Today to we attended a British cultural institution: The Ascot Races!
I would like to introduce you to this phenomenon because it is very fun, very fancy and very British!
Initially, we didn’t know if we’d be able to attend due to the very severe storms that have plagued south-west England since January. The weather has been pretty terrible, with very high winds (80mph) and severe flooding. So whether the races would continue today was unknown. But honestly, this is a pretty hardy set of folks here. I watched the BBC news yesterday where an 80 yr. old woman was being interviewed about flooding in her area. She is still living in her home, and has been for the last week despite 6″ of water on the floor. Her response to the news-man’s prompt about how she is coping? “Well, we just live on the upstairs floor and try to pump water out of the main floor.” Very matter of fact, news-man moves on to other stories.
So, trains were operating today and the races went on as well. Off to the races!
Now, before I continue, we need to establish how to pronounce Ascot. You may want to pronounce Ascot as “ass-cot,” and that’s fine. But the locals call it “ass-ct.” And we wanted to sound local, so I made sure the kids were pronouncing it correctly.
We departed Richmond and arrived in Ascot about 40 minutes later. The station in Ascot comprises the actual train station, a pub and the entrance to Ascot raceway. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of the style and age of the building. So many things here are older than the United States. But unlike most other buildings, the Ascot raceway building is pretty modern and what you might expect from a sports stadium…well, except that there are these very lovely and dapper gentleman in bowler hats and black jackets with flowers in the lapel that will advise you on where to go and what to do. I wanted to get a picture with one, but I’m pretty sure that’s not proper.
Speaking of proper, there is a dress code for Ascot. I am borrowing the text from the Ascot web-site and pasting it here because I think you will enjoy reading it, and also because it took Luke and I about 4 read throughs to decipher what exactly it implied.
“JUMPS SEASON (NOVEMBER TO APRIL)
Gentlemen usually wear a jacket with a collared shirt and tie, and ladies like to dress as for a smart occasion. Whilst this style of dress is preferred in Premier Admission during the Jumps season, it is not compulsory.
Please note that fancy dress, novelty and branded or promotional clothing is not permitted within Premier Admission”
Ok, so we were pretty clear on the upper half of the gentleman (Luke and Mac) but not so sure about the bottom half- denim, khakis, suit trousers? Also, I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a smart occasion. I mean, I graduated college and wore my cap and gown, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what they were implying. So I just went with trying to look like Princess Kate. Seemed like a safe bet. Not that there are many similarities between us, but I could at least copy here dress style. And by copy, I mean that I imagined what she would look like and then tried to copy it. If I were a princess in England, I would sit in front of a fire and read Sherlock Holmes while drinking wine.
Actually, I used to ride horses when I was younger. Here’s a fun picture from the past:
Back then I was very consumed with riding and jumping horses. So much so that my mum got me this beautiful necklace with my birthstone for a birthday. I had the opportunity to wear it to the races today.
Did I mention that Mac “had” to wear a suit coat 😉 He’s normally not that inclined to have his picture taken, but when I told him I just wanted a picture of his LEGO creation, he complied:
…Back to the races!
Upon entering the building, I saw that we had done well and fit right in with the other race-goers…though their style looked effortlessly British, whereas ours was labored over and timidly chosen, hoping to not get rejected at the ticket booth. Their style was very “smart” indeed! Men sporting suit coats in all manner of wool plaid print, fantastic derby hats toping ruddy faces (Whiskey is popular here). The ladies were also smartly dressed in semi-formal dresses, stockings and not so practical shoes. I had so much fun analyzing their dress. As for the kids… well, in a building containing about 2,000 people, our kids comprised 50% of the children in attendance. No one seemed disturbed by them, in fact, they were quite a novelty.
We were hungry and thirsty and tried to find sustenance, seating, and someone who could explain how exactly you bet on races. Not the easiest thing to do. First, and I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but the food in most non-boutique restaurants in London is pretty bad compared to what we had available in Seattle. I don’t mean it will give you food-poisoning, it’s been cooked far too long for that to be even a remote possibility! Just very bland, somewhat not-fresh (I’m trying to be kind here) and lacking in the fruit/vegetable food groups. We did purchase food, and we did try the food, but 2 hungry adults and 3 hungry kids rejected all but the chips (fries) from our meal. That’s OK though, the bland food encourages another British pastime, drinking alcohol. The food may not be good, but you can be sure that there is wine, whiskey and beer readily available. In fact, on our train ride to Ascot (remember, ass-ct!) two older women boarded the train and proceeded to take out two plastic wine glasses and a small container of wine, pouring a liberal amount into each glass and imbibing as we journeyed to our destination. Before moving to London, I may have thought poorly of these women, but having been here almost a year, what I really wanted to do was join them!
Where were we? I started writing about drinking and then…it gets blurry 😉
Let’s talk about betting. I’ve been to a casino once in my life, on a lay-over from Seattle to Oklahoma, where we gambled nickels on slot machines in order to get free drinks. Hence, I’m not the most seasoned gambler. I tried to ask a few people how to place bets at the betting counter and the transaction that happened is one that I will heretofore refer to as the “happy non-native.” The happy non-native asks questions, but doesn’t want to inconvenience people, so upon hearing their answer to his or her question, smiles, nods, says thank you and walks away still trying to figure-out what they were saying.
At a loss for what to do after these interactions, I opened our race book and asked the kids to pick their favorite horses. Some of these selections were based on the amount of pink/purple/stars in the jockey’s uniform. Some were more thought out after careful inspection of the manual (Mac).
Bets were placed and the day was pretty seamless after that. Out of 5 races, we picked 4 horses that placed in the top 3, which won us back about 40% of what we spent. But that’s not the point. The point is that it was really fun. Not just for us, but for the kids. They took awhile to warm-up to the idea of spending a day at the racetrack, but watching these horses run two miles and jump over numerous fences in less than 8 minutes, was beautiful and exciting. I hope that they remember this experience, I know I will.