London – Wimbledon is all about TRADITION. One of their most civilized and best traditions is taking the MIDDLE SUNDAY off. No play, let the grass courts bounce back a bit from all the wear and tear. It offers all participants a chance to enjoy a free day, to see the city, go the the theatre, catch up with friends, have a picnic, visit museums, in short experience real life in London.
Only on rare exceptions, due to rain back-up of matches, has the tradition ever been disrupted. In 2001 it resulted in the hugely popular “People’s Monday,” 9 July, when Goran Ivanisevic, coming in as a beggar asking for a wild card, defeated Patrick Rafter to win Wimbledon.
Yesterday, Middle Sunday, fell on the first real summer day we’ve had, 29.2 (84.5) degrees of sunny weather. Perfect for an adventure.
After wandering around the deserted grounds of Wimbledon taking pictures, it was off to the tube.
On the way, a detour into the Wimbledon Park Car Park #10, where there was patchwork of multi colored tents, row by row, populated by eager tennis fans hoping to obtain a precious ticket to the matches on Monday, probably the best single day of tennis during the fortnight.
They arrive in a variety of ways, relatives dropping them off, the tube or train service, taxis. Some sling their tents on their backs, others have roll bags for the bulk of their necessities. They bring balls, games, food and very good dispositions.
THE QUEUE. Famous throughout Wimbledon’s history, the southern queue moved off the residential streets and into the park in 1998. Ten years later both queues moved to the car park, replacing the old North and South Queues. The English are accustomed to queueing in all aspects of their lives. The regular queuers at Wimbledon pass on information to each other and Wimbledon even passes out a Guide to Queueing which includes advice and a Code of Conduct.
Such items as delivery of take away, playing of loud music (not allowed, only use of earphones), use of tents sleeping more than two not allowed, playing of ball games after 10:00 not allowed.
In former days, discount programs were printed to inform the folks in the queue what was going on. Throughout its history, merchants have given out free samples of all sorts of products to the queuers, balls, tea bags, candy bars, water, soft drinks.
I met the family in the number one position, Jess Andrews, her father, sister and boyfriend. They had come from North Anglia and Nottinghill, having been dropped off by their mom on Friday afternoon. They endured the soaking rains that night, their tents proving up to the task of keeping everything dry.
But now they were reveling in the sun and the knowledge that they held the number one ticket guaranteeing them spots on Centre Court or Court One, their choice. All Federer fans, they had decided to ask for two on each court not knowing which court he would be on.
People passed the time doing crossword puzzles, reading, Sunday newspapers, 1984 by George Orwell, Tina Fey’s new book, a father reading to his children. Some played chess or other board games, slept, knitted, most sunbathed. On the uninhabited fields next to the rows of tents, there were games of rugby, soccer and volleyball with pick up teams of newly met tent neighbors. Several campers had brought tennis racquets of all things. There are nearby courts where they can sign up to play.
There are plenty of toilet facilities and food is near by as well, although most bring snacks and meals to fix there.
All with whom I spoke felt it was a wonderful way to spend a weekend in London, camping on grass, meeting new people … why go out to the wild country when you can have such a nice outdoor experience nearby.
One of the many volunteer stewards said they were running out of space for kept bags and would have to limit further campers. By 1:00 pm there were 1,300 folks already camping, soon after there were announcements at Southfield’s station that space for camping would no longer be available. I felt sorry for the many potential campers I saw getting off the tube, loaded with gear, hoping for a place. Those folks would just have to come early in the next morning and queue without camping.
The stewards wake up the campers at 6:00am so they will have time to get ready, put their gear away, store it, and make it into the queue in order of the numbers they had and be prepared to rush in through the gates when they open at 10:30.
Still heading into London, disembarking at Embankment station and crossing the beautiful new Hungerford Bridge, I ran smack into a marvelous six month long festival, The Festival of Britain, a resurrection of a festival last held in 1951, sixty years ago…
There were countless mimes, street performers, magicians, street artists, food vendors, a fountain for children to run through, a roof top garden, musicians, a merry-go-round.
Throughout the six months there are ongoing musical, dance, theatrical performances, lectures, literary evenings. Weeks, months packed with entertainment. It is a wonderful outing for families.
The enjoyment of the adventure all possible due to Wimbledon’s kindly Middle Sunday tradition. Long may it live. - Anita Ruthling Klaussen