Bucket List Entry #9: The Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo

I’m not sure that anyone does pageantry like the Brits. For one thing, some of their spectacles have been going on longer than many nations have been in existence, and for another, they take place in the setting of Britain, the country with a history that dates back well over two thousand years.

The Tattoo isn’t one of the former: it’s only been going on for just under seventy years — a veritable child compared to, say, the coronation of the new monarch.

But of course, the Tattoo takes place in front of the storied Edinburgh Castle, one of the oldest buildings in the Western world, and the theme this year was “Splash Of Tartan” which harkens back to the mid-17th century, when Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobite Scots were defeated at Culloden, whereafter the wearing of the tartan was forbidden, bagpipe-playing was banned, the Scots were disarmed and the Gaelic language was suppressed.

So of course, the official welcome this year was given in Gaelic, a ceremonial toast of whisky was taken by the guest of honor — a British officer who served the drinks to the clan leaders:

…and then came the massed pipe bands, playing, amongst others, the mournful Skye Boat Song:

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Over the sea to Skye;
Carry the man who was born to be king
Over the sea to Skye.

I am not a man with Scottish roots, and in fact there are many things about the Scots of today that I deplore; but even I had a tear running down my cheek.

I talked about my previous Bucket List item (tea at the Ritz Hotel), which I enjoyed for so many reasons; but the Tattoo was unbelievable. Everyone who goes to Britain in summer — during the month of August — should make a point of going. The crowds are immense, the atmosphere electric; and when the ceremony finishes with the Lone Piper playing his melancholy melody atop the battlements of Edinburgh Castle, I promise you that you will never forget it.

Bucket List Entry #8: High Tea At The Ritz

So last Tuesday  I met up with on old friend whom I last saw in South Africa over forty years ago (!), and whose two sons (who both live and work in London) very kindly invited us to tea at the Ritz Hotel to celebrate the occasion.

I’ve had high tea before, often, when I’ve been in England, at places like The Pump Room in Bath and at Fortnum’s (to name but two of the snootier places), but never before at the Ritz. Even though I’d once stayed there a couple of days, that was a business trip and there was no time to enjoy the relaxing pleasure of sitting in the Tea Room and having elegant flunkies cater to one’s every need and whim, with no time pressure, no limit (the food and tea are, of course, bottomless) and to cap it all, a glass of their signature champagne.

“More tea, sir? A different tea this time? Of course, sir. And more scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, sir? Right away.”

I know, I know, it’s a bloated plutocrat way of living, but good grief, how I love it. The food is beyond description.

Best of all, though, is that the sheer majesty of the place puts everyone on their best behavior. All around us were people dressed well: jackets and ties for the men, elegant dresses and such for the ladies, no loud chatter or noise — just the murmur of voices, the clinking of silver flatware on china, and in the background, a piano player giving us a tour of the old standards.

And this wasn’t an English Rich White Person event, either; the Ritz has always catered to people from all nations, so it was like 57 varieties in there — but all dressed impeccably, all well-mannered, and all enjoying one of the great treats in life:  tea at the Ritz. I have no idea how much it costs (it’s probably online somewhere) and one does have to make a reservation, such is its demand. Whatever, it’s all worth it once you’re there.

Anyone who goes to London and doesn’t do this, at least once, has done themselves a profound disservice.

And my deepest gratitude to Hamish and Andrew for the invitation. I will never forget it.

Bucket List Entry #7: Chelsea Football Club

I’ve been a fan of Chelsea since about 1972, so I can’t be accused of being a fan only after they became successful in recent years. Oh good grief, no: I remember all too well the Mediocre Years, when the Blues seemed simply content to be the perennial #5 in the league (after Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal etc). No, having suffered all that time, I’m enjoying their recent successes (European Champions League and English Premier League winners). Obviously, I’ve always wanted to watch The Lads play, and as such it’s very definitely on my Bucket List.

Today I’m going to Wembley Stadium as the guest of Longtime Brit Friend Mr. Sorenson to watch Chelsea play against hated north London rivals Arsenal in what is essentially a replay of this year’s F.A. Cup Final — which Chelsea lost (!) — so excuse me for being a little excited. I even have my old Chelsea hat, bought lo so many years ago.

Go The Blues!!!!

Update: We lost on penalties after a 1-1 tie at full-time. Ugh. But I captured a flag.

Actually, I don’t care about the result. A Bucket List Event with a good friend, with beer and good times: pure gold. Thanks, Sor.

OMG Lord’s

So scratch this item off Ye Olde Buckette Lyst. Yes, I went to watch England play South Africa on Day 2 of the First Test match. Here’s the Grace entrance (named after the 19th-century cricketer, W.G. Grace, sometimes called the father of cricket).

Here’s the view from my seat in the Edrich stand. The Members’ Pavilion is the brick building on the right.

I’m not going to describe the action on the field, because it would be incomprehensible to most of my Loyal Readers (and the Brit Readers would have seen the highlights already anyway).

Some impressions of Lord’s.

1.) The ground was full to the brim, but for some reason, Lord’s has not worked out how to manage crowds. Lines into the several (not many) pubs, restaurants and snack bars were long and service was slow. Given that most of the people are there to watch cricket, and the breaks in play are short, this means that a huge number of people are going to miss parts of the match, and they did.
2.) The seats are all padded, and very comfortable. Compared to most all-metal seats in U.S. baseball grounds, at Lord’s you sit in comfort (a huge plus when the game starts at 11am and finishes after 6pm).
3.) With the exception of some visiting fans (Seffricans, ’nuff said), the crowd are fairly well-behaved, despite an astonishing amount of booze served. (Seriously; you may buy champagne by the magnum, and take it back to your seat.)

On this specific day, my fears of rain interrupting or even ending play were completely unfounded. It was sunny, and searingly hot (temps around 95F). I got sunburned — blisters-on-my-skin sunburned. Not to put too fine a point on it, I burned like a British person. My Afrikaner dad is doubtless spinning in his grave that my neck is in fact red.

Here’s one thing I noticed: the women who go to cricket are, with the exception of the Seffrican chicks, all impeccably upper-class. How did I know? By the way they looked. I did not see a single tattoo on a woman, all day — and in the heat, let me tell you, there was a lot of womanflesh on display. Here’s a representative sample:

When I later commented on the non-tattooed women to Mrs. Free Market, she remarked dryly, “Well, cricket’s a sensible game, isn’t it?”

My kinda people.

Despite the heat, despite the loud Seffrican spectators, despite the long lines to the service areas and despite the lousy play of the South African team, I was at Lord’s.

Words cannot express my pleasure, and my gratitude to the Free Markets for making it possible.

Bucket List Entry #6: Monaco Grand Prix

Today sees the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Monaco, and while I’ve seen a couple of Grands Prix before (at the old Kyalami track in South Africa, back when SA was still on the F1 calendar), this one is #6 on Ye Olde Buckette Lyste.

So why Monaco, you ask?

For pretty much the same reasons as to why I would want to watch cricket at Lord’s: because Monaco is one of the oldest racing venues — hell, they were racing at Monaco (1929) before there was Formula 1 — and unlike most of the other F1 venues, it takes place inside a city, on city streets. It is one of the crown jewels of motor racing (Le Mans and the Indy 500 being the other two), and it’s one of the few times I can be swayed by that awful word “prestige” when applied to an event.

Besides, it’s Monaco, FFS, itself the crown jewel of of the Midi.

But enough about the place. The race itself is impossibly difficult: winding through narrow city streets, there are no gravel runoffs, very few cushioned buffers (mostly, they’re stern, unforgiving Armco barriers), and if it starts to rain… oy.

Pole position in qualifying the day before almost guarantees victory the next day, so difficult it is to overtake someone. Here’s the famous Fairmont Hotel hairpin (taken at 30mph):

But let there be a slip-up in the pits, a bad tire decision or even a millisecond’s inattention by a driver during the race, and everything can change in a heartbeat.

Fortunately, I can get in to watch the race from a decent location (at time of writing, good Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise) because Longtime Friend and Bandmate “Knob” lives in Monaco, and I have a standing invitation to visit and stay with him for the occasion. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t make it to Monaco this year — e.g. poverty, bad timing etc. — but next year, Rodders [obscure British TV show reference]

Bucket List Entry #5: Cricket At Lord’s

To most Americans, “Cricket” is a darts game, or else a stupefyingly-boring sport played by Brits, or something.

To me, and to millions of people around the world, cricket is the ultimate gentleman’s sport: leisurely, subtle, with occasional moments of great excitement and still-more periods of escalating, gut-wrenching tension made all the more so by the quiet  hours that led up to them.

I’m not going to bother to explain the mechanics of the game: either you know how cricket is played or you don’t, and that’s it. Suffice it to say that there are essentially two kinds of cricket: first, there’s a quick slogfest that takes just a little longer than the average baseball game, but wherein over three hundred runs can be scored by each batting side (as opposed to the average winning baseball score of only four or five runs… talk about boring). It’s called “limited overs” cricket, and as the name suggests, each side gets a set number of “balls” (pitches) to get the highest possible score, the winner getting the higher score. I don’t much care for limited-overs cricket, because it’s just a slogfest (and therefore more popular with hoi polloi, go figure).

The second type of cricket is called “Test” cricket and is played between different nations — mostly, it should be said, by England and the former British colonies: Australia, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Bangladesh and the West Indies. (Other nations also play cricket, e.g. Scotland, Holland, Zimbabwe, Kenya and even the United States, but those are considered lower-class competitions, not Test matches per se.)

Test cricket is played over a much longer period of five days, and each side gets two innings to bat and field. (Unlike baseball, in which only three batters play per innings, cricket has all eleven players bat consecutively in a single innings.) If you think that a game which takes five days is going to be unbearably dull, well, it sometimes is. But that very dullness is not dull for the players, as each side attempts to penetrate the defenses of its opponent whether by bat or by ball, and dullness can be turned into heart-pounding excitement in a matter of seconds, let alone minutes. Over those five days, well over a thousand runs will likely be scored by the two sides — unless of course it rains (something which happens from time to time in England) and the match becomes shortened. It is also possible that five days will yield a draw rather than victory for one side.

Anyway, having not explained cricket to people who aren’t familiar with it, allow me, then, to introduce you all to #5 on Ye Olde Buckette Lyste.

5. I want to watch a cricket match, and preferably a Test match at the Lord’s ground in St. John’s Wood, London.

Lord’s is rightly called the “home of cricket”, and cricket has been played there since 1787 (admittedly, in three different locations, but the current ground had its 200th anniversary in 2014).

Currently, South Africa is touring England, and the first Test will be played at Lord’s on July 6-10 — and Mr. Free Market has informed me that he’s trying to get tickets for at least one of the days. (It’s a difficult task because both England and South Africa have very powerful teams at the moment, the rivalry goes back well over a century, and interest is therefore keen among the sport’s many followers.)

I’m holding thumbs on this one, but I have to say that if he’s unsuccessful, I’ll settle for watching a county match (between the home team and any other county side). It’s Lord’s, FFS, and it’s my personal haj (if you’ll excuse the cultural appropriation).

(Some people may comment on the unsightly colored advertising splodges on the otherwise-emerald-green turf. Don’t get me started.)

And about that rain business:

Colloquially, that’s known as Pub Time. And yes, I’ll be taking my brolly and wellies, just in case.


Incidentally, the darts game known as “Cricket” in the U.S. is called “Killer” everywhere else in the world. Just thought I’d clear that up.