THE DAY WE MET THE QUEEN MOTHER
winnie caw 2002

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The natural anarchy of students will not acknowledge the majesty of the Royal Family, but every student loves a good day out. In the summer of Silver Jubilee year, 1977, several events came together. I don't remember painting the town red that summer, exactly. I vaguely recall celebrating the end of my finals with the aid of Tequila Sunrise (not a scenic postcard). I joined a motley group of students intent on exploring the big bad world - we 'did' Southsea, we watched the Jubilee fireworks from the Embankment in London, and we went to the races.

The Derby is a horserace held every June at Epsom racecourse, in Surrey. It's an auspicious event attended by the Queen, members of the Royal family and heaps of folk wanting a fun day out and a 'flutter'. We parked somewhere in the 'cheap seats', i.e. across the fields from the races. Looking back, we avoided entrance fees as well as parking fees - that's students for you. I had made sure I wore a hat, to compete with the best of them. It was a scorching hot day, and we set up camp near the 'Toffs' enclosure, a.k.a. the Royal Enclosure, where the winning horses cool off in front of the gentry at the end of every race. I took a photo of the Queen taking a walk down the course with the Race Manager. She likes to get a feel of the 'running'. I remember thinking how short she was and that she had beautifully clear skin.

In the event (literally), the Derby itself was a case of 'blink and you miss it'. I felt that an outsider (at 16/1, if memory serves) named 'The Minstrel' would win the race, but I mistrusted my judgement and bet on one of the favourites.. My friends took my tip and were quids-in as a result, when 'The Minstrel' came in ahead of the field. I had egg on my face and a slap-up meal, courtesy of my friends, generous in their victory and richer pockets.

At the end of the day, we took our places at the entrance to the racecourse. We were in time to watch the Royal cavalcade leave in their limos. The roar which went up from the crowd when the Queen Mother left has stayed with me. She was a popular lady, appreciated by many from our parents' generation for her warmth and solidarity. The news of her death today is another sad event, in a year which has seen the death of the Queen's sister and which marks the fiftieth anniversary of the old King's death.

OK. So we didn't 'meet' the Queen Mum in the sense of 'meet and greet'. It was more the sense of meeting the man from St Ives with his seven wives. But it was a day to remember, and I still have the memories of my golden day.

winnie x

30 March 2002 (amended 25/11/02)

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