We were in the car. I was gearing up for the triumphant final chorus of ‘Baker Street’ – you know, that incredible moment when you’re expecting the sax again and instead you get Hugh Burns’ guitar solo – when the radio went dead. This isn’t entirely out of character for Jack FM, who, while generally pretty reliable given their dependence on pre-recorded announcements and a queue of MP3s, are not averse to the odd bit of dead air. I tutted in annoyance, and carried on up the A34.
A minute or two later the tuner kicked into life again, only instead of bombastic voices spouting innuendo and bad puns it was two people having an actual conversation, something that simply doesn’t happen once the breakfast show’s finished. I caught the words ‘world tour’ and turned to Daniel. “Google Prince Philip,” I said.
He did, and then announced “Ah. Yes, he’s died.”
No more Gerry Rafferty, then. Instead we got all the stuff the BBC have kept stored on that petabyte hard drive for Operation Forth Bridge (presumably so named because it never seems to bloody end). We had the tributes, the historical documentaries, the archive footage, an entire afternoon’s worth of half-mast flags billowing in the breezes of early spring, and of course that inevitable bit when every single political commentator and writer and religious figure they could get without breaking Covid regulations crawls out of the woodwork to have a chat, saying almost precisely the same thing that the last person did. Meanwhile the only network channel broadcasting anything else is CBeebies, and even then people were complaining, either because a ‘BREAKING NEWS’ banner took up the bottom third of the screen or because Mister Tumble wasn’t wearing black.
I know the Facebook groups well enough to leave the subject of Prince Philip well alone, particularly since the Harry and Meghan interview that seems to have damaged Anglo-American relations to an extent not seen since the Boston Tea Party. I don’t know, I assume it’s because Meghan’s one of theirs, and therefore any hostility she encountered within the Royal Family must have been racism or xenophobia or a little bit of each. It’s not at all possible that she didn’t get on with people simply because no one really gets on with their in-laws. Depending on what you read, Meghan Markle is either a strong, independent and blameless woman who’s become a victim of racist bullying, despised by the establishment because she didn’t fit the mould, or an opportunistic prima donna who was awful to the palace staff, contemptuous of Kate Middleton and whose modus operandi was to drive a wedge between Harry and his brother.The fact that the most likely reality is an awkward combination of both does not seem to have occurred to anyone, at least anyone who reads the papers, but I suppose the world is so much easier when we can view it in black and white.
Anyway. I watched one thread crumble into a horrendous argument between people who thought Prince Philip was a national treasure and people who thought he was a bigoted racist, and found myself wondering whether it was in fact possible to be both, and whether people’s faults do not eradicate their humanity; nor should their good qualities prevent us from addressing their flaws. No one is either fully good or fully evil, and Doctor Who fans should know this as well as anyone; still, it’s quite an eye-opener when social media reduces any sort of sensible conversation to an us-and-them slanging match where you’re either on one side or on the other, and as awkward as they are to read and moderate they do serve as a timely reminder that most people in the fandom aren’t nearly as enlightened as they’d like to think they are. It only takes the death of a contentious figure to bring out the ugliness in people, and if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that while it’s not always possible to be kind, it is comparatively easy to at least be silent.
Anyway. There we were, mid-Saturday, wandering around Legoland (which we booked long before the prince shuffled off his mortal coil), me having completely ignored my own lesson about kindness when I was shouting at the kids to get ready at eight o’clock that morning, because “every minute we waste here is ten minutes in traffic”. I needn’t have bothered. For all my fears about gridlock and hordes of crowds lining streets they’d been instructed to avoid, the streets of Windsor were all but deserted, and it seems that for once people actually listened. Well, most of them.
“Oh,” I said, scanning the news. “There’s a topless woman been arrested outside Windsor Castle.”
Emily snorted. “Is it Barbara?”
They stuck the Legoland flags at half mast and apparently things went off without a hitch. I didn’t watch it. I didn’t even read about it. I don’t want to hear from body language experts and lip readers and disgraced butlers. Families get the right to grieve in private, even the ones we pay for. My father tells me they dropped the coffin into the floor so it could be taken down to the vault, which gave me the idea of being cremated at Blackpool Ballroom so that they could lower my coffin into the floor with the organist.
“At least you watched it,” I said. “Mum would have been pleased you watched it. You were never one for the pageantry.”
“Ah,” he said. “But no one does pageantry like the British.”
Which is probably true.
Anyway. What do I do at times like this? I head over to Fireworks and do a bit of image manipulation. And for this I have ransacked – I admit with a certain amount of shame – the glossy photo special in the Daily Mail. Only now Prince Philip’s all over Doctor Who instead. Which is probably OK; I mean the Queen’s a fan.
I declare this thing open, whatever it is.