Today I am thrilled to offer you this guest post by my sister, Sarah. She’s living it up in England this year, doing a Masters’ degree and enjoying the good life. Read on…
There have been a number of points in my life where the differences between my choices and my sister’s have been thrown into stark relief. When I was pulling all nighters and struggling through my first year of Architecture school, she was living in France responsible for someone else’s two-year-old, and mailing me fancy lip glosses that I had no idea how to wear. When she rang to tell me that she was pregnant, I was standing on the back porch of my friend’s place having just cycled across town to a party with a case of beer in my panniers. And when she wrote last week about cattle branding in Alberta, Cale and I were preparing to dress up in our fancy clothes to attend Royal Ascot in the Royal Enclosure, thanks to a programme through the Canadian High Commission that allows commoners like us to enjoy a little taste of posh-i-tude. Normally one can only acquire tickets to the Royal Enclosure by either being a previous attendee, being sponsored in for someone who has attended at least four years or more and who will attend with you, or by, you know, being royal. These High Commission tickets aren’t free, but in this enlightened day and age, one can buy one’s way into fancy company.
The racecourse at Ascot is just over 300 years old, and the Royal Meeting is held each year in June with much pomp and ceremony. This is flat-track horse racing (no jumping) and around six races are run each day, with distances varying from around a kilometre to just over three kilometres. All officially measured somewhat quaintly in furlongs (1 furlong = 1/8 of a mile, or 220 yards. 201.16 metres, for those of you speaking Canadian). The Queen and members of the royal family arrive each morning in horse-drawn carriages to open the races.
This is a big year for England, what with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, so the country is in an unusually festive mood. The Jubilee weekend in early June featured lots of Union-Jack themed clothing, and Ascot did not disappoint (see the Hatscot montage below for an incredible Union Jack hat), with a number of ladies choosing to continue the celebration of Her Majesty into the Royal Enclosure. One memorable fifties-cut full-skirted number made me wonder idly how many flags had to die in order for the dress to live. Ladies’ Day at Ascot is traditionally the day for high fashion and outrageous hats, but under the new dress code that Laura blogged about last week, the hats were certainly out in full force. Rumour has it that the dress code stewards were handing out fascinators, hats, and pashminas to those who were deemed unsuitably dressed at the main entrances. At the Royal Enclosure gates, if you weren’t suitably dressed you could just go home. Apparently they are already talking about banning visible tattoos from the Royal Enclosure next year.
One of the racing highlights of the day was when Estimate, ridden by jockey Billy Buick won the Queen’s Vase. The owner of the horse is none other than the Queen herself, and Prince Phillip was pressed into duty to award the Queen’s Vase to the Queen. Very sweet. I have never seen Her Majesty look as excited as she did on the big screens when that horse crossed the line! I imagine that she has to give away a lot of cups and vases and such, so it must be nice for her to get to keep one in her collection for a change.
I have always had a soft spot for the Royals, as Prince William’s birthday is the day before mine. I was hoping that I might get to wish him a happy birthday in person, but I suppose he and Kate deserve to have a little time to themselves every now and again. One’s thirtieth birthday is not to be trifled with!
After the races are done for the day, the (architecturally futuristic) grandstand disgorges some 80,000 racegoers in various states of inebriation back into the real world. Many choose to mill about around the Bandstand beside the parade ring, where a brass band leads the crowd in rousing sing-along renditions of patriotic British classics, such as God Save the Queen, Rule Britannia, and Hey Jude. Wee Union Jacks are distributed to the crowd, and all join in the singing with gusto – the dress code in this part of the racecourse is somewhat more relaxed than in the Royal Enclosure, and with hats askew and heels removed, the formal part of the day draws to a close.
As we walked back toward the car parks at the end of the day, we passed Royal Ascot’s answer to the good old-fashioned tailgate party. I didn’t get a good photo of this, because my phone battery had died by this point, but imagine an assortment of white marquees and camping-style eating tents decorated festively with bunting and scattered liberally across a muddy field full of expensive cars. Sitting in these tents, seemingly oblivious to the gale-force winds and threatening rain, happy racegoers sit sipping champagne and nibbling strawberries. Some of these encampments even had catering staff! Next year, we’re bringing a picnic.