Thursday, June 16, 2005

A day at the races...

I had the pleasure to visit Royal Ascot yesterday afternoon, being held this year (only) at York Racecourse. I was attending a Convergence seminar being held by Thus, one of the BT rivals along with Cable & Wireless and Energis.

The event was in a smart (but old fashioned) Hotel very close to the course, indeed we managed to walk back from the Grandstand in 10 minutes or so later on. There was a strong police presence eevrywhere and the car park had a lot of black Range Rovers with large Royal crest stickers in the window so it seems that a lot of the Queen's entourage were staying there.

We were bussed to the Grandstand and on the way we passed the temporary heliport in a Farmers' field. There were dozens of them, I haven't seen so many Helicopters in one place outside of a Saigon movie.

It was chucking it down when we arrived, but once we had cleared the turnstiles I went for a quick wander to take in the ambience.

I've only been to the races twice before. The first time was with my Dad one Saturday when I was a teenager, we basically sneaked in at Gosforth Park late in the day, managed to work our way through the various enclosure pinch points and found ourselves next to the finishing line in the paddock for the last race.

My second time was to Galway Races, an occasion celebrated in song whenever Celts gather socially (before Danny Boy & if they are really drunk, Four Green Fields, a stirring but politically sensitive republican song about re-unification). Galway Races is quite an event but it isn't at all pretentious. It is rather thrilling to stand right up to the fence as the horses thunder by & the crowd cheers. However, by the third race, I realised the cheering was more of a primal scream, of thousands of punters shouting "get in... you... FUCKERRRRRRRRR..." I was staying in Galway at the time so it was an easy trip on the double decker bus, although traffic could only come and go between races, as the car park was basically the field in the centre oval of the track & you drove in & out over part of the course.

York was much more of a contrast to Galway, it had the feel of places like Old Trafford & Lords, with an interesting selection of vintage pavilions along with some very shiny steel & glass ones. Also, the punters were much more smartly turned out, although you had to wear a tie to get in and if you had secured Royal Enclosure tickets, then Morning Dress & Top Hats were expected.

There were some stunning frocks on some stunning women, a wide range of hats (some particularly silly, one hostess to some Corporate pavilion appeared to be dressed as a bonfire) & quite a few tipster types who reminded me of Walker out of Dad's Army.

The bookmakers semmed surprsingly high tech with computers to print the slips & quite a few of them had dynamic displays that changed automatically. I had a small flutter & won all but 50p back on my first race, lost on the second as my choice was on a go-slow.

At 1:55, the Queen arrived with various others in three horse drawn carriages and she travelled up the straight under a transparent umbrella, waving as she does. A jocular Brian Glover type wearing a badge labelled Jockeys and Jockey's guests (he certainly wasn't a jockey) made the crowd chortle by enquiring in a loud voice who the "Fit Bird in white" was in the second carriage.

I suddenly remembered, i had seen the Queen in the flesh once before, at stavanger. The Royal Yacht Britannia moored there for a day or so and she and Prince Philip visited the town, along with King Olaf of Norway. I was walking between buildings (at opposite sides of the harbour) and was fortunate to arrive just as they went walkabout. There had been a bit of fuss the week before when suddenly a number of ramshackle warehouses had been spruced up, but we were assured it was just a coincedence...

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