1 July 2011

London, UK


Holy fucking shit, where am I?

Jesus, my head.

Big metal bell alarm. Fire? Bomb? I’m in London.

Jesus, my ears.

Huge bomb threat in London, this could be…

Jesus, my head.

Wimbledon today. This morning… Now!? It’s almost 6am.

Light is streaming in through the tiniest gap in the curtains, which should also be letting air through. It smells so strongly of an abandoned deep-fryer in here.

A refreshing shower and a head-throbbingly painful tube journey later, we’re back to plan A: Wimbledon. And this time, we know what the queue is and we need a queue card. Now, though, the card doesn’t seem all that important, because the queue has unfathomably large. The gate where we walked right through just two days ago now has thousands upon thousands of finely-dressed people sipping champagne under broad-brimmed hats. There’s also people dressed normally who just look damn dedicated, and I’d like to think that we form a part of this crowd.

Ivan dons the sunglasses like he knows it’s one of those days overseas. Anybody would know it, because the world is turned upside-down. The lush grass is still a little moist, but nobody really cares. You want to wait for hours lying down in a queue (of all places) under the sun. Better still, you get to be a part of one of the world’s greatest events.

Time passes just like that until the big purple and green scoreboard confronts us. There are concrete paths that are suspiciously like English country lanes, which wind through to some surprisingly large buildings all ornately decorated. Around the corner more purple flowers and vines overflow down onto a tense crowd.

In the thick of it, some men start to sing. “God save our gracious Queen! Long live our noble Queen!” People join in but they never get past the first verse without more people starting to cheer about UK’s hopeful Andy Murray. This must be the way to Henman Hill, where I know we’ve got to be.

A man wearing a suit walks out onto the balcony above the crowd we’ve just joined. “In the interest of safety: please do not run!”. A cameraman stands beside him as they open the gates, and hundreds of start surging amidst cheers. Most people run, but few were stupid enough to really bolt, and today, I felt like being stupid. Several of us who were at the front all bump into the unaware strollers. I darted around a set of wooden tables and jumped over an old woman’s legs. I heard the gasp but it faded in the distance quickly.

I didn’t know where to go so I just ran uphill until I got to a big green slope that I recognised instantly. Henman Hill at last; a hill facing a gigantic TV, so everyone can watch Wimbledon for free. Ivan catches up out of nowhere and we decide to take a big table. Ivan’s friend Boeri shows up with his girlfriend. All flock to the hill, and it’s now just a sea of faces.

The sun rises higher over our little wooden table and we keep trading stories. Everyone is drinking Pimm’s. Alongside the stadium where the TV is attached to, there are over a dozen other courts that you can access for free. On court 12, Ivan and I watch the girls’ semifinals. The future women finalists play faster than you and I can play table tennis, walloping the ball over the court that seems so much bigger on TV. Even though Ivan or I would make a noise normally, it’s all so impressive that I just couldn’t.

On and off the court, the All England Club is so proper. Between courts, the pathways are lined with flower beds and neat brick walls. It’s not unusual to see the most English stereotype you can imagine strolling along with his lady friend, commenting on the loveliness of everything.

I remember that my friend Kate is working in Wimbledon, send her a message, and within minutes I meet her under the big screen. She meets my Australian friends, and a strange ‘two worlds collide’ moment, where stories from a very distant, somewhat familiar Australia are told with stories from a very near, somewhat familiar England.

Henman Hill starts buzzing again as Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal are about to face off in the semifinal. Chants and cheering stop when Murray makes it onto court, and anxiety takes over. Murray wins a point, and there’s huge cheers and clapping.

“Come on Andy!”

The ball clips the net. Gasp! The rally continues and Andy wins the point.


He misses the line just by a few inches. Sigh.

Tennis spectators are not as dedicated as South American football teams’. Yet they are unique: you are surrounded with the emotions of the players, because the spectators feel and share them.

Henman Hill, or Murray Mount as they like to call it now, is wriggling. Andy Murray is close to winning the first set against world no. 1. One more point. Everyone rises and falls to good shots and bad shots. Then he gets it, but being typically British, everyone is holding themselves back just a little bit, but the Britishness of it all only helps me remember this day forever.