Date: 21 June 2015.
Location: Appestat cafe, Angel.
I was primped to within an inch of my life: blow wave sleek, nails shellacked in inoffensive beige, Hobbs heels on, hair hidden under an equally beige hat, dressed modestly, lipstick lacquering my lips. The only hiccup was my name badge: Miss Alexander E. Alexander. I was about to go rub modestly-covered shoulders with London's best coiffed and I was going to do so as an Alexander.
Royal Ascot has a reciprocal relationship with the Victorian Racing Club, meaning that full VRC members can purchase access for themselves and one guest into the Royal Enclosure. Yes, even we mere commoners. Apparently it's something that baffles native Londoners year on year: 'You're invited to the Royal Enclosure?!' Thankfully, my encounter with Lord Leitch in the lift a few weeks ago had prepared me for mingling with my betters. There'd be less stammering and blushing this time around. I'd practised my curtsey.
The day started with a very long drive for which I was ill-prepped (read: had not bought alcohol). I was not alone. We had squeezed six woman, one man and seven hats (morning dress mandatory for men, meaning one of those hats was of the top variety — something that would give me endless pleasure and giggles throughout the day) into a car. But no one had remembered the champagne. How many lawyers does it take…
An inauspicious beginning.
We arrived at Royal Ascot just in time to see the queen make her entrance. If pushed, I'm probably a republican — but I was just as enthralled by this show of royalty as any commoner could be. Ensconced in our privileged positions in the Royal Enclosure, we watched Her Majesty walk right by, trailed by her dutiful and decrepit-looking husband. It was quite the experience. But, speaking of experiences — to the champagne bar. Legally Blonde and I ordered a bottle of prosecco, to which Kennedy turned up her pretty nose: “Sorry guys, I don't want to be a snob, but I want actual champagne.” We had to laugh.
Our delightful baby-blue Royal Enclosure name badges (the gentlemen's bearing the title 'Esquire', adorable) permitted us access to a prime viewing area precariously bordered on two sides by general admission, a lofty grandstand strewn with showy flowerstatues and, most importantly, to the Birdcage. As in Melbourne, the Birdcage is a grassy area away from the masses for the lucky and colourful to flit around, loll about (and take selfies). I felt truly out of my depth amongst this beautiful set. Kennedy got her way and we started on iced bottled of true champagne in earnest. My wallet could ill afford this sort of indulgence — but sometimes you just have to say 'eff it, I'm at Ascot'. I honestly don't know where the day went. We had a few minor wins on the ponies and Legally Blonde eyed off potential suitors — made all the more dangerously attractive in their tops and tails. I sent some sneaky texts to The Journalist and tried not to think about an unread text from Frank. I'd have to deal with that situation in due course, but not today. I thought about Legally Blonde instead. She's the prettiest little blonde thing, funny, smart, modest and sweet — but always seems to attract the worst sort of men and has zero luck with the right ones. I don't know what to make of her situation, save that I know it makes me grateful to have someone to hang out with who will make me dinner and feel good about myself. Even if very temporarily. But this is all shamefully self-centered. Let's get back to Ascot.
The mood at the racecourse was as bubbly as our (eschewed) prosecco. But the weather sucked. By six, the rain was coming down in earnest. Thankfully, we were all being fuelled by alcohol by then and the Birdcage DJ had started up. I ran into a guy I used to work with in my hospitality days but had to check his name badge for he had doubled in girth since then. Legally Blonde was giggling by the side of a handsome Melbournian banker in a waistcoat. Kennedy's boyfriend briefly took his top hat off and his glasses — sneakily stowed away up there — tumbled out. Dancing started in the bandstand. Mud crept up legs. The sky darkened.
Soon it was home time. Suffice to say that the crew on the wet, slow, drunken train from Ascot to Waterloo was a good deal less glamourous than the crew who had set off from Notting Hill earlier in the day. Alone at Euston station I changed into flat shoes and waited, shivering, for my bus home with Itsu sushi and a dead phone. A well-dressed older woman read my Royal Enclosure name badge with skepticism manifest on her heavily made up features. I didn't blame her.