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Monday, 22 September 2014

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Our princely friend helps us to realise we are special

Always good to have friends in high places. Even better to be on matey terms with the kind of chums who don’t mind stepping down in the world to drop in on our more humble abodes on occasion.

Prince Charles. He drops by with endearing frequency. A highly placed friend of Cumbria, he’s much loved around these parts. His affection, openly expressed and consistently offered, is obviously greatly valued.

It’s not every day we up-country folk are on the receiving end of unconditional love... from other than Labradors, that is.

But this is a prince who just keeps on giving. In fact, without meaning to be in any way offensive, we probably wouldn’t be able to keep him away from the place, even if we were minded to try. Which, of course, we’re not.

So, this week HRH called in again. Wandering hither and thither, chatting and cheering up folk in Workington, meandering around Penrith; cracking jokes, grinning broadly, making babies giggle, posing for photos – excitement all round for those who managed to bunk off work and school to greet him.

Some of us didn’t. Though I’d made sure my lace doilies were freshly laundered and wedding china (the pre-divorce cups without chips) sparkling spectacularly, if he bypassed Brampton.

He was conspicuous by his absence. But well, fair dos. There’s humble and there’s in sore need of a lick of paint. And anyway, having heard he only does Earl Grey (with milk?) it’s probably best he missed Pickles Towers on this occasion.

Yorkshire Tea brewed to builder’s strength is the only cuppa in my repertoire and it’s clearly a taste yet to be acquired in royal circles. Shame.

Instead I, like so many others, had to make do with press and Twitter photos, snatches of animation on the TV news. No bad thing, as it turned out. It’s often observation from a distance that allows clearer perspective.

Though it was indeed a VIP day, Charles seemed to turn it on its head. Can you de-VIP a royal visit? Not sure – but he seemed to manage.

Herdwick lamb tattie pot for lunch, a pie and a pint, Penrith toffee – who needed doilies? And best of all, genuine care for the welfare and progress of Cumbrian communities he has long supported with the funds and friendship some more appropriate institutions have seen fit to overlook.

In Penrith he saw the launch of an initiative adding support to his Prince’s Countryside Fund, which helps those who live and work in rural areas facing, as he puts it: “unprecedented challenges”.

“Start pulling out the threads and the rest unravels very rapidly indeed.,” he said. “No farmers, no villages or village pubs, no sustainable agriculture, no distinctive local foods. This is what my Countryside Fund is addressing by giving grants to a range of organisations and initiatives across the country to help create and sustain a thriving rural community – from apprentice hill farmer schemes here in Cumbria, to supporting community shops; from encouraging pubs to be the hub of their communities to supporting school farms.”

Within that promise of affection in action is one of the key causes we have here for knowing it’s good to have frequently visiting friends in high places. And one genuinely loyal friend in particular.

Sometimes it seems a lot of us in Cumbria are rather expert at talking ourselves down, spotting gloom before glitter, wearing hardship as a badge of pride.

With the perspective distance offers, our best friends are the ones who see in Cumbria and her people the gifts we have grown accustomed to overlooking. Thank goodness we have them. How else would we know we were special?

Somewhat disappointedly, I’ve put away the doilies for another day and returned the china cups to safe storage. One day, I’ll get round to using them – if a visiting friend chooses to call. But should the prince drop by, perhaps not. Something tells me he’d maybe prefer one of those well-used mugs and might even enjoy an introduction to builder’s strength Yorkshire Tea.

If not, tough. Isn’t that what even highly placed friends are for – taking as finding?

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