Last Thursday found me standing in front of the UK Embassy in Paris with a small crowd of interested onlookers watching the diplomatic cars arrive and spew out their diplomatic contents. The sun was shining and the whining of a Scottish bagpipe drifted out over the Paris air.
A French business man approached me and inquired politely whether I knew what the deal was. As it turns out, I did, for I was invited myself. I explained to him that each year the embassy holds a party in honour of the Queen's birthday and that I myself was waiting for my husband to arrive with our invitation. "Oh?" he said with interest, "And how does one obtain such an invitation?"
Well, that is the rub as old William S. would put it. You need an invitation and they are not all that easy to come by.
When I told Barrett about the party I said I was hesitant to review a function that very few of our readers would ever be able to attend. He thought it would make an interesting story, which is why I'm writing this. But if you think it's pointless to read about things you can't just go and experience yourself you'll have to go read our archives instead. We have some good stuff there, really.
The Queen's Birthday Party (QBP) is always held in the garden of the embassy and on a nice summer day (as it was this year) you can see why it's our favourite social event of the year. As you arrive, you are offered your choice of champagne, wine, G&T, whisky by a nice man in a white coat. As you start to wander down the well-tended carpet of grass you see the first of culinary treats: the strawberry table. You can pretend you are at Wimbledon and treat yourself to a little cup of fresh strawberries with a dollop of the richest cream and cute little plastic forks for spearing the berries. Yum.
Further on, you see the line for the cheese tent. It's long; it's always long. But that is because it's good. For the last few years, the cheese has been brought over by the people at Neal's Yard, a wonderful selection including cheddar and Stilton but also a lot of lesser-known cheeses. This year, I was on the wrong side of the lane when the parade started and so I didn't get any of the special cheeses. (The perfect time to get food is while everyone else is lining up to watch the parade).
I was, however, on the right side of the parade to try the barbecue. There was a crowd around the table as I approached and though I could see a plate of sausages in front of a group of people no one seemed to be moving anywhere. I started directly towards the sausages, and, catching the hairy eye-ball from a small group of middle-aged people further down the table, I asked them if they were at the end of the queue. "Yes," answered the male of the group in a fake let's-all-be-jolly-while-we-instruct-the-heathen kind of voice, "We are English, you see. We queue."
I answered brightly, "That's funny. We do it in America too. And we wash ourselves every day and change the sheets at least once a month." His companions tittered while he continued to blather on about English Superior Queueing Techniques. The cream of this little exchange is that the group eventually realized that the people in front of them (French, no doubt!) were never going to move from in front of the tray of sausages and that they - the English - would have to rudely reach down and pull the tray towards themselves. Damned uncivilized non-queuing natives!
This guy would not have been so snotty, I am sure. He's the beer guy, presiding over a selection of some eight different little known beers with strange names. He flirts with me every year (probably with every female, actually) and I like him. I always have a pint of beer, and I never remember the name...
It's not food related, but I also took photos of the parade. Here you see someone official being officious and making sure that all is ship-shape and Bristol fashion and that the natives are fully behind the white lines.
Here you see people waiting for the parade to begin. A couple of years ago, the Critic and I spied Jane Birkin on the other side of the corridor as we waited for the parade.
Here you can see the marching band in the distance. You can also see two women looking past me in the opposite direction, which led me to wonder what they were looking at?
As it turns out they were watching the marching band come from the other direction. This year, they started out half on each end of the lane and met together in the middle. Verrrry innovative.
To appreciate why I'm so impressed you have to know that these marching bands are military ones that could have stepped out of the pages of a Kipling book. Most years there is at least one band member wearing an animal skin of some sort: this year it was tiger. (Amusingly, last year in honor of the centenary of the entente cordiale treaty between France and England, the band was French. Being French, they went on strike, causing a last minute tizzy in the Embassy...)
A Welshman, a Scot and and an Englishman walk into a garden party...sounds like a joke doesn't it? Our friend Iain has two glasses because he kindly held mine while I took the photo. I'm not saying he's above running two glasses at the same time - I later saw him with a pint in one hand and a half full whisky glass in his pocket - but he would never be seen with a HALF pint in his hand. Unless he was doing a favour for a lady.
And about that invitation. How do you go about getting one? Well, you suck up to people who work in the UK delegation to the OECD or the UK embassy to France as they each have a limited number of invitations to give out. Or barring that you become Important in the diplomatic world or the OECD, a film star famous in France in the 60s or have the good luck to be born a member of the British royal family. (We once saw Andrew striding by in an obvious hurry to get to the exit, followed by men in sunglasses and serious faces.) For ourselves, we invited our friend Nick from the UK delegation to every party we held for two years before we got an invitation but we are still not certain if our good luck was due to Nick's intervention or the fact that the Critic received a promotion in the OECD that year to a more high-profile position. Whatever the reason we are happy with our yearly invitation (and, by the way, with the friendship of Nick)! So all was well that ended well for us.