Report from Buckingham Palace
Regular followers of the Sanctuary will already know that I was invited to attend the Queen's Garden Party at Buckingham Palace on 29th June 2011. The invitation came 'out of the blue' on a very cold January morning and, after accepting, I didn't really give it much more thought being more concerned with the rather more pressing issue of getting the animals safely and happily through, what was, a very hard winter. The particularly wet June we have had did nothing more to avert my attention to the coming event as we have been pretty waterlogged here and desperately trying to keep the Sanctuary from flooding. Couple this with my accident two weeks before my intended Marathon in Finland, the back injury this caused, and the Garden Party just crept up on my without me noticing.
I decided to go with no preconception of what to expect as I had no idea why I had been invited or by whom - all I know was the invitation came from the Lord Lieutenant's Office and was for me and 'one other'. Obviously Martin could not go as one of us is ALWAYS required to be at the Sanctuary so I nominated my Mother to attend with me. This sort of event is not really 'my thing' and I was worried about leaving the Sanctuary as several of the elderly animals here require very intensive nursing which is a really time consuming job in itself, let alone the task of tackling all the other jobs on top. However, Martin assured me he would manage so I went off up into London. As I approached the Palace I was filled with a little 'gloom and doom' as I could see the amount of money which had been spent on outfits, hairdo's, manicures etc. Knowing I had hardly had chance to wash my hands and face before I came I did begin to wonder whether this was where I really belonged but, nevertheless, my Mum and I joined the queue for entry and waiting in anticipation (notice I didn't say eager) of the coming events.
At this point, I would just like to say that when the invitation did come through I was in two minds, for many reasons, as to whether to accept but I decided that it would be positive for the Sanctuary as it would garner some publicity and may gain mainstream acceptance for our choice of an ethical, Vegan lifestyle. After all, we are not interested in 'preaching to the converted', it is influencing those who might convert which concerns me.
Whilst we queued quite a few passers by and tourists questioned me as to what was going on and why I had been invited. One couple, a very nice American lady and gentleman, were very impressed on hearing about the Sanctuary and what I did here and the fact I was a Vegan as their son had done Marathons in no where near as quick times as me and they said they would suggest he change his diet when they returned home. They even took a photograph of us in our outfits to prove they had met me!
Duly, we rose to first place in the queue, our Passports, Driving Licenses and other forms of identity were validated, bags searched and we were given the 'go ahead' to enter. The security is very tight there and there are Police marksmen on the roof monitoring you with very powerful binoculars as well as mingling in the crowds to keep 'an eye' on things. The entrance to the Palace is obviously very grand with red carpet and beautiful staircases and works of art adorning every wall. It was truly spectacular to go through the rear doors of the Palace and see a beautiful Chamomile lawn stretching in front of you down to a rather magical lake with many sorts of wildlife, beautiful birdsong and all surrounded by wild flowers and grasses. A little bit like an oasis in the middle of a desert. I don't think anyone else there was wearing a dress from the 1950's and their grandmother's handbag, shoes and umbrella but, never mind, I can honestly say I didn't feel inferior in any way as it gave me great pride to think I had not spent anything on the event but much sorrow knowing that most people had spent fortunes which could have gone to those in need.
It was a real juxtaposition to leave the hustle and bustle of London and walk into what could have been a country garden in the middle of nowhere. There were wooded areas, glades, secret bridges, little 'den' type places and beautiful winding paths going off from highly manicured lawns. We mingled as best we could but there was nothing on the menu we could have and they didn't even have soya milk. We made a great effort to go to each and every tea tent and ask, just so they fully understood the need - and reason - we felt they should cater for such requirements. Several people did chat to us asking 'how we had got there'. We just thought they meant physically so we replied 'by train'. How stupid can you be? They actually meant which Association had nominated us or what was our job. As I explained above, I had no idea how these invitations came about but now I do know I realise it was absolutely the right thing to go. Usually organisations are given a quota of invitations which they then allocate. Organisations like The Lawn Tennis Club, RAC, Cricket Clubs etc. either that or it goes with the territory of work - Civil Service, Military, Police Force etc. There are very few 'personal' invitations given and this is why I feel it to be more important I attend. Not for myself but for an acceptance, acknowledgement and appreciation of everything I stand for. Achievement in everything we do here at the Sanctuary, my veganism, the lives we have saved and continue to save and the non mainstream ideals we carry with us every day which drives us on. The peace and security we offer to so many lost souls who have nowhere to go and nowhere to turn. Those who have no voice had a voice in Buckingham Palace on that day and on their terms, not some dumbed down edition to suit the masses. For that I am very proud.
I don't think everyone we spoke to took on board what I was saying, agreed with it or understood it but they had to listen to it and that is what is important to me. The ostentatious shows of wealth did appall me and, to be honest, all I wanted to do was to come home to the animals but I am glad I have been. Quite a few people had never heard the word 'Vegan' before, others could not believe sporting achievement was possible on a plant based diet and many others did not understand the neglect which is prevalent in the animal world. The amount of dogs and cats who have no home, the horses who are practically crippled and thrown in the waste like all the other 'rubbish' by cruel and heartless people. Even if one of the people we spoke to changes their attitude it would be a small victory. Why should these people understand? They live extremely comfortable lives where such things do not encroach. They don't need to think about it, it doesn't enter their 'zone' of thought.
After about an hour the Royal Party arrived - pre-empted by the Yeoman of the Guard - and mingled with us for about half an hour. The Queen, Prince Philip, The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, The Duke of Kent and The Countess of Wessex. It was very interesting to be 'up close and personal' with them but I would prefer to say no more on the matter! They then went on to take tea in the Royal Tent which was full of dignitaries and diplomats from other countries. Mum and I just continued to mingle amongst the 'ordinary' people - if you can call people 'ordinary' wearing top hat and tails in Buckingham Palace on a Wednesday afternoon explaining they had not come far for the event as they only lived in Mayfair!!!
The afternoon passed and it was time to leave. We had been told there were to be no mobile telephones turned on and no photographs but we did find a 'partner in crime' who agreed to take our photograph if we would take his. Was it a trick, I asked myself and would I end up in the Tower of London but I figured I didn't care anyway as my shoes were hurting me as I never wear anything but wellies or trainers and could have done with the sit down. I didn't expect a Police Officer to approach us quite so quickly though! He was very reasonable and said that as we were leaving it was OK so now I have photographic proof that this is one Vegan, animal rights activist who has been invited to Buckingham Palace for tea!
In short, it was an experience. Not one I particularly wanted but one which I think might be beneficial for the animals and therefore had to be done. After all, I am mature enough to know that not every afternoon can be spent as pleasantly as mucking out stables or training for your next Marathon!