Blood, phlegm, choler and melancholy

Thursday, 25 March

I am finding it difficult to remember the finer points of my conversations with Leonard and so I have resolved to write on this blog as often as possible and as soon as I can after each session. But that is easier said than done in view of demands from my undergraduate studies and Alex’s prying eyes. So please accept my apologies if these posts are slap-dash at times and I am careless with my words; I am eager to record every detail from my visits to Elmfield House but I have a limited time frame in which to write and this diary/blog keeping business is proving to be a seriously daunting learning curve. I realise that I will not become the next Anne Frank or Samuel Pepys overnight!

The sittings for the portrait have been very enjoyable so far, although, as I have mentioned before, they have been a little uncomfortable at times. It all depends on positioning; facing the window is ideal, the bookcase is tolerable, the wall is bearable but staring at the floor for more than half an hour is not only excruciatingly boring but it always brings on a melancholy depression for the remainder of the day, not to mention a crick in the neck. Sitting for Leonard can be absolute agony some days and maintaining a conversation can be difficult when eye contact is restricted. Fortunately conversation has been flowing easier between Leonard and I and we have been sharing more about our personal lives and our everyday activities than ever before. I tell Leonard about my lectures at the university and any amusing anecdotes from weddings or funeral services that I have played for and Leonard tells me about his life, his future plans for our work and Luke (his other muse) who I am to meet very soon. 

Although I find our discussions to be very interesting indeed, after a while my head will begin to droop like a wilting flower-head and when Leonard detects that I am tiring he will lift the mood by putting a cassette tape into the old hi-fi stereo system on the shelf by the door and playing some background music; usually a mix-tape of Chopin nocturnes, the sharp counterpoint of a Bach fugue and his favourite piece of music: ‘Melodie (Dance of the Blessed Spirits)’ from Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Orfeo and Eurydice. I am always grateful for a little muzak following a morning lecture at the university as I am invariably too tired to pursue an academic discussion into the afternoon and it serves to cover the otherwise awkward silences that Leonard will punctuate with random directions such as “lift your head higher…and a little to the right….chin up a bit…that’s perfect”.

The main topic of conversation at our last session was illness, disease and the function of placebos. I had mentioned in an off-hand manner that there is a particularly virulent flu virus in circulation at the moment and Leonard’s impassioned response revealed that he has very forthright opinions about sickness and recovery. He is a firm believer that most illnesses are entirely psychosomatic and he told me that his father had avoided visiting a doctor throughout his entire lifetime, except on one occasion when he accidentally plunged a pitchfork into his foot while digging in the garden. “Poor health,” Leonard declared, “can most often be ascribed to a mental fixation or, if the problem does not reside in the mind, then it can be attributed to an imbalance in the proportions of the humours of the body: blood, phlegm, choler, melancholy.” The confidence and sincerity with which he said this sounded very outdated in a time of antibiotics and neurosurgery and the next time that I am changing in the bathroom I will be sure to check the bathroom cabinet for jars of leeches and maggots (interestingly on that point, Leonard does not appear to have any medication in the house whatsoever, which is surprising for a man of his age). 

Leonard recommends that the best remedy for most ailments is to continue to work, but take short and regular periods of rest and drink a concoction of herbal teas in order to keep the systems of the body in working order. He has promised to teach me about the medicinal properties of herbs and introduce me to the basic herbal teas that I should drink ‘in order to combat the complexities of modern life’. There is a rather large collection of herbal teabags in the kitchen and I have noticed that the aroma of Leonard’s tea varies from day to day. As a non tea or coffee drinker, this will certainly present a challenge!

One last thing, I have been visiting the university library at lunchtimes to investigate the allegations of magic that were made by Jesus’ enemies, the importance of secrecy in ancient magic and the strange words that are spoken by Jesus in the healing stories of Mark’s Gospel. I have been equally shocked and relieved to discover that supporting evidence exists for each of Leonard’s theories and in many ways discovering that these stories are not the fantastical conjecture of an over-imaginative old man has inspired me to learn more from him. Leonard’s simple question ‘do you believe in magic?’ is proving to be the biggest and most attractive incentive for learning that any teacher has ever placed before me.