Today is Prince Philip’s funeral. In fact, as I write it has just completed with a lone piper marching in full regalia out of the chapel at Windsor Castle where the funeral took place. The Queen sat alone during the entire ceremony and cut a forlorn figure. Was it really not possible to have someone sitting with her? She has just lost her partner of 73 years and I’m sure could have used a little human comfort. It seemed cruel, somewhat reminiscent of Harry and William marching behind their mother’s coffin all those years ago.
In my youth I was a republican, red in tooth and claw. In recent years my republicanism has been somewhat blunted by Mrs Preen who is a great royalist. She reminds me when I take a swipe at the royal franchise that if we didn’t have them, we’d likely have an ex-politician as head of state who more than half the country would detest.
Today I cycled past Buckingham Palace where the Union Flag fluttered at half-mast and families in Green Park enjoyed a picnic in the cool sunshine of a chilly Spring.
Whether you are an ardent royalist or care nothing for them, Philip’s funeral is a moment to consider. It really is a changing of the guard. In my youth there were still many veterans who had been through the machine-age slaughter of World War 1. They have gone. Now we are seeing the finals acts of those who marched through the hell of the second great European war of the 20th century. It’s a moment to pause and reflect.
What comes next could be tricky for the Windsors. Unlike the Queen, the country’s great grandma, Charles III may not be to everyone’s taste. When Diana died, I was working as a journalist and every lunchtime I was sent out with a microphone to vox pop the general public. The general consensus of the general public was that they couldn’t stand Charles at any price. I think that has softened somewhat over the years, but it could be a rocky ride for the famille royale when the Queen hands in her jewel encrusted lunch pail.
Nice to see the apparently two warring brothers, Harry and William, chatting amicably after the service. Perhaps they’ll get on with the wrangling when our very unroyal backs are turned. Or perhaps they get on fine and perish the thought their enmity is just a tabloid fabrication.
It was a sad military service with perhaps not much in it for me until I read the poet laureate’s poem on the passing of the Duke. It’s called The Patriarchs – An Elegy.
While written to mark Philip’s death, it’s a poem, as the title suggests, for the Duke and the whole of his tight-lipped, no nonsense generation. Like the Duke my father fought through World War 2. He didn’t talk about it, but he suffered greatly as a result of what he’d seen and done.
To me at least, the poem is deeply moving. I’m putting it here as a tribute to my dad and all those who are part of a generation that has almost departed.
The Patriarchs – An Elegy
The weather in the window this morning
is snow, unseasonal singular flakes,
a slow winter’s final shiver. On such an occasion
to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up
for a whole generation – that crew whose survival
was always the stuff of minor miracle,
who came ashore in orange-crate coracles,
fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea
with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.
Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans
across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets,
regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were
was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business.
Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became
both inner core and outer case
in a family heirloom of nesting dolls.
Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand
in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.
They were sons of a zodiac out of sync
with the solar year, but turned their minds
to the day’s big science and heavy questions.
To study their hands at rest was to picture maps
showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes
of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions.
Last of the great avuncular magicians
they kept their best tricks for the grand finale:
Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely.
The major oaks in the wood start tuning up
and skies to come will deliver their tributes.
But for now, a cold April’s closing moments
parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon
snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.
The picture of Windsor Castle was taken by Andrew Laurence