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.

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Many thanks,

Neilus Aurelius

Meditation 48

As I sit here writing my meditation on the kitchen table with the candle beside me, I am feeling disappointed. These last months have been a season of disappointments for all of us, haven’t they?  So many plans have been cancelled or postponed because of the changing restrictions caused by the shifting motion of the pandemic. Who can contain it? It is like trying to catch all the silver fish in a slippery shoal with your bare hands.

Sadly, a magnet or two from Puglia in Southern Italy will not be added to my collection on the fridge doors for the moment. My retirement holiday has once again been postponed  because of changes in Italy’s entry requirements. Now a quarantine is imposed on travellers returning to the UK from Italy as well and only yesterday further internal restrictions were announced in Italy itself. At present all human endeavour seems to be enmeshed in restrictions and requirements. But they are for our own good, I suppose, however weary and annoyed we may feel about them.

So here I am cheering myself up by looking at my magnets again and reminding myself of places I have visited. I am a much travelled man so I cannot complain. As I have said before, one of the ways through these difficult times is to be grateful for what we have and thankful for what we have had, rather than dwelling on what we do not have. 

One magnet that has caught my attention is a photo of the iconic Hollywood sign. The sign is framed by palm trees high up on the brow of the Hollywood hills. I purchased it on my 60th birthday California road trip (which also included Nevada and Las Vegas).

Originally, the huge letters read ‘Hollywoodland’ and were erected in 1923 as a temporary advertising campaign by a real estate investor, keen to develop the land underneath. But as the Golden Age of Hollywood rolled out, the sign remained, without ‘land’ at the end. The real estate advertising ploy worked, as the hills soon became fully developed with estates and mansions almost touching the feet of the imposing letters themselves.

I visited there on a glorious day of L.A. sunshine in April 2014. My friends and I didn’t go to the top so that we could stand in the shadow of one of the letters and look down over the city. I am not very good with heights and in any case I don’t think you can go up there now or at least not very close to the huge letters. It was one of the highlights of our California road trip for me because Hollywood and its history have been a strand in my life since my childhood.

The sign is now a historic landmark as it should be. It is also tinged with tragedy. In 1932, Peg Entwistle, a 24 year old actress, climbed a workman’s ladder and threw herself off the letter H. I am surprised that her tragic story has never been turned into a movie itself during the decades since her sad suicide.

I was reminded of her by a recent Netflix drama series called ‘Hollywood’. It had at the centre of its storyline an attempt to make a movie about Peg and her sad demise. So at least she has been remembered obliquely in the glossy series which is set in the Hollywood of the 1950’s.

The sad incident is also referenced in the opening credits of the series. The young hopefuls who are the main characters climb up those enormous letters in the dead of night and use a workman’s ladder as poor Peg did. That is the tragedy of Hollywood. People are always climbing up or falling down in that town. Those who manage to climb up and keep their balance are fortunate indeed.

That 2014 trip was my third visit to Hollywood.  My first trip was in 1990. I was so excited. I remember my friend John, who was my host, drove me from the airport straight to the Pacific Ocean and there behind us on a cliff overlooking the sea was the old home of Charles Laughton, one of my favourite actors. Then he drove me back up through Beverly Hills and pointed out some of the grand mansions of other stars, past and present. And  I was staying only a few blocks from Sunset Boulevard too, in his apartment.

My stay in L.A. that time was for five days in the middle of a visit to my Canadian relatives who then lived in Toronto. It was quite a whirlwind trip and dotted with ‘this was filmed here’ and ‘he or she lived there’. I remember the Paramount arch, a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, a visit to the Getty museum and a show at the Pasadena Playhouse, where so many young actors and actresses honed their skills down the years.

But the highlight was a guided tour of Warner Brothers’ studios. As I walked through the studio gates, I felt I had truly arrived. Walking past the sound stages where so many of my favourite old movies were filmed was exciting and emotional. I also walked through two of the big sets : New York street (built for Warners’ 1930’s gangster cycle) and Town Square (built for ‘King’s Row’ in 1942) which have been dressed and re-dressed for so many movies over the decades (and they are still in use). It was strange walking through these huge sets in the sunshine and seeing them in colour as in my memories of them were in black and white! 

We went through every department including the huge props warehouses. Warners never seem to throw anything away and they hire props to other studios too. There in in the middle of all this bric-à-brac was the throne from the 1938 ‘Robin Hood’ and the exotic lamps from Rick’s Cafe in ‘Casablanca’ – two of my favourite films.

My second trip, in 2006, was even more exciting. I went to a Hollywood party! I was mingling with dazzling stars, directors, screenwriters, musicians and even a movie mogul or two. And what a setting! I remember it well. Spacious beautifully manicured lawns glistened a technicolor green in the sunshine. The centrepiece was a lake with fizzing fountains and pristine white swans delicately avoiding the floating water lily patches. In the centre of the lake itself, on a small island, stood a shimmering small white marble building. It looked like an elegant summer house.

Actually it was a mausoleum. And the illustrious party guests were all dead. For I was visiting the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Well what else would an avid film buff do with only a few hours to spare before dashing to the airport for his return flight to the UK?

So there I was, with a large map in my hand, courtesy of the flower shop at the entrance, picking my way through the lush green swathes to find the resting places of my favourite movie people. In my quest, I was oblivious to other visitors dotted here and there in the distance as I was determined to find as many stars and movie luminaries as possible in the short time I had left.  

Many graves had small squat headstones or brass plaques planted in the turf. It was an exacting task to locate the names which stood out to me in the long alphabetical list on the reverse of the map. I was often distracted in my search as I noticed other stars I knew. No autographs of course!

 I gave up on the grand mausoleums where the deceased were stacked up from floor to ceiling in marble walls that looked like celestial filing cabinets. I only visited one where I struggled to find Rudolph Valentino, the heartthrob of the silent films of the 1920’s. I had recently read a biography of him that a friend had given me. I remember standing in one of the marble corridors phased by all the names in the walls. I said quietly ‘Sorry Rudy – I  couldn’t find you and I have a plane to catch!’ Then I turned a corner to get to the exit and strangely there he was in the wall opposite!

I couldn’t miss Cecil B. De Mille, Hollywood pioneer and director of film epics, whose appropriately epic mausoleum was the size of a small house; nor mogul Harry Cohn, founder of Columbia Pictures, and his equally bloated edifice. I realised the Hollywood pecking order clearly persists even in death.  

As I peered among the plaques in the ground, one in particular made me stop. It read ‘Hannah Chaplin: 1865-1928: Mother’. I was surprised until I remembered that her

 world famous son, Charlie Chaplin, brought her all the way from Lambeth in South London, to be with him and hopefully give her some comfort in her mental illness. And there she was at my feet, a long way from home, like many others resting here. But at peace now.

Several years later, I picked up a new biography of Charlie Chaplin when I was staying with my aunt on Vancouver Island. It was by an American psychiatrist, Stephen Weissman, and naturally Hannah featured in it a great deal and, in the book, there was a photo of her taken in L.A. a few years before she died. The book fascinated me and it led me to write a play for my school theatre group about Charlie’s childhood, youth and meteoric rise to being one of the first worldwide celebrities ever by the age of 25. It was called ‘Chaplin: the Early Years’ and was eventually performed in 2013. Despite reading the book and making copious notes, it was only when I started working on the script, that I remembered that I had seen Hannah’s grave. I hadn’t taken a photo of it. It didn’t seem right. But I remembered it clearly in my mind and still do. 

Overheated from my search through the lawns, I sat on a shady bench, reached for my water bottle and admired the palm trees silhouetted in the sun. It felt right that I was there, not just as a film buff but to pay my respects and to say thank you. A month or so earlier at my school, I had produced ‘Mickey and and the Movies’ about the birth of the cinema. It was the precursor to my Chaplin play, I guess. At the heart of ‘Mickey’ was a GCSE Drama project I had devised as a result of my first trip to Hollywood in 1990. So yes: it was good to say thank you. These people had not only entertained me and intrigued me over the years but they had inspired me. Perhaps, in my visits, some of their creative energy had  engulfed me too.

Not a few of the silent stars and filmmakers mentioned in my play were resting there now. But then all the stars resting all around me as I sat on my bench were silent now.  Yet they are still alive on film. A kind of resurrection.

The stillness of the surroundings enveloped me. I felt cold. A sadness weighed down upon me like a pall. A chill miasma of unhappiness. Not just Hannah’s. But others’ too. In this place. In this town. Past and Present. ‘The boulevard of broken dreams’ – Hollywood Boulevard a few blocks away – is a tired cliché, yet for me at this moment, it was a tangible presence.  I shivered. And it was gone.

Now I understood why I was really there. Not out of curiosity or thankful respect, as I thought. But to feel their pain. To be the celluloid imprinted not with their image but with their suffering.

I stood up, bowed my head and went home.

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 Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. I would also value any feedback on or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

Mediation 47

As I begin this meditation, the magnets on my fridge have attracted my attention again rather than the candle flickering beside me. There is a new addition to my collection and a new acquisition for my miniature art gallery on the fridge doors: a Rembrandt.

It is a sketch, a self portrait, executed when the artist was only 24 years old. He looks startled and surprised as if someone has suddenly taken a photograph of him without his permission. Apparently, Rembrandt made the sketch while looking at his reflection in a mirror. 

The actual picture, an etching, is not much bigger than the magnet itself. It is a small square printed in the middle of a foolscap sized parchment, which makes it look even smaller and almost enveloped by the sea of paper which surrounds it. It is one of a series of self portraits he made of himself in his twenties, most were sketches but there are several oil paintings too.

As might be expected, I have been to a gallery and of course a gift shop too! This time I visited the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, for the ‘Young Rembrandt’ exhibition, which covers the first ten years of his career from roughly 1625-1635. Rembrandt made portraits of himself throughout his life and in many ways the ones in old age are the most moving, perhaps because he also drew many pictures of old people throughout his career. Evidently, from looking at the exhibition, this fascination with old age began right at the start of his career. He captures the elderly sitters’ resignation beautifully in their eyes, sensing old age as a time of reflection and contemplation. Their passive eyes contrast with their faces, worn and redolent of a life lived. This contrast is acutely drawn in his own self portraits in old age much later.

The younger self portraits in the exhibition are more animated as you would expect from an artist in his twenties. He wears a variety of hats and facial expressions and sometimes he has a beard, sometimes a moustache or is sometimes clean shaven. He is evidently toying with his self image as young people will. On a deeper level, he is trying to find himself by drawing himself as he discovers and explores his talents and tries to establish a career.

He is going through what I have termed ‘the terrible twenties’. So many of my ex-students have shared this with me: not knowing who they are or what they want to do or having the confidence to embrace what they want to do anyway. I was the same at their age so I have a little understanding of their situation. At least Rembrandt knew what he wanted to do and from his work he appears to be bold and confident in his skills – or was he? We will never know I suppose.

Perhaps this series of self portraits over the years are saying ‘Where am I now?’ or even ‘Who am I now?’ These are questions not confined to our twenties. We can find ourselves asking these questions or they can find us at other times of our lives. They have been hounding me since I retired six months ago. Writing this blog has helped me to work out or at least explore some answers, like Rembrandt exploring himself through his pictures. Perhaps there is no need to find any answers but just to accept, to be resigned with patience as Rembrandt’s elderly models appear to be. In other words, to move from my terrible twenties to a reflective retirement. Then I might achieve a little of the dignity, serenity even, expressed in their eyes.

I have always been fascinated by the faces in Rembrandt’s works and the expression in their eyes. It must be the actor in me. He has the ability to convey a whole life in the faces of his models, through their stillness. Any film or TV actor should study his works. He conveys so much with the models’ faces, giving them an inner life. Their eyes lead us into their interior lives.  It cannot be any accident that the popular historian, Simon Schama, has written a biography of the artist entitled ‘Rembrandt’s Eyes.’

What is also remarkable in the exhibition is that, as a young man , Rembrandt was fascinated by the beggars and homeless that he saw in the streets of his hometown Leyden and in Amsterdam, where he lived later. There are a selection of his drawings of street dwellers in the exhibition and he incorporates some of them into his large scale pictures of Biblical scenes, which were also a strand in his output.

In his drawings of street dwellers, he finds a dignified humility in their bowed heads and bodies. He also finds great patience: the patience of the beggar waiting for a coin (or hopefully a job) to come their way.  Like them, we are waiting too: for an end to lockdown, an end to the era of the pandemic. Perhaps, as we wait, we can learn from their dignified patience or from that of the beggars and homeless we see in our own streets and perhaps even rethink our interaction with them.

The first lesson I ever taught was about Rembrandt. I was in the sixth form and we had a few single lessons every week called Elective General Studies, which were an appendage to our A Level General Studies course. Several teachers were able to give short courses on some of their special interests. These linked up somehow with the main A level. One gave a course on Renaissance Art which I attended. Of course in that bygone age there were no laptops or projectors or Internet to illustrate the lessons. Although I seem to remember he did use a slide projector so we could see some pictures or statues projected onto the wall of the medical room where the lesson took place! Strangely, as far as I can remember, there was never a sick pupil out of lessons in that medical room whenever we had our weekly lesson. Of course the teacher also used large art books for us to look at as examples.

Through those lessons I began to develop an interest in Fine Art ,which has stayed  with me ever since. I watched documentaries on the TV and especially the BBC series ‘Civilisation’ which was on at that time. I also plundered my local library and wandered onto one lesson with a book on Rembrandt under my arm to and showed it to Fr Ledwick the teacher. He asked me if I’d like to give a talk on the artist so, ever eager to perform, I agreed and a few weeks later, I took the lesson. I prepared a selection of pictures to talk about and to explain why I liked them and what I found in them (as I have done in this blog).

At that time the country was going through a period of industrial action, known as the ‘three day week.’ This meant that there were regular electricity blackouts (among other disruptions). These would last for three hours at a time. As we had electric heating in our house, this was a problem. I remember that some evenings, I would do my homework by candlelight in the kitchen so that I could stay warm by the gas oven, which was lit to heat the room. My mum, who had two very small daughters, would sit near the oven to keep them warm. It is difficult to comprehend this these days and it was one reason why I would sometimes get annoyed with my own sixth form students when they didn’t do their homework!

I do remember looking at those pictures in the Rembrandt book by candlelight sometimes, and thinking that he must have looked at the real pictures himself by candlelight too. I felt quite privileged then. In the candlelight, the faces were luminous and the eyes were so clear. There was one, a head of Christ, which greatly nurtured my faith. Similarly I was reading ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte at the time for A Level English. How marvellous to read a 19th century novel by candlelight as it would have been originally!  Emily’s Gothic romance seemed so much more atmospheric, if it ever could be!

And now, here I am once again, sitting by candlelight and writing to you about Rembrandt!  Sharing my knowledge – as ever!

I also remember that just as I was about to start my little lesson on Rembrandt in that medical room in my school all those years ago, one of the PE staff wandered in. I can’t remember his name but he was rather obnoxious and I had been quite scared of him when I was younger! He decided to sit down and stay for my little lesson. It was my first lesson observation I suppose – though I knew nothing of them then. It certainly made me rather nervous. When the lesson finished, he came up to me and told me that he’d enjoyed the talk very much. ‘You ought to become a teacher’, he said. And eventually I did.

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 Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.

I would also value any feedback on or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

Meditation 46

As I write this meditation, I am not gazing at the candle in front of me. I am writing on my kitchen table and looking at the array of magnets on the fridge in the corner. The surfaces of the fridge door, the freezer door under it and the side of the fridge opposite me are almost completely filled with magnets.

I have been collecting them on my travels for over fifteen years I think. Some are from museums or art galleries or historical buildings as I can’t resist gift shops in those places. I have a penchant for cultural souvenirs, you see.

Many of them are small oblong pieces of tin with a photo or art reproduction printed on them and some are encased in plastic squares or oblongs. There are those of places I have visited around the world. As might be expected not a few are from Hungary and my numerous visits there and from Vancouver Island where I usually visit every year too.

 Others are from the exhibitions I mentioned. Indeed my fridge boasts its own miniature art gallery: there are a Van Gogh,  a Vermeer, 2 Caravaggio’s, 3 Michelangelo’s (including the statue of David), a Toulouse Lautrec, part of the stained glass at the Church of Sainte Chapelle in Paris, a portrait of Anne Boleyn, 2 pictures by Emily Carr (from Vancouver Island -one of my favourite artists), an Atkinson Grimshaw (the 19th Century Yorkshire artist) and a view of Lake Keitele in Finland by Aksell Gellen-Kallela (one of my favourite pictures in London’s National Gallery) among others. You might argue that in the early days of lockdown, when movement was severely restricted, there was no need for me to visit a gallery anyway. All I had to do was look at my fridge!

There is also a photo of the head of a Greek Philosopher, (from Budapest’s National Gallery), a magnet which Marcus Aurelius would no doubt appreciate. Needless to say, he also graces the side of my fridge: in a photo of the impressive statue of him in Rome’s Capitoline Museum, arm uplifted and hailing his empire on his horse. I do not know how he would react to being reduced to an image of 2 inches by 3 inches on a fridge wall. It is so unlike the large statues of him around the empire or the huge column with its spiralling frescoes of his triumphs in the Piazza Colonna in Rome. Perhaps he would accept the reduction of his grandeur to a small picture with stoic humility.

Some of the magnets are ceramic or metal figures. There’s a mini Shakespeare memorial from Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church where he is buried; a gargoyle from Notre Dame in Paris, a bejewelled masked gentleman from the Venice carnival and a miniature plaque of the Renaissance King Mattyas of Hungary. Reflecting my love of movies, there’s an Oscar statuette, a mini movie clapperboard and an tiny enamel ruby slipper from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ as well as long oblong posters of ‘Metropolis’ and ‘King Kong.’ There are several theatre posters too including one from Broadway.

One of my favourites is from Vancouver: a small wooden scene in dark and light brown and ivory wood showing a bear and a cub in the snow. The largest magnet is a mini upright piano with a lid which opens to reveal a tiny keyboard. I got this in Budapest when the Liszt 200th anniversary celebrations were on.     

My literary interests are reflected in magnets of several quotes from Shakespeare and from Oscar Wilde and Dickens (as well as an illustration from ‘A Christmas Carol’) and my love of John Steinbeck’s ‘Cannery Row’ by a 1930’s advert for canned anchovies from Monterey in California. There’s also a mini library of books from the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

However, I have frequently found that a museum or gallery gift shop doesn’t stock a card or magnet of the picture I would most like a copy of. Some of the ones on my fridge are therefore second best!

I have almost forgotten to mention that several friends have brought me magnets from their own travels. Isn’t it lovely to be remembered by friends when they are on holiday?

As you may have already gathered, this plethora of magnets not only  reflects my travels but also my interests. Like photographs, there are memories encased in them. I can remember where and when I bought most of them. With some of them, I have distinct memories of the complete day or afternoon when I purchased them: who I was with; where else I visited that day and other pictures or artefacts I looked at in the same place.

There are two magnets with 19th century American portraits on them, from a small exhibition in the tiny art gallery in the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. I had dived in there as I wanted to escape the relentless crowds and overpowering noise of the main strip. It was blissfully quiet in the gallery I remember. There was an impressive exhibition of landscape photography there too (but no magnets!).  I have rarely spent such a long time in such a small gallery – I was there for over an hour, partly just to get some peace and quiet. I told the assistant as I was leaving that it was the best $15 I had spent. She beamed at my compliment till I told her it was the only place where I could find peace and quiet in Las Vegas!  Then she laughed and agreed with me and I sweetened my potentially acid comment with some genuine appreciation of the exhibits, especially the photographs. Although, I desisted from purchasing the glossy book of the photos at $150 a copy! I bought the magnets of the 19th Century portraits instead. I remember treating myself to a blueberry ice cream and coffee in the gelateria next door afterwards before braving the crowds again.

I am afraid Las Vegas and I didn’t get on. It is endlessly brash and loud; yes the word is ‘endless.’ It is like a loud uncontrollable class except in school the class will disappear when the bell goes. In Las Vegas, the class goes on 24/7!  However, if asked, I would be delighted to headline there with my cabaret!

I found the fridge magnets were a comfort early in lockdown when I couldn’t go far, let alone travel to another country and when all the galleries and museums in London were closed. They reminded me that I have been very fortunate to travel abroad and so regularly and through my travels to make international friendships. I have also been fortunate to have seen so many wonderful works of art and historical buildings first hand and to share them with my friends who accompanied me and sometimes with yourself, dear reader, in this blog.

My life so far has been so rich, most of all in friendships. If I never travel again abroad or never enter another gallery, I haven’t done so badly out of life! I learnt in those early months of lockdown that it is important to be thankful for what we have and for what we have had. It is a way of being positive in these difficult times, which sadly continue.

It appears that the lockdown is tightening again, especially if people aren’t sensible and do not adhere to the new restrictions. Once again our horizons are potentially becoming narrower and in some areas of the U.K., this is already the case. We are being asked to accept and endure the situation again. Marcus, as a Stoic philosopher, would encourage us to do this.  But ‘endure’ is a harsh word  it is a difficult thing to do, as we have all learnt in the last six months or so. At least we have had some practice if another major lockdown comes.

Despite the ominous signs, nevertheless, I am hoping that next month I will be able to finally take my luxury trip to Puglia, in Southern Italy, which is my retirement present to myself. So by the end of October, hopefully another magnet (or two) will grace my fridge doors.

In these last months, I have learnt that ‘hope’ is a difficult thing too, even though the word is only one syllable and sounds lighter than ‘endure.’ It is difficult because it involves the future, which we have no control over. The more our plans for the future are scuppered, the less we feel like hoping. But hope we must, for it is a positive virtue and the best way to endure is to be positive.

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 Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.

I would also value any feedback on or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

Meditation 45

I do not want to be seated here writing this meditation with my lighted candle beside me on the table as usual. I would rather be writing it in the Drama studio at my school. I revisited it yesterday and would rather have written my thoughts there, when I was in situ, than trying to remember my reflections now a day later. It will be a case of ’emotions recollected in tranquillity’ as the poet Wordsworth writes about his own verses. Most of these mediations thus far have been ’emotions recollected in tranquility’, the tranquillity of my own home. Wordsworth’s phrase would be a good definition of a meditation. A meditation requires a little distance from the situation; a calm detachment.

My emotions were tranquil yesterday when I called into school and wandered into the Drama studio where I used to work until February this year. There was non-one else there as the school doesn’t open for lessons until next week. The space was empty and silent.

But it wasn’t cold and dark as the sun was shining through the windows at the top of the walls and, for those of you who have never been there, it is not a ‘black box’ as other studios often are. The walls are a sky blue and the blackout curtains are a deeper royal blue. I chose the colours myself when we were designing it in 2007. Heavy curtains of whatever colour would provide a blackout for performances and practical exams anyway and I wanted a bright and cheerful colour for the walls as the space (the old school gym converted) would be operating as both a large classroom and a studio theatre. I remember that at the top of my list at that time was the phrase ‘a flexible and intimate space’.

In a previous blog, I described being on an empty stage before a performance. The house lights are up and you are standing or sitting there looking at the empty auditorium. It was the Kolibri stage in Budapest I think. I used to love that moment alone on the stage while the cast and crew were getting their lunch before the matinee. It wasn’t just the chance to get my thoughts together before the show. There’s an atmosphere of anticipation in an empty theatre before a performance, an air of expectancy, and even though it is empty there is also a special warmth. It’s not because of the house lights out there in the auditorium or the stage lights beaming down. It is a feeling of being at home. No more than that: for me one of those rare moments when you realise that this is where you should be, just for this moment. I shall miss that warmth, that realisation, now I am retired.

The empty drama studio yesterday was entirely different. The space wasn’t set up for a performance as there wasn’t one. It was set up as a classroom with the retractable theatre seating back against the wall. I borrowed my colleague Leigh’s directors chair (mine got broken somehow ages ago) and sat in the middle of the performing area at the other end between the scenic flats that make a stage. I looked around the studio from there, facing where an audience would be.
Needless to say, memories flooded in of rehearsals, productions, gala evenings, exam performances, lessons, which I won’t bore you with. I can’t remember them now anyway. They flew in and out of my consciousness swiftly.

I have experienced that moment of warm anticipation before a performance in the studio too. It would generally be on the second or third night after the first night was over. There would always be some crisis or other to sort out before opening night!

But as I sat there yesterday, I realised that since the studio opened in 2007, I had never sat down and taken a good look at it. I’ve been too busy teaching, acting, directing and creating to notice the space I was working in properly. That is as it should be. Nevertheless I obviously have a great affection for the space. It has been a joy to work there in the final years of my school career. Not quite an Indian Summer as I do not think an Indian Summer can last for 13 years! I greatly miss working on a scene in the studio.

So here I was, now retired, finally looking around my old workplace, my creative space, my studio. ‘My empire’ as I would jokingly call it. Marcus’ empire was considerably larger than mine! Mine is more intimate and as a result more meaningful. I do not think he would have felt as I did yesterday as he stood outside his tent looking out over the plains of Pannonia.

How did I feel? Well I wasn’t upset or sad. Nor did I feel a sense of ennui. I found myself smiling. I realised that so much of me was in those walls. As I have just mentioned, I came up with a concept for the space. I could see myself everywhere, as I looked at the lighting box, the lighting and sound equipment, the seating, the scenery flats, curtains and walls. I had a creative input in all of these, working along with the previous headteacher, Tom Cahill and an ex-student Colin Mander.

What I felt was another kind of warmth: the warmth of pride.
I am reminded of a short play by Noel Coward called ‘Family Album’ about a Victorian family gathered for a celebration. In the play a family member makes a toast:
‘Here’s a toast to each of us and all of us together.
Here’s a toast to happiness and reasonable pride.’

That is what I felt: reasonable pride. And a glowing sense of achievement.
So why, do I ask myself, now that I have retired, am I so anxious to keep on achieving having achieved so much already? Perhaps I should take to heart the next line of the toast:
‘May our touch on life be lighter than a sea bird’s feather.’

Perhaps Noel Coward was thinking of himself when he wrote that line. He had a long and successful career as a playwright, composer, actor and entertainer. He must have constantly felt the drive to achieve.

So I slowly walked out of that Drama studio smiling and with a glow of pride which is an achievement in itself I guess.

As the Proms isn’t functioning as normal this year (like everything else), the BBC are putting archive performances on the radio each evening. So I have been listening to a wonderful performance of Mahler’s 5th symphony from 1987 with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by the legendary Leonard Bernstein. In the middle of this amazing life-enhancing performance I have realised that life is not about achieving but about creating. I want to continue creating.
But I have left out the last line of the toast by Noel Coward. I think it is rather appropriate as we continue with trying to cope with coronavirus into the Autumn.

‘And may all sorrows in our path politely step aside.’

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 Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube. I would also value any feedback on or my Facebook page or Twitter.

Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

Meditation 44

As I sit here beside my candle, watching the steady flame, I am thinking of Marcus Aurelius, the inspiration for this blog. It is wonderful that we are able to read his own ‘Meditations’, which he wrote over 1,800 years ago and in a paperback edition too which is readily available in bookstores or even as a kindle book!

Though they were written in Latin and I have therefore been dependent upon a translator, yet he seems to be very present to me as I read them, as if he is really speaking to me despite the centuries between us. How far the real Marcus is reflected in these pages or how far it is the Marcus he would like the reader to see, I, of course, will never know. But there is an honesty and a genuine humility in his writing that makes me think he is truly present in his words. For one thing, he never mentions his military successes, whereas, for instance, his imperial ancestor, Julius Caesar, wrote extensively and interminably about his in his ‘Gallic Wars’!

I dare to hope that something of my own self is reflected in my own meditations in this blog, that I am present to you the reader through my writing.

During the months of lockdown since March, we have been present to each other in many different ways, thanks to digital technology, and in ways that Marcus could not have dreamt of. I say ‘being present’ because in these dark days, it hasn’t just been a case of contacting friends and family and acquaintances, but it has also involved being present to them as a support and encouragement and to share anxieties which may have meant spending a little more time than usual with them on a call.

There have been so many ways through which we have been present to others, not just the phone or e mail but through texts and group chats, and visually through FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype and of course the new medium of Zoom.

Video calls on whatever platform have enabled us to see who we are speaking to, which has been so important and a great comfort, as for several long months we weren’t allowed to meet friends or possibly even family because of movement restrictions. Looking at my emails, I think that texts and video calls are replacing the personal e mail to friends and acquaintances. I might be wrong about this – it may be that people just don’t want to write to me anymore!
FaceTime, WhatsApp and Zoom were new to me at the start of lockdown, but as someone who lives alone, they have been another lifeline for me (as well as calls, mails and texts) once I got used to them. In the early months, it was wonderful to be able to have a video call with my family, to see them as well as talk to them and of course my close friends too across the country and across the world.

However I must admit that I found triple conversations and a three way split screen difficult to handle on the small screen of an I phone! The smaller screen made me feel constricted. I am much more comfortable and relaxed with a Zoom call on the wider screen of a laptop. Maybe my big personality is more suited to a wider format! I would certainly have been at home in one of those wide screen epics of years gone by. Perhaps I could have played Marcus Aurelius (as Alec Guinness did in ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’ and, less successfully, Richard Harris, in ‘Gladiator’).

I have had such a variety of Zoom calls in these recent months, a committee meeting or two, two lectures with the Dickens’ Fellowship (of which I am a member), a series of group meditations and one memorable evening when I spend two hours chatting with my dear friends David and Peter, while we drank our bottles of wine on our respective sofas in our homes across London from eachother. It was digital decadence! However, it does seem rather silly at times: talking to a laptop screen which then talks back to you! It’s like being in an old sci-fi movie without the dramatic and earnest conversations from screen to screen!

In a video call our friends or family are there but not there. They are present to us but not physically present. I must confess to being saddened sometimes when the video call was over, and in a way that I wouldn’t have been if it was an ordinary audio phone call. It is the fact that you can see family or friends (which is wonderful) but they are not really present with you in the room. So when the call is over and you wave and end the call, there can be a sense of loss, an emptiness. A video call can never replace being with that person or persons. Nevertheless, it has been a comfort, indeed a marvel, in these dark months we have been going through.

Another comfort to me has been the streaming of theatre productions online. These have been from the archive of the National Theatre, the Royal Opera and Royal Shakespeare Company. Over the last decade, these companies (and others under the National Theatre umbrella) have streamed live performances to cinemas and a selection of these performances have been streamed in lockdown on BBC I player and YouTube and are therefore quite recent. They have filled quite a few evenings for me and I have been able to catch up on productions I have missed. One advantage of these filmed performances is that the cameras enable you to see the actors close up, which may not be possible from where you are sitting in the theatre.

One of these productions was Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in a performance from 2019 at the new Bridge Theatre, by Tower Bridge on the Thames. I must admit that having directed the play five times and seen as many if not more productions of this play, I felt a little jaded about it as it started. It turned out to be an exciting, very funny and spectacular immersive theatre experience. The Bridge Theatre is able to change its seating for whatever production and had taken out the stalls seats so audience could stand while the play took place on a series of platforms and also above their heads as there were actors on trapezes above them at times. (‘Oh to do something like this in my school drama studio,’ I thought to myself!) The rest of the audience were seated in the circle on three sides. As is customary at present, there was some gender swapping of roles: Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the Fairies, swapped lines for instance which created some hilarious situations. But the production was highly detailed and the text was very clear so Shakespeare was well served by this energetic company. Most important of all, it had warmth and was life-affirming and was magical (as all successful productions of this play should be).

I have mentioned in a previous blog (when I discussed seeing Wagner’s Ring Cycle of 4 operas at the Opera House) that a successful theatre performance creates an invisible ring binding the performers and the audience. This production of Shakespeare’s ‘Dream’ created that invisible ring from its first moment until the riotous final curtain call. There were many moments when I too, sitting in my armchair at home, felt part of that ring too. The experience was all embracing. What an achievement for the director Nicholas Hytner and his actors.
But they were only moments. Because I was not physically present in the audience. I certainly wish I had been last summer. As the play was nearing its final act, I began to feel saddened in the midst of the joyous atmosphere of the show. For our theatres are closed and I am missing them. We do not know when they will re-opened or when an immersive production like ‘The Dream’ with actors moving, running and dancing through the audience will happen again.

Much has been touted about Zoom and other platforms being the way forward while coronavirus and the threat of it remains with us and beyond, when we are back to a kind of normal. There has been talk of digital lessons in schools, webinars and digital lectures in university and other educational institutions, digital conferencing etc. In certain situations this may be a way forward. But we must remember that nothing can replace the physical presence of a person. And we cannot let digital communication distance us from eachother and break the bond of our common humanity (which the production I have discussed so potently celebrated). We are social beings which means being physically present to eachother.

There are times on summer days when dark clouds appear and stay there in the sky. It seems as if the sun will never come out again. But it will and does. I am sure we have had those moments in these recent months, when we thought the dark clouds wouldn’t go. Well lockdown is beginning to ease and the sun is peeping through the clouds. We are able to move around more and see more of eachother. I have been able to visit my family in Leeds and friends in the London area too. I have been able to visit an ‘old friend’ the National Gallery (as another friend of mine puts it). But more about these in my next blog.

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

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Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

The days stretch so far into the evening at present that there is little need for a candle beside me as I write this meditation. Or perhaps I should wait till much later and the dead of night to get into true Marcus mode. I should switch off the lights and let my I pad keyboard be lit by candles or oil lamps or both as Marcus’ own tablet would have been. Indeed, I should not be using an I pad at all, but parchment or vellum and a stylus or quill. Then an army of scribes could copy these words onto individual scrolls and my trusty horsemen cold gallop away into the night to deliver them personally to each of you.

Perhaps it would mean more to you, to receive a scroll personally than to have this meditation pop up in your inbox or on Facebook. Dare I say it, perhaps you would read it more carefully if it were a scroll in your hands. But I am sure, dear readers, that you do read these meditations as reflectively as I write them. I trust that you do and I am honoured that you read them at all.

Isn’t it true though, that our reading skills have declined since digital communication has taken over our daily lives? We are forever skim-reading rather than digesting the information properly. I have noticed this when reading a book. I read too quickly because of my digital reading. Moreover, I do not recall things I have read as well as I used to. You may say, ‘Be realistic: it’s your age!’ That may to some extent be true, but as a medieval monk prophetically observed ‘Whatever finds an easy entrance into the mind is as easily lost.’ Our medieval monk, (William by name) could be referring to skim reading when he writes ‘easy entrance to the mind’ and so the information is ‘easily lost’ because it is not read slowly and therefore understood properly.

But before you could read the scroll with my mediation written on it, you would have to wait for its arrival by horseman. I suppose you have to wait anyway as I do not write these meditations every day. I think it is almost three weeks since the last one.

In these days of texts and e mails, we do not want to wait. We want an instant reply. We are grown so impatient. We expect an almost immediate response to our message or e mail. I certainly do: but then as I am retired I have little else to think about. Perhaps we sometimes mix up texts and e mails in our minds, because an e mail reply usually takes longer to compose than a text. Although it has been pointed out to me that some of my texts are as long as a paragraph in a Victorian novel. I of course make no apology for that. I would rather express myself rather than be compressed.

In these last months of lockdown, our patience has been severely tried. We have had to wait. We have had to wait until we are told it is safe to go out and return to some kind of normality. Whatever we have thought about the government’s decisions, day by day, we have had to go along with them.

Hopefully this waiting game has made us a little more patient, gentle and appreciative of others. Therefore, hopefully we will not be as impatient as we used to be for a reply to our e mail or text! Perhaps we will be more reflective and meditative even. Hopefully it has made us more grateful for our health and for our loved ones and friends and more aware of others in the community and in the world at large. Hopefully, as a nation, we will not forget the lessons we have learnt through experience as we ease ourselves out of lockdown and emerge into the future. This is the fear that several friends have shared with me. I sincerely hope it will not be so.

Then the waiting will have been worthwhile!

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

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Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slave of Atlas. -Michelangelo (1530)

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

If you are enjoying my blog, and have not already done so, please sign up below to receive notification of each new blog by e mail. Just add your e mail to ‘Follow’ as it pops up!
And please do pass on the blog address to others who may be interested.
A selection of previous meditations is also available in audio form as ‘Meditations of Neiulus Aurelius’ ASMR on YouTube.
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Many thanks
Neilus Aurelius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciaran’s ‘Dreamland booklet can be ordered on

Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Think – ‘Thereto are you happy!’

But an embrace or a hug would be wonderful!

Stay safe and well!

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

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Many thanks

Neilus Aurelius