There has been a lot to inspire pride and patriotism so far this year, from the big things such as the celebrations for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee to the forthcoming Olympic Games, but there are lots of little things too. Things like walking down a tiny side street and finding every shop has decorated with hanging baskets of red, white, and blue flowers; everyday groceries having their packaging emblazoned with Union Flags, and any number of opportunities to wear red, white, and blue.
Yesterday was one of those days that made me feel very proud to be English, and also gave me pause to wonder if, as a nation, we aren't ever so slightly eccentric. I had to get up early yesterday, so we could get to our adventure on time, and for a moment I thought it was Monday, as we don't normally get up at 6:30am on a Sunday! There were three car loads of us, and thanks to the wonders of technology (and boys in our group who understood how to put it all together!) we had CAB radios so we could keep in touch en route.
After a few hours on the road, we arrived in the beautiful grounds of Royal Windsor Park, the home of the Guards Polo Club. The park is so vast and surrounded by woodland, and the sun was shining...it was blissful. I cannot put into words how lush and green everything was, and how nice it was to see people riding horses, walking dogs, just enjoying the space.
I had never seen Polo before, and there was a game in full swing when we got there, so we sat and watched it. It is very quick to pick up and get into, and although I couldn't offer a full explanation of the finer points, it is essentially hockey played on horseback! The horses were amazing creatures, really magnificent.
After that game was over, we had a wander around more of the grounds, and admired some beautiful carriages, as there was also a carriage competition happening. I saw several that looked as though they would have been so at home in Pride and Prejudice!
By then it was time for lunch, so we set out some picnic blankets and settled down to lunch. We had decided that rather than make a picnic as we would usually, as so many people were busy on the Saturday, we would order one from Marks and Spencer, and for the cost each of a Starbucks Coffee and Panini, we ate very well indeed. Only as we were eating and drinking, the wind blew up harder and cooler, and suddenly, as though someone had turned on a tap, it began to rain. We all put our umbrellas up very quickly, and it must have looked from a distance like a clump of multicoloured mushrooms had suddenly popped up! Happily it passed soon, so we could continue to picnic. However, then it began to really rain, great big hard fat raindrops pelting out of the sky. Some of our group managed to scramble into the car, but there was only one car and three carloads of us, so the rest of us sat on the picnic mat under the umbrellas. Poor Carl's legs got soaking, and so did my back. But we were all very cheery, and it did strike us as very English to be sitting having a picnic in torrential rain. Something that made me smile as well was, as the first drops fell, the wail of 'someone save the cakes!' that came from one of the boys.
We aren't entirely sure how it happened, but we went to ask directions, and ended up in the Members enclosure, sitting right next to the Royal Box! The next game we saw was the final of the Al Habtoor Royal Windsor Cup and it was so exciting, the standard was much higher than the first game we had seen, and there was commentary too! Then, halfway through the third chukka (round!) there was a flurry of activity, and we turned to see the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh arriving in the Royal Box! We were so close I could see her really well, and she was wearing a lovely pink hat and coat trimmed with black, with black gloves and shoes. She stayed and presented the prizes, and it was so exciting to see her 'in real life' and so close too, and of course the Duke too.
I don't know if it was because we were at the Guard's polo club, or because it was because the Queen was in attendance, but the Guard's Marching Band was there, marching and playing music. I have seen the odd Guard before, but not a whole troop of them in action before. They were so impressive. (Guard's are the soldiers you think of as 'traditional English soldiers', the ones who wear the red tunics and big black bearskin hats, and never, ever smile or move when they are on duty!)
To crown it all, although it was a very close match (1.5 goals in it - one team had a .5 goal handicap!) the team I wanted to win won! I would never want to play polo as I would not have the skill, and it is very fast, and of course you need 8 ponies, but I would love to see more of it. The play came really close once or twice, and seeing the agility of the ponies and hearing their hooves beating on the grass and the thwack of the mallet against the ball was really exciting. Considering that the Queen was there, it was also a really relaxed not very crowded affair. The tickets at £10 each were very reasonable too, so I hope very much we shall be having another rainy picnic in the sun soon!