Last weekend Mr French and I ran away to London for what the British call a Dirty Weekend, which ended up being the perfect name for our trip. We were going for a cocktail of business with pleasure, as his presence had been requested for a match at Wimbledon.
Wimbledon! Even for a tennis newbie like myself, the name is simply mythic. Even before my google search I knew that Wimbledon means grass courts and white tennis outfits. What I found out doing more research was that it also means strawberries and cream, which seems to be a very important tradition at the matches. A sporting event with sugar and fat? I was very, very excited about the trip. Actually, since I am usually excited to travel, I was over the moon for this adventure.
Getting to Wimbledon couldn’t be easier. The town is a terminus, so its a direct trip on the District Line to Wimbledon, then you step out on to a enthusiastically decorated platform and follow the crowds. Formally clad “Honorary Stewards” guide you along the way while helmet topped Bobbies direct traffic. Ticket holders are directed to one sidewalk, non-ticket holders to the other. There are taxi that can be shared and I suppose we could have hired a driver, but why sit in traffic when one can be walking with the fans!
And there are lots of non-ticket holders because at Wimbledon they have the Queue, which is a long line of people waiting for Premium tickets that the tennis association does not sell in advance, reserving them for ardent fans who are willing to stand for hours for same day seats. When we arrived at the tube station they were announcing a 5 hour wait, with rain predicted later in the day. This didn’t seem to deter anyone!
Being a business event, we were in our most corporate casual, which meant I was trotting by the Queue, past several parking lots, up a hill and along the entire stadium in three inch heels. I was very pleased when we arrived and were greeted by a polished waitress offering us a Pimm’s. I had first heard of a Pimm’s a week ago while reading a piece of British chick lit. In the novel, the heroine, a simple girl from the wrong side of the tracks (or in the case of this book, castle) had been invited to a society wedding and had gotten dangerously drunk because she hadn’t realized it was a cocktail, not a soda. Pimm’s is a gin inspired drink that is served with soda on ice, with a fresh fruit and herb garnish. It was a delicious welcome to the match.
We mingled in the marquee, meeting business people from across Europe before sitting down to a traditional British buffet, which included lamb with mint sauce and roast beef with horseradish and a curry. It was delightfully foreign, yet reassuringly familiar. And I needed the reassurance because I had no idea what to say to a team of complete strangers wearing suits for a tennis match. I jumped in, mentioning a recent article I’d read (not mentioning that it had been in a fashion trade paper!) about the blossoming African market. Were they seeing the same interest in their industry? What regions looked the most promising? What did they see as the greatest obstacles? Suddenly I was relaxed, enjoying myself, and learning a thing or two.
Finally, it was game time! We headed out on to the grounds where there is a center court, another large stadium and a dozen open courts with nothing more than a few park benched around them. The benches were swarmed with fans, sitting, leaning, climbing to see the games, as rackets arched into the air and the yellow streaks of balls cluttered our peripheral vision. Tennis was happening all around us!
The stadium itself is beautiful, which you don’t expect from a sporting venue. It has been painted green, frosted with ivy and iced with baskets of flowing purple flowers. Inside, the roof was open, allowing a halo of sunlight to focus on the French Alize Cornet and the Canadian (Québecoise!) Eugénie Bouchard.
When the French player lost, our English hosts cheered us with an invitation to return to the marquee for a consolation afternoon tea, and at last, strawberries and cream.
We had just started watching the English Murray trounce the S African Anderson when the heavens opened and it started to pour. The timing was perfect, as we had the opportunity to see the famous closing roof in action before grabbing our, uh, wait! We hadn’t brought along our coats. Or our umbrellas. So we ran out into the pouring rain, in a hurry to get back into London to catch the last Eurostar of the evening.
Fortunately, our hosts were used to foreign guest unfamiliar with local weather habits. They pushed an umbrella into our hand as we headed down the road, so that only my calves were covered in mud as we boarded our train home for Paris, the perfect souvenir of our Dirty Weekend!