There is intelligent life left on this planet. Guess where I found it? At the bottle bank! Yep, there she was, decanting her gin bottles just like me – along with one or two 19 Crimes, to boot. Honestly, as I drove in, I was slightly irritated to see that the slow driver, whom I had been behind for some distance, had the same thing in mind. I would have to wait. However, as I walked towards the ‘bins’, the lady told me to go ahead as, in her words, she had ‘loads’. Well, instant endearment! Thanking her, I stepped forward, expecting her to leap back in fear of catching the virus, regardless of the fact we were outside in the fresh air. Such hysteria is commonplace, after all. She was without a mask. Me? Ditto.
Eureka! What happened, then, restored my faith. As I clanked my bottles through the rubbered holes – truly, one of the most satisfying activities there is – the lady exclaimed, “Oh, you’ve got loads, too!”. “I can’t do without my gin and tonic “, I replied. “Me, neither”, she said. My admiration was increasing by the second. Not for her to behave like a rabbit in the headlights and stand, at a distance, until I’d finished. Rather, making a judgement based on intelligence – we were in the great outdoors – she clanked away to my side as we exchanged some local chit-chat. Saying my goodbyes, I drove off feeling, almost, that we should have exchanged numbers! As though stumbling upon a yeti, such is the rarity, now, of meeting intelligent life. Well-spoken, polite and friendly … a dying breed.
So, to the funeral. It is difficult to explain my thoughts, really. I have made no secret of my sadness at the loss of The Duke of Edinburgh, for reasons in abundance, not least that his passing, too, seems synonymous with a final farewell to the values of his generation; a final farewell to those who embodied selflessness, bravery, integrity, character; who understood duty and who, above, all commanded respect. Saturday was an important day, therefore, and the sun could not have shone more brightly. God was in his heaven, as Pop used to say – funny, these words just came back to me, now …
Windsor, itself, could not have looked more majestic, the historic town basking in the April sunshine and skies of blue. The perfect backdrop for the gathering military splendour, every bit meticulously planned by The Duke, himself. The tension was palpable as one’s thoughts were with The Queen – and a family – consumed by grief and preparing to say goodbye, for the last time, to their irreplaceable patriarch, watched by millions! One’s heart went out to them as we bore witness to the personal touches of the man, himself; poignant reminders of the many facets of his character, and his life, which not only defined him but endeared him to so many. The sight of the familiar dark green carriage and his two beloved Fell ponies, who served him so well and afforded him so much fun and enjoyment, being led into position in the Quadrangle of the castle. Impeccably groomed, their black coats glistened in the sun as they waited patiently to pay their respects to their master, his cap, gloves and whip placed, evocatively, on the seat. There was something else, though? A little Tupperware container, complete with red lid, in which he kept sugar lumps for his four-legged friends, Balmoral Nevis and Notlaw Storm. The little things …
It was the Royal Marines who carried him into the Chapel on his final journey, Prince Philip’s lifelong association with the Royal Navy paramount throughout: among the music, the maritime hymn, Eternal Father, Strong to Save, while his naval cap lay on top of his coffin, draped in his personal standard, along with the sword given to him by George VI when he married his daughter in 1947.
A Lament was played by a Pipe Major from the Royal Regiment of Scotland as his coffin was lowered into the vault, followed by The Last Post. Silence and, then, the Reveille courtesy of the State Trumpeters of the Household Cavalry. Moving, respectful, a fitting send-off but this self-effacing giant of a man had one last message to convey: life goes on! So it was that the buglers sounded Action Stations – the naval call to battle – and he was gone.
He was inherent in every element of the service, not least in his choice of hearse – a Land Rover Defender, in the green of the military, designed by him for his final journey. What a character! What a guy! Unique to the very end.
I loved the personal touches, many of which brought a smile but, ironically, as poignant reminders, they served only to magnify the loss.
There endeth the ‘good’ bit! The rest? What the hell has happened to us? A heartbroken 94-year-old sitting, on her own, in a VAST chapel, mask on – having been vaccinated – while, before her, is the coffin of her husband of 73 years; the love of her life; her soul mate; her right arm! Yes, COVID and, yes, The Queen is representative of thousands of others, each adhering to the rules but at what cost?! There was zero chance of catching anything in that chapel but, still, a grieving family had to observe social distancing of two metres, many being forced to sit on their own. No singing? How utterly, utterly ridiculous! In fear of droplets? One would have to be ‘blessed’ with the spitting skills of a singing footballer, for goodness sake!
It was cruel. Cruel and so unnecessary. Whatever happened to common sense? Risks and benefits. Two words now heard, repeatedly, in a bid to quell the rising unease about the AstraZeneca vaccine and its associated, potentially life-threatening side effects. Risks and benefits. The right to weigh up the two for oneself. The right to choose! The vaccine is not mandatory yet. Not openly so but, covertly, it is only a matter of time. Meanwhile, the rules to which we have, all, been subjected? Devoid of humanity, ironically, under the guise of saving it. Well, some. What of the terminally lonely? The elderly, incarcerated, for what? To prolong a life not worth living deprived of loved ones, family, grandchildren? Time is precious. Tomorrow belongs to no-one. Those of Prince Philip’s generation, however, risked their lives for our freedom; our civil liberty. That means the right to choose whether to live for a day or merely exist for two!
The image of The Queen, bowed in her grief – alone – is inhumane. Once again, what has become of us? Watching the news a few days before served as a chilling awakening. The emotional footage of an elderly couple reunited after months apart in separate care homes was the closing item. Mary and Gordon, married for almost seventy years were in tears as they ‘hurried’ towards each other, arms outstretched. It was, then, that I heard Mary say – her voice broken with emotion – “We can’t touch each other, can we?” Oh, my goodness! Possibly seven of the saddest, most sinister words ever. Of course, after months apart, they could never adhere to that but the fact that Mary even questioned what they were allowed to do … what does that say?
It has taken me forever to finish this post; to search for the right words to convey my thoughts and feelings. Never sure whether, ultimately, I am successful, it is cathartic just to try. In this world of docile acceptance, a critical mind would seem an increasing rarity. A gift or a curse? Thing is, I’ve had one ‘all my life’! (Just a little nod to David Soul, aka ‘Hutch,’ who, on hearing his name called after him at Edinburgh Airport, many years ago, turned round and said, ‘Been that all my life, Sir!). There just ain’t no changing …
‘Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone’s else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.’
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis.
This is Trish, signing off.