Yesterday the chancellor and I caught a train to London to attend the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. We were invited by the Lord Chamberlain because by the time you are a canon chancellor of a cathedral, you in some nebulous way fulfil the criteria. (I think.) It's not, however, an event filled with the great and the good of the realm, so much as the ordinary and the good. This is in contrast to its forerunner--the presentation of debutantes to the monarch. That's something I would never have had a chance of attending, being only a grammar school gel, and daughter of the manse. (Rather than finishing school and daughter of a peer.)
Here's the official summary of the event, from www.royal.gov.uk: 'Garden parties have been held at Buckingham Palace since the 1860s, when Queen Victoria instituted what were known as 'breakfasts' (though they took place in the afternoon). In the 1950s the number of garden parties held at Buckingham Palace was increased from two to three a year. They took the place of presentation parties attended by debutantes, but have evolved into a way of rewarding and recognising public service. They are attended by people from all walks of life.'
Whatever shall I wear, whatever shall I wear? Quick! Consult the helpful leaflet. 'Your dress on the day: Ladies: Day dress with hat or Uniform (No Medals). Trouser suit may be worn. Chains of office may be worn. National Dress may be worn.' The UK doesn't really have a National Dress, does it? Unless we go down the Morris Dancer route, or the shorts and England shirt, socks and sandals combo, which renders Englishmen instantly recognisable abroad. The chancellor consulted his iPhone and declared that there would be no rain in London. I think it shows some greatness of spirit on my part that I shared my tiny pink umbrella with him when the heavens opened.
By the time we got off the train at Euston, we could spot other attendees. Just follow that mauve fascinator and it will lead you to the palace! The queues were immense but moved quickly. After showing two forms of ID (one of which MUST be photographic) we entered the forecourt and made our way in to the palace. Photography was not permitted. The pictures here were taken hastily on the way out, before I was told off by a policeman. As we shuffled through the grand entrance hall, our feet sank into the dark pink carpet, just as they would sink into the lawn later on. (Sensible footwear recommended.) White walls, gilt cornicing, a glimpse of portraits. Then out into the gardens.
Day dress with hat for ladies is open to wide interpretation. Long, short, tight, voluminous. Hats ranged from microscopic to cartwheel. I myself sported a little black pillbox hat; easy to stuff in a commodious handbag before and after, but treading that fine line between retro glamour and cabin crew. The most astonishing head-gear award was won by a creation which might have been designer, or alternatively, an imaginative use made of an pheasant run over on the journey down. The vibe was uniform day at Ascott. The air smelt of trampled grass and perfume.
Now then: the tea itself. Cucumber sandwiches--but naturally. Also egg and cress. Cakes and pastries, all exquisite, but none easy to eat delicately while wearing black gloves. The marquee was about 100m long, with serving stations down the full length, making it tactfully possible for porkers to return for second and third helpings without looking too obvious. Tea, iced coffee, or apple juice.
Two bands were playing at opposite sides of the lawn, taking it in turns. The Yeomen of the Guard appeared to 'hold ground', then National Anthem announced the arrival of the Queen. We glimpsed her emerald green hat. Then it rained. We walked round the ornamental lake, and ate a mulberry from a royal mulberry bush, avoiding purple-cassocked bishops wherever possible. Later we sheltered under a tree eating vanilla icecream as the band played the theme tune from the Archers, pretending we hadn't recognised Lord Coe standing next to us. What could be more English?
It turned out that we'd accidentally stationed ourselves on the route taken by the departing Royal Party. We were held back and shepherded by an army of equerries in morning suits. The National Anthem again, and here they come! It's very odd seeing these ultra familiar people pass in front of you, in the flesh. A woman on the opposite side to us took out a hanky and wiped her eyes. I wondered by what route she'd ended up here? What public service had she rendered? Something more deserving than marrying the future canon chancellor of Lichfield cathedral at the age of 22, perhaps.
Then back out through the palace onto the forecourt, where all the cameras came out. Tsk tsk.
About this blog
This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.