Not much drops through your letterbox anymore - not even bills. The daily post delivery (if you get one) generally consists of unwanted adverts, Domino’s pizza offers (is anything ever full price there?), begging letters from charities and the occasional letter from the tax man. But if you're very lucky, once in a while something very special will drop through your door. 2018 saw our postman deliver two such letters.
Our first, which was a complete surprise was a letter from ERNIE – master of the premium bonds - advising of a £25 win on my bond! As I am the owner of just £2 worth of premium bonds, won in a local newspaper colouring competition over 46 years ago (?!), it was a great surprise when they won a prize! It might not have been the jackpot and it didn’t take long to spend but it was a very enjoyable win!
Secondly, not so much a surprise but even more special to both of us, was the letter which arrived with a Buckingham Palace postmark confirming our attendance at a Royal Garden Party to be hosted by the Queen, after both being nominated through Chris' work for services to business in Manchester.
We RSVP'd and dutifully headed to ‘google’ for help and advice!
Now the beautiful invitations – something we will treasure for ever – came with a plethora of helpful advice and tips for the day but somehow, we needed more!
Our first job was to sort out our transport for the day. We are lucky to live on the West Coast Main Line so getting down to London from Wigan is a relatively smooth job thanks to Virgin trains. Book early enough and you can even manage to get first class travel at a bargain price. Thankfully this time we were lucky and managed to get first class tickets on our train of choice for under £20.
Now the clothes. Dress codes are a nightmare. Not so much for men as it is just a choice of suit style and colour but what do these ‘dress code’ terms really mean? Day dress? My ‘day dress’ usually involved my black or blue trousers with a selection of tops from Fat Face, White Stuff, Wallis and Next. I was quite sure at this point that none of those would be acceptable! Dresses are completely absent from my wardrobe, so my first job was seeking one out. Not being a natural ‘dresser up’ this was actually a really tricky choice coupled with the ‘should I wear tights’ and the eternal ‘will my high heels be comfortable?’. Thankfully there were blogs aplenty showing outfits people had chosen ranging from cocktail dresses to trouser suits and to my relief lots of fellow ‘non dresser ups’ (are these even words!?) wearing lovely ordinary dresses. I have to admit this was my least favourite part of the whole experience; racked by indecision and a total lack of confidence in my ability to choose appropriate clothes (if you know me you will understand..ripped jeans and scarves dominate my wardrobe!) I was finally dragged into Debenhams by my 80 year old Mum who declared we were not leaving until I chose something! Surprisingly of the two dresses I thought might do, I actually liked one of them enough to think I could wear it helped by the fact that there was a lovely blush jacket waiting in my wardrobe to go with it. So navy blue dress with a tropical print, blush jacket, a beautiful blush scarf (which I have loved ever since!) and some nude wedge heels – following the ‘no heels’ advice! Thanks to a good friend Angie I had a lovely feathery fascinator – blush again - and was ready to go. Not sure I was fully confident in my choices but basically, I ran out of time! At this point I’ll just mention that Chris chose his favourite blue suit and a white shirt which I dutifully ironed. So much easier for men….
The day dawned, bright and sunny. An early hair appointment with friend and hairdresser Lisa who transformed my hair then set it like concrete! Half an hour of deciding what to do about shoes – eventually we all decided that comfort should rule so out came some comfy (frumpy) blue wedge sandals (managed to get my ankle chain on though!) and the blush heels remained in their box for another time. The lovely Lisa dropped us at the station and we were ready to go.
In the lead up to the party I had done extensive research on umbrellas and coats and what actually happened if the ‘heavens opened’. I knew (thanks again bloggers) what umbrellas were acceptable and what would happen if it did indeed rain. Now I don’t know if you remember last year but something very extraordinary happened and we had a long period of hot and sunny weather. Coping with the heat I had not researched and not long after our arrival in London we were carrying jackets and searching shops for sunglasses!
You may know we love to walk, so travelled down to the palace on foot – thank goodness for the comfy shoes! It was almost like following the Pied Piper as at every turn someone else joined the walk – knowingly smiling at each other as the outfits gave away our destination.
As we arrived at the entrance to Green Park, we were met by volunteers who pointed us in the direction of the different entrances. There were substantial queues at all of them, so we decided to go around to the rear of the palace and join the queue there. This saved us no time as that was also a substantial queue, but it was extremely well organised, moved along quickly and you were surrounded by thousands of excited people. The sun was shining, it was very hot, and the crowds were friendly. It was at this point that we began to notice groups of tourists photographing us! You almost felt like shouting ‘we’re no one special!’ – what they imagined was taking place I have no idea!
As the line progressed you were greeted by friendly smiling police officers – heavily armed – but there to keep you safe and guide you in. Tickets checked and we were in. Actually, inside Buckingham Palace gardens. That feeling is so hard to describe. I am sure no one imagines that ever happening to them. We certainly didn’t.
Again, thanks to the research (thanks again bloggers!) we had a vague idea of where we needed to be and when, so we took the time to wander around the beautiful gardens. Happily taking photos for other couples and selfies by the bucket load! Being able to take your camera along was a very pleasant surprise. We chose to leave the Fuji’s at home and opted to go ‘mobile’ for the day. Cameras on mobile phones are of exceptional quality now and of course much more portable.
We reached the front of the palace (back entrance) still snapping happily away and met the crowds of people waiting for the arrival of the royal party. As you gaze across the immaculate lawns you realise the sheer number of people who are actually there with you – 8000 people are invited to each event with three parties across the summer months.
We joined the throng but had no real chance of seeing much through the lines of top hats! Bang on time out came the royal party onto the patio and made their way slowly across the garden to their tea tents; talking to what must have been pre-arranged guests. We got very close to Prince Edward at this point standing nonchalantly on the lawn chatting and resembling nothing more than a founding member of the Kingsman society! (geeky film reference sorry!)
We watched the Beefeaters march away, listened to the bands playing and then decided to go and sample the afternoon tea. Again (thanks bloggers!) thanks to the research done beforehand we knew exactly what to expect. Join one of the lines choose your drink and then select whichever sandwiches and cakes you want to fill your small plate. There was a large choice of drinks and we decided to sample one of each from the cakes and sandwiches. The queues looked long but the whole thing is extremely well organised and moves along quickly and efficiently. 27,000 cups of tea are served, 20,000 sandwiches and 20,000 cakes and every mouthful we tasted was exquisite. Not sure we have ever tasted such delicious sandwiches and cakes and despite your plate looking on the small side (we’re northern remember! Pies, pea and mash up here!) it perfectly fitted ‘one of each’. Now at this point I need to tell you that seating is not readily available. There were a lot of elderly guests and it was a very hot day. There are seats around and about the gardens but we, like many others, stood to eat our tea.
Due to the heat the next stop was the spotless toilet block to freshen up – sticky fingers! It was here that I realised my choice of the frumpy blue sandals was indeed the right choice as there were numerous ladies walking around barefoot carrying their stilettos in their hands (non heel wearers may not realise that once they are off and particularly on a hot day they are not going back on for the rest of that day!)
Not sure if this was a result of the heat or if this is a usual occurrence but there were plentiful bottles of water for you to have and even ice creams! We ate our ice creams leaning on the walls of Buckingham Palace (still can’t believe I am actually saying that!) and tried to take in what was going on around us. We met some very worthy attendees proudly telling their stories and introducing you to their families.
Words cannot describe what a good day we were having but it was at this stage that something quite magical happened. As we wandered around the lawns trying to catch a glimpse of the royal party in their tea tent, we saw the Beefeaters begin their walk back to protect the Queen. As we turned around to watch, a Beefeater stood directly in front of us and we realised they were forming a line for the Queen to walk back to the palace. Accidentally we found ourselves right at the front of this line and together with a lovely young couple from Ireland could not believe our luck! The royal party made their way through the line across the gardens towards the palace right in front of us. Time for some point and click photography hoping to get at least one good pic. Obviously well trained to smile for everyone we got some amazing photos of the party and several where they even appeared to be smiling just for us! Proudest moment when the Queen smiled for my photo – I’m definitely sure it was me she was smiling at!
Despite the retirement of the royal party there remained much to see and do – bands, music, the gardens and even selected areas inside the Palace (no photos allowed there!)
Sadly, as all great days come to an end it was time to leave to catch the train home. The exit was through the palace and the very famous doors you usually only see after weddings and visits of dignitaries. Time for some more snapping and then we went under the gates and out onto the front. Once again paparazzi style photography from hundreds of tourists, which by now I was used to and quite enjoying! I’d never see any of the photos so who cares what I look like!
Despite taxis everywhere we decided to walk back to Euston and once again the frumpy shoes were proven to be the right choice. First class ride home on the train (we were very tired!) and the end of a truly wonderful day. A day we will probably never ever repeat. I can’t imagine you would ever be asked twice, but what a huge honour to go just once.
It was about this time last year when we first received our invitation and began to plan. If you’ve just received yours congratulations and we hope you have a wonderful day! Maybe some of this might help you who knows! We came back from London with so many memories, new sunglasses, tights which didn’t ladder and a fascinator which thanks to Lisa stayed exactly where it should have done all day!
Our big 5 tips:
"Why am I here?
I wanna feel
I wanna see
I want to meet the queen..."
Rivalry amongst supporters of sporting teams runs deep – I’m sure you have experienced it and probably have it at home! I was brought up in a football house split right down the middle; Dad and sister Liverpool fans, Mum and me Evertonians. How lucky was I to have a Dad willing to give up his Saturday afternoons to take me along to the Everton matches (and even hang around afterwards while I waited to get Bob Latchford or Andy King’s autographs!) – wonder if he spent the whole time there hoping they’d lose!?
Despite living in Wigan from an early age rugby league wasn’t a sport I had any interest in until Chris came along. Passionate about rugby, long suffering supporter of Leigh and definitely old enough to remember their glory days. He took me along to a few international matches, local derby’s and games of interest – I even spent one season as part of the opening title sequence of Question of Sport celebrating a GB try at Central Park (I knew it was me - anyone else would have struggled to pick me out!). Living in Wigan with no real ties to Leigh (although I did live there for 2 years when I was very young – we moved around a lot!) I had no interest in supporting them and time and time again it was the Saints of St Helens who caught my attention. Saints are the local team for most of my family and so me and the two ‘grown ups’ ended up as big fans of St Helens, living in Wigan with almost all of our friends Wigan supporters. Not the easiest choice we ever made, but it wasn’t long before we were all ardent fans attending as many games as we could.
Wigan is one of the great rugby league towns in the UK and probably the world, with a long history of success in the sport forever winning trophies and celebrating achievements. From the 1987 season they won the Challenge Cup 8 years on the run and remain the team who have won it the most with 19 wins overall. They also hold the record for the team with the most wins in the Rugby League World Club Challenge.
The World Club Challenge started slowly with a couple of games here and there but since the year 2000 it has been an annual event held at the beginning of the season; a match between the winners of the NRL (Australia) and the Super League Champions. Now it always seems to me that there is something not quite right with this fixture. The teams contesting the match are often very different from the teams who won the right to take part. Why is it not the culmination of the two seasons as the ultimate prize each year?
So, February 17th, 2019 saw the fixture held in our hometown of Wigan; a match to be fought between the local team Wigan Warriors and, from Australia, Sydney Roosters.
How exciting you may think! We love rugby and Chris is also a Sydney Roosters Fan (You find most rugby fans will have a favourite Aussie team – the NRL is an exciting and highly skilled competition) so tickets seemed a perfect Christmas present from Lucy for her Dad. What’s the problem you may wonder? Well who do we support on the night!?
Local rivalry between teams is a part of the game Wigan don’t like Saints, Saints don’t like Wigan, everyone dislikes Leeds and so on, but the greatest dislike for a team is usually reserved for any Australian team particularly the national side! For many, many years the Aussie Rugby League team have dominated all competitions and it is a rare occasion when the English national side manages to overcome them. British sides have been more successful in the World Club Challenge but maybe that has something to do with most of the fixtures being played in the UK in front of a passionate sell-out crowd of mostly British people – home advantage always helps.
Such was the atmosphere for the 2019 match. A crowd of over 21,000 supporters, the vast majority from Wigan, filling the stadium with noise; cheers and drums and, at crucial points of the game, lots of boos! Does that affect someone trying to kick for goal? Maybe they just blank it all out.
If you studied form you would have expected the strong Sydney Roosters team to easily overcome Wigan, but certain factors made it a hard game to predict. Our rugby season had already started – only a few weeks in but it meant Wigan Warriors were match fit whilst Sydney were still in their pre season. Sydney had travelled a long way to take part in the game and again they were playing the match in a very hostile stadium full of thousands of people willing them to lose. But sadly for Wigan it was not to be and despite a strong second half challenge Sydney demonstrated their speed and skill winning the match by 20 points to 8.
And for us – what a night! Back row centre seats – a trek to the top but well worth the view. Entertainment from the AC/DC Experience (surprised to find they are a local band!), fireworks, flag waving and a great game of rugby. Despite our local rivalries we found ourselves cheering Wigan all the way (don’t expect that to last though) and the game was a much less stressful experience as a neutral supporter!
No mention of the game on any sports news the following day – after all rugby league is just played in northern towns isn't it?
If you don’t spend a lot of time around young people it’s easy to have your judgement clouded by the constant stream of negative stories in the media, but do you ever stop to think just how different it is to be ‘young’ in this current society?
For most young people a car is out of their reach due to escalating extortionate insurance costs, owning your own house is a dream you may never see fulfilled (always room at your parents?), university is the norm where you can rack up debts of over £40,000 to find, when you finally leave, that your dream job may not even exist, exam pressure from a very young age and a constant stream of images and words reminding you just how well everyone else is doing in life (or so they would have you believe).
But its not all negative. Schools now offer a wide range of opportunities to their pupils from guitar lessons to steel drums – musicians at my school (and no the world was not in black and white then!) aimed for the dizzy heights of a descant recorder or if you were an exceptional student you might even get to try a clarinet! Sports now include karate, extreme frisbee and dodgeball, there are knitting clubs, chess, school newspapers… Outside of school you can pay to learn and take part in almost anything you could think of, your friends are available almost 24 hours a day via social media, mobiles and gaming - the future is indeed limitless if you have the drive, opportunities and ambition.
Ollie Lambert is a prime example of a 21st century young man driven to succeed. Ambitious and creative, still studying at the Royal Northern College of Music, and only in his twenties, he is already an accomplished composer, arranger and vocalist, performing and having his work performed across the country. He doesn’t wait for someone to offer him an opportunity instead he goes out and actively seeks his own.
His latest project is an 8 piece a-capella vocal ensemble, ‘The Apex Singers’, who will be launched to the world this summer. Currently working together on a project called ‘Hiraeth’ -a Welsh word meaning ‘nostalgia’ – a deep longing for home – Ollie wants to take rarely heard folk songs from around the world and bring them to a brand new audience.
In this digital world there is much more to any role and, as musical director of a newly formed vocal group, Ollie is responsible for not only assembling the group, arranging the songs and directing the rehearsals, but also designing their website and establishing a social media presence. In order to achieve this Ollie needed photographs, but with a limited budget he needed to be ‘creative’ and this is where we enter the story.
Thanks to a mutual contact we found ourselves in Manchester on a cold, dark November evening meeting Ollie and the Apex Singers for the very first time.
Rehearsals take place inside the architecturally stunning building that is the RNCM, brimming with singers and musicians socialising, rehearsing, studying – it felt liked we’d walked into an episode of the Kids from Fame! (showing our age here once again…didn’t see many legwarmers though!).
Mostly new to the requirements of becoming social media stars, there was some initial apprehension about being the sole subject of numerous photographs – not everyone has the desire to be in the limelight and probably most people would choose to hide themselves at the back of any photo (or, if they’re really clever, choose to be the photographer and then you never have to appear on one!). Once the nerves and initial awkwardness were out the way, thanks to the support and guidance of group member Gabriel (who had very obviously done this before!) everyone began to relax and returned to the corridor photo booth (always use all available spaces!) multiple times.
As the night progressed, everyone had an idea for the next shot, which got more elaborate each time! It was apparent we were surrounded by a college full of fellow creatives as no one even glanced at the members of the group striking their best poses on staircases and doorways or draping themselves over balconies. Every available space was used in order to get that perfect series of photos to help the Apex Singers establish their online presence. Coupled with a series of individual headshots for each member and their musical director Ollie, we managed to take over 500 shots during the evening and were delighted with the results.
So, if you’re reading this, why not pay a visit to their website www.theapexsingers.com or follow them on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Meet sopranos Lydia and Sophie, altos Niamh and Ophelia, tenors Gabriel and Matt, and bass singers George and Elliot who all share a love of choral singing and folk music and together make up the Apex Singers. Read all about their future plans and sign up to their newsletter to stay informed.
Why not support the dreams of these talented young people at the very start of what will no doubt be a glittering career, follow their social media accounts (just search for The Apex Singers) and while you’re there you can have a look at our photos!
In the words of rapper Fort Minor:
"This is ten percent luck
Twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure
Fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name"
There are certain places that have a real attraction to us – we love the wilds of Scotland, city centres, canals, bridges, harbours, beaches and cemeteries.
Yep that’s not a typo, cemeteries. We find ourselves time and again if we’re out and about popping into places that many people probably only go to when they have to and usually at incredibly sad times.
Like many people we’ve had our fair share of those sad times, some very recently, however there is also an undeniable sense of peace and also some fascinating things to see.
Like a lot of things we didn’t set out with a deliberate aim of visiting places that many people associate with sadness, it was another time when on reflection it dawned on us we do seem to visit a lot of graveyard, cemeteries and memorials.
From our honeymoon in Austria admiring the neatly kept memorials and shrines right through to the ceremonial war graves on the battlefields of France and Belgium. From our local churchyard with graves going back to around the start of the 17th century to the more austere municipal burial grounds, we’ve visited a wide range of final resting spots.
We don’t do it as a celebration of the macabre or other people’s sorrows, there’s great beauty to a number of them and also the chance for some peaceful moments of reflection and, on the odd occasion, some unique photographic opportunities. And a lot more too.
In an age when people moan about the lack of community and “looking after each other” there’s a bit of a lesson to be learnt from even the briefest of visits to a cemetery. Because it may not necessarily be your family whose graves and headstones are there but the people that lived where you live now, going back generations, who brought up their families or lived alone but who played a part in some way to the place you now call home.
Think of the history, the richness and stories. As Morrissey eloquently sang “all those people, all those lives, where are they now?”
Why not go and find out?
Life and other