14 May, 2006

Royal Windsor Horse Show
































Oh, what fun we had! First of all, Windsor is a beautiful spot. John and I had been there years ago as newlyweds, but I didn't remember much about it beyond that the Royal Standard flies above if the Queen is in residence, and the Union Jack if she is away. Well, the flag was flying yesterday, and as you can see from the tiny, tiny yellow blob in the picture above, she was at the show! Never an ardent Royalist, I must nevertheless confess to a definite thrill at being 75 yards away from the monarch.

I was especially pleased at the day because it combined Avery's and John's favorite thing (horses) with my favorite thing (food). This year was the inauguration of the Royal Windsor Food and Drink Festival, a celebration of all things organic and local, in a nod to the Prince of Wales' obsession with healthy, natural food in which I completely am in agreement. I had to make a mental note, however, not to be an ignorant ass and ask for avocados to go with the excellent local tomatoes, or a lemon for my London gin. Such is the global supermarket mindset into which I have lazily fallen.

We started out with a beefburger from the incomparable Daylesford Organic farmshop, unfortunately well done for all those tiresome people who go weak at the knees at what they think is dangerously undercooked beef, but there you go. It was tasty anyway, served with real mustard-seed mustard (labelled in an uncharacteristically French-tolerating way, "moutarde") and fried onions, in a floury bap, which is a nice soft British roll not to be mentioned in the same breath as their awful spongy American companions, sorry to be a snob. Then we strolled over to the Castle Arena to catch the very tail end of the Show Jumping Championship in which our favorite from Sheffield, Robert Smith, won handily. Sweet 17-year-old Hannah Paul came in second, which must surely bode very well for her future. Then John couldn't resist any longer: the whole event was sponsored by Land Rover, and his radar was already out in full flow, having spotted at least three thousand Defenders on the short walk from the train to the show. So we meandered over to something called "The Land Rover Experience," where really goofy people as enthusiastic as John (there were surprisingly enough to make quite a long queue!) got to sit next to a professional driver on a closed course (you always hear that in car things, don't you) and go up and down and around and hang nearly sidewise and do all the other magnificent things that only a Land Rover can do. The poor boy who wouldn't ordinarily queue to be given a thousand pounds had no problem standing in the hot sun, sandwiched in between a smoking teenager and a couple who clearly should have simply got a room. What did they think they were going to be able to do in the Land Rover with the professional driver along for the ride? Avery opted to wait with John while I did a quick spin through the foodie hall, and it was magnificent! I sampled so many things that my stomach was wailing in protest. Chilli crackers, smoked mackerel pate, native Cheddar cheese, Wiltshire ham, strawberries and cream, smoked salmon and cream cheese, ginger snaps! I drew the line, however, at ale, wine or champagne. Completely overwhelmed by sheer choice and wanting to buy some of everything, I waddled back to where the two were still in the queue and we agreed that John would ring me on my mobile when he was close to the front and Avery and I would come back from wherever we were.

We ended up at the Shetland Pony Grand Nationals, which is the most hilarious, seemingly out of control event. Dozens of tiny Shetland ponies with their fluffy feet all line up at a starting spot, ridden by small children, and then the gun goes off and they ALL race together over jumps, around the arena, fast as lightning. This event was open to all of Great Britain, so there were Irish, Northern Irish, Welsh, Scottish and English little riders. You would not believe the speed, and at such a low level! Just on Avery's sight line. Pretty thrilling, I must say, and the children were so proud. Just as it ended John called, and we raced back to Land Rover World, to find that he had been plucked from the line as the one single person and was already in a car, with some random family, about to tip over and be squashed like a beetle. But no, all was well, and he was beaming from ear to ear when he got out.

Then the three of us piled over to the arena where Her Majesty the Queen's Challenge Cup For Services Team Jumping (what a mouthful!) was to have its competition. An amazing sight: three by three horses and riders, each team representing some specific branch of "all serving Officers and Other Ranks from any Unit, Hunt, Polo, Riding, or Saddle Club of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army, Royal Air Force, and Mounted Police, and the Auxiliary members of those Services... to be ridden in uniform." It was absolutely glorious. Phases one and two of the competition had already happened, so we were left on Saturday with the final competition in which just one representative of each team went the course of jumps. But first, oh my. All the team members came majestically into the arena, warming up, all in their magnificent uniforms, some complete with truly funny hats, all saddle pads marked with the team name. And women! Since 1996 they've been allowed. Partway through the warmup, there was a hush. "Ladies and Gentleman, Her Majesty the Queen has graciously entered the arena." Everything stopped and "God Save the Queen" began to play on the loudspeaker and it was really exciting to lean down and tell Avery to put her hands to her sides and stand straight and tall. Even the elderly pensioner couple behind me who had cleverly brought folding chairs rose solemnly and stood at attention. Finally the song was over and the Queen sat down, and everyone else who had a seat sat down, and the competition began. Great jumping, really high and scary. After that was the completely silly and time-wasting "Household Cavalry Best Turned Out Trooper," which is in effect a horse beauty contest. No actual high heels and bathing suits were produced, but all the competitors did was walk toward the Queen's Box in an orderly fashion, turn towards her and... stand there, looking nicely "turned out." Believe you me, they were all fancy. No untoward pooping as so many of Avery's ponies have done in competition, all fluffy manes and tails, superbly glossy coats and the riders had swords!

OK, I must go tend to my pork chops (purchased at the Festival from Daylesford!), asparagus and festive holiday dressing, although there is no holiday. Wait, wait, it's Mother's Day! It isn't any such thing here, so I must remember to call my two darling mothers and say "We love you." I have a special present for each on order, but the Royal Mail delivers for no American holiday, so I must be late. More on the show tomorrow.

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