, who would have us believe so. Creating walls, real of metaphorical, is not an expression of power but of fear.

As might be imagined, those Berlin concerts were a media event at the time. I can remember watching the East Berlin concert (which took place appropriately on Christmas Day) on the television and there was a documentary accompanying it. I revisited the documentary a few years ago on YouTube. There was Lenny slowly walking through the Brandenburg Gate (which was only officially opened three days earlier) from the West to the concert hall in the East. He strode confidently with an overcoat over his shoulders and white scarf casually hanging from his neck and his mane of white hair held high. In his hand was his customary long cigarette. He was an inveterate chain smoker and would succumb to emphysema ten months later at the age of 72.

This was not to be his final concert however. That took place in the summer at the Tanglewood Festival near Boston. But it might as well have been because it was the ultimate expression of who he was. Yes: he was a showman (as his critics labelled him), but a showman devoted to humanity. He used his talents and media power to further humanitarian causes. It was so appropriate that he was conducting Beethoven’s final symphony because he tried to live up to the vision expressed in its final movement: as should we all. ‘Alle Menshen werden Bruder’: ‘All men shall become brothers’. The 18th century language of Schiller’s poem is not inclusive but the sentiment is. It is more that inclusive: it is universal. If we treat each other as brothers and sisters then we become so.

So there was Lenny strolling through the Brandenburg Gate, head held high: a dignified citizen of the world with our without the Berlin Wall. We too are citizens of the world and with or without Brexit, we are certainly citizens of Europe.

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Neilus Aurelius

Here I am again sitting beside my solitary candle and gazing at its steady flame. I have just realised that that it is a over a year now since my first blog appeared. I can’t believe that, in the midst of my busy life, I have managed to write so many meditations in the last year. There are 27 so far. But then, times of reflection are important to a busy life or our busy-ness takes over us and we cease to be fully human. Our perspective can become narrower and our compassion for others can diminish because we are ‘too busy.’ I hope writing my blog has averted this in my own life over the last year! Something else I need to reflect upon. My thanks to those of you who have read all of them or most of them or just a few of them.

Co-incidentally, I have been preparing and recording an audio version of these meditations. So now, as they enter their second year, a selection of them will be appearing on YouTube. The trailer and first two are now available on YouTube as ‘Neilus Aurelius ASMR’ and, dear reader, you are now able to hear my voice as well as read my words, if you so wish. My sincere thanks to Henry Riley for setting up and posting the written blogs and to Jordan Trinder for setting up the audio one. Ex-students have their uses!

I have been rather unsure about the audio venture even though I have enjoyed choosing the selection and recording them. I have always been more of a vocal actor than a physical one so reading into a microphone has not been a problem, although I have had to adopt a quieter level and more intimate tone than when I am acting on stage or teaching a class. Yes it is an intimate experience. You are almost treating the microphone like a lover. There is a gentleness about it. Actors say that film acting is relaxing as it requires less effort than theatre and recording is the same. But you still have to concentrate and focus, you are still ‘on’. Who knows: in my retirement I may start a new career as a voice actor!

When I started these blogs, friends asked me whether I wanted to film them. I said no because I would either be standing in front of a camera trying not to read from a script or I would improvise them and blather on (which is similar to what my teaching career has been like!).

Besides it is best that, like Marcus Aurelius, my model for this blog, I set down my thoughts in writing as he did and through modern technology to present them to others, which he may not have intended at all. His own ‘Meditations’ were private and for himself, to remind himself of his own ideals. These ideals were taken from his reading of philosophy, tested by his own experience of life and the example of relatives and friends he admired. His meditations were then, a corrective of his own behaviour. He reminds

himself of his own ideals so that he can try to live by them. Therefore, they were, from a myriad of sources, an attempt to create his own philosophy of life.

When his ‘Meditations’ were published in the first ever printed version (in 1559) they were called ‘To Himself’. They were written by himself and for himself. They are a private document. So I wonder if he ever wanted them to be published at all. Or if he had modern technology at his disposal, if he would, like me, present his own meditations in his own blog, let alone make an audio or video version.

However, I would be fascinated to hear what his voice sounded like. I imagine a warm baritone voice and a firm measured tone. That is what I have tried to present on YouTube, although, my own voice is a tenor.

Emperors kept their distance from the populace. It is how they kept their power. Rare but well staged personal appearances kept the populace happy. Saturating the media with a constant presence would be anathema to them, let alone bolstering their own self image with continual tweets. But these are different times.

His own philosophy of life. How many of us have ever sat down to formulate our own philosophy of life? I wonder if many of our current political leaders have. Have we ever sat down on a beach somewhere with pen and paper and written down what we believe in and the ideals we hold most dear? I am reminded of when I was in the Sixth Form at my school, one of my friends was called Philip – I can’t remember his surname. He was, what we used to call a ‘pseud’, in other words someone rather pretentious as only sixth formers can be. He would call trousers ‘strides’ and underwear ‘understrides’, I remember.

But I also remember in one of our discussions in the pub, he told our group that he was going to make a list of what he believed in: his articles of faith, if you like, or his philosophy of life. And he did and he read them out to us on another occasion.

Perhaps this will be my aim for this second year of my blogs: to create a philosophy of life. Or perhaps I am already doing so

You can now watch the first meditation on YouTube HERE

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Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

Now I have returned from Budapest and I am writing this beside the steady flame of my customary candle. The Cafe Dumas on the Danube embankment, where I last wrote to you, dear reader, seems far, far away now. My travels are over for a while and I am ‘home for good and all’ as Fan, the boy Scrooge’s sister, says to him, when she comes to the boarding school to take him home for Christmas. But I should not be mentioning Christmas yet as we are only into September!

While I was away, I did not spend all my time in Budapest. I went with friends out of the city several times. One of the places I visited was Esztergom, in Upper Hungary, which, like Budapest, is on the river Danube. You can look down on Slovakia on the other side of the river from an elegant promenade. This is behind the imposing Basilica, the largest church in Hungary and one of the largest in Europe, and the remains of the Royal Palace. For Esztergom was where the Hungarian Kings first lived before the royal residence was moved to the Buda hills overlooking Pest. St Stephen, their first King was crowned there and baptised into the Christian Faith on Christmas Day 1000.

Centuries earlier, according to my guide book, it was also where Marcus Aurelius had an army encampment during the Romans’ reign over the territory. It was here, on the banks of the river Hron, which runs into the Danube, that Marcus wrote his Meditations. Sadly I did not have time to write one of my own there myself. I did discern a quietness and stillness about the castle area and the town, however, which was conducive to reflection.

It is that stillness and quietness of the towns we visited that impressed me most, aside from some beautiful buildings and piazzas large and small. As I sit here by my candle it is is the lamps that I remember: ornate and brilliant, beaming on stucco walls of yellow ochre, pink, grey, green and blue.

I was staying at my friend Adam’s apartment in the Taban district of Budapest at the back of the Royal Palace. Behind the block is a road where he parks his car with the Palace towering above it on the other side. There are similar lamps all along the road in the walls, elegant and warmly inviting, making me feel at home as I get out of the car. They remind me of the lamps in chapel quad at Pembroke, my Oxford college. I didn’t notice them much when I was an undergraduate there but I do now when I occasionally return.

Yes it was the lamps that I noticed as I sat one evening in the main square of Szekesfehervar, with my friends and a glass of wine. They slowly became brighter as the twilight faded into evening, their beams warming the yellow stucco walls until in the darkening sky, the square became blanketed in one incandescent comforting glow.

The great French novelist Marcel Proust commented in his masterpiece about memory ‘In Search of Lost Time’ that he would like life to be a series of happy afternoons. For myself, I would like life to be a series of mellow twilights. I image that Marcel was thinking of summer afternoons and I am certainly thinking of summer twilights, for it is only in summer that afternoons and twilights seem to stretch forever.

The square was quiet and quite still with a relaxed atmosphere. There was the low hum of conversation and music playing somewhere, perhaps in another street. The square was pedestrianised so children were running about, playing with their cycles and with water in a fountain.

People were quietly enjoying the evening and each other, sitting in the cafes and restaurants dotted about the square. There I was, in a town in Central Europe, enjoying the peace and quiet of a twilight evening. “Isn’t this what people really want?’ I reflected. To lead peaceful quiet lives enjoying being with their partners, their lovers, their friends,their children; enjoying being with each other? Life can be difficult enough after all. Is not this what the so called ‘European project’ is all about? It is not the ‘European project’ but the ‘European Peace.’ A peace we have shared somehow and not without problems. for seven decades and with which we have also embraced our ex-Soviet block neighbours. In abandoning the European project we should take care not to abandon the European peace.

‘The lamps are going out all over Europe’, said Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary at the start of the First World War. We must do our utmost to make sure they do not got out again.

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Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius