Scene 1: Ascot — Parking Lot #1, aisle A. A sitdown tailgate party for ten. A tented affair off the back of a Land Rover. Tables and benches. Linen table cloth, flower arrangements, china, glass stemware, sterling silver cutlery. Wine and champagne. Two towers of cold halved lobster, crawfish and shrimp served with aoile. Chicken stuffed with procuitto, beet salad, potatoes mayonnaise. Macademia nut cheese cake and fresh berries, alongside the kind of cheese platter so common in Europe, so missing in America. Later, after the races, a proper British tea — tea, or wine/champagne, egg & cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches. Brownies, truffles, chocolate covered cranberries (a Nantucket addition).
Scene 2: The Royal Enclosure.
Was a time when it required a request from theAmerican embassy for a Yank to gain access to this elite area. Not so in 2010. For here we are, dressed to the nines, dresses, party shoes and hats — and let's be reasonable about this: an opportunity to wear a hat is an opportunity to wear a hat. A strict dress code is enforced - no spaghetti straps, no slits, no mini skirts, no slacks, no strapless dresses; men must wear morning coats and top hats. Could this be 2010, really?
Here we are, Liza, Stella and me, as the Ladies Who Ascoted.
The first order of business was to watch the royal procession. Queen E. comes to all four days of the Royal Ascot meet, arriving half an hour before the first race goes off, in a horse-drawn carriage and full regal regalia accompanying her. She arrives from Windsor and processes down the turf track, then into the clubhouse. We were about 50 feet away. She was wearing my color. A woman of sensible shoes and good taste, like me.
Scene 3: At the races. Really, it's just one big social event, and a powerful lot of drinking. People milling around in their finery — made for some fine extemporaneous theater, people watching today — placing bets every half hour on one after another of the six afternoon races. Assuming you do not have an even more exclusive box, you have three options for observing the races. Stand at track level, virtually at the rail if you wish; go up a level or two and wrangle a seat — these are plentiful and first come first serve; sit at one of the outdoor bars near the parade or paddock area, sip a Pimms and watch the action on a giant screen. We did them all.
I didn't understand the betting. But that did not stop me. I learned to say: "Number [insert # of entrant here] for five quid each way." This meant you spent ten pounds on a bet that would pay off if your horse came in first or second. I learned this the hard way — my first time I didn't know about the 'both way' angle and my horse came in second, so I lost. Next race I won 34 pounds on Lily Langtry. Bless her. I won again later on but mostly lost. Still, I came out a pound ahead for the day. Once a track hound always a track hound.
Peter, however, was the big winner. Two hundred seventy-one pounds on one race! That's just somewhere in the area of $400+.
Not an ordinary Friday by any means. Many many thanks to Stella and Peter for making this extraordinary
experience come our way.
Truffle: Women in their get-up. Wild and wonderful hats! Men in their get-up — all those top hats!
Quote of the day: "Cheese — milk's leap toward immortality." (Clifton Fadiman)