Almanack: Off the rails in the Silver Ring

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The Independent Online
LADIES' Day at Royal Ascot: the most fashionable and exclusive sporting event in the world. A box will set you back around pounds 4,000 - and that won't get you into the Royal Enclosure. Almanack spent pounds 4 instead, to spend the day with the ladies in the Silver Ring.

By one o'clock the lawn was filling up nicely. The military band was tuning up, racegoers were taking up early positions next to the rails, unfolding camper chairs, spreading blankets, opening bottles and cans. It was like Margate with grass instead of sand.

The Queen processed down the course in her carriage, dressed in pale green and brown. On the Silver Ring rails a young woman in red and white polka dots stood on a canvas chair to wave, fell through it and ended up with her dress around her waist, screeching with laughter.

The first race approached. The sharp young men in the Park Top Bar suspended their game of brag for long enough to scurry to the rails with their wads of fivers and tenners. Bookies explained the intricacies of each-way gambling to young ladies clutching one- pound coins. The horses flashed past and everybody screamed, then fell silent, straining to hear the commentary - you can't see the finish from the Silver Ring. Plenty of people seemed to have backed the winner, a cue for further rounds of drinks.

Some fashion notes. Style in the Silver Ring if female: something skin-tight and skimpy and probably black, tottery heels and a small tattoo. For the maturer woman, a lime-green or scarlet twinset, worn with support tights rolled down to the ankles for sunbathing. No tattoo. If male: a T-shirt with an appropriate motif (favourites included 'Snog Back', 'Cannabis' and the patriotic Union Jack) until four o'clock. After that no shirt at all, so that sunburn, gut and tattoos can be seen to best effect.

A few words on etiquette. Smoking, drinking, chewing gum and public displays of affection are touchy topics at Royal Ascot. Truly accomplished Silver Ring ladies can smoke, drink a vodka and tonic, chew gum, snog and scream all at the same time.

Sue, a cook, and Louise, a machinist, were down from Tamworth on a coach trip. They had established a well-equipped base camp close to the three-

furlong pole, where they had been drinking brandy and ginger for three hours or so. 'I'm a bit of a tipster,' Sue announced, tipsily. She wobbled up to PC Bill Denver, on patrol close by, and asked him to kiss her betting slip. He politely obliged. 'It's worked all day,' Sue said.

After the last race the partying continued. A group of young women took to the bandstand and belted out 'We'll Meet Again' and 'Pack Up Your Troubles' before initiating an unsteady conga to 'Roll Out the Barrel'. Three more shouted 'black knickers', turned their backs to a keen male audience, flipped up their skirts and verified their claim. A dozen wearily tolerant policemen moved in to the Alcide Bar to break up a group of men who were bellowing 'Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner'. One of the singers was trying to eat his girlfriend's head, mouth first, between verses.

This is all part of the notion that one's day at a grand sporting event is somehow incomplete without a skinful (a belief as devoutly held, it goes without saying, in the Royal Enclosure as it is in the Silver Ring). The police - the kissing Constable Denver is a good example - deal with the boozers in a friendly, reassuring way.

But the antics of people like James Florey, who ran out in front of Papago, bringing down horse and rider and getting trampled in the process, make one wonder if the police are being a little too tolerant. 'Most of the people who go to Ascot go to enjoy the racing and have an excellent time,' Chief Inspector Reeve of the Thames Valley Police told Almanack. 'But there are some people who, er, go beyond the realms of what we would call 'having a good time'. In most cases we can deal with them by having a quiet word.' The police can eject people from the racecourse or arrest them, but they use these powers sparingly. 'Unfortunately,' Chief Inspector Reeve went on, 'It's not like a football match - people can wander about. It was impossible to prevent Thursday's incident from happening without putting big wire fences up and penning people in. But of course we'll be working closely with the Ascot authorities to see if we can learn anything from the incident.'

There isn't a great deal to learn. We already know that a combination of hot sunshine, copious liquor and feminine company is likely to cause the British male to behave like an idiot. And Mr Florey, we hope, has taken on board the notion that there are easier ways to impress your friends than rugby tackling a speeding racehorse.

(Photographs omitted)