Gina Davidson: Peek at how the other half parties

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THE command is delivered on very stiff card with gilt edging. Your name handwritten by a member of a small, select squad of calligraphers.

It is incredibly difficult to treat in a nonchalant fashion. Try as you might to hide it amongst the bills and dental appointment reminders, it somehow finds its way to the mantelpiece.

Indeed I would suggest it takes the strongest of Republican zeal not to feel a certain frisson of excitement at the idea of attending one of Lizzie’s garden parties at Holyrood Palace.

Quite why the invitation came my way I’m not strictly sure, but in the interests of investigative reporting I knew it was my duty to say yes. Possibly one of the rules of the Queen’s Garden Party is not to talk about the Queen’s Garden Party, but let me take you past the queues, through the gates and into the massive, lush, green gardens of Holyrood...

The first thing you see on entering the south gate are the toilet marquees (yes even the Portaloos are swathed in tents) before you come to the kind of lawn which would make bowlers break into a sweat at the thought of rolling their jack along the turf. Upon this swathe of greenness are pitched two white canopied structures, and one slightly smaller marquee – for Royals and special invitees only. Yes, hoi polloi, you may have got a foot in the gate, but remember there is always someone better than you.

Inside the shady coolness of the tents (which must be a tightly packed nightmare of frizzy hair and body odour when it’s raining) sandwich rectangles of egg and cress or cucumber – no crusts of course – are served, with tiny Victoria sponge triangles, tinchy eclairs and totty custard tarts for afters. All of it dished up by white-uniformed caterers and washed down with elderflower cordial, apple juice and tea. Not a drop of alcohol is to be found – unless it’s smuggled in via sporran.

Everyone mills around looking for someone they could possibly know – unlikely in a crowd of 8000 drawn from all over Scotland – or eye others warily and wonder what they could possibly have done to get an invitation – especially with those tattoos and odd-coloured hair – or search fruitlessly for an empty chair.

Dress is the main way of sorting the wheat from the chaff. The top hats and morning suits and military uniforms (no medals please) are accompanied by chiffon tea dresses or sensible but summer-coloured tweed suits and straw hats adorned with real grouse feathers. Those in ill-fitting suits bought for a wedding are partnered by last-minute purchases from Designers at Debenhams with matching fascinators.

By some invisible force at 4pm everyone is drawn to the back of the Palace to line the paths which are “guarded” by the Royal Company of Archers. Suddenly the Queen appears on a balcony, walks down a staircase onto the lawn, and disappears from view – and unless you’ve been invited into the Royal marquee, that’s the last you see of her.

The aimless wandering begins again, this time to the sounds of military silver bands (I couldn’t decide if the choice of Consider Yourself One of Us from Oliver! was a veiled political message or not) and apart from the serving of small tubs of ice-cream, the excitement is over. I lie – there was also the moment of spotting the BBC’s Brian Taylor.

It was a lovely afternoon but odd. Like being a guest at a wedding where you knew no-one, and there was no ceremony, no speeches.

After three hours its over. You’ve had your tea, sandwiches and cakes, spent some time admiring the handiwork of the royal gardeners and been slightly near the Queen. It was... an experience.

Fat chance for healthy eating

SHOCKING news that ten per cent of those of us living in the Lothians never eat a single piece of fruit or veg.

Not an orange segment – unless it’s made by Terry’s – or even a wafer-thin slice of apple passes the lips of nearly 85,000 people. Unsurprising then that more than half of all adults in the region are overweight or obese.

How many well-meaning campaigns have to be designed, funded and launched before people finally understand that a bag of chips with sauce doesn’t count as one of your five a day?

Sport must be for all – not a luxury

ANOTHER week and another example of the difficulties local authorities are facing with the council tax freeze comes in the shape of a huge rise in fees for the use of school facilities by sports clubs and organisations.

Councils are being forced to raise funds from any available route – be it parking meters or school hall hire costs. As a result, the cost of hiring a gym hall or an hour in a school swimming pool could double.

It’s the poorest who will be hit the hardest, and it will undoubtedly reduce the chances of kids, again mostly in deprived communities, from accessing sport. It then becomes a luxury. Who can still claim that the council tax freeze benefits the worst off?

Fashion fest’s green shoots

THE city’s average fruit and vegetable intake could increase next month though when the third Edinburgh International Fashion Festival gets under way, as famously most in the world of fashion eat little more than steamed broccoli, peeled grapes and goji berries.

So while things are looking up for greengrocers, more exciting is the prospect of an exhibition of photographic work by Helena Christensen and Rankin in the Assembly Rooms.

The fashion festival is slowly gaining traction, and is an appealing new addition to Edinburgh’s summer festivals menu.