At The Races

by Harriet May

ascot

“Wearing a hat-thing, it’s pretty awful,” I’m saying as I’m fighting to keep my fascinator on my head while walking down the stairs to see the Queen. A man just ahead is looking back to watch me, also going down stairs, with a drink in each hand. I catch his eye as he says to me in a response I didn’t ask for, “But it looks rather lovely.”

It’s mid-June and this is a British summer, wearing a hat at Royal Ascot in the rain. It isn’t freezing but it isn’t warm either, and I’m a little envious of the women in the Royal Enclosure who have to, as a matter of dress code, “cover up”; a conservative demand that keeps you warm when your optimism fails you.

While we wait for the Queen to arrive from Windsor in her carriage, we drink Pimm’s, obviously, except an English person with class would never say “obviously” about anything. I’ve never been classy though– I wear running clothes at every opportunity and don’t always shower and am mean about things I should be open to. Instead I’m hoping that wearing pink-on-pink and sipping champagne over lunch are good enough stand-ins for class.

Back inside at our table, when we’re deciding which bets to place, I choose a horse who shares her name with my future mother-in-law, which seems as good a system as any. Although I have a good feeling about her I place a very small, very safe bet, and when her race comes around I’m cheering for Jennies Jewel as I overhear people whispering her name and mentioning good odds. She wins by a neck’s length, and I’m first in line to collect my winnings.