Saturday, 17th April, 2021

[Day 397]

Well, it was a beautiful bright day today and Meg and I were delighted to stroll down to town in the spring sunshine. We picked up our supply of Saturday newspapers (particularly full with a variety of Saturday supplements) and made our way to the park where we were happy to coincide with our University of Birmingham friend. All the upper benches were occupied so we had to ‘make do’ by sitting by the side of the lake but the morning was to prove not without incident. The resident black-headed gulls on the park were joined by a heron which was evidently very much larger. Consequently, the heron was being constantly mobbed and dive-bombed by the gulls but it was a bit like a David and Goliath contest. When the heron had been pestered for several minutes he took flight and headed in the direction of the flock of gulls who instantly scattered. After a little while, things settled down and the cycle of constant mobbing followed by a delayed retaliation repeated itself. There is some debate amongst the park cognoscenti whether the heron we say today is the habitual ‘Henry the Heron‘ we used to see months back but was distinguishable because he had rather a gammy left foot (whether genetic or the result of an accident we do not know). Whilst we were laughing and joking in the park, I told them the story of a conversation I had had with my friendly Asian newspaper shop owner. I told him that I was feeling a bit tired that morning (it was a Monday) because over the weekend I had flown to Barcelona and back as I was representing the UK in an international athletics competition. Having arrived home, I then ran all of the way from my house to our Pilates studio in a one-piece bright pink ‘onesie’. My friendly shopkeeper was very sympathetic to my plight, even though I told him that none this had actually happened but was all portrayed in a particularly vivid dream I had had the night before. My park friends who know me well were of the opinion that the detail of running through Bromsgrove in a bright pink ‘onesie’ was probably correct and I was probably just in a state of denial over it all.

This afternoon was dominated by the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh which was a scaled down affair because of the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. I must say that with 750 military from various branches of the armed services, it did not feel initially like a particularly scaled down event but the number of guests allowed inside St. George’s Chapel, Windsor was restricted to 30 who were all members of his immediate family. The funeral had been planned by the Duke himself over several years. One of these highlights of the funeral was the fact that Philip had designed his own custom-built Land Rover to carry the coffin at his funeral. The modified Land Rover Defender TD5 130 chassis cab vehicle was unveiled two days before the service. The duke first began the long-lasting venture to create the bespoke hearse in collaboration with Land Rover in 2003, the year he turned 82. He made the final adjustments to the vehicle in 2019, the year he turned 98. The Defender was made at Land Rover’s factory in Solihull in 2003 and Philip oversaw the modifications, in collaboration with the company, throughout the intervening years. The duke requested that the original Belize Green bodywork be switched to Dark Bronze Green, a colour used for many military Land Rovers. The service itself was one of stark simplicity and was suitably poignant. The Queen had to sit alone and with all the members of the royal family as obliged to wear a mask. Under the circumstances, this was just as well because a certain amount of the naturally felt grief would be obscured by the mask and the television cameras were certainly not visually intrusive. One has to say that the whole funeral was probably a case of ‘less means more’ and one felt that the Duke of Edinburgh had the sort of scaled down service of which he would have approved. As an aside, and without wishing to sound particularly nationalistic, I must say that the English are extraordinary good at arranging events like this at spectacularly short notice. Of course, the last event of a similar nature was the death of Diana, the Princess of Wales and on that occasion, too, the whole funeral was organised in about a week. I know that these things are well rehearsed and also that they have manuals of ‘timings’ (down to the second) to coordinate the various activities. Having said all that, I still think that the English? British? tradition of organising pageants at short notice is probably second to none in the world. Because of the the media onslaught, I feel I know a lot more ‘facts’ about the Duke of Edinburgh than I did previously – for example, one particular story is that as a baby he was stowed away in an orange crate and smuggled aboard /rescued by a British ship after the Greek royal family (with baby Philip) was forced to flee from Corfu.