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LIFE BEGINS AT 80 FOR PRINCE PHILIP

by Eric Shackle

The Queen is planning events to demonstrate her gratitude for her husband's role in public life over the past 50 years... -- The Times (London), May 28.

An open letter to His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich, also called Philip Mountbatten (original name Philip, Prince Of Greece and Denmark) on the occasion of his 80th birthday, June 10, 2001.

Hi Phil (as you know, we're a bit informal here on the Internet). I have good news for you. Please read these consolatory words written many years ago by Frank C. Laubach:

The first 80 years are the hardest. The second 80 are a succession of birthday parties. Once you reach 80, everyone wants to carry your baggage and help you up the steps. If you forget your name or anybody else's name, or an appointment, or your own telephone number, or promise to be three places at the same time, or can't remember how many grandchildren you have, you need only explain that you are 80.

Being 80 is a lot better than being 70. At 70 people are mad at you for everything. At 80 you have a perfect excuse no matter what you do. If you act foolishly, it's your second childhood. Everybody is looking for symptoms of softening of the brain.

Being 70 is no fun at all. At that age they expect you to retire to a house in Florida and complain about your arthritis (they used to call it lumbago) and you ask everybody to stop mumbling because you can't understand them. (Actually your hearing is about 50 percent gone.)

If you survive until you are 80, everybody is surprised that you are still alive. They treat you with respect just for having lived so long. Actually they seem surprised that you can walk and talk sensibly.
-- Reprinted by permission of the Laubach Family Association

Our paths have crossed only once, Phil. That was when you, as a handsome young officer in Royal Navy uniform, visited Sydney soon after the start of World War II. Because of wartime censorship, your ship's arrival was not recorded by the media, but the news that you were here spread throughout the city like a bushfire. For years, the world's social pages had referred to you as the world's most eligible bachelor, so you quickly cut a swathe through Sydney's cafe society. Hostesses swamped you with invitations to parties hurriedly arranged in your honour. Lovely girls threw themselves at your feet.

I was working as a young reporter on Frank Packer's Daily Telegraph. Already a member of the militia, I was awaiting a call-up for full-time military service, which came shortly afterwards. The Telegraph occupied a rundown building in Castlereagh Street, conveniently flanked by two friendly pubs, where most of the newsroom staff spent much (too much, in retrospect) time and money. Almost opposite was a pawnshop, where certain reporters and cameramen (whose names can't be revealed even today) occasionally popped their employer's typewriters and cameras as security for cash loans to tide them over until next payday.

The noisy, smoke-filled, uncarpeted newsroom was sparsely furnished, with a few ancient typewriters, battered dial telephones with separate earpieces on tangled and often frayed cords, tattered directories with whole sections missing, and wobbly chairs. A long table was littered with old newspapers, stacks of copypaper, and a few pots half-filled with crusted paste.

One evening, you may recall, you visited the building, in the company of an attractive female staff photographer. You made your way to the pictorial department on the fourth floor, where you chatted amiably and knowledgeably with the cameramen.

Word of your unexpected arrival swept through the newsroom on the floor below. It was rumoured that you spent a long time inspecting the darkroom with your companion, but that may have been inspired by envy or wishful thinking. Be that as it may, I think you probably still cherish memories of that visit to Sydney.

You've come a long way since those days, Phil. You have retained your interest in photography, although sometimes your relations with the cameramen have not always been so cordial.

Since you'll be an octogenarian on June 10, you should think of easing up. Why don't you get away from England's bleak weather for a while (it's bad for arthritis) and take a long break in sunny Greece, the country of your birth? Maybe you could help organise the Athens 2004 Olympics.

You would also enjoy revisiting your birthplace, the lovely island of Corfu. I've never been there myself, but I've found out about it on the Internet, at CORFU.

"Welcome to the island of Corfu," it says. "An island full of history and natural beauty. An island with tradition of hospitality. Corfu the 'Emerald Island' is one of the Ionian Islands 'Heptanissa.' [It] is one of the most beautiful islands of the whole Mediterranean. The greenest of all the Hella's (Greek) Islands with a mountainous skyline plunging into the blue waters of Ionion.

"Lovely Corfu, green and sun-drenched, with its indented shores, a mythical, fascinating island, first appeared on the scene at the dawn of time when she gave refuge to Jason and the Argonauts on their return from their quest for the Golden Fleece...

"The incomparable beauty of the island ... attracted a host of would-be conquerors. It also inspired artists of every kind, who praised its charms in words and music or rendered them in paintings, sculptures or engravings, spreading its renown to a wide public over the past few centuries.

"Literary figures such as Goethe, Oscar Wilde, Gerald and Lawrence Durrell, painters such as Alfred Sisley and Edward Lear, immortalized with their pen or palette Corfu's inimitable enchantment ... according to Lawrence Durrell, Prospero's island in The Tempest is modeled on Shakespeare's notion of Corfu.

"Corfu was the birthplace of Ioannis Kapodistrias Greece's first governor; Nikolaos Mantzaros (the composer who set to music Solomos's Hymn to Liberty, the country's national anthem); Writers and poets Polylas, Markoras, Mavillis, and Constantine Theotokis, it was a source of inspiration to Greece's national poet, Dionysios Solomos."

Surprisingly, they seem to have overlooked your name in their list of famous Corfusians (or should that be Corphans?). Surely you would be remembered as a local Lothario who achieved fame and fortune in Britain by marrying the boss's daughter?

Copyright 2001.   Eric Shackle   Story first posted June 2001.

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