Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears

There are, inevitably, characteristics children inherit from their parents. My brother Nigel, for example, is, like my Dad was, super-sensitive but less able to express his feelings out loud; I’m more of an open book, although I think even those closest to me would be shocked at how much I keep things under wraps.

I’ve always felt as if I’m observing my life from afar, never feeling part of it, yet always trying to connect. Maybe that’s what all my moving around is about: just trying to find and touch base with a person I don’t really know.

Visiting some of the Roman remains in Plovdiv, it struck me how like Dad I am. Where Nigel and Mum would return from holiday with photos of various people they met on their travels, my pics, liike Dad’s, are invariably of places, in particular buildings. I have long had an interest in architecture, and I went to a progressive primary school, Durham Road Junior, in Newport where we studied Classics. It’s always been a source of regret to me that when the grammar schools turned comprehensive in Bridgend in 1971, I was put into the lowest stream (C) and deemed too thick to do Latin.

My crime? I wasn’t as good at science as I was at music and French, and in order to make it into the A and B streams, you had to be an all-rounder. Exam results before the changeover? Music: 99%; French: 95%; Physics: 28%.

For what it’s worth, the only ‘O’ Level I failed was English Language. Go figure. Who’s the thicko now?

I am always moved by ancient remains, wondering how they could be arsed with all that heavy stone moving and lifting when life expectancy (during the Roman Empire) was 25, rising only to 33 by the Middle Ages (and 55 in the early 1900s, should you be interested).

At 33, Jesus had a pretty good innings when you look at it at that way. I don’t know what Christians find to moan about.

If I’d been a Roman, I’d have said: Stuff it. I’ll be dead soon. Bring me another bunch of grapes and a wench to shag. Failing that, a bloke in a toga. I’m really not fussy.

They must have had the most extraordinary work ethic and, between grapes and shagging, also found time to attend gladiatorial fights, take part in chariot races and go to the theatre.

When I sat in Plovdiv’s amphitheatre this week (see previous post) and, today, in the ancient stadium of Philippolis, it was impossible not to feel in awe and overwhelmed by the history of a people who, possibly more than any other generation, knew how to live. Maybe, knowing how soon you’re going to die, puts it all into perspective.

As Isaiah said (22:13): ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we shall die.’ Now that’s what I call a prophet. Born in the 8th century BC, he is reported to have died somewhere between the ages of 65 and 75. Eat yer heart out, Julius Caesar. I wonder how much he got to eat and drink before he died at 55?

My fascination for the Romans may have its roots in (again) my progressive primary school in Newport, where I was studying Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the age of 7. I loved it. I could recite nearly all of it (yes, the whole play) off by heart. In Brynteg Comprehensive, in the early Seventies, I was 13 but chosen to play Cinna the Poet in a Sixth form production of the play.

It wasn’t much of a part. I walked on stage, someone said something along the lines of ‘That’s Cinna the poet, he’s shit; kill him’ and I was back in the wings within seconds.

So, there are today’s thoughts. Friends, Romans, countrymen – thank you for lending me your ears. And eyes.