I did try writing this post last night, but let's just say that when I woke up with the keyboard pressed into my forehead, I realised that Melbourne Cup had gotten the better of me, and I took off my feathered hat and went to bed. It was 6.30pm.
Melbourne Cup, 'the race that stops a nation', is Australia's most famous horse race, held every year on the first Tuesday in November at Flemington Race Track in Melbourne, and celebrated in small pubs, big hotels, schools, factories and workplaces all around Australia, and at expat events all over the world. There are three things every Australian associates with the Cup - hats, booze, and betting. Oh....and an unofficial day off work, for the party. The fact there are horses involved is purely co-incidental.
A typical Melbourne Cup Day at home starts with with an early trip to the TAB to place bets on your favourites - whatever your views on gambling, it's considered practically un-Australian not to have a flutter on Cup day, and even schoolkids run their own playground sweepstakes. Then race home to put on a fabulous outfit, topped always with a hat. You have to wear a hat to Melbourne Cup, and the bigger, featherier and crazier the better.
Lunch, champagne compulsory, comes next. By the time you're feeling a bit sozzled, there is a small break in the drinking while the race starts. All three minutes of thundering horseflesh, pounding hoofs, and rainbow silks. It's quite emotional. Then the drinking resumes. By four in the afternoon the whole thing is beginning to unravel, and it's time to go home.
In Shanghai, thanks to the Australian Chamber of Commerce and the Australian Women's Group, the festival atmosphere is in full swing, with champagne (LOTS of champagne, or should I say, Australian sparkling wine), Fashions on the Field (for best-dressed) and a hat parade. Really, it's all about the hats and everyone goes round the room admiring each other's fabulous creations. Because of the time difference, however, it is necessary to start the drinking at 10am in order to be primed for the race at midday. Now you can see why the keyboard was stuck to my forehead at 6.30pm. Thank god it's only once a year.