Her Maj comes to Scotland a few times a year but the event that those and such as those look forward to most is the annual Garden Party. This year I was invited (because one of my little flock is now Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Falkirk and one of his duties is to decide who gets invited) and it was an honour. However, I shall whisper to you, dear readers, that I am anti-monarchy, a good socialist at heart (if not always in practice!) and will only be happy when there is a Stewart/Stuart on the throne once more. But sometimes it is an honour to be asked and you have to be selfless and think of it as networking. Am I convincing you? Nah, okay I’ll shut up now.
But you do want to hear all about it, don’t you? First there is the invitation which comes in a gloriously thick envelope, thicker than any envelope you’ve ever seen. So thick in fact, that your letter opener is not sharp enough to slice through. It comes with instructions on what to wear (woman may wear trouser suits – gee thanks), what to do and what not to do. Bring two forms of ID, park here, toilets are there, no medals (drat! had to leave Our Lady’s Miraculous Medal behind).
Now I knew I was going to wear my clerical collar (black shirt of course), black trousers, black shoes (patent funky because I just couldn’t be so sensible) but what to wear on top? What jacket would be suitable for a sunny summer afternoon in Edinburgh? Especially when you don’t feel inclined to spend a lot of money. In fact as little money as possible. Enter eBay and a lovely silky purply duster coat for £1.50 so a bargain too. OK I had to buy a new button when the dry cleaner destroyed it and stick up the hem but still a bargain.
Then there was the rain. Well first there was my hair. My hair which was due a haircut but seemed to be holding up quite well with the use of very strong hairspray. Very strong indeed. And you know how it is? I think I’ll get away without getting a haircut too, you say to yourself. Jolly good. And then there comes a day, 3 days before the garden party when your hair grows an inch overnight and flop. Suddenly it has become too long all over and no amount of spray glue will hold it aloft. Luckily the lovely Tracey at HairDotComb could fit me in on the morning of the party. But that’s always a risk too, you know? Because sometimes the day of a haircut is not the best day for it to be seen in public. Sometimes you have to ‘fix’ it yourself before you dare let anyone see it. I did not have that luxury but thankfully all was well and Tracey excelled herself.
Back to the rain. And the wind. And the cold wind and almost horizontal cold rain. The kind of day when you want to wear your Jack Murphy with fleece lining. But no, we need to look glamourous and summery so I had a genius of an idea… I would wear my thermal simmet! But what if it got miraculously sunny and I ended up melting in the heat? Well that wasn’t going to happen, was it? So thermal vest it was, thus allowing me to look summery-ish while keeping toasty warm. And the umbrella of course. Luckily I had a purple and pink spotty one which set off my outfit beautifully, although I do say so myself.
Why was I worrying? Lord knows because you should have seen the sights I saw! Streaky fake tan, tattoos, alarming hats and fascinators galore (never quite so glamourous when soaking wet – there is nothing so alarming as a wet feather), grass-covered platform shoes, much body piercing, sinking stilettos. And that was just the men! Actually the men weren’t much better. Some were in cream linen for heaven’s sake. Now what is formal about cream linen, I ask you? And kilts of various hues and lengths. Boys, there comes a time when your tummy is so big it is lifting your kilt well up at the front. You can’t see your knees and thighs glinting in the rain but we can and its not nice. Oh how I love people-watching. And sporran-watching. That’s a whole lot of fun.
I didn’t see Her Maj. Two gay male friends told me she was wearing light blue or peacock. No, no, cried the women. It was mint green. So much for gay stereotypes! I stayed in the dry tea tent eating little cucumber and mint sandwiches and passion fruit tarts. Delicious. Although how one is meant to eat when one is balancing a cup and saucer in one hand and a tea plate in the other is beyond me. I hired a Rector’s Tea Cup Holder for the duration and he was jolly good.
So apart from the people and the bad weather, what else did I notice? After all there were about six thousand people there. You know how sometimes you just have a wee think about gender issues and you start to notice… Well perhaps you don’t but I do. And that’s when you notice the role that women play in these royal events which may seem all the more surprising when we have a woman on the throne. First there were the bands. Many military bands were playing throughout the afternoon. I didn’t see any women playing in them. Then there are the Royal Company of Archers, the Queen’s Bodyguards in Scotland. I can’t find out how you get to be an Archer but it seems to be mainly lawyers and bigwigs from Edinburgh. You have to be invited. Not a woman amongst them. There were some antiquated order of constables too in old fashioned uniform with truncheons aloft – all men. I did see one police officer who happened to be a woman who was directing traffic. And the women serving the tea and buns, of course. But mostly the women were there to serve food or look pretty. Welcome to the nineteenth century. Sigh.
So my first Royal Garden Party is over. I met some old friends, missed a whole host of others. The Queen eluded me but I saw some sights. There was a long purple coat with tartan cuff which I coveted on a very elegant lady. I was fooled by many Presbyterians in purple clerical shirts who I thought were bishops. And I laughed a lot in good company. (Even better was supper at The Steading on the way home and large Bombay gin!)