Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Wimbledon Experience - Part 2

The Wimbledon Experience Part-1 link here

Part - 2

As soon as we settled down in the queue, there was high amount of random banter from the diverse group. The discussion started by a friendly argument about a not so friendly subject - business versus IT. Now 'Thakur' and I are on the business side (often referred to as the arrogant, demanding end users) and the 'Head' and the 'POITR' are on the IT side (often referred to as the lazy, non-delivering coders). 'Thakur' and I suspect that there is a imminent IT non-cooperation movement going on in the office, the head of which was with us in the Wimbledon Queue (hence the name - the 'Head'). Like for example, the other day, a critical production bug was raised by the business at around 5:30 pm, to which his answer was - 'Its past the close of business'. Now, I find it quite funny how IT in our office defines the close of business for the business but needless to say, our request was ignored. Also, in our project we reverse engineer, or rather, are forced to. So the IT develop a new code, then write the design documents and then tell the business to document the requirement accordingly, but I digress.

In all this banter, the husband and the 'Gluten Free' decide to stay at a distance, lest they would get pulled into an ugly battle. As time passes by, different people have different demands. The 'Head' demands a pack of playing cards and the husband obliges him with one due to the meticulous planning done in the morning. I demand a good hot coffee from a van standing in the golf park. The bags open and the 'Head' shows off the midnight trip done to the Tesco store. Barring a few odd food vans parked in the golf course, there are not many food options when you are in the queue, so its a good idea to stock up.

Suddenly, the 'Thakur', who mind you had not even brought a bottle of water, demands chilled beer. The good thing about the queue is once you have the queue card, you can step out for a while, which turned out to be a bad thing for 'Thakur' as he was commissioned to go back to the Sainsbury store near the Southfield station to get some cash accompanied with a variety demand of drinks. Meanwhile, I manage to get a hot mocha that helps me to keep warm as I can see dark clouds gathering up in the sky.

Hot coffee, cool breeze, crisps (oh yeah, I am in Britain and I don't call them chips) and cupcakes - it was a perfect combination for me, but not for 'Gluten Free' who refused to eat it. I personally believe that its absolutely rude to decline if someone offers a double chocolate muffin with chocolate chips, no matter how full you are. All of us had our mouths wide open and eyes rolling rigorously when the 'Gluten Free' did not obey this simple rule of 'muffins and cakes' and made us highly suspicious of whether he was from Mars. 
'Gluten Free' tells us that the polite decline was due to the fact that he only has gluten free food. I sympathise with him on his dietary restrictions but am secretly happy that I can gulp down his share of muffin too. Just then, he adds that this whole gluten free thing is voluntary, meaning he is not really allergic to gluten and all of us become suspicious again, this time we feel he has come from a even far off place, probably Pluto. The group gets a new topic to discuss on why anyone would give up the pure joy of eating gluten filled food and jokes about Gluten Free's food habits about being gluten free will last till the end of the day.

Its time, the gates open and the queue starts moving. The excitement in the ground doubles up. Since we were 'just above the ground capacity', our queue starts and stops intermittently. The stewards know exactly where to take the queue around in an serpentine fashion. When the queue stops moving, we put down our mats and settle down quickly, when it moves, we move barefoot picking up our stuff - the pure joy of walking barefoot on the fresh, green, manicured grass is just beyond words. This goes on for a while and the queue has moved significantly. 'Thakur' is now back in the queue grinning ear to ear with a box of chilled beer cans in his hands.

As like on most London days, the rain gods decide do their job and there is a hustle bustle on the ground. The mats are lifted, the chairs are folded, the umbrellas are opened up and the raincoats are on. 'Gluten Free' takes out his Wimbledon special umbrella and everyone is quite jealous that he has one. Later on we find out that the umbrella was lent to him by his friend few years back which he never managed to return. All of us make a mental note of never to lend him anything.

Just then a police patrol chopper hovers above the golf park. Everyone starts waving to the chopper - now I don't get it, who on earth waves to the police for fun but this is Wimbledon so I dont question and I wave back towards them. The play inside the Wimbledon park has halted and the queue intake has slowed down. Around two and half hours have passed now and we are inside the first gate after a thorough check of our queue cards while the rain and the sun continue to play hide and seek.

Once inside the first gate, there was a similar wait but there were some fun things to do. First of all, we all took a mandatory group photo with a nice Wimbledon gate in the background. There are some small screens put up which were showing some fun interviews with the players. There were plenty of stalls - like one was giving out free drinks, Haagen-Dazs had a fun photo booth where you could take photos and put a centre court background, HSBC has a mini tennis court to pass time. Another one and half hour passes by quickly and we are now hungry.

I have been extremely efficient and packed sandwiches filled with home made green chutney for the chutney. Everyone gulps them down telling me how delicious they are but I am pretty sure that it was a factor of their hunger. 'POITR' takes out the second set of muffins, this time Gluten Free eats them too ! As the queue moves further, we can almost see the finish line.

We have survived the queue and we are there. A small security check now stands in between us and the Wimbledon Park !!

When the rain gods showered some love on us

Dog patrols on the queue

We have passed the first gate !!

So apt for the Wimbledon .. Patience is really rewarded !

Passing some time at the photo booth ...

We are there !! Just need to pass that security check tent !!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Wimbledon Experience - Part 1

Wimbledon is not just any tennis tournament but its a experience.

A large number of tickets for the tournament are sold on lottery for which you need to apply by post in advance by December in a ballot process  - something that extremely confusing and is beyond the discipline of the husband and me, both. So unless you are Sachin Tendulkar who miraculously shows up with a finale ticket at the centre court every year, the only other affordable way to get the tickets is to queue.

Wimbledon is one of the few major sports in UK where one can still buy the premium tickets on the day of play and its pretty fun queuing. A limited number of tickets are available daily for Court 1, Court 2 and the Centre Court except the last few days of the tournament. Queuing is such an integral part of Wimbledon and is often referred to as - 'The Queue for the The Championships' and it has pretty strict rules as well.

The approval - The plan for the Wimbledon starts with choosing a right day when you hope that the sun gods would shine upon you - which in London is almost an impossible task. Now the husband being a keen follower of almost every sport on the earth and specially Tennis, kept moving the day by studying the rain forecasts. Eventually, he settled on Friday. Considering that I am not a doctor who saves any lives, getting a day off should be a very easy task no ? Wrong. Apparently the fate of the whole bank whose shares are already trading at a pretty low price rests on me showing up at work. Finally after many meetings armed with power point proposals on who can help save the bank in my absence for a day, my leave was approved.

The Group - There are plenty of ardent tennis fans who show up on their own however we Indians like to flock in groups. I think the fun of queuing just multiplies with the number of people, the quirkier the better. So the husband, his colleague (lets call him 'Gluten Free (GF)'), two of my colleagues (lets name the first one as 'Head of the IT non-cooperation movement - Head' and the other one as 'Thakur'), friend of the IT Support ('Protector of the IT realm' - POITR)  and I, we all paraded to the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC). More on these names later.

Planning the route - The husband usually always has a plan and in this case knew exactly when to get there and how. There was much discussion on when to reach the grounds for queuing. The really really ardent fans start queuing the day before - which means they basically set up tents and camp overnight. There is a high probability that you will get tickets to the show courts if you camp. There is a second lot who arrive around 5 am the same day, and they almost surely get in and watch matches on court 3 to 19 but if they are lucky, they also get tickets to the show court. The husband vetoed both the options and explained that we needed to start at 830 am sharp. This was a feat in itself - getting 6 Indians living at different places to get to a place in time.

So everyone except the Gluten Free (who lives in Waterloo - not sure how they came up with the name because none of the loos here have water but I digress) decided to meet at the Canary Wharf station on the platform. Now anyone who has lived in Mumbai and travelled in the local trains in the era without cell phones would have atleast, once in life, used the best meeting point on the platform - 'below the indicator'. Now the 'Thakur' who is from Delhi could not fathom this concept and later on used this excuse for being late even though the platform is barely 200 metres with just 2 indicators.

Mind the gap - 'Mind the Gap' is an announcement often heard on the tube network to warn the commuter of the one feet black hole between the tube and the platform. Sometimes, so big is the distance that it should actually be called a valley, but I digress. Talking about the tube, the AELTC is not very close from the Wimbledon tube station. In fact, its closest from the station called Southfields on the District Line (Green line). So we took the Jubilee Line from Canary Wharf to Westminister. From Westminister, we took the train to Earls Court, then another train to Southfields. We were running late and the odds were against us. Just as we thought that we were getting there, there was an announcement in the tube that the destination of the tube has changed.

I mean, coming from Mumbai, I have done numerous mad dashes moving platform to platform because the local train driver thought it would be fun to bring the train onto a totally different platform but ever heard of the train changing the destination !! Anyways, we got down and the Parson Green station and guess what, the whole train was empty, meaning the whole train was going to watch Wimbledon. The next District Line train finally took us to Southfields where Gluten Free was waiting for us.

Approach - When you come out of the Southfields, I suggest that make a mad dash towards the Wimbledon Park Golf Club - this is where the queue is housed. Every slow step that you take towards the queue is another 10 people ahead of you in the queue.

At Wimbledon, Cash is King. You can only buy the tickets in cash so be prepared. Inspite of clear 'onboarding' instructions given the day before, the 'Thakur' did not have any cash, infact he did not bring anything, not even a bag with water. He had strolled lazily with just a jacket on and hands in his pocket - hence the name bestowed upon him - 'Thakur'. Now Thakur wanted to spend further 5 mins withdrawing cash meaning getting pushed back by atleast 200 people. After much social pressure and absolute disdain showed by the husband, he succumbed and kept walking with us. No one wanted to piss off the husband as he was the only one who seemed to be our ticket to Wimbledon.

Finally in the queue - When you reach there, you will see a number of honorary stewards who will explain you the process of queuing. The first thing you should do is go to the steward who holds a big purple flag with a big 'Q' written on it. This is where the serpentine queue is right now and as soon as you spot the flag, go to the steward and beg for the Queue Card. Once you get the queue card, preserve this more than a pot of gold as you will be asked to show this queeu card atleast 2-3 times to make sure you not trying to sneak in. Each queue card has a date and the number - this is your number in the queue and this ticket is non-transferable. Also each person gets only one queue card, so there is no way you can save spots for any other 'Thakurs' who plan to come late. The queue has strict rules and you will be literally given a 'Guide to Queuing' with a queue Code of Conduct. Apart from the usual 'do not jump the queue', the queue code of conduct has some very interesting rules like - barbecues and fires are not permitted or even rules laid out for pizza take-aways or loud music should not be played but use headphones instead. All in all, an extremely meticulously planned and amazingly executed queuing process.

Our number was around 8700 and were standing in the K9 queue. The stewards told us that we were 'just above' the ground capacity so that means that when the first lot goes in, the next in line will be allowed in on the basis of 'one out one in' basis. When we asked what was the 'capacity', the only answer we got was we were 'just over' so we let it pass. The husband as always, was fully prepared with enough mattresses for 6 people to rests their bums on so we settled down. This was just the beginning of the much fun-filled day ahead.

Southfields Station converted to a huge tennis court

On route to the queue

The Queue

Queue Cards

Rejoicing after being handed over the queue card

Settled down

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