Royal Ascot Week
One of the things we do as a family fairly regularly is get dressed up like butlers and go to the horse racing at Royal Ascot. Well at least the men dress as butlers. Women have a much more complex ritual that involves the selection of a hat based on a very painful selection process to identify an appropriate dress. Please don’t get me started on the shoes. Royal Ascot is one of those events which make up the British Summer Social Season. It’s effectively a horse race on steroids. The event where the English get to show the rest of us commoners how much grace and decorum they have in comparison to the rest of the world.
It is held for an entire week, with the exception of Sunday, and attendance is crazy. Especially on what is called Ladies Day. We try and avoid Ladies Day, and don’t get me wrong, I like to have as much fun as the next guy, but a race course filled with hard drinking women no longer appeals to me.
Ladies day has turned into a day when women hunting alcohol in packs inundate Ascot race course, I should add that I have never seen the Queen participating. I am showing my age here, because I would have loved it in the days before Her Indoors and I got together, but that’s another story.
So we avoid Ladies day which is Thursday and like to go on Friday.
All days are attended by the current ruler of England Her Majesty the Queen who, if the UK tabloids are to be believed is a massive race fan, as well as the big banana. She rides into the race course to start the days festivities in a pretty cool horse drawn coach, from her castle conveniently located at the end of the race course.
Dresses, shoes, and don’t mention hats
Needless to say, Her Indoors has been planning this operation for many months. To complicate the planning, we have friends coming over to go with us from the States, which means, the whole dress/shoe/hat thing has to be done from a distance of 5000 miles. You can imagine the logistics attached to that!
To be fair, Her Indoors, found a store not far from the house that rents hats. Masterstroke I thought! However my entusiasim was dampened a bit when I saw the bill, it would appear renting is not a cheap option either. The hat shop was stacked with different hats so it took hours for Son Number One’s Significant Other and Her Indoors to come up with an acceptable choice. Coordinating shoe colors and dress colors are essential it would appear. That’s why I always wear black, which of course is the the new old black, and therefore always in fashion amongst well heeled doormen.
Dresses must be of a certain standard and portray the wearer in a flattering light, but again, should be modest according to the Royal Ascot Dress Code. I think that dresses like the one to the right have caused a tightening in the dress code recently. Things did seem to get out of hand in the early 2000’s, and apparently, The Queen put her Royal foot down. This also applied to hats, and there is now tougher rules for those as well. Ascot does bring the Brits out of their shells though, and it gives outsiders a very fleeting glimpse into a side of Britain seldom seen.
I gather that the dresses have been chosen, the shoes matched and the hats coordinated. All is ready for June 19th. That just leaves the men………….
Dressed to, well, open doors really……..
Saturday was the day we all trekked the five miles to Oxford and rented our butler suits. Technically called Morning Suits, don’t ask me why. They have a coat with tails, a waist coat or vest, plus a top hat and some grey stripy pants or trousers. It’s the same uniform you see the doormen wearing in London. I am unsure if that is their uniform, or they are over eager Ascot goers and can’t wait for the race meet to come around again, and just want to be prepared. Whichever it is, there is the opportunity to make a little pocket change parking cars, suggesting restaurants and theatre performances to passers by before the race begins.
Son one and two and I, under the hawk like gaze of Her Indoors, were fitted for our working clothes at a very English store in the heart of Oxford called Walters. If you are ever caught out in the Oxford area, and have an event that drops into the calendar with the Queen, and need a butler outfit, these are the guys.
We spent a playful hour with Ben, the shop assistant, a really nice and helpful guy actually, and came away with our order confirmations and a date to pick the suits up. So that’s us taken care of in under 30 minutes. Not quite sure why this has taken Her Indoors weeks?
I was talking to this guy at Ascot once about how to bet on the horses. The only time I bet on anything is at Ascot. I have used the scientifically proven method of picking horses by asking Her Indoors which Jockey jersey color she likes. To be fair it has served us well, and, I haven’t kept count, but suspect we are well ahead. I did it that way for years before I met this guy from Ireland.
“Watch for the Irish guy in a Trilby placing a bet seconds before the start of the race and bet on the same horse”, he said, with a tap of his nose and a slight wink. So I decided to watch what happened at the bookies stands seconds before the race started, and sure enough, right before the start of the race, a guy with a Trilby, an Irish accent, and a huge wad of cash steps up to place a bet. I forget today the name of the horse, but it won. So every once in a while I stand down by the bookies and wait to see if a Trilby wearing Irish gentleman places a huge bet, on the nose, and try to copy that. I have a followed the hat wearing Irishman’s lead several times, but it is not a sure thing, as the horse didn’t win on one of those occasions. So it was back to darts and bets made based on color coordination, which works a treat, and allows me to conveniently blame Her Indoors when I lose! Perfect.
Royal Ascot is a lot of fun. If you ever find yourself in the UK in the middle of June, go if you can. I highly recommend it. To gain access to the Royal Enclosure, you have to be a member, but it is just as much fun hanging out with the commoners outside the Royal Enclosure. You will see a side of Britain many don’t know exist and sample British life and culture at its best.
Thanks for visiting – see you again soon!