Friday, 11 September 2015

In which Darling Debbie goes to the Palace...!

Back in July, our President Debbie was one of the lucky WI members invited to attend the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, held in honour of the WI centenary this year. Here, she reports back on the splendid day...

So the night before I was careful to pack my bag, check I had all of my security credentials, booked my taxi and set my alarm. My usual morning alarm went off at 5.45 and I asked Mr Vickerman to put the 10 minutes snooze on. I woke before the alarm went off, thinking that had been the best 10 minutes 'extra' I had ever had, when I slowly realised that it had been the best extra 45 minutes I had ever had. After a few expletives (and then some more expletives), panic set in. I had the world's quickest shower, then couldn't decide whether to do my hair or make up so tried to do both at the same time (which meant that I didn't do either well at all). I mistakenly reached for night cream and smeared this all over my face. Not having time to remove this fully I tried my best to get my make up on and not run down my face, needless to say I was not happy with the end result. I had two dresses laid out thinking I'd have time to try them both on, this luxury now off the menu meant I grabbed my newest dress, opted for the flat shoes and cardi, at which point I noticed my taxi was outside. It then started to rain.

I felt like this wasn't my day and almost decided to stay at home. Mr Vickerman told me to get a grip, grabbed my bag, handed me my pac-a-mac and threw me out of the door. The taxi driver did nothing to make me feel any better when he asked where I was going dressed like a flower garden.

On board the train I noticed a few other ladies who were probably going to the Garden party but I was still feeling sorry for myself and didn't feel like I was dressed or presented in the right manner. So I took my seat at the far end of the carriage and sat very upright and very still all the way to London (too afraid to get a drink for fear of spilling it all over myself). When the train reached Wakefield I noticed a rather strong petroleum smell which I had passed off as one of my fellow passengers. The smell was really intense and I realised that it was my newly bought bag, very cute but very cheap. As I picked it up and smelt it I almost cried again. I put the bag on the floor and pushed it under the seat, but for the next 2hrs I could not escape the carcinogenic stench of petrochemicals.

Finally, the train reached London KX and I alighted and decided to go in search of a new bag. I went to the nearest shop and found a perfect green bag, similar in design, different in price but best of all no offensive smell. Sold! I purchased the new bag but was then left with the dilemma of knowing what to do with the 'smelly' bag. I was anxious about shoving it in a bin in fear of being arrested, so I made my way to the left luggage office. On my walk across the station I literally bumped into a lady dressed ready for the palace. I introduced myself and asked if I could join her, she was really kind and said I could and would be back to meet me after a quick dash to the loo. I went along to the left baggage room and squatted down in the corner of the room to swap all of my things from one bag to another. Mid doing this I noticed a rather nice pair of shoes stood in front of me, as I looked up it was a lady wearing a stunning dress and hat. She politely asked if I was going to the palace and if so could she tag along with me. I was stunned and thrilled that she even thought I might be turned out well enough for the palace. I said that that would be lovely and explained that I had just moments ago thrust myself upon another lady, so together Ruth and I went off to meet her. It turned out that the first lady I met, Louise was travelling with someone else from her WI, Clare. This was perfect, the four of us decided to go to Covent Garden for a drink and something to eat.

Following a quick glass of Champagne and something to eat, we jumped in a taxi and headed to the Palace. As the taxi drove up the Mall towards the Palace, there were hats and fascinators as far as the eye could see. As we alighted we said farewell to our new friends, Louise and Clare from the Women of Wilberfoss and Ruth and I went in search of the West Yorkshire contingent. As we approached the War Memorial we could see a group of ladies proudly displaying a West Yorkshire Federation sign. Everyone was in high spirits. We said our hellos and joined the group ready for a group photo. Once stood together and facing the Palace I noticed the huge number of tourists dotted in among the throng of the WI. They were all clearly amused by this mass of ladies in hats. Seeing so many WI members in one place and in such high spirits was incredible, everyone looked amazing and the sun was shining.
After the photo call we made our way to the back of a very very very long queue. The queue steadily moved towards the palace gates and more and more ladies turned up and joined the queue. It was incredible to see so many groups represented. Stood in line, it was very sweet to see the number of loyal husbands accompanying their partners, promising to wait outside the gates for them afterwards, one son left his elderly mother with our group asking us to look after her and to safely return her to him after the frivolities.

As we approached the security check I panicked and started to think about all of the things in my hand bag that would be banned at airport security. However, the security check was friendly, fast and straightforward. As we passed through the gate we were directed to the main gates that lead through to the house. As we went up the steps we came into a large hallway with staircases on either side and large doors ahead of us that opened to a large ornate room that then led onto the terrace at the back of the palace.

As we stepped out onto the terrace, ahead of us was a sea of frocks, hats and chatter. There were three tea tents and two bandstands. We decided to avoid the tea queues and take a walk around the gardens. We had been given a map of the gardens and we were keen to see it all. As we walked down to the tennis courts we were drawn to the rose garden, lots of other ladies were admiring the roses which were both visually stunning and smelt divine. At this point we noticed a few ladies were starting to take photos of the flowers and for each camera that appeared there was a wagging finger and a cross WI member berating the rule breakers. This slowly and steadily became a theme. I laughed as the majority of the rule breakers were much older ladies, who frankly did not seem to care about the rules and one particularly small and fragile lady pulled out a tablet almost as big as her to take her selfies, I think this was the breaking point of any discretion that had gone before and it was then open season in the gardens for taking photos.

We made our way back to the main lawn as the band played the National Anthem to announce the arrival of the The Duchess of Cornwall, The Countess of Wessex, The Duchess of Gloucester and Princess Alexandra and a group of royal aides were lead out by the fantastically attired Beefeaters. The Beefeaters soon assembled the masses into three walkways allowing the Royals to meet and greet as many of the ladies as possible. I was incredibly impressed by how much time each of the Royals spent talking to the ladies and making their way through the crowd.

Following this it was most definitely time for tea. The time was starting to slip away and we made our way over to the main tea tent. As we joined a line, we were passed a menu and had time to see what the ladies were coming out of the tent with. This was super handy enabling us time to construct a plan with regards to how best use our tiny plates for optimum afternoon tea-age. We decided to opt for the iced coffee and all of the vegetarian sandwiches and one each of all the cakes. The tea was absolutely lovely, each teeny tiny perfect component was divine. As we enjoyed our tea, ice cream pots were handed out and we took the opportunity to try each of the three flavours (as you do). There was not much time left so we decided to take to the terrace, where we were able to see all these wonderful ladies.

As it approached 5pm the band played the national anthem to draw the afternoon to a close. I mentioned to Ruth and Karen that I was surprised they hadn't played Jerusalem, but clearly I wasn't the only one. Like a zombie apocalypse the ladies moved in on the bandstand and soon it was engulfed with women waiting for the band to play our anthem. When it became obvious that they weren't going to do this, one by one the women began to sing and by the second verse we were all singing in unison. This was incredibly moving and gave me goose bumps. The garden party was over.

I'm so grateful to all of the Darling Roses who kindly voted for me to go. I did (in the end) have a wonderful day, met some amazing ladies and had lots of fun.

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