IT was wonderful to be invited to the British national day: The Queen’s Birthday Party, incorporating Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations at the Ambassador’s Residence in Greendale on Thursday.
Not having a TV set, I saw little of the rain-drenched but still colourful pageantry of the actual event in London, but I’m old enough to recall the Coronation 59 years ago (many commentators world-wide got that wrong: she acceded the throne 60 years ago on the death of her father, King George VI, but Court was in mourning for a full year, so the ceremony took place in June 1953.)
Actually, I’m old enough to remember the Old King dying! We were sent home from infants’ school with elastic black arm-bands slipped over our sleeves. The problem was no one told my mum or kid brother that His Majesty was dead, so I got home to a locked house, about 200 yards from the school and reportedly sat on the front steps weeping for 10 minutes before she turned up!
My dislike of TV apparently goes back to our first set, a flickering black-and-white Pye bought a few weeks ahead of the Coronation allegedly as a sixth birthday gift for me. I protested I didn’t want a Smellyvision, I wanted a bicycle… but we got one anyway, watched by neighbours, friends and family from miles around as they were few and far between in British West Yorkshire in grim post-War 1953. I had to wait until Christmas for the bike.
Fundis had forecast June 2 would be the hottest, driest, nicest day of the year, but — like this year in Britain, 59 years on — it rained non-stop from Lands End to John O’Groats. We had family in this country and I remember being mesmerised as the Southern Rhodesian contingent marched and rode smartly down the processional route. Most British street parties were cancelled or moved indoors.
Everyone who watched the Coronation either live or on the idiot box remembers the rather large Queen Salote of Tonga driving in an open-topped carriage soaked to the skin from crown to shoes, but still waving regally to an adoring crowd. A small man in civilian attire accompanied her. Wags at the time said he was probably her lunch!
The manicured — and looking better each time I visit — gardens at The Residence saw several hundred visitors dressed for the occasion: No 1 uniforms, national attire, Panama hats to keep bright sun off often thinning locks, but clothing warm enough to offset a chill in the mid-winter wind.
New British Ambassador is Deborah Bronnert, who I hear is only 42. I’ve long been used to coppers and soldiers looking younger by the day…but heads of diplomatic missions? Talking of which a woman American marine (new one on me), looked about 23, her male fellow combatant perhaps a year older. Between them they had 12 rows of campaign ribbons!
I tried to get a full menu for various snacks which circulated and delightful dishes displayed: from caterer/events coordinator, Tessa Arkwright, who used to operate in swish safari camps in the Lowveld, but without luck.
I recall dinky salty biscuits topped with heavenly Stilton cheese and a nut or almond; Scottish smoked salmon in several presentations; rare roast beef in individual tart-sized Yorkshire puddings; cones of newspapers with fish (goujons) and chips; dainty brown and white bread sandwiches…and fruit skewers, light-as-air Victoria sponge cake, strawberry tarts.
There was talk that haggis was served, but although seated in a strategic position, I never saw it…so sadly, never tasted it. In a wee while I’ll be in Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway and will rectify that!
Having initially declined take-home cupcakes from a splendidly attractive display, because we were in a hurry to return to work, a colleague and I changed our minds and grabbed a brace apiece. We needn’t have hurried; a Zesa outage/outrage had cut the office for much of the afternoon. That’s bad news when you publish history books…potentially disastrous in the newspaper lark!
Laiza Foods (who also run Botanic Gardens Restaurant) handle the catering at Chapman Golf Club. I was there on Sunday for the Battle of Waterloo lunch of the Royal Society of St George.
No problem there, letting you know about the menu, other than, perhaps a wee lack of accuracy. I saw no walnuts — or any other member of the nut family in the various Waldorf salads and avo pears being eaten at my table.
I went for a very fine, tasty cream of mushroom soup which came without “rolls” (sliced white bread instead) or butter. Two tables away they had a saucer of margarine. There were no side plates for the starch; several people were without spoons.
There was a lovely take on chicken Kiev with tender moist breasts stuffed with cheese and mushrooms; grilled medallions of luscious beef in red-wine sauce was superb. Mains came with potato wedges and/or rice and seasonal veg. BUT plates were stone cold as, indeed was most of the food, as members and guests understandably wanted to chat, rather than just shovel graze down gullets.
Other than these annoying glitches, Laiza staff members were excellent; food even got better with fruit-packed apple crumble and summer fruit trifle with cream, ice-cream or custard and tea or coffee. We paid US$20 a head to the Royal Society.
I assume drinks waiters were on the club’s pay-roll and were probably taken on especially for this event. Most seemed clueless as to what wines Chapman stocked or how much it was and at least two insisted no wine glasses were available.
Zimbabwean Olympic marksman Dave Westerhout proposing the main toast to the Iron Duke, outlined weaponry and tactics used by the British, their Allies and the Enemy (in this case the French) at the Belgian battle.
In a potentially politically incorrect hiccup, an elderly committee member confused the Loyal Toast (to Zimbabwe) with the Royal Toast (to Her Majesty.) Off with his head!