You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

29 June 2011

London, UK

After all this time, I’ve met Maddie in London. It’s a milestone that I thought would never arrive. Emotions are being rushed along, as today I’m passing another similar milestone: meeting Australian Ivan in London.

At Turnham Green, across the road from the flower stand, beside the pale yellow flashing lights stands Ivan, whose hair has grown long as much as my sister has grown up, which is a lot. Time has passed. ‘I don’t want to sound cocky, but I’ve heard from people–a few, actually–that I fit this stereotype. They’ve said, like, it’s going to be so easy.’ Completely understood.

Australian Ivan and his backpack slump alongside our scattered bags and empty sandwich boxes. The soft green grass cushions all. My stories that I think only would garner a smile result in huge laughter, so I have to remember that I have actually had an incredible time so far, and that when I’m trying to say that to people, I need to pretend this particular friend is listening in.

We’re all at the start of some of the best times imaginable, so I just can’t describe the positive stride we take around London, until it’s all too late. Maddie is due for a flight to the Netherlands in a couple of hours. We don’t know where the bus stop is to take Maddie to the airport, and she can’t miss this one, otherwise she’ll be stuck on Blighty.

Well, I’m not paying for the cab fare to Stansted airport.

‘Don’t worry, we’ll find it.’ ‘But when will we find it?’ ‘Just chill!’ Across the huge six lane road, I spot Maddie’s orange bus closing its doors. I run onto the road; a car’s horn forcing me to a sprint. The bus has closed all its entrances. With the luggage bay door only a metre ajar, I start smacking on the driver’s door, and it hisses open. ‘Please. Hurry. I’m late.’ I rip the ticket out of my pocket and pull Maddie to the bus and sneak in a quick wave goodbye.

“I don’t care, I’ll stay awake.” For a while I believed Ivan, because he was pretty alert wondering around London running little errands. Even after the errands, he was alert made the decision to go to Wimbledon, get a pint, and walk the distance to where the Wimbledon Championships were going on.

It’s the most famous tennis event in the world, and we get the inkling that it’s organised like it knows it. Down the long green lanes of Wimbledon, there’s a small gate with two men either side. “Are you joining the queue?” Ivan and I look at each other confusedly. They just repeat themselves when we ask what the queue actually is. “Well, ah ha! There is no queue!” So we just walked away to someplace we didn’t even know where.

Over a rolling hill is a grand-looking structure, with huge Wimbledon logos draped everywhere. On the big stone walls are little speakers playing commentary. It’s the only sound apart from the occasional chirping birds on this warm, moderately sunny day. Tall green gates and fences is all we see walking round and round and round. “Do you have to get used to all this walking?” asks Ivan.

Finally, we find a way in, and it involves us entering the mysterious, huge queue with the mysterious queue cards. The queue, defined by a thin white rope, snakes along the hedge of a park for a long way. The “Queue Guide”, an over 30-page booklet I picked up somewhere ( Thirty pages! What is in here?!), serves as light reading in the meantime.

In a twisted turn of events, Ivan squeezes backwards through the queue, because our trusty “Queue guide” tells us that we can take only a certain amount of alcohol on to Wimbledon grounds. We were never going to drink in the first place.

A couple of cans later, and standing up talking with a bleached blonde forty-year-old becomes too difficult. She keeps sipping from her little alcopop after we ducked under the white rope.

I have one sole priority this tube journey back: to make sure this near hundred kilogram mass doesn’t fall asleep, which is difficult given Ivan’s been drinking from what his body tells him is 3am. “IVAN!” His head bounces up for three seconds, looks around to me, then drops back down again. I’ve got thirty minutes of this to do.

There’s a stench of salt and sugar carried through stale, hot air. On the now-curved bed is a huge lump. No! There’s more huge masses around the dorm, like bean bags. Those aren’t bean bags, though.

I couldn’t imagine a worse thing to forget about. There are six enormous American women staying in our dorm of eight. That leaves Ivan and I with them. He passes out on his bed, and I try and do the same, so desperately that I forget to take my shoes off.

We joked about being drunk at Wimbledon, and technically we were. We joked about having a dorm full of women and our wish was, technically, granted. It’s all so close yet so, so far.