A Royal Connection.
This post started out as one of my more usual publications, yet – barely a half of a paragraph in, I received a notification from Medscape on my phone. The sadness I immediately felt, changed this post completely. Forgive me please, for this little bit of reminiscence:
During the recent Easter weekend, we took a drive out to Castle Loch for the five kilometre walk around its enticing perimeter. This beautiful Loch is situated on the very outskirts of the Royal Burgh of Lochmaben, just a couple of miles from Lockerbie. I mention this because today, the media has announced the sad passing of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip – the Queen’s husband. He was 99.
In the summer of 1984, I was about to start my fourth year at High School. I had at that time held down a weekday paper-round, an all-day Saturday job at a local butchers, a Sunday milk-round which started at around 4 a.m and, I was also a sea cadet. The latter – took up two evenings a week and usually, two to three weeks of my school summer holidays for around five years. So why do I mention all of this? It’s very simple really.
One of my fondest childhood memories dates back to the summer of ’84. As a cadet, I had saved up my part-time earnings for a ten-day training course, sailing the south-west coast of England during which time we would be part of the Royal Review at Portland, Dorset. After around six days mostly at sea, we had pulled in to Portland Bill to refit and refurbish for the review which would take place on the following morning. Decks were scrubbed, lines were stowed and arranged, battens were polished and gunnels painted. Boots were spit and polished and uniforms were cleaned and ironed to the point at which one could have shaved with the creases using our toe-caps as shaving mirrors. But I was just 14. Alas. Nonetheless, nothing was left unchecked – on our vessel at least!
On the morning of the review, Prince Philip boarded every vessel rafted up at Portland Harbour, accompanied by his entourage of course and eventually – he boarded ours. As we stood to attention, twelve of us is our best No.2 uniforms, he shook hands and spoke with each of us in turn. I was, I think, about half-way down the line. Then he stood in front of me. He offered his hand and asked me as I shook it what I hoped to be when I left school and so, I told him, “I want to join the Royal Navy and work in communications, Your Royal Highness!” (We had all been prepped for speaking to royalty beforehand, you’ll understand!)
“Really?!” he had replied. “I have absolutely no idea what that is!”
It may sound ridiculous that such a moment in time, as short as it was – should be either so memorable or, so relevant. But our lives are made of the moments we remember and measured moreso by those that we would never want to be without. This memory is one of mine and, I am fortunate to have it. His obvious quick and effortless whit was a huge part of his warmth and his charm, I suppose. He could get away with saying anything and heaven only knows what he had said when he boarded the vessel rafted next to us; an all-female crew who had apparently, embarrassingly… rushed their preparations for the Duke’s visit which then became front page news in one of the tabloids on the following day. A picture of Prince Philip holding aloft a pair of ladies underwear which he had seen on one of the vessel’s bunks. His expression, as I recall – was priceless. But his words would have had many people rolling around the lower deck! I wish I had been there to hear what he’d said to that! If you search online for Prince Philips verbal gaffs and witty retorts – you’ll easily find enough to compile a hardback! He once described himself as “the world’s most experienced plaque-unveiler”.
Though I have never been what you could call a staunch follower of the Royal Family – I have always appreciated their place in our history, in our future and in our national identity and, I am so proud to have, as so many have before and after me – even shaken his hand. And I feel a tangible, palpable sense of personal loss at his passing.
Today then, is a very sad day. I can only extend my own personal condolences to our Royal Family for their hugely sad loss of Prince Philip. A charming and kind, warm and witty National Icon – who will be very sadly missed, yet happily, joyfully – remembered.
He shook my hand.
[9th April 2021].