Shy of getting hopped up on Earl Grey and plundering India, visiting the Royal Ascot is the most English thing you will ever do.
Ascot is a staple of the English social and fashion year, and the diverse ecosystem of lady’s hats routinely swamps the papers in its wake. Ostensibly convened for the purpose of horse racing, the ponies and attendant bookies are largely incidental to the massive affair of dressing up. You could easily swap the horse races at Ascot with a tractor pull and the event would proceed largely unaffected, as it solely exists to let people parade around in fancy outfits and pickle themselves with booze for twelve hours.
In short, it is magnificent.
Needless to say it’s visually stunning. The whole place is a cross between a fashion catwalk and a cultural preserve for displaced Victorian refugees. Given the amount of top hats and high heels, Berkshire oozes class for a week. Everybody is sopping wet with elegance.
It’s the snazziest I’ve ever looked. And likely will be for the foreseeable future, given that when I someday marry there’s no guarantee the wife will consent to letting me wear a top hat. (Several of my friends are now married or engaged, and from what I gather women begin planning their weddings sometime around the age of six. The groom is fairly interchangeable in these mammoth glittering schemes, and his influence over the ceremony is mostly limited to whether or not he wants to be there.)
In preparation for Ascot I had to collect all sorts of sophisticated accoutrements. Cufflinks, a shirt which has cufflink holes, suspenders, a waistcoat, and of course a top hat. In Edinburgh a few so-called “friends” have criticized my top hat purchase (nay, investment), saying “it’s frivolous,” and “a waste of money,” or “you jackass– you still owe me fifty pounds.” Fools! Here are just some of the many reasons why buying a top hat is the most intelligent purchase I have ever made:
* Fit in at the Royal Ascot
* Christmas caroling outfit? Check!
* Can confidently meet the President
* “Deal Sealer” once a girl is at my flat
* Better prepared for time travel accidents
* Ability to elope no longer hindered by tacky wardrobe
* Neato “magician costume” for when friends throw “dress like a magician” parties
* Can store golf balls in it
I also needed a date, which sadly fell flat. Of the many women I used to know in England, all but two are now dead, married or lesbians. This limited the pool of available tottie. Early on I did arrange for a local Oxford girl I know (who also happens to be gorgeous) to grab a ludicrously large hat and join me for the day. Quite stupidly she managed to get a promotion at her job a couple of weeks before Ascot, and thus had to scuttle the date in favor of work. This prompted a brief and sad scramble to replace her, wherein ultimately I opted to call a friend I dated a couple of years ago, only to have her talk me into letting me bring her fiancee instead. Then, the day of, I received a text messaging noting that her brother-in-law would also be joining us. That’s fine, though. Sort of a guys day out. In any case it meant that what would ultimately become an extensive booze tab would be spread between three men.
Of course the day proved fun. For one thing, observing me trundle around with a glass of champagne while wearing a top hat is a good window for you, the reader, to get a glimpse of what the universe appears like inside of my head:
I also spent more money than I should have gambling on horses. Unfortunately I forgot two very important factors while gambling, which are: 1. You lose money gambling, and 2. I do not know how to do it. My strategy hinged on putting money on favored horses and then, after winning, suspecting I had some sort of savant ability to choose winners. Thereafter I wagered on animals that had names which “sound like a winner” and assumed my sense of personal exceptionalism could bend the rules of probability. To future Ascot attendees, I advise against this.
Eventually I tired of bookies and wandered around Ascot, flirting. As luck would have it my friend Caroline was at the Royal Ascot with her own cabal of friends. (Presumably Caroline got stuck with an ex-boyfriend’s fiancee and family as well, although I didn’t check.) Not only did I get to hang out with Caroline and her likewise enchanting friends, but shortly before the last race I got interviewed by the BBC.
To my knowledge my interview did not air, which may well be for the best. Here’s my approximation of that interview:
BBC: Hello sir! Where’s that accent from?
AH: Oklahoma. It’s in the States. In the middle.
BBC: And are you enjoying yourself today, sir?
AH: Absolutely! I’m wearing a top hat… talking to beautiful women… drinking… Yes! Great day!
BBC: Although the Americans haven’t done so well today, have they?
AH: [pause] At what?
BBC: [pause] At… the American horses that are racing.
AH: Oh, right. Yes. Well, you see, our horses believe in freedom. And that’s the important thing, isn’t it? Excuse me.
That may sound like idiotic rambling on my part, but it’s actually a brilliant ploy. This fall I’ll be leaving Scotland to return to Washington D.C., and had my nonsensical interview been broadcasted in America I would have been all but guaranteed a position as a speech writer for Sarah Palin.
Following my encounter with the British media I made my way to one of the bookie windows to see if perhaps I had misunderstood how the placing system works with winners, and had unknowingly won several thousand pounds. (I hadn’t.) However the move was fortuitous because it did enable me to witness an astounding, bare-knuckle, bloody, savage beating going on between five guys who appeared to have stepped off of a wedding cake.
I remain slightly confused, because the fight I saw was on Saturday, whereas the one reported in the press was on the previous day. So it appears that there were actually two massive, WWF-style fights which occurred. The one I witnessed was spectacular! Five men were all pounding their fists into one another, knocking each other over tables and pinwheeling around horrified onlookers. At one point a guy picked up a champagne bottle, guiltily looked at the spectators, then apparently decided “oh, what the hell” and clobbered a man over the head. Shortly thereafter other guys retaliated by picking up plastic folding chairs and smashing them into one another. Had they been made out of metal or mahogany I imagine somebody would have died.
Unfortunately I didn’t get any good pictures. I took a couple, but after the second picture I decided not to potentially invoke their ire by subjecting them to flash photography. My pictures are very blurry ones of a man covered in blood.
The newspapers alternately explain that the brawl started by either a dispute over who owed who for a bottle of champagne (hilarious) or that half a dozen inebriated men started fighting over a twenty-year-old blonde girl (more likely). A couple of columns have decried the event as “more middle class people” sneaking in, which I take exception to. I’ve got pretty solid middle class credentials, and at no point did I ever hit anyone in the back of the head with a chair.
For some reason literally every British sporting event involves a few guys getting stinking drunk and trying to kill each other in a blind rage. It’s an element I don’t fully grasp about British culture, due to it’s many weird nuances. For instance, despite the fact that most folks in Britain appear to be atheists of the smug persuasion, a lot of their squabbles are sectarian. How does that work? As soon as footballers hit the field, stadiums transform into shelves of drunken Britannic crusaders. A couple of months ago someone literally sent a mail bomb to a Scottish football coach because he’s Catholic.
When the newspapers interviewed the scrappy Ascot fighters, one of them said, “I just want to apologize to the Queen.” Which makes sense, I suppose. The Royal Ascot is supposed to be her favorite event, which she’s attended since before her coronation in the mid-eighteen hundreds.
Commentators lamented about how such a historically prim and cultivated shindig has been marred by classless debauchery. But I think the real tragedy is that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh didn’t leap down from the Royal Box and beat the men to death with a diamond cane.
I bring up Philip because, shortly before attending Ascot, I discovered that the Queen’s consort also happens to be a volcano god. Philip is literally worshiped by the Yaohnanen people of Tanna island as the incarnated spirit of their local volcano god. Years ago one of them decided that the spirit of their volcano had, naturally, incarnated into a European aristocrat and married the Queen of England (as you do). Ever since then they’ve been setting up pictures of the deified Philip, which the Duke has been quietly supporting for decades. He periodically sends them exceedingly regal pictures of himself, occasionally holding a sacred Vanuatu pipe, or something to that effect. Last year some people from Tanna visited England as part of a reality television show, and were given a tour of Buckingham Palace wherein they met their god, Philip. Unfortunately the event was closed-door, but based on the ecstatic tribesman who left we can infer that Philip did not seriously endeavor to dissuade them from dismantling the Prince Philip Movement. I can’t blame the guy. That’s a nifty thing to put on your resume.
After the more able-bodied ruffians dispersed into the crowd, police came to escort the drunken, bloodied man away. Myself and fellow onlookers all proceeded to the band stand, where we waved tiny Union Jack flags and participated in a sing-a-long, including “Hey Jude,” the British national anthem.
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Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.