We didn’t get any days off for the Jubilee, and France 24 only offered short sections of coverage, so I missed a lot of what was happening in the UK – plus the street party being held in my parents village, which they assure me was a great success despite the weather!
Instead, I had a tea party with some British friends on Sunday, hosted by a journalist working out here. Also there were a couple of my colleagues, a girl called Izzy that my sister Emma knew from Uganda and put me in touch with, and an architect called Will who turned out to be descended from the inventor of Marmite!
Rose, our host, had decorated her garden with bunting left over from a party Oxfam hosted for the royal wedding, and on a recent trip back to the UK had acquired some Union flag cups, napkins and plates, so all in all it was a very well decorated little corner of Britishness. She’d made Victoria sponge, and decorated it with a plastic Buckingham Palace, with figures of a coach, the Queen and Prince Philip, and some corgis. We had Earl Grey tea to go with it, made in a teapot from leaf tea, and then moved on to toasting her majesty’s health in gin and tonic.
Then yesterday was the annual Queen’s Birthday Party at the embassy. As the British community isn’t very big here, we all got invites. I was pretty excited – not only free food and drink and an opportunity to meet people, but despite growing up in the FCO I’d actually never been to the QBP – so was excited to finally remedy it. So on Thursday we all put on our glad rags and made our way into town.
The party was held in the garden of the Residence – a lovely space in the heart of the city. As predicted, there was free cheap Cava, and lots of British cheese. I was very impressed by this – in places we lived there were direct flights from the UK, and we could occasionally convince them to bring the cheese out for us, but getting it out here will have been much harder! Later in the evening they brought out fish and chips and cupcakes with little flags in them, and a fruit cake. All in all a very well stocked evening!
The crowd was fairly evenly split between dignitaries – who all looked very smart indeed – and members of the community – who all had dragged their ‘smart outfit’ out of the back of their wardrobes. I met a couple of new people, and managed to avoid being rude to someone from British American Tobacco who sells cigarettes here and in Gambia and Mali (I asked, and he doesn’t smoke). Slightly depressingly it seems like the main British companies here are BAT, Imperial Tobacco, BP and Shell. Go the national image there!
The Ambassador and the representative of the Government, the Commerce Minister, gave speeches, then we all sang the national anthems – embarrassingly, I had been in the cheese queue when the speeches started so was right at the front, so I’ve got a feeling I’m going to be in a lot of photos when they all go up next week! Then the Commerce minister gave a toast to the Queen’s health and a little speech on how Senegal was going to export tomatoes and onions to the UK (note to self: find out more about what Senegal exports), and we all got back to making merry.
Of course, my little group of friends from the tea party were among the last to leave, partly because they didn’t close the bar and we assumed that would be our hint. It did give me a chance to ask the Ambassador how he procured the cheese though - apparently he’d been back in London a few weeks ago for the annual Heads of Mission meeting, and had bought it there, then brought it all back (23kg of cheese) in his suitcase! I just hope he had the stilton in a separate bag to his suits!
Between them, a nice few evenings – somehow these things seem to take on more significance when you’re away from home, so it’s nice to feel we’ve marked the occasion in our own little way.