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..."
As we've previously mentioned we are both 'larks', awake and ready to go very early in the morning. This has its advantages - watching the sun rise, catching early morning mist, getting to work on time!
Imagine our excitement when we found out a steam train was due to pass through Manchester Victoria generating (hopefully!) lots of contrasting ancient (well maybe not ancient!) and modern transport pics! Imagine our horror when we found out it was due to pass through at 6.30am. we're about 45 minutes away from the city centre on a good day (rare and infrequent - the days when no one else is on the road!)- mentally adding on breakfast, getting ready (have to put my lipstick on!), parking, walking etc meant a very, very early start and after a busy week it was not something either of us relished.
It was an opportunity we didn't want to miss, so time to book a last minute hotel deal in Manchester for the night (this is how seriously we take our photography now!) and there was even time for a Friday night family meet up with the 'grown ups'.
Even without the travelling, Saturday still brought a very early start and when the alarm rang at 5.30am we almost had to drag each other out of bed. Thankfully Chris had done a pre-visit 'recce' on his work lunch break earlier in the week, so we knew exactly where to stand (or thought we did!). The sun was out, the city was quiet and, unlike earlier in the week, it was warmish (no frost!).
We positioned ourselves at the side of the track, just before the train would disappear inside the station - at the side of the embankment building and not on the actual track!
I didn't realise we had become train spotters too ( I will shortly be buying my very own anorak!), but there was considerable excitement as we saw the steam appear and the familiar chug chug noises. It wasn't the prettiest of steam trains, but it was a delightful sight making its way through the building works and the new flats in and around the station. Happy travellers waved from every window (they must have been up so early as the train had departed Liverpool at least 40 minutes previous) and the train looked really inviting particularly the First Class section (until we reached home and priced it up!).
As it entered Victoria Station, we casually set off to the other side of the bridge to see it come out the other side. Even managing to look at each others videos and photos! At this point our plans went slightly (well massively!) array - neither of us had read the actual timings! We waited until 7am and then checked to find the train had just gone straight through Victoria and we had completely missed its departure! Still, no time for disappointment as we saw lots of early morning trains and trams and the trainlines looked particularly impressive in the early morning sunshine!
So, there we were 7am - all done for the day and a bit lost for ideas. The lighting was spectacular, so we wandered around for 8km passing through the Northern Quarter and back into the city with a stop for cinnamon swirls on the steps of the Bridgewater Hall. We still had time to kill before we were expected at our next appointment, so called in at Salford Quays (again the lighting was really, really good!) and were met by rowers, wild water swimmers and more spectacular sunshine.
All done for the day and back home in time to watch the Royal Wedding (might have been a slight afternoon nap though!) we were pretty pleased with our mornings work!
Life and other