My papa was so pleased – and, dare I say it?, awfully proud – when I sent him a copy of the letter saying I’d been nominated to receive an invitation to a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. He asked me to do a diary of the day (he’s so deaf that TELLING him about it all would have been impossible) so that he could get a feeling of the whole experience. It’s terribly long and a tad self-indulgent to post on a blog: but, hey, what is a blog if’ it doesn’t include an element of self-indulgence?!!
I’m still not entirely sure how/why the nomination came about: the initial letter said something about Veronica – one of my greatest pals – and I having been selected because of our joint contribution to the local community. Which made me howl with laughter…it sounded terribly, well, “worthy”.
But it was the most special day. Majestic, actually.
WE’VE BEEN TO LONDON TO SEEN THE QUEEN
The day dawned with forecasts of Biblical thunderstorms in Warwickshire while London was to be “warm and sunny”.
The Garden Party wardrobe, the subject of much debate and agonising since February, was donned, hat boxes loaded in the car and we were off – having first been photographed by a friend in the village (who approached the mission as if doing a fashion shoot for Vogue: the evidence of the photo shoot is not good, and will not be circulated).
Veronica drove, with me as navigator for the nitty gritty of Central London, as I said I could just about remember short cuts and rat runs. As the temperature rose, we exited the M40 at Paddington using the route to Knightsbridge which should entail going across the park. A small error by the navigator, directing the driver into the wrong lane, found us in the taxi rank at Paddington Station: there was a sign saying “through traffic” which, eventually, lived up to its name but not without our sitting in a sea of black cabs inching their way forward. And then the “going across the park” route also suffered from the navigator’s Wrong Lane Syndrome. However, Marble Arch, Park Lane and the tarmac arteries that feed their heart are always a joyous driving experience. We escaped being squashed by buses or being carved up by very large (and rather vulgar) limousines and found our way to the subterranean car park in Kinnerton Street.
We had booked a table outside (i.e. on the pavement) at Motcombs, scene of many happy lunches in another lifetime, and had a very jolly al fresco lunch. “Warm and sunny” London weather proved to be boiling mugginess with the occasional hint – but only the merest hint – of a breeze. Non-waterproof mascara was in danger of forming panda eyes as it melted.
Having arrived in London in what might be described as very good time (Palace gates open at 3.00 p.m.: we were sitting at our table at Motcombs contemplating lunch at 12.30), it seemed necessary to justify our continued presence at the table once we had had our excellent light lunch of one course, so – and it must have been the heat doing something strange to my brain, as this was most uncharacteristic – I ordered pudding: and what a peculiar pudding. Two scoops of delicious but overpoweringly rich toffee fudge ice cream arrived. Veronica, very sensibly, resisted temptation. After two mouthfuls I felt sick and the ice cream went unfinished, the remnants forming a rather unattractive pool of melted calories in the dish.
The bill paid (NOT a vast amount that required the sale of Mallow [my Labrador who is no more] and Veronica’s two rather grand Burmese cats), we went back underground to the car to collect our hats and re-emerged into the torrid Belgravia heat to hail a taxi. What a moment: “Buckingham Palace, please”. But we didn’t actually say that! We asked to be dropped off at the Grosvenor Place gate to the Palace because, buried within the myriad helpful hints about the Garden Party which came with the invitation, it said that it was much quicker to get in if one went to the Grosvenor Place or Hyde Park gates. We attached ourselves to the queue at about 2.45. Standing on the pavement, in a snaking line of people with London traffic roaring past, was surreal. I did think of a dole queue with hats on.
We crept forward to the gate and went through the security process, handing over what you might describe as a visa – personal entry slip – plus passport and driving licence to prove we were the people to whom the Lord Chamberlain had sent the invitation. Both Veronica and I thought it a rather strange and modern moment: we were both greeted with “Good afternoon, Madam” by a charming – seemingly 12 year old – policeman who then looked at our respective IDs and said first to me “Enjoy yourself, Amanda” and then to Veronica “Have a lovely afternoon, Veronica”.
Formalities over, WE WERE IN THE PALACE GROUNDS. Serious people-watching from that moment on, as we tottered around the garden. Despite London being absolutely parched (Hyde Park looks like the Sahara), the roses – of which there seemed to a million, planted in massed ranks of single varieties – were wonderful. The lake is like a baby ocean it’s so big, and all around there are specimen trees. Almost too much to look at, really, as it was so terribly hot. Two military bands, positioned at opposite ends of the lawn, took it in turns to belt out background music. From a distance we peered into the roped off Royal Tea Tent and the Dip. Corps Tea Tent, having also sussed out the Tea Tent for us lesser mortals. Oh, the flowers! In “our” tea tent (about the length of Woolacombe Beach) there were vast vases filled with eucalyptus and orchids, the Dip. Corps tent had rather more superior floral decorations and the Royal Tea Tent had the most wonderful VAST arrangements which, without the benefit of field glasses, seemed to be roses, delphiniums, agapanthus, lilies, all in pink dark and pale, blues and cream in enormous gilded (probably gold!) vases…quite, quite lovely.
In the intense heat – people were fainting hither and thither all over the Palace lawns, so the St. John first aiders and paramedics were darting about with wheelchairs, portable ECG machines and oxygen – we managed to find various places under trees to sit down for a bit of a breather, and gulped glasses of water or lemon barley (there were staging posts serving cold drinks wherever you looked). Veronica said I’d gone bonkers when I announced we should keep the “glasses” as souvenirs and take them home! They were blue plastic!
The Yeoman of the Guard appeared on the terrace – when we saw them close to later on it seemed remarkable none of them expired as there was not one in the first flush of youth – and they did some sort of ceremonial fandango with their pikestaffs (is that what they’re called?) which, according to our crib sheet, was these elderly gentlemen in red tights and wool tunics preparing to “hold ground”. This meant Her Majesty and accompanying Royals were about to emerge from the Palace. Veronica and I left our seats in the glorious cool (we had found a tiny bit of breeze) and edged towards the terrace. The National Anthem as the Queen appeared with Prince Philip, Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, Princess Anne and the Gloucesters plus a retinue of equerries and ladies in waiting. Various people bearing special “presentation cards” awaited their moment to be presented, waving the cards at an equerry and were then brought forward – someone in front of us was from the Fan Museum, whatever/wherever that is.
Then tea, which Veronica and I had been told was simply marvellous, we thought was the only downside to the day! All beautifully done, of course, and one hardly had to queue. However, our disappointment about what we’d been told were the best sandwiches in the world (VERY ordinary eggy sandwiches!!) didn’t matter a jot, just so wonderful being there. There were some weeny slices of chocolate cake with a tiny ERII cipher in gold icing on top but when Veronica went back for one of those they had all gone!
As far as clothes and our wardrobe, I think we were both jolly well turned out and had scrubbed up to the best of our ability. But nowadays (which makes me sound ancient) it doesn’t seem to matter what one wears. The most curious combination of garments that would have made Granny faint in horror, including a girl (attached to a soldier who looked simply terrified by being at the Palace – he looked so terribly young, but was wearing all sorts of campaign medals) who wore a sort of shrunken tea towel with her feet jammed into a pair of stilettos which appeared to be made of florescent pink spaghetti with a pink feather stuffed in her hair (that was A Hat). Veronica and I decided we could have gone in shorts, T-shirts, wellies and baseball caps and that would have been fine (except our respective mothers would have had a fit). As well as loads of army/navy/air force personnel, a great number of bishops in purple robes, clerics in red from Royal chapels -or should that be Chapels Royal? – and all sorts of services’ chaplains and ordinary (!) vicars. Lots of Mayors and Aldermen wearing their chains of office, Ambassadors and High Commissioners in national dress, policemen, firemen, ambulancemen and paramedics, representatives of charities, etc., etc., and then the I**** Two who weren’t quite sure why they were there.
Having found a wonderful vantage spot when we’d got tea, we sat and continued the people watching mission. It was extraordinary to sit there and see such an amazing cocktail of people.
At 5.40 the Yeoman of the Guard did their holding ground bit again and the Royals departed: the Queen looking as cool as a cucumber in the still-searing heat. And then dispersal of 6,000 people. As we hadn’t arrived through the front door (and thank goodness we hadn’t, as we would have queued for hours) we were able to go onto the terrace and then into the Palace and through two rooms before going down the steps to the quadrangle and then into the forecourt.
Waiting for a taxi by the main gate was a reminder that we were lesser mortals: no chauffeur to scoop us up! By then we were very tired and very, very hot. We were given Buckingham Palace “share a taxi” slips, which sounds like sharing the school run – the idea being that people have green slips if they want to go to Knightsbidge, say, and they team up with other green slips and share a cab. We’d probably still be standing there 24 hours later had we not decided to get out of the queue and try and get a taxi elsewhere…we found some extra energy and skipped round the corner to Buckingham Palace Road, found a cab and dived into it before anyone could say anything about the Rural Two queue barging.
When we got back to the car park we knew that that we were well over the 6 hour mark as far as charging was concerned, and that the next charging slot was up to 9 hours. We were about to melt with heat and it was still rush hour, so we decided to stay in London a bit longer. Oh dear, I don’t think either of us know what caveat emptor means: we went to an open air bar/restaurant just round the corner from Motcombs where you could have a drink sitting on a sort of London version of a piazza in Italy…foolishly, we didn’t look at the price list, as we were just so pleased to sit down and catch our breath after the excitement of the day. A glass of wine (which turned out to be rather superior Chablis, which shouldn’t really be drunk as an aperitif) was £15. Whoops. But how often are we likely to have a similar day out? (Which doesn’t justify the expense, but just slightly anaesthetises the shock!) But…it was bliss to sit down and mull over about all that we’d seen (Mercifully, we weren’t charged for the huge glasses of TAP WATER we had a side order to the wine!!)
With all my love, Mxxx
(Oh, I haven’t mentioned the loos at the Garden Party: gold stars!!)