Mr B says there is no way he is wearing a suit and tie, no matter what the dress code on our official invitation. Even though that invitation is for a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. Even though it clearly states that
"Lounge Suit" is the correct form of attire for male guests, unless they are able to rustle up a uniform.
I know better than to argue with Mr B over Matters Sartorial. However I do secrete his Kent Cricket
Club tie in his blazer pocket just in case we are accosted by a Beefeater at the Palace entrance. Can you imagine the shame of being turned away at the gates? Mr B says, with airy confidence, that it won't happen.
We drive first to the Middle of the Darling Daughter's home where we enjoy a delicious lunch and I change into my finery. Yes, indeed, I obey the dress code to the letter - though I am somewhat thankful that hats are an optional extra. I do own a fascinator
which might have been pulled into service if necessary but it seems to have grown a little out of shape during its long sojourn on a shelf in the wardrobe in the spare bedroom.
Young Faris and The Twinkles
can't understand why their Grandad and I have suddenly turned up out of nowhere and - even more mysteriously - why we are departing so quickly. The Rampaging Rascal keeps taking me by the hand and dragging me into the garden to play. Why would we ever want
to travel into London for a Date With A Duchess when we could be playing with the sand and water table out on the grass?
Regular readers will recall that we have been invited to the Palace to celebrate the
150th anniversary of Barnardo's. We are overwhelmed to be invited - but excursions such as this can be a trial for Mr B unless meticulously planned for his comfort and wellbeing. I am, therefore, inordinately proud of my thoughtfulness in deciding that we
will avoid the horrendous queues of guests at the Grand Entrance and make for the Grosvenor Place gate instead. Our taxi drops us nearby and we are inside the gardens in no time at all. Nobody queries Mr B's interpretation of the dress code and his tie stays
firmly in his pocket. The walk to the main lawn takes us about ten minutes but it's all paved, so not too difficult to negotiate a wheelchair, and it's a beautiful walk alongside the tree-fringed lake.
sandwiches - cucumber or egg or ham and tomato - tiny jam scones, sweet carrot cakes, lemon tarts and, the pièce de rėsistance, cakes with crowns atop the chocolate icing. All washed down with a choice of tea, apple juice or iced coffee. I remember
the iced coffee from our last visit and a glass apiece joins a selection of sandwiches and cakes for us to share. The National Anthem is played and the Royal Party appears on the terrace before making their way through the crowds. There's no way we are going
to be able to get anywhere near enough to see what's going on, so we stay with our tea and chat to our fellow guests.
Here's a party of employees from a company which supports Barnardo's as their Give As You
Earn charity. Here's a couple who volunteer in a charity shop in Liverpool. Here's a woman who gives talks encouraging would-be volunteers. Then there are others, like Mr B, who are former Barnardo's children as well as some who are currently being helped
by the charity. A cheerful helper wearing a white Barnardo's sash, pushes Mr B's wheelchair across the grass for me and tells me how she and her fellow helpers enjoyed their packed lunches on the lawn before any of the guests arrived. It was, she says, magical.
Two bands play alternately, a band of Gurkhas and a red-coated Guards band. I note that as each band finishes its allotted programme it hauls down a flag on a flagpole on its marquee roof as a signal to its counterpart
to strike up the music.
We find ourselves on the terrace and wander along, gazing up at the Palace facade. A cheery member of staff gives out ice-creams so we find a spot to indulge ourselves. Here we are
found by our dear friend Trish, a member of Barnardo's Making Connections team, who has been looking all over for us. She fetches us all a cup of tea, just before the Tea Tent closes.
It's almost 5.30 p.m.
and the Royal Party is preparing to leave. Suddenly, to our delighted surprise, we are encouraged to join other wheelchair bound guests and their "pushers" (we take Trish along with us as we don't want her to miss out) in a kind of Farewell Line along which
the Royals pass, stopping to chat and shake hands with us all in turn. The Duchess of Cornwall says she hopes we enjoyed the tea, Mr B tells her he especially appreciated the iced coffee. "It's one of my favourites, too," she confides. Lovely Princess Alexandra
wants to know where we have all come from - "Not too far to go home" she tells us - and makes a special point of going over to the little group of helpers, gathered on the opposite side of the path, waiting to give out souvenir programmes to all the departing
Everyone at the Garden Party has his or her own story about Barnardo's and its Ever Open Door. I remember going with Mr B when he applied for his records - Trish was the person who met us and carefully,
caringly, took us through them. "Is he alright?" she would ask me, each time he asked to take a break. Among those records a letter from the headmaster of the Barnardo's school he was admitted to almost sixty years ago:
"I think the lad deserves a chance," he wrote.
Congratulations to Barnardo's on a special anniversary. One hundred and fifty years of giving young people - like 13 year old Mr B - a chance.