’TIS THE SEASON FOR PINK BLAZERS AND PIMM’S
Now that we are past the longest day of the year and the nights are drawing in, it would be understandable if the mundanities of life were getting you down. So here’s something to console you: we are at the height of “The Season”. At this time of year, there are umpteen events that allow you to feel that tiny bit more special than those around you whose lives revolve around washing, ironing, DIY and earning an honest bob. Oh, how we all like to feel a bit special! Put down the Morphy Richards and the Black+Decker, put on your best hat and head off towards the nearest social occasion that will cause you to forget domestic life, if only for an afternoon. “The Season” started in the 17th century and peaked in the 19th, although we still manage to keep it going. Originally, it marked the start of the landed gentry’s stay in London for the summer. They would up sticks, staff and all, from the country estate, and travel to their second home in the great metropolis where they would attend balls and exhibitions, visit each other’s houses and generally get on each other’s nerves until the autumn when they moved lock, stock and barrel of oysters, back to the country to begin their winter of hunting and shooting. Sadly, you’ve missed the start of “The Season”, which is generally regarded as beginning with Chelsea Flower Show and ending with Cowes Week, after which – on August 12 – the gentry will shed their blazers and white flannels, put on their Harris Tweed and head up to Scotland to surprise the grouse. I am not averse to “The Season”. It brings colour to our lives and provides wonderful people-watching opportunities. The atmosphere is unfailingly buoyant and celebratory, and yet the prospect of attending each and every event would, I fear, leave me reeling and dyspeptic – overdosing on strawberries and champagne, bonhomie and Bisodol. But starting a little later – with Royal Ascot behind us – does give one a chance to hit the ground running, and with Wimbledon under way and the Henley Royal Regatta starting next week, there is no excuse for avoiding the party spirit. Wimbledon is the best summer sporting event there is, and a magnet for real tennis fans as much as the corporate crowd who now seem to overwhelm many a summer bash. Whether you have tickets only for the ground, or find yourself in the Royal box, you are assured of a good time and some stonking tennis. If the weather is inclement, a pop star will even lead the community singing. Should you have a healthy building society account, you can even buy one of those elegant navy blue, white-braided Ralph Lauren blazers worn by the umpire and linesmen. It will set you back £880, unless you are a cheapskate and prefer to buy it at an online discount site for £400. Talking of blazers, being a state secondary school kid, I have always found Henley Royal Regatta slightly bizarre. Not the rowing; that’s wonderful, except that not a lot of people seem to watch it. They appear to spend most of their time drinking in tents. No; the odd thing is the sight of gigantic former sportsmen (in terms of both girth and height), aged 40, 50 or 60, wearing the school blazer that was their daily uniform in their teens. The Leander Club (which is apparently the poshest) has a pink blazer and contributes wonderfully to the jollity of pedestrian traffic on the riverbank. Do go along and walk up and down the riverside. I have an old striped blazer of indeterminate scholastic identity that I bought in Oxfam many years ago. It is now rather tight around the middle and will do me nicely next week (as long as I don’t get stopped by an old Blenkinsoponian and am expected to swap stories about Puffy Benger and Gussie Finknottle). Should your school days be something you would rather forget, then wait until the week after the Henley Royal Regatta and take yourself off to the Henley Festival of Music and the Arts. It uses the same site and tents as the Regatta, to which it adds a floating stage on which orchestras and musicians perform in the evening. It is a sheer delight and Mrs T and I have been regular attenders for 20 years or more. There is amusing “street theatre” on the riverbank, art and sculpture exhibitions, and a host of restaurants, from bistros and bars to that lovely thing they call “fine dining”. It’s black tie for the men and glamorous outfits for the women, and the overall feeling is a cross between the Proms, the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition and a village fete. This year you can enjoy performers as diverse as Bryan Ferry, Joss Stone, Burt Bacharach, The Jacksons, Rick Wakeman, Jasper Carrott and Alistair McGowan, with the River Thames and its pleasurecraft gliding by as a glorious backdrop. Hearing Do You Know the Way to San Jose as a skein of geese fly low over the water will be a sight to remember. Should you require more highbrow fare, then Glyndebourne and Garsington Opera will fit the bill. But if all this culture is just too much, take yourself off to Glorious Goodwood from July 29 to August 2. Now, to be honest, I can take or leave Royal Ascot. But the Earl of March has cracked it at Goodwood in terms of organisation and presentation. You will not come across a more crisply maintained racecourse, a more delightful atmosphere or finer views – right across the Sussex Downs as far as the Isle of Wight on a clear day. The Pimm’s, food and closeness to the action make for a great day out – and there are 19 meetings from May to October if you are busy that weekend. Being a resident of Cowes, I shall enter into the spirit of the yacht racing, even if I haven’t a clue where they are heading or who is in the lead. The town boasts a spirited atmosphere during that first week in August, and then, when the yachties depart to the grouse moors, the north coast of the Isle of Wight is once again peopled by those who delight in its charms regardless of “The Season”, which, by then, will have delighted us all long enough. With so much going on in summer, the calm of September gives we socialites a chance to catch our breath and head, once more, back to the sticks. But that’s some time off yet.
Thames tradition: the Henley Royal Regatta is a great occasion for competition and colour, while the Henley Festival of Music and the Arts features performers such as Joss Stone, inset