Saturday, 10 April 2021

Prince Philip

This feels like a Queen Mother Moment. You remember the Queen Mother, don't you? She died in 2002, aged 101, and it felt like the passing of an era. 

I was fifty in 2002, and she had been a Presence in the National Background all my life. I was genuinely sad at her loss. I'd actually met her - well, she had passed within a few feet of me in 1978, at a ceremonial occasion in Hastings, and had glanced at me. I'd like to think that the smile she gave was for me personally; and it would be easy to believe that it was; but I am probably wrong. I would have loved to have a private conversation with her, and hear words of wisdom, garnered through an already long life, that I might cling to in my own elder years. 

This still-intense memory of her came back when I visited her summer home in Caithness - the Castle of Mey - in 2019. The cheerful lady who gave a group of us The Tour had many anecdotes about her. Two in particular stayed with me. 

One of them concerned her Grundig TV. There it was still, in one of her cosy rooms. A good make, but her example was twenty years out of date even in the 1990s. We were told that she wouldn't upgrade to newer and supposedly better things if those she had still did the job well. She valued older but trusted gadgets, that although not the latest and flashiest, still gave solid reliable service. I'm getting that way, you know. 

The other anecdote concerned the food she liked - or detested. She had a spacious, modern stainless-steel kitchen installed at the Castle, in a ground floor room, where the professional chef (part of her personally-picked team of trusted staff, who all travelled with her) could see her comings and goings and thus time his creations accordingly. Though no glutton, she liked to eat well, and enjoyed fresh food presented with refinement and elegance. Again, a bit like me. Unlike me, though, she disliked smoked salmon, no matter how succulent and flavoursome the cure, referring to it as 'that nasty slimy stuff'. 

I got a rounded-out impression of the Queen Mother on that tour, and it in no way conflicted with the image I already had. It merely reinforced the affection I had for her, and increased the feeling of loss. 

I dare say she had her tetchy moments, and could be cold and distant on occasion; and it was always said that she was a power behind the throne, managing matters, applying pressure, and being steely when necessary.  Well, who in her position wouldn't be, now and then? It must be very trying to maintain that lovely smile, that poise, that royal imperturbability, when faced with annoying and irritating idiots and sycophants. And considering my own faults, I am not inclined to dwell on any she might have had. 

So what of Prince Philip? 

Again, I will offer nothing to put him in a bad light, except possibly a personal belief that he underrated his young son Charles, and pushed him into doing many things that were against his nature, with lifelong consequences. It's understandable that the dashing and forthright man of action, a man afraid of nothing, would want a son in the same mould. But sons often do not turn out as expected. I do think that Charles has, in time, found his best metier, but only after making the mistake of 'doing his duty' when he should have been honestly true to himself. But then don't we all bow to expectations? At least when young? And live to rue our weakness? I blame neither Philip for being Philip, nor Charles for being Charles. Any more than I can ever blame the younger me for being too compliant, going along with too many appeasements, and for wasting two-thirds of my life on being the person people wanted me to be, rather than the real self. 

I can't help thinking that a word from the Queen Mother, over a private cup of tea, might have opened my eyes, clarified my thinking, and let me avoid so many personal errors. Would the same advice have been forthcoming from Philip? 

I can bring to mind only one anecdote connected with him, a well-known story that after flying the Atlantic in the 1950s in a new jet airliner - a De Haviland Comet, I believe - he was asked by an American pressman what he thought of the experience. 'Have you flown in a plane yourself?' asked Philip. 'Yes, I have,' said the pressman. 'Well it was like that,' said Philip, and moved on briskly. 

I therefore take away this notion of a no-nonsense, energetic, powerhouse of a man, who attended assiduously to his duty and his position as a senior royal, but who did not suffer fools. In many ways, a man to admire. But I can't see a soft side, a loving side. I am willing to credit him with one; but it jars with my picture of a man who, in the face of many problems - including the trials of old age - seemed always to find the will to straighten his back and set his chin high, no matter what. 

A fighter to the end. But not somebody I feel much of a connection with.

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