Sunday, 11 April 2021

Prince Philip: a footnote from the foothills

As part of my programme of returning to print books at bedtime (all this playing spider patience on my laptop is clearly not good), I have recently started on "A View from the Foothills". This is a distillation by former Labour MP Chris Mullin and his editor of his diaries from his time as a junior minister in the Blair government. It is obvious that Mullin has no time for royalty in principle and little respect for her majesty in person, but it was natural the other day to peek in the index for references to the late Prince Philip. It is also obvious that Mullin does not like the Blairite waffle of most of the pre-prepared speeches he is expected to deliver. So one suspects a certain sympathy with the late consort in this entry from 5th December, 2003, when Mulliin accompanied Jack Straw, then the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, at a Commonwealth Conference in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria:

Jack has gone home, so I am 'attending upon' the Queen, who is officially opening the new British Council offices. We are on the roof terrace. Her Majesty, the Duke, a fresh-faced equerry, an immaculate lady-in-waiting and myself. David Green, the Council's top man, has just read out a little speech with the Queen standing impassively beside him. I am next to the Duke, alongside a group of English women. When Green has finished the Duke remarks loudly, 'Huh, that speech contained more jargon per square inch than any I've heard for a long time.' Then he turned to the women: 'You're teachers, aren't you? Can you tell me what all that meant?'

One of the teachers, a bit right-on, replies, 'No, sir. We're not actually teachers...'

'Not teachers? What are you, then?'

'Well, sir, we empower people.'

That set him off. 'EMPOWER? Doesn't sound like English to me...'

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