Sunday 18 April 2021

A Simple Walk and a Funeral

Yesterday was sunny, both here on the east coast of Scotland and at Windsor Castle. I set the alarm on my mobile phone for 3 PM, so Benedict Ambrose and I could participate in the one-minute National Silence for the Duke of Edinburgh. 

This walk was along the south shore of the Firth of Forth to "Edinburgh's seaside", which means Portobello Beach. The shores of the Forth have rocky stretches and sandy strips, and on a lovely day like yesterday, families and friends rush to the beaches with their dogs to sunbathe, dig, cook meat with disposable BBQ kits and, very occasionally, run into the water. 

The most obvious wildlife in this stretch are the birds, especially the orange-billed sandpipers oystercatchers who sound like squeaky toys when they chat together. 

The colourful windscreens on the beach look amusingly old-fashioned, like something on postcards from early 19th century holiday towns like Brighton. However, if you want sun and no wind, on a springtime Scottish beach, a screen in necessary. 

There are many, many dogs. I'm not sure they don't actually outnumber the children. The dogs are almost invariably pure-bred and solidly recognisable as terriers, retrievers, bulldogs, etc.  Scotland's birthrate is something like 1.37 children per woman, which makes me nervous about the dog : children ratio.  An estimated 485,000 Scottish households have dogs, at 1.3 dogs per household. For me, the "perfect" home would spill over with riotous life: human children, a dog or two, a cat or two, spider plants, parlour palms, geraniums, a kitchen garden by the back door, a lawn, trees, perhaps a miniature pond with gold-fish, a small chicken run. 

Portobello Beach was full of riotous life but not crowded, as if everyone was at least acknowledging the outdoor social distancing advice. 

At 3:02 PM in Bellhill Lane, I realized that my phone had been too-quietly ringing for two minutes. We decided that we hadn't said anything in the past two minutes, so that counted as our participation in the National Silence.

Twelve Triangles, one of our favourite pastry shops, had been shut for an hour, so we stopped at the next most obvious pastry shop and bought a Turkish cheese bun and a Bakewell slice. We took them to the park next to the Catholic Church--whose 1960s wreckovation was, amusingly enough, stopped by the government department in change of preserving historical architecture. There we basked in the sun, were investigated by a snowy-white West Highland terrier, and ate our snack. The cheese bun was lacklustre; that £2 could have made me 12 p in the stock market yesterday, weep weep. 

We went home by bus and bought a week's worth of groceries according to our handy week's menu and shopping list. Then I made a baklava--not consciously to honour the Duke of Edinburgh's early life as a Prince of Greece, but I'm glad it could have done. Baklava turns out to be not all that hard to make (if you buy the phyllo), and it is absolutely more economical to make your own than to buy it from a shop, even given the cost of walnuts.  

After supper, at B.A.'s insistence, we watched the online recording of the BBC broadcast of the funeral ceremonies for the Duke. It was a very British thing to do.

"Nobody does funerals better than us," said B.A. several times, meaning the British, or the British Royal Family. 

"Look at that precision," he also said several times, meaning the massed, marching soldiers. 

It was actually very mesmerising, and I knew almost all the musical works the Duke, the BBC commentator reminded us, had chosen himself. It was a cheerful thought, to go with the sunshine, that the Duke had planned out all the details of his Windsor Castle funeral, and probably very much enjoyed it, too.

"He's chosen all the top Remembrance Day tunes," I said to B.A., who admitted this was true: "I Vow To Thee My Country", "O Valiant Hearts",  "Jerusalem", "Nimrod".

"I want "Nimrod" at my funeral," I said. 

B.A. seemed to doubt that I will get "Nimrod" at my funeral. He wants the "Flowers of the Forest" piped after his funeral Mass, maybe as his coffin is being carried (rolled, let's face it) out of the church. Well, naturally he will have the "Flowers of the Forest" He is a Scot.

The actual Funeral Ceremony (which included "Flowers of the Forest") was more than mesmerising, it was edifying. The Duke of Edinburgh had picked a reading and a sung psalm that were full of joyful meditation upon the natural world, as well as a Gospel passage proclaiming Christ as "the Resurrection and the Life." 

I forget that Anglican rituals can be really that beautiful, normally because when I am at one I am hot with embarrassment because there are women in clerical shirts standing around. This is a good thing because it means that, however gorgeous Anglican liturgies are, and however more impressive the Archbishop of Canterbury than various Catholic bishops, I will never be tempted to throw in my lot with the British schismatics Reformed tradition. Sometimes those ladies' clerical shirts are pink

Anyway, putting aside liturgical transvestitism (and there were no women in collars at the Royal Funeral), the Anglican Prayer Book is very beautiful and the Duke of Edinburgh has excellent taste. (I really don't know why we talk about the deceased in the past tense when human beings have eternal souls.) Meanwhile, the Royal Family was beautifully and tastefully dressed, and as always the Princess Royal, the Duchess of Cambridge, and Countess of Wessex looked impeccable. The Queen looked very elegant , too, and all I can say is that I hope I'm that mobile should I ever reach 94 myself. 

If you are 50-odd, you can't go wrong to emulate the Countess of Wessex in your attempts to look smart and stylish, and if you are younger than that, the Duchess of Cambridge should be your model.* 

Now I must scramble or we will be late for Mass.

*Update for ladies: Those stiletto heels, though. On the one hand, they are correct. My congratulations to those who really can stand and walk in them in comfort. But on the other, it is utterly ridiculous for human beings to totter along with their heels five inches in the air. 

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