We took a seat at a table in the garden of The Royal Oak pub, just below the impressive circular tower of Windsor Castle. The Premier League final games were on the telly inside the pub, and we’d landed here both to kill a little time before Chloe’s crew race and to allow Clay to check on scores. As usual, we were coaxing the kids into patience with a little foodie treat. We took our menus to the table, and Clay said to Quinn, “How about one of these ‘Mouthwatering Desserts’?”
“Ewww!” said Quinn, looking horrified. “Mouth Water dessert? Gross!”
Never thought of it that way.
Last Sunday– a week ago– Chloe rowed in the Ball Cup Regatta at the Olympic rowing facility near Windsor. We took a very crowded train to Windsor, wondering all the while if many of these people were headed for the regatta. It turns out they were headed for the Royal Horse Show, which had been taking place all the previous week and was wrapping up on Sunday. We had no idea this was going on because, well, we really never have any idea what grand old traditions are taking place around us. Maybe we’ll get better at being aware of traditional events next year? Anyway, the Queen was in town for the event and, of course, in residence at the castle.
While Clay, Will and the Littles went off to the castle to hang out with the Queen (and maybe catch a tour), I caught a cab out to Dorney Lake to deliver the baguette sandwiches I’d made for the team tailgate. Here’s a little character insight on me… it’s possible I sometimes take myself and my responsibilities way too seriously. I was convinced it was my moral responsibility to get that food out to the lake before lunch, even though Chloe wasn’t racing until 6pm and it was a huge inconvenience for my whole family.
Well, the sandwiches were completely extraneous– there was so much food, they didn’t even fit on the table. I squeezed a few on there anyway, and set the rest of them among the ocean of bags and coolers beneath the table. It was clearly the right tent, as everyone was wearing black and orange gear with the Eagle mascot emblazoned upon it. They were speaking plain American, and phrasing their conversation in statements rather than as questions. Definitely ASL, but there was not a face I knew. This was billed as a social event for parents of the rowers, but none of the parents was socializing in the vicinity. Chloe, I already knew, was taking her turn with “stakeholder” duty– keeping the boats steady and in place at the starting line, and not one of the two or three kids I know on the team was anywhere to be seen. I greeted the coach and took a seat on the slope near the tent, prepared to be social with other parents, cheer on the ASL rowers, and generally have a sporting good time.
But somehow it never happened. I sat there alone. I talked to the coach a bit. I talked to the team mom a bit. They were nice. But I just wasn’t a part of this world, and it was making me so tired to keep trying, that I finally did something completely out of character: I left. In a moment of clarity, I realized that standing about stupidly, freezing my tail off and feeling awkward for 6 hours before Chloe’s race was not how I wanted to spend the day. I texted Chloe that we would be back later for her race, and I threw in the towel. Superfan though I am, hailing from the Midwest and all, I wanted out of there. I needed out of there.
As I walked back toward the parking area, I realized there would be no cabs. I could call one from the card I’d taken from my driver less than an hour before, but it would cost me 20 quid and take 30 minutes for him to get out here. Enter the iPhone. I google-mapped myself a walking route into town on the tow path along the Thames, a mere three miles. Then I ran into Chloe coming off duty with the boat-holding, greeted her like I hadn’t seen her in days, and made my apologies for leaving (her attitude was kind of, ‘why would you hang around all day, Mom?’).
So I set off on my inadvertent Country Walk– a pleasant ramble through the English countryside– past a river lock actually in operation, through wildflower meadows and horse pastures, up and over a highway bridge, and into Windsor’s lovely riverfront parks. People pay money to go on these walking tours in the countryside– culminating in a pub stop at the end of the walk– and here I was doing one for real and for free. The sun even came out for a while– and walking briskly, without the wind coming across the lake, it was really pleasant. And I was pretty sure that my walk, like those tourist ones, would end with a pub visit– particularly since we had hours to kill and there would be Premier League football (the British kind) on the television.
Once I joined up with the family in town, we explored a bit more, enjoying the patriotic ambiance ahead of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (60 years as Queen– guess that ‘God Save the Queen’ song is pretty effective!). British flag bunting zigzagged across the major shopping streets, and the shop windows were filled with Union Jack-covered goods and Jubilee mementos– not to mention Olympic paraphernalia. We saw Windsor’s crooked house, and a pub named after the Duchess of Cambridge (you know, Kate Middleton?). Eventually we found a table at The Royal Oak, as I described above, where we checked scores, had a pint, and fed the children ‘slobbery’ desserts. Eventually, it was time to leave to catch Chloe’s race. We found a cab at the train station across the street, and just as we were getting in, we heard the pub erupt in cheers for Manchester City’s rousing comeback win to snag the Premier League championship out of the hands of cross-town rival and perennial winners Manchester United (think Mets beating Yankees in the World Series).
The day in Windsor ended with Chloe’s race. She was in a double boat in the under-18 class, and they finished a strong second place (out of five or six). We really don’t know much about rowing, but it is a beautiful thing to watch when the athletes are smooth and in sync. Throughout the day, the mountain of food, including most of the sandwiches, disappeared. I did feel a little antisocial for leaving the venue earlier; but then, no society could have been better than the company I kept on our day of crew and castle.