Spring in the Cotswolds
PUBLISHED: 19:00 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:49 20 February 2013
Away with that bogus concept foisted upon us by a drinks company, says David Tyler. The real 'Season' starts with a cold sausage and a large whisky at the point-to-point....
`The Season' starts with a cold sausage and a large Whisky Mac at the Didmarton point-to-point.
I accept that there will be some that disagree with the notion that a chipolata in March in the chilly Cotswolds could possibly debut England's annual alfresco cocktail party. Pedantic social historians will argue that `The Season' opens with canaps and champagne at Queen Charlotte's Ball in April, while others will claim that it begins with a Bucks Fizz for the well-heeled and the well-connected at the Gala evening of the Chelsea Flower Show attended by The Queen on the third Monday in May.
But in these hills, at least, it starts on the first Saturday in March at the Duke of Beaufort's Hunt point-to-point.
I, and I assume all other sensible people, have long realised that what is called `The London Season' is an entirely bogus concept foisted upon us by money grubbing champagne companies.
There is no firm record of what it constitutes, only a certainty that it officially ended 50 years ago when the last debutantes were presented to the Queen. Currently the key events are, I suppose, Royal Ascot, the Henley Regatta and Glorious Goodwood (a race meeting that Edward VII described as "a garden party with racing tacked on"). Over the years a few bits and bobs have been added on to the main events such as Wimbledon Fortnight and Cowes Week, but there is no formal calendar that constitutes `The Season'.
In fact there is no royal court, independent body or trained observer to adjudicate on England's social swirl. Buckingham Palace claims the Queen has no interest in it. The Lord Chamberlain's office, which arranges royal garden parties, abdicates any responsibility for it, while the Ascot press office will only say "Royal Ascot is the crux of it".
In fact the nearest thing there is left to an authority on the subject is the society magazine Tatler, which every spring includes a small orange booklet titled `The Season' sponsored by the French Champagne house Veuve Cliquot and described as "an indispensable social guide". The booklet is complied by a London PR company, who with the help of a `trend agency' decides what posh do is in and what riotous assembly is out. Last year it included the sponsored Business Woman of the Year Award, the Gumball 3000 Rally (whatever that is) and an obscure Oyster Festival.
If that is a season then I'm a cold sausage, which is my point.
It is absurd that anyone should be bound by the capricious rules of a social climbing champagne house. The only gauge as to whether or not an event is part of 'The Season' is whether or not it combines the open air, quadrupeds, drinking, royalty and people in hats. For `The Season' is, in all but name, an unstructured long-running alcoholic picnic punctuated by horses and human excess.
And if that is the agreed yardstick then the Didmarton point-to-point must be counted as the perfect start of it all, particularly in these straightened times. I accept the royalty is sometimes a bit thin on the ground and the horses aren't up to much; on the other hand there is a copious quantity of drinking from the back of 4x4s and most people are wearing hats, albeit of the flat cap variety.
The Cheltenham National Hunt Festival a couple of weeks later is, I would suggest, much classier than Royal Ascot with a much smaller ruffian quota. It should be the highlight of anybody's Season, including London. It is followed by the very grand Badminton Horse Trials, the Gypsy Horse Fair (the Cotswold's answer to the Epsom Derby) and the polo at Cirencester.
And it is fair to say that in the three or four months of spring and early summer when these events take place there is more smart hobnobbing here by both London and country society than there is at a raft of South London tennis tournaments or car races that sound as if they have been sponsored by a chewing gum company.
The Season carried on in the Cotswolds would be a much more comprehensive and sensible one than that claimed by a small circulation society magazine (its readership is not much larger than that of Cotswold Life) and a gassy drink.
I believe now is the time for the Cotswolds to step into the breech left by the lack of a comprehensive authority on the subject and claim 'The Season' as its own.
Certainly the drink at The Cotswold Season would be less acidic, the dress regulations more sensible (brightly coloured corduroys and tweeds) and the surroundings more amenable. And furthermore the attendees would not have to suffer months of bland rubber chicken breasts and tasteless farmed salmon instead they could dine out on the grandest of delicacies - Gloucester Old Spot cold sausages.