Helen Martin: It’s a classless society on the Queen’s lawn
I could tell you what it was like, this time last week, to attend the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert . . . but then, if you were interested, you saw it on TV.
I could tell you about sipping champagne and nibbling Blumenthal’s dainties on the Buckingham Palace lawn . . . but that would be sheer, unwarranted smugness, particularly as we weren’t there by special invitation, on a journalists’ junket or a corporate freebie; it was just luck that our names were picked from the ballot like everyone else.
The really interesting stuff lies not in the headlines anyway, but in the detail, the people watching, and the unexpected little vignettes that unfold throughout the day.
Perhaps because we in Edinburgh are used to a Royal Palace, we don’t get too carried away. Buck House is beautiful and the vast gardens come complete with lake and tennis courts. All very grand, but the instructions were clear: it’s an outdoor picnic and concert without shelter, come dressed and prepared for inclement weather.
The majority of people wore jeans or trousers, flat shoes, fleeces and waterproofs. A sturdy poncho was issued with each picnic basket.
So when I caught sight of the first bare-backed, high-heeled, jewellery-festooned, fake-tanned girl holding a little clutch bag and wearing a feathery Ascot-style fascinator, I thought she might have been an entertainer there to do a turn for the guests. But as the afternoon wore on, a few more appeared . . . one clearly Scottish, in a sort of White Heather Club-type dress with a tartan silk stole.
It may have been quite amusing watching them shrink as their heels sank into the lawn – unless you happened to be the Queen’s gardener who was probably crying in his potting shed at the desecration of his life’s work.
Bear in mind that each was also burdened with a full picnic basket and a green plastic garden chair to avoid grass stains on their bottoms. Elegant, they were not.
As the clouds greyed and lowered, the wind chilled and the occasional rain drops fell, the feathery fascinators drooped and the tanned legs and backs turned a shivering blue. Well, that’s what you get for being a show-off and not reading the instructions.
Of course among ten thousand people in the gardens, some – including me – were trying to work out where to have a quick fag . . . cigarette, that is. Apparently little cabals had formed at the back of the toilets where wee mounds of ciggie stubs had built up. Honestly! In the Queen’s garden?
I tidily stored mine in the pot that previously held Heston’s strawberry trifle with popping candy, and was duly praised by one of the Palace litter staff for not dropping them on the ground.
But Her Majesty’s grass was to suffer a fate worse than fag ends when one of the gents’ toilets flooded and overflowed. Men are quite stoical about these things. Women and toilets, on the other hand, always spell trouble. Even the Queen couldn’t provide enough loos for 5000 women, each of whom seemed to be aiming for a Guinness world record in the length of time they could spin out a widdle. One block had a queue of hundreds.
Desperate times call for that good old Bulldog Blitz mentality, and so it was that the more courageous among us marched on the cubicles in the still-functioning gents, averting our eyes from the men at the urinals and taking possession of the lavatories.
The picnic part of the day was nearly over (probably just as well after the toilet invasion) and my cardboard food containers, empty pots and plastic cutlery were packed up in my basket. I can see that, apart from the fags, I’m coming across as a bit of a goody-goody, some might say smarty pants. But can you imagine my horror to see fellow guests simply piling up their litter on the Royal lawn, before jauntily swinging their now empty baskets on their back and strolling off to the concert?
Is this the thanks the Monarch gets for inviting the peasants into her back garden?
And so to the free concert, headlining acts, truly majestic fireworks and special effects. One might (that’s what happens after a day at the Palace, one begins to use affected terms when referring to one’s self) have expected folk to go to the loo, buy one’s refreshments, and sit on one’s backside to watch the entertainment. But no . . . they were up and down like yo-yos to make phone calls, or queue for half an hour to buy a pint of lager and disturb everyone else as they vacated and repossessed their seat. And, wouldn’t you know it, the fascinator Wags from Cheshire, not content with their 5-course picnic, even came back with trays of chips and ketchup.
I’m glad Alex Salmond says even if we go independent, we can keep the Queen. It’s some of the commoners we could do without.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east