It is a great pity that the natural world and human civilisation have evolved in such a way that requires tributes to be paid to a person in the moments just after their death, instead of just before.
Perhaps, in the future, when all our neurons have been digitally synthesised, this may change. It may even be that a British king or queen has already been born who will one day be digitally reactivated in order to listen to the very long days and weeks of complete and utter nonsense said about them.
And it is a very great pity that such a thing cannot be done to Prince Philip. He was – we have been told several million times over in the 10,000 or so years since he sadly died on Friday – very direct. Robust. He said what he thought. He didn’t suffer fools. So what would he have made, one really does not need to wonder, of the most recent round of simpering tributes to him, this time at a specially convened session of the House of Commons?
The prime minister, who had seen fit to honour the sombreness of the occasion by spending upwards of 10 seconds in a dark room, cutting his own hair with a high-powered hedge trimmer, began proceedings. The duke, we would learn, was a designer and an innovator. The evidence provided for these qualities was the customised Land Rover that will apparently carry his coffin on Saturday. Some pictures of said vehicle have been made public. It is a Land Rover with an especially big bit on the top, in which a coffin may be put. It does not, at least to my inexpert eye, appear to be the kind of vehicle that will leave Elon Musk and the like lamenting this sudden loss to the design community.
His other “invention” appears to have been a specially customised sausage barbecue with sauce receptacles that the duke enjoyed using at Balmoral. Several prime ministers were on hand to say that they have eaten sausages from this barbecue, wondered at its technical marvels, yet none seem to have put the necessary calls in to get Prince Philip on to Dragons’ Den and bring this so obviously ingenious device to the mainstream.
Though one speaks for the dead with very great caution, one does not have to think too hard before imagining what Prince Philip might have made of claims that Prince Philip had been posthumously raised to the rank of “inventor”, through the power of a barbecue that almost no one has ever seen.
Shortly before the occasion began, Prince Harry had in fact released his own statement, referring to “grandpa” as having been “master of the barbecue and legend of banter”. One suspects grandpa would rather have had grandson leading the tributes to him in the House of Commons than, to take but one of many examples, Theresa May – the former prime minister, apparently.
Prince Philip lived a very long and varied life, which was categorised above all by serious dedication and very great personal risk to trying to make people laugh. And here he might have been, looking down from somewhere or other, watching the actual former prime minister honour his memory with an anecdote about how he once turned up to a black tie event wearing black tie, because that was the kind of man he was.
“As a hugely talented person, he could have been enormously successful in his own right,” May would also say, in her typical joy-incinerating way. “It was that willingness to put himself second and to serve. That will be his true lasting legacy. It will be an inspiration to us all.”
Again, one does wonder whether the Duke of Edinburgh, arguably best known for the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, might not have wondered whether, “do nothing with your talent” is really the kind of inspirational messaging he had been hoping to leave behind.
I lost count of the number of MPs who praised his devotion to the environment and to the natural world. To the best of my knowledge, none sought to balance the equation with the views of the very, very large number of wild animals who were shot to death by him.
A little while later, Bill Cash would be dialling in from home to say how Prince Philip “lived a life of self-reliance”. This will perhaps come as something of a shock to the roughly 100 million or so British taxpayers, dead and alive, who have forcibly given him their cash over the years; on which they were a lot more self-reliant than him.
According to Iain Duncan Smith, the duke lived his life by the age-old maxim that, “if you can’t find something good to say about somebody, then don’t say anything at all”.
This really is Duncan Smith’s main observation about a man who spent a full seven decades travelling the world and being jovially yet brutally rude about absolutely everyone and everything. One supposes it’s a relief he didn’t live long enough to hear this particular gem as it would certainly have killed him off anyway.