A grand day out!

Last Wednesday, I headed into London with Husband to go to the second of this year’s garden parties at Buckingham Palace. Yes, really! It was certainly an experience.

Getting into London from Oxfordshire is so much easier now, using Oxford Parkway station near Kidlington. We got to Marylebone in good time – feeling a tad overdressed, even carrying my new hat in a bag. As we took the Underground, we started to see other people sufficiently frocked up that it was a fair guess where they were going. We got out at Hyde Park Station as the info said the queues at the palace back gate would be shorter. In fact, everyone was being marshalled towards the front of the palace instead, along Constitution Hill – which is pretty much level by the way. There was so much going on with Jubilee weekend preparations that clearly the normal routines didn’t apply. Anyway, since we were early we were thinking about taking a look at Hyde Park, but one of the many, many police around advised we go and get through the security check early, so we’d be at the front of the queue. This was extremely good advice. Waiting in the heat for about 45 minutes was a bit of a chore, but there were people to talk to, and things to look at – including many, many police with guns…

Once we got in, we had a pleasant stroll around the gardens, where there was lemon barley water or water on offer for anyone who might be thirsty. The grounds are big enough to have one military band by the palace (Welsh Guards) and another one (RAF) on the far side of the lawn, and for them not to be heard over each other. This is possibly why it didn’t feel overcrowded – even though there were apparently between 7000 and 8000 people there. Given the numbers, the way tea was served was astonishingly efficient. The main tea tent must have had twenty stations offering cakes, sandwiches and tea or Sandringham apple juice. Since we had gone for a walk rather than join the first rush, we queued for less than ten minutes – and when I asked what might be dairy free/vegan, the lady behind the counter waved at her elegantly morning-dressed supervisor who came over to talk to me. ‘Dairy free, madam? Of course. One moment, madam.’ He shimmered off like Jeeves and by the time the lady had loaded a plate for Husband and assured him he could come back if he wanted anything else, Jeeves reappeared with a dairy free plateful for me – which was lovely.

There were special presentations to the Royals up on the terrace, and then they (Prince Edward, the Countess of Wessex, Princess Alexandra, the Duchess of Cambridge) made their way across the lawn. The Yeoman of the Guard cleared the way – and Gilbert and Sullivan costumes notwithstanding, you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of their pikes. There was also a contingent of tall men in morning dress and top hats who were divided into ones engaging the public with charming conversation and making sure people didn’t get over-excited – and the ones who weren’t smiling, who weren’t talking to anyone, and who were constantly scanning the crowd. We didn’t join the scrum of people eager for a handshake or a photo. It was much more interesting to find a chair in a shady spot by the RAF band and people-watch.

All human life was there. People are proposed by sponsors ‘to recognise public service and celebrate people who’ve made a positive impact in their community’*. I talked to people involved in youth sports, Scouting, the NHS, local government, food banks, local voluntary organisations. It was all very relaxed – once we were inside the grounds, the only police in sight were in dress uniforms as guests. (Okay, and the ones in black tactical gear up on the palace roof) There were also a good few military personnel of all ranks – a spotters’ guide to uniforms and insignia would have come in handy. There’s a diplomatic tea tent so I’m assuming that accounted for the morning-dressed folk. Clerics of all creeds, levels of eminence and gender were around as well. The invitation said national dress could be worn, so there were some striking African outfits and gorgeous saris to be seen. A green silk shalwar kameez decorated with silver embroidery and pearls caught my eye, and a young Japanese naval officer in full dress uniform was accompanied by his plus-one in a stunning kimono. Or he may have been her plus-one, of course.

Once the Royals had reached their tea tent, we walked around the gardens and the lake a bit more and then went to sit and listen to the Welsh Guards where there was a breeze. Quite by chance, that meant we were in an excellent spot when the Royals walked back to the palace, so we stayed where we were, and got a really good look at the Yeomen and their pole-arms. And, oh, yes, at the Royals as well. The Duchess of Cambridge stopped to talk to three British-Indian ladies from Northampton, all in beautiful saris, who were standing just in front of us. The nice ladies, especially the oldest, were utterly, utterly thrilled, and that was lovely to see. Prince Edward was chatting to some else not far away. Either the Royals are actors who deserve Oscar nominations, or they were genuinely enjoying themselves. I’m going with the latter – given all the nonsense they have to put up with, being somewhere familiar and secure, and meeting people who are so visibly delighted to meet them must make for a pleasant day.

And then it was time to wend our way home. By the time we got back, thunderstorms had arrived, but we didn’t care. We picked up fish and chips en route and that rounded off our day.

*The Society of Authors put me forward on the basis of my various endeavours on behalf of writers.

Author: Juliet

Juliet E McKenna is a British fantasy author living in the Cotswolds, UK. Loving history, myth and other worlds since she first learned to read, she has written fifteen epic fantasy novels so far. Her debut, The Thief’s Gamble, began The Tales of Einarinn in 1999, followed by The Aldabreshin Compass sequence, The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, and The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy. The Green Man’s Heir was her first modern fantasy rooted in British folklore in 2018, followed by The Green Man’s Foe, The Green Man’s Silence, and The Green Man’s Challenge. She writes and comments on book trade issues, has served as a judge for major genre awards, and reviews online and for magazines. She writes diverse short stories and novellas enjoying forays into alternate history, darker fantasy, steampunk and SF. As J M Alvey, she has also written murder mysteries set in ancient Greece. As well as the next Green Man book, she’s currently working on The Cleaving, a feminist retelling of Arthurian myth, to be published in May 2023. 

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