Given that my knowledge of the Royal Family has been gleaned in the main from the collected works of Alan Bennett (never did get the chance to ask the Queen about her view on libraries!*) I was perhaps an unlikely guest at the Sandringham Jubilee Garden Party.
Whatever your view of the Royals – and protest brother (@domlinley) had disowned me even before I’d got to the gates) the event was both a celebration and fitting recognition of the contribution many people had made to the lives of their own communities in Suffolk and Norfolk, and recognition too for the contribution of many of the regions arts organisations. You can read official coverage of the day here and here.
For the blog though here is my somewhat left field recollections from the day!
There is no quicker way of finding out about a place than asking a taxi driver. On route to a Royal garden party at Sandringham I mentioned to our cabbie it was 15 years since I’d last been to Kings Lynn. Quick as a flash she replied ‘you won’t have missed much then’.
They say unguarded comments often reveal a persons true thoughts (never a truer word than spoken in jest etc]. Later in the day I overheard in the tea tent one rather confident guest pronouncing ‘they had to let the folk from Suffolk in…rather brought the tone down’. I think he was joking…
…even so I felt it better not to mention that I actually lived in Essex. My invite had come – not as a Royal recognition of Wivenhoe as a ‘little part of Suffolk’ – but by way of Eastern Angles who are of course based in Ipswich but who tour throughout Norfolk, Suffolk and the rest of East Anglia.
The role of ensuring the tone was actually kept ‘just so’ was left to a small collect of gentlemen of a certain age. Conservatively clad in suits of grey and blue, usually carrying a brolly and with a discreet purple flower in their lapels they manoeuvred the 3,500 or so invitees round the lawn in a stylised choreography, clumsy but charming and terribly polite. In a silky RP they’d select guests for audiences with the royals, clear a pathway, usher us back ‘another’ 5 yards (never meters) – all done with a wry smile and a twinkle of the eye. Did leave you wondering what they all did before they became ‘gentlemen ushers of a certain age’.
In fact everything was ‘just so’. The police officers smiled, the cucumber sandwhiches had their crusts cut off and the scones were regally minute. Even the bag searches were carried out in a discreet separate marquee (for your privacy Sir you understand). We (the guests that is) played our part by wearing our finest, applauding in all the right places, and cheering enthusiastically – though our collective singing of God Save the Queen left a little to be desired (two of the guests – Sianed Jones and Jonathan Baker of the Voice project – see my blog here – would not have been impressed).
Having travelled to the Garden Party by train (a curiously elongated journey via Colchester, Norwich, Ely and Kings Lyn) I was intrigued to learn that the Royals often travelled to Sandringham by train, alighting at the Royal station of Wolferton. A quick glance at the station website suggests they are the only rail attraction I’m aware of that causes ‘serious traffic hazards’. (The royals arent the only ones to have their own station…if the Severn Valley Railway were ever to extend beyond Bridgnorth their next point of call would be ‘Linley halt’.)
As I arrived the Concert Band struck up ‘We Are the Champions’ – a comment on the great and the good as they flooded in perhaps or a premature reference to the previous evenings football? Whatever it was a duck on the lake soon brought me back to earth by hissing at us randomly whoever or whatever we were.
There were a significant percentage of clergy amongst the gathered guests and we fell into conversation with one in the queues for the tea tent- a team vicar for the Norfolk broads. He and his wife were telling me about their son studying drama at Manchester – apro pros of nothing I mentined the Vicar of Stiffkey ‘a tale you simply couldn’t make up’. Ahh, said the vicar,theres many a drama in the lives of Norfolk vicars -…. we were parted by the crowds before I could find out more! Another guest spotted my Margaret Catchpole lapel badge – she was a smugglers doll you know – he told me and then chatted on about the Margaret Catchpole cat which turned into a candle at night….
Margaret Catchpole’s cat wasn’t the last curious animal of the day. On the taxi ride back to Kings Lynn the driver (who had a much more positive view of Kings Lynn than our first) told us about his encounters with the giant cats which prowl the land around Sandringham. The experts tell you they don’t exist but they’ve not seen ’em face to face, he said. If you come across one whatever you do don’t make eye contact. Look away, look away whatever you do.
Wise words to conclude an intriguing day and a once in a lifetime experience!
* If you’ve not read ‘An Uncommon Reader’ you really should!