It pays to be persistent…

I’m generally a pretty persistent person. When I come up with an idea or a plan, I will intentionally go about my business until I’ve achieved it. I like to think of this as one of my better character traits.

Every so often, this persistence really pays off. And I mean REALLY…

Long-term readers/Twitter followers/Facebook friends will be well-aware of my passion for Wimbledon. [Incidentally, I finally caved to downloading TimeHop last week and predictably, there hasn’t yet been a day that hasn’t mentioned the tournament.] This year, owing to some unforeseen free time during the tournament, I was determined to make the most of it – so last week, a plan was hatched with a couple of friends to pay a visit on the first Friday. However, the MET Office app declared much heavy rain and thunderstorms for that day when checked the night before, so we called it off. Not a drop of rain fell on SW19 that Friday. Sod’s Law.

In the queue The finest queue in all of England. 

We rescheduled for Monday, when one of the friends landed a ticket. The plan was that I’d queue and then meet her inside (we had some celebratory Pimm’s drinking to do) – which was fine by me, as I usually enjoy the queueing element of the experience. (Honestly, it has to be done!) This time though, I made a couple of errors (missed the first tube, got the wrong station – don’t ask!) and combined with it being the earliest in the tournament I’ve attended, the queue was VERY long. Every other time, I’d purchased my ticket before the gates opened at 10.30. This time it was gone midday before I’d even got to the turnstiles. Add to the mix the frustrating families queuing near me, and it wasn’t as joyous as in previous years – although thankfully, it was super hot and I had an excellent book.

However, I managed less than an hour of sunny tennis watching because then, irony of ironies given Friday’s debacle, the heavens opened and I found myself on The Hill [I cannot call it the mount/mound] in what the MET Office app described as a ‘light shower’ but instead felt like a mini monsoon. I had been sitting on a pac-a-mac and had used my newer waterproof as some form of water resistant blanket. At one point I mused that there ought to be a waterproof equivalent of the Slanket, so I could cocoon myself in waterproof-ness, avoiding the puddles that were collecting in the folds of my mat. Then I realised that there was, in the form of the much older poncho, and felt like a twit.

Wet souls on the hillI was very envious of the souls who had acquired the picnic benches! 

Anyway, within half an hour the storm had passed. I’d acquired both a cup of tea (purchased from a surprisingly short queue) and my Wimbledon companion, and we set off to see some live tennis while the sun shone. One British victory later (in the 1st round of the Girls’ Singles) and it was time to climb the hill for Murray’s fourth round match with the until now unknown South African, Anderson. All went well – Murray took the lead and was playing well – until the rain came down again.

Boulter beats HomUnseeded Brit Boulter beats the Girls 13th seed Hom. (It’s great what you happen to witness while taking a stroll around the grounds.)

A lesser mortal might have departed for warmer climes at this point. Or, at the very least, a pub showing the match on a big screen, rather than a patch of grass becoming soggier by the minute. But, after another stop for tea during the break to bring the roof over Centre Court, we returned to the hill (standing on steps rather than grass) and stood it out for the final set. The hill is THE place to watch a Murray victory (if you can’t get into the court itself) and we Brits stood firm. Clad in cagools, bearing umbrellas, and silently judging fashionistas tip-toeing over the mud in their fancy shoes, we made the best of a damp situation. I was not alone in rejoicing that Murray wrapped things up in 3 sets. [Things were so bad that I don’t even have a photo of this!]

Departing after Murray’s victory at nearly 7pm would have been quite acceptable, but I had a plan that had been brewing ever since I missed out on a Centre Court ticket for the final set of Murray’s 2013 semi-final. [There was a pause to put the roof over, during which we queued for returns – we were asked if any of us were ‘on our own’, had we gone for the single tickets, we’d have got in – and we only realised this just too late!] This year, I was determined to get onto Centre, so as Murray’s fans departed, I sought out the end of the Centre Court returns queue…

Wimbledon is special, there’s no underestimating that. Each of my trips there have been special in their own way, and I have great memories. [2002 – No1 Court tickets in the queue; 2003 – Ladies’ QF’s on No1; 2004 – rain stopped all play; 2013 – immense sun & Murray’s 2nd victorious semi…] But, in five trips (this was number 6) there had been something missing – a seat on that hallowed court that I’d watched on TV countless times. In 2012, I’d hoped for Olympic tickets there, but no. I was never going to be the kind of person to queue for them (you have to be a hard-core camper) and I’ve never joined the ballot in the hoping of getting some myself. But Centre? That was always going to be the icing on the cake.

…when I arrived at the queue, I was warned that there was ‘several hours wait’. I decided that this was rubbish. I’ve been to Wimbledon (and watched enough of it on TV) to know the following:

  • Murray matches are the big draw. When his game ended so late in the day, a lot of people will have left.
  • Many people coming to Wimbledon travel a long way. They’ll have booked tickets or have long journeys to get home that evening. On a ‘normal’ day, one might expect matches to be done by 7.30pm (it’s why Today at Wimbledon’s scheduled for 8pm).
  • Play had just re-started on the other courts, so other wet tennis fans would try their chances there, rather than the queue.

Women's DoublesThe returns queue overlooked this court, so at least we got to watch tennis while we waited. 

I was so confident that I wouldn’t have a long wait (despite approximately 400 people ahead of me) that I shared these opinions with a British guy behind me, who was trying to persuade his Mum that queuing was a good idea. (We did a lot of chatting, we were highly un-British.) For half an hour the queue moved at a steady pace and my theories were proved correct. When I was still around 70 people away from the front, a steward came along calling out to those on their own. It was my moment to redeem last year’s fool-hardiness. “I’m on my own!” I cried, and eagerly handed over my £10 in exchange for a ticket. One high-five from the lovely British guy later, and I was jogging through the club down to Centre Court. Mission accomplished. 

[At this point, I’d like to give a massive shout-out for Wimbledon’s fabulous returns system. This year it celebrates its 60th anniversary, raising £1.75million since 1954. When leaving the grounds, show court ticket holders are invited to have their tickets scanned, and the info is then relayed to the returns office by the hill who resell them for £10 a ticket. It’s yet another reason why I believe the Championships to be amongst the most egalitarian in the sporting world.]

Centre Court

Centre Court. Flipping Centre Court!! And what a seat! It took watching the match back on iPlayer later (because the parents insist that they spotted me, but I couldn’t find evidence of this) to realise that I was above the scoreboard on the Royal Box side of the court. The view was fabulous. The seat was comfy and dry. Thanks to the roof, it was warm and rather humid. It was weird to watch a match on grass with all the echoes of being indoors – I can see why some players might not like it, but we must be thankful for the roof ultimately!

I may have only got 2 sets of Djokovic V Tsonga, but it was an awesome match (Tsonga’s straight sets defeat did not reflect the quality of his playing). My insane grin of joy at being on tennis’ hallowed court did not escape me for the entire 90 minutes. And, most importantly, I am now a bona fide British tennis fan because I have slow-clapped a line call challenge on Centre Court.

The verdant green of SW19Djokovic & Tsonga on the verdant green of SW19.

In case you’re wondering, I do now have a new Wimbledon ambition (well, several). I’d love a full day on Centre – perhaps complete with a hospitality package?!? Then there’s a final, or finals. With a Brit winning? Am I pushing it? A girl can dream…

Looking back, 2013 times

Another year has passed and thus it is time for the obligatory end of year round-up blogpost. 2013 began with an optimistic blogpost about the start of the new year and the end of my project to count up things I had done for the first time.

This post contained a commitment to Project 365 – the taking of one photo a day – which should have been an easy task, given that barely a day goes by without my taking a photo. But a combination of illness (not leaving the house for 3 days isn’t conducive to photography) and forgetfulness meant that it didn’t last past March. However, an unexpected development of 2013 was my commitment to the 0-5km running app, meaning that between February and May I learnt to run 5km – which has since evolved into a fairly regular running habit and an Instagram hashtag of #photographyontherun. It’s amazing what you pass while running…

Photography on the run 2013Before you ask, I’ve got very good at jogging on the spot while taking photos. It basically came about because the RunKeeper app allows you to save photos to your runs, so why not keep track of where you’re running? 

Several of the year’s highlights came with their own form of ID or pass. Obviously, the first thing one does when given one of these is take a photo of it. (Especially as you never know whether you’ll get to keep them at the end of your visit.)

Passes

That would be Matryoshka Haus’ meeting at Apple; my glorious evening at Facebook; the Ask DEC event at BT Tower; writing for the Church Times at Greenbelt; and being interviewed by 8 different local BBC stations. Effectively, have a pass, have a highlight of your year.

This time last year, I already knew I’d be heading to Africa for the very first time – on a trip to Uganda with Tearfund in February/March. Without a doubt, it’s a trip that will never be forgotten. Lately, I’ve been having to re-tell some of the stories of our time there, as part of the promotion for Tearfund’s 2014 bloggers’ trip to Cambodia. (You have until Jan 5th to enter, get writing!) Apparently, this time 12 months ago, I expressed a hope of a return trip to Texas. It didn’t happen, but luckily, Texas came to London in the form of the first-ever Matryoshka Haus Learning Lab. And then a plan became concocted that saw me make a debut visit to San Francisco in September. Combined with a Chateau Duffy trip and a return to Merville, and all-in-all, this year’s travel hasn’t been too shabby!

Travel 2013

The other main highlight of 2013 would be the people I got to share it with. As I rather soppily wrote back in October, I am lucky to have some incredibly long-standing and fabulous friends – but they are not the only ones. The Matryoshka Haus folk have played a big part in the year, as have Vicar School chums, but most excitingly, there have been plenty of new friends too!

Friends 2013

Finally, while traipsing through the blog’s 2013 archive, I couldn’t resist compiling a list of 2013 Firsts. Even though I’ve not been keeping track of them throughout the year, it’s amazing what I can remember just with a few prompts. I found so many that I’ve had to create a separate post for them. I guess it will always be a really positive way of reflecting upon the things that have been achieved in a single year!

Oh, and my happiest moment in the whole of 2013? Don’t judge me, but it would probably be this:

Murray wins Wimbledon

Wimble-done!

I have grown up in a nation that has mourned the passing of halcyon days when it seemed that our population won every sporting contest going. Dates were emblazoned upon the national consciousness that grew further away with every passing day. The 1948 Olympics, the 1966 World Cup and, seemingly above all else, the 1936 Wimbledon Men’s Championship.

When I first discovered tennis in 1992, there had been no one who had come close for decades. Then Tim Henman emerged and summer after summer, I conducted a vigil from the right hand cushion of our blue sofa, where I would sit hour after hour following his matches. My mother bemoaned the GCSE and A-level revision that was neglected during Wimbledon fortnight, but nothing could stop me from watching his matches. My ridiculous memory holds a vivid remembrance of a middle-Sunday match against Haarhuis in 1997 – the same day that Hong Kong ceased to be a colony. Along side that memory, is another from four years later, when I spent days unable to leave the house as Henman’s semi-final against Ivanesevic went on and on thanks to the British summer…

Henman & IvanisevicI can kind of forgive Goran for this because he was and is in my top 10 hottest tennis players…

Just as it looked as though our hopes for a victor would end with Tim’s career, Andy Murray emerged and yet again, a fortnight each summer was dedicated to following his fate. But still, matches involving a Brit required nerves of steel and a considerable quantity of Pimm’s or G&T. Just lately, there appeared to be a flicker of hope – I say ‘lately’, since Murrary first reached a Wimbledon semi in 2009 and has made at least that round every year since – and there have been other tournaments.

I considered it a travesty that in 2012, I missed the key moments of Murray’s career:
Wimbledon final – the tearful speech after a close defeat at Federer’s hands – I was at church.
Olympic final – where Murray defeated his own demons and Federer on Centre Court – I was in France, minus a TV.
US Open final – no TV coverage, so Radio 5 filled a gap. But at the beginning of a 5th set at 2am BST, I gave in and went to bed. Fortunately, my final message to friend doing the same woke him up and he caught the victory – meaning that I awoke to a text saying simply: “HE DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

2013’s Wimbledon felt different. Not just because Nadal and Federer went out in the first week, but because we had a bonafide champion. A gold medallist. The current US Open champion. The world number 2. Surely, surely, THIS could be THE year??

And so it came to pass that Sunday the 7th July went down in history. The day that 77 years of waiting ending. The day that I finally experienced what it was like to care so much about a sporting victory that I shed actual tears. Andy Murray won Wimbledon. And the country rejoiced.

He's done it!

This emotional sport watching thing is new to me. Yes, I care deeply about the Olympics and (at times) the England cricket team. But Wimbledon had reached almost a mythical quality. No British man had won it during my life time or my parents’ life times and my grandparents were barely out of nappies when Fred Perry won in 1936. Yet there I was, on a patch of grass in Canary Wharf on a blistering hot Sunday afternoon, watching this myth become a reality.

Crowds amassedThe classic look of a load of Brits on a hot, sunny afternoon. (Trust me, it’s a real shame that there isn’t more of the baseball capped Aussie in the photo…)

It was perfect – kind of. There was sun, a huge number of people, close proximity to a Waitrose and toilets, plenty of beverages and best of all, appropriate tennis watching company. I’m fussy. (“No!” I hear you gasp in surprise.) I needed to be with people who would understand the following:
1. This was a BIG DEAL.
2. I get very tense during such matches and I like to watch EVERY point.
3. This was not a social occasion. It was a sporting one.

Fortunately, the select group of Matryoshka Haus people that gathered proved to be just the right combination. The casual tennis watchers kept themselves amused and chatted with each other when not engrossed. The two of us who do take our tennis deadly seriously sat slightly away from them, watching the screen as if our lives depended upon it. [Case in point: Shannon asked us what nationality Djokovic was – we answered “Serbian”, in unison, without our eyes leaving the screen. She was impressed.] When the moment came and the first championship point was being played, the crowd rose to their feet and stood until victory was finally secured several minutes (and many finger nails) later.

MH gang rejoices The MH gang rejoices! 

Yes, I was late for church, but would I have missed it? Not for the world. Now here’s hoping that next year’s Wimbledon isn’t some terrible anti-climax…

A Wimble-day

Friday was an exceedingly excellent day, yesterday was possibly even more so. But before I write about the joy of Sunday July 7th, let’s go back to Friday July 5th…

I’ve been to Wimbledon five times now and each time my experience is different – always special, always a highlight of the year (apart from the year it rained all day) and always unique. It’s a little bit like going to the same festival each year – some of it changes year on year, but otherwise, it’s almost as if time had stood still since you were last there. It exists in that place, in that way, for just a brief period of time every year. It’s its own little world of green lawns, yellow balls and players clad in white.

Wimbledon Awaits

This time was different because I went alone. [What I’ve recently discovered my sister terms ‘doing a Liz’ – mostly in reference to various solo overseas adventures.] I had one slot available to go, and no one was free to join me – something called ‘work’ that most other people do on a Friday. This had its advantages and disadvantages…

  • I had no one to amuse me in the queue. I had a book and a bag packed with breakfast/lunch/tea, but I was trying to conserve phone battery – so needed to keep usage to a minimum. [Be impressed, I unplugged my phone at 7.15am and when I left Wimbledon at 10.30pm, my battery was at 35% – that took a huge amount of self-control!] Of course, I landed right next to a group of teenagers that I’d actively moved away from on the platform of Earl’s Court station – the kind who use “like” in between every word and have absolutely no concept of reality. Within minutes of reaching the queue, I heard one girl bemoan their lack of food (seriously?? I’d packed my bag with military precision!). Later, one exclaimed “Oh! Murray’s playing today!” (No kidding! Why do you think most of the queue was there??) I tried to bury myself in my book, but it was tricky.
  • On the other hand, I got to be an extrovert for a while and ingratiate myself with those around me. The couple ahead of me had lots of Wimbledon questions that I was able to answer. (Ok, so they weren’t necessarily looking for the answers or asking me directly, but they were grateful of my help – in fact, one of them suggested I should work at Wimbledon. Note to self: find out if the AELTC has a chaplain…) Then, while waiting for the gates to open, a stranger accidentally banged my elbow and in the ensuing apology, we discovered we were both on our own – she was impressed with my plan for the morning and ended up joining me on Court No. 3. We bonded over tennis stats and celeb spotting, sharing food and mind each other’s bags during loo breaks. A victory for a confirmed introvert!
  • My introvert nature was fed by several hours solitary semi-final watching during the afternoon. However, I had no one with me to drown out the noise of wannabe tennis commentators making ridiculous statement – “Now Andy’s lost the first set there’s no chance he’s going to win…” As if!!
  • After the working day is done, there’s a second influx of people into Wimbledon and amongst them was a friend unseen for several years. Thanks to Facebook, we found each other on Court No.3 and watched the rest of the semi-final together.

I maintain that you’re never actually alone at Wimbledon. Last time I went – with a friend from school – we discovered when we got home that another friend of ours had been sat just metres away from us. One, you’re among like-minded people who (as a rule) all love tennis. Two, there’s almost certainly someone you know somewhere in the crowd – such is the way the world works.

Obviously, it was a great day in part owing to the Murray victory right at the end of it. My view of which was rather splendid, as by the final set, we had a spot on the hill:

The view from The Hill

But, before the semis had even begun, I’d had a marvellous morning. Yes, I’d seen future British hope, Kyle Edmund, lose his Boys’ semi-final – but during the course of the match had been in a prime spot for tennis celebrity spotting, catching sight of Tracy Austin and Greg Rusedski just a few rows away from us.

Rusedski applies sunscreenThere’s the lovely Greg, applying sunscreen like a pro. Words can barely express just how hot it was there!! 

Following the boys’ semi, a match followed that enabled me to fulfil an ambition held since childhood – which at times it seemed as though I’d never see fulfilled – watching Martina Navratilova play right before my eyes. On our washed-out Wimbledon day in 2004, we’d sat in hope on a court where the first scheduled match was a veterans’ doubles featuring Navratilova & Novotna. Three years ago, we caught a glimpse of the same pair practising. But this year, I saw a whole match, with my 12 year old self’s tennis hero just metres away from me. (In 1992, Agassi introduced me to the wonder of tennis. In 1994, I was fascinated by Navratilova as she approached retirement – though my loyalties shifted to Graf as soon as she retired). And it wasn’t just Martina that appeared before me – her partner Pam Shriver (previously only known via her BBC punditry) was there, plus their opponents – Jana Novotna & Barbara Schett. Legends.

Navratilova/Shriver V Novotna/SchettThe match lasted little more than an hour & Navratilova/Shriver lost, but it was a joy to watch.

Oh, and it was hot. I mean HOT! Possibly the hottest I’ve ever felt in England – I’m not exaggerating. There were moments during Djokovic’s match when I pondered whether or not I could bear to continue, or whether I should just go home. On the courts, there was very little shade. I had my cowgirl hat in tow (the most useful it’s been, this side of the Atlantic), but other spectators had to resort to more interesting methods…

Head coverings The Guide to Queuing was probably the most ineffective head covering I saw – the classiest being the genteel Wimbledon umbrella…

If you have any desire to experience Wimbledon yourself, go! Book a day off next year. Organise an excellent picnic. Acquire a cooler and several cans of Pimm’s/G&T. Buy yourself a decent hat and a gallon of sunscreen (in faith, obviously). And get yourself into that queue. You won’t regret it, I promise.

There are more photos of the day (and subsequent tennis fun) on Flickr.

 

Friday Fun with Balls – of the tennis variety

All being well, by the time this scheduled post publishes, I’ll be in the queue to enter the Wimbledon grounds. I thought it was just a couple of years since my last trip to the verdant lawns of SW19, but a quick search of this blog reveals it was in face three years ago – at the very same moment in the tournament. That year, I watched three Brits lose semi-finals; this time, I’m hoping to see victories for both Brits scheduled to play…

There is little more fun at this time of the year than settling down to watch a thrilling tennis match, with a G&T in hand. Nothing has been quite as thrilling as Murray’s Quarter-Final on Wednesday night. But some of the fun of this fortnight lies simply in the routine – the grounds, the music and the characters.

Currently, I’m rather enjoying the time-lapse videos of the grounds – including Centre Court and Henman Hill (where I will be staking a spot this afternoon). Something else I enjoy immensely during the fortnight is the Wimbledon theme music. There has been much consternation amongst the Clutterbucks at the BBC’s decision to replace the end credits of Today at Wimbledon with the song choice of one of the player’s featured that day. We wait 50 weeks to listen to it – the least they could do is play it at every available opportunity! So, for your delectation, here is the theme and, even better, it’s from 1981 so also features some classic graphics and hairstyles… [Check out the 2 minute musical interlude before play begins. This was TV in the 80’s??]

Moving away from the tennis, let’s have some fun with maps!

Firstly, as yesterday was July 4th, here’s a collection of maps that show how different people saw Manhattan, filling in the same template with their own interpretations. Some are drawn by celebrities, others by ‘normal’ people – but they’re all fascinating in their own way…

pattymarxPatricia Marx 

becky-cooperThe author’s own. (Becky Cooper)

Secondly, mapping combined with London Transport data!! Here’s a visualisation of London as Oyster cards are tapped in and out. It’s both beautiful and fascinating:

Finally, for no other reason than it’s good to round-off Friday fun with something musical, here’s a summer classic from days of old (1997, to be precise), resurrected for a choir who weren’t even born when it first came out. Hanson perform MmmBop with the PS22 Chorus…