Prince Philip has aged disgracefully into our favourite grumpy grandad
'Just take the f***ing picture', the Duke swore at a photographer
One would never confuse the ancient philosopher Epicurus and the Duke of Edinburgh. True, both have Greek blood in their veins, but one is considered one of the world's greatest and wisest sages and the other is the nation's most dependable curmudgeon.
Usually, when he's out and about, the most profound thought Prince Philip has to grapple with is "Keep it shut". And an awful lot of the time he fails at even this rather basic concept - as witnessed when he snapped at an overly fussy photographer to "Just take the f****** picture" at a Battle of Britain event last Friday.
Now, as well as wittering on about the good life, Epicurus believed that being old was the bee's knees: "It is not the young who should be considered fortunate, but the old man ... because the young man in his prime wanders much by chance, vacillating in his beliefs, while the old man has docked in the harbour, having safeguarded his true happiness."
A salty old seadog, at 94, the prince has docked. In fact, last Friday, surrounded by other war veterans, I suspect he was right back on deck. The thing is, the Duke knows who he is and what he wants. And that is not to be overly bothered about official photographs that will barely merit a glance before joining the thousands of others in the archives.
Okay, his invective was on the crude side, but it is also informed with the wisdom that all older people tend to accrue as they rack up the decades.
Think about it - in spite of the infirmities that can come with the passing years, it must be great to be old, to be past caring what others think. Just think of all the energy, all the time, all the emotional stress we expend in our twenties, thirties and forties, worrying about what others think of us, how we looked, what we said, whether we - unbearable thought! - fit in, or not. All those painfully constructed "look at me" Facebook posts - the mottos posted, the carefully cropped photos, making sure we run with the pack when it comes to our, er, own opinions. Yawn.
In other words, if not exactly living a total lie then certainly not living a life true to ourselves.
But the really great, liberating thing that many older people discover is that actually they couldn't care less about impressing anybody. Don't like it? Sling your hook.
I've spent quite a bit of time with people getting on a bit in the past few years. And, yes, there have been times in our youth-worshipping way that I've shifted with barely disguised impatience.
But that was my mistake. Because the more time I've spent with older people, the more I've begun to realise what real courage, substance and chutzpah is really about. Like seeing someone conjure a joke in the face of death just to make themselves - but primarily you - feel better. A battle-hardened stoicism sets in, spliced with the need to instil in others a bit of "carpe diem" backbone.
If we listen, really listen, to our elderly, often we don't just hear the sound of the crunch of another Werther's Original, but also the voice of freedom and a total belief in self. So, when they hold forth - and those I know have never been behind the door when it comes to opinions - that a boyfriend's a bad 'un, or that we should put our money in the Post Office, they have a tendency to turn out to be infuriatingly right.
"Just take the f****** picture." Hmmm. Maybe Prince Philip hears time's winged chariot drawing nearer and doesn't want to waste another minute. Maybe he was tired - the Queen and Duke's work schedule puts some younger royals to shame.
Maybe he was feeling hot and querulous. Maybe he knew that, no matter how much the photographer gooned around, the picture would turn out much the same. Maybe he wanted a snifter. Maybe he also now has the gift of perspective - of knowing what is and isn't important. That is a gift to envy and respect.
Philip's often been criticised for shooting off at the mouth, for being a liability to "the Firm". But when it comes to the duty side of his role, he's never let "the Firm" down.
For more than 60 years, he has been at the Queen's side, but firmly in second place. Though clearly a man's man, one supposedly of his time and with a decent naval career and good war behind him, he's always been happy to be the Queen's shadow, offering Her Majesty comfort and companionship while never the main player. How many of today's "new men" could carry out such a role with the same ease? Or would their masculinity feel a little bruised?
Anyway, the Duke's famous faux pas have helped to give the Windsors a more human face - tough as old boots, non-PC, he has aged rather disgracefully into a favourite grumpy grandad.
In this age of bland social norms and (largely) self-serving civilities, perhaps we need to hear more from those who no longer need, or wish, to be thought well of, or who want to wheedle their way up life's greasy poles. It may seem a strange paradox, but perhaps the true voice of rebellion, of iconoclastic abandon, is a rather quavery one.