Wednesday, 27 June 2012

My Wimbledon diaries

It’s the (often soggy) highlight of summer. But getting on to Centre Court isn’t easy, as a brave Melonie Clarke, who queued overnight, discovers

Written by Melonie Clarke

I'm told that, when it comes to Wimbledon, it's the early bird that catches the worm. So I'm off to London SW19 tomorrow – to start queuing for my tickets 24 hours early. My bag is packed and I'm ready to leave bright and early. Tent: check. Sleeping bag: check. Good book: check. Wimbledon, here I come...


5.30am: I'm woken by an apocalyptic rainstorm lashing my window. I pull the quilt over my head and hope that it blows itself out before I have to leave.

7.30am: Up and dressed, I enjoy a lazy breakfast of warm crumpets and salted butter before I leave for my train. The realisation of how heavy my bag is kicks in by the time I reach the end of my road – I have never been able to travel light.

10.40am: After a decent journey from my home in Southend, I arrive at Waterloo. As I see my Wimbledon train flash up on the departures board, I get a real flush of excitement.

10.51am: The train has just pulled away from the station. Looking around, I realise I'm the only person on the train with a tent and huge rucksack – who knows, maybe I'll be first in the queue?


11.30am: Wimbledon! A steward (they're clearly used to catering to tennis fans turning up a day early) informs me that a dedicated campsite is situated by Gate 10. Better still, another gentleman relieves me of the burden of my heavy bag... they are polite here.

11.45am: Arrive at Gate 10, but I'm certainly not first in line. In fact, the campsite – in a field just outside the All England Lawn Tennis And Croquet Club – is already getting busy. Apparently, the first 500 people in the queue are usually guaranteed tickets for Centre Court, so fingers crossed.

Either way, I have to put up my tent. Thankfully, there's no fussing around with poles and ground sheets as I cleverly decided to take the cheat's way out and opt for a pop-up tent. Besides, no fewer than five people offer to help, too. Within minutes, I am standing before my canvas home for the night.

The other people in the campsite are a charming bunch, all ages, and from all over the country. There are even some Americans who have been camping since Saturday (the first five in the queue) and will be camping for the whole fortnight.

12.30pm: I spot two men in highvisibility jackets making their way through the campsite, handing out the hallowed numbered queuing cards. Will I make the top 500? I can barely stand the excitement.

12.45pm: Here he comes. The steward hands me my number and it's... 414! Centre Court, here I come. With the important work done, I head off to chat to my neighbours – and hand out some copies of The Lady.

2pm: The summer sun has vanished behind some very dark clouds. I fear this may be the moment that the waterproofing on my tent will be put to the test. I scurry inside, zip up the door – and the heavens open.

2.10pm: The tent leaks. Valuable life lesson learnt: when buying tents, never opt for the cheap option.

3.30pm: Heavy rain is still falling, but so far I can see just the one leak. As I had an early start and the campsite is slowly turning into a soggy bog, I opt to take a nap.


4.30pm: I wake up to see the sun has come out! I decide to have a read of my Agatha Christie novel only to realise I have left it at home. It could be a long evening.

4.40pm: Comedian Jimmy Carr walks past – or is it just a lookalike?

5pm: I decide to give my grandparents a ring. My Nan has always been the biggest fan of Wimbledon and I wish she were here with me. She'd love it – despite being in her 80s.

6.30pm: There are burger stands inside the campsite (most of the usual campsite comforts are on hand, including a loo block), but I decide to look for a nice pub to grab a bite for dinner. Hopefully, I'll find one that isn't showing the football (England's in the quarter-finals of the Euros).

7pm: Unable to find a football-free pub, I opt f


or a lovely little Italian place. This is the way to do camping.

9pm: After the loveliest meal of fresh pasta with mushrooms and a G&T, I head back to the campsite. On the way back, I stop to withdraw cash – would you believe that you can't pay for Wimbledon tickets with a debit or credit card?

10.30pm: Lights out. Our wake-up call is at 5.30am, so an early night for all.


5.30am: Tickets can be bought from 10.30am. Bleary-eyed from the early start, and possibly getting out of the wrong side of the tent, I am not looking forward to five hours of queuing. I could also do without getting my popup tent back into its tiny bag. Luckily, the chap next to me has a pop-up tent and seems to have the knack, so I let him help me (in other words, I stand back and let him get on with it – thank goodness for chivalry).


10.45am: 'That will be £44, please'. I hand over the cash and the lady hands me my ticket. I have a Centre Court seat at Wimbledon 2012: how exciting!

12.30pm As I head for the court, I can't help but wonder why people buy their tickets in advance. First up was Novak Djokovic v Juan Carlos Ferrero (Djokovic won in straight sets), followed by big-time grunter Maria Sharapova v Anastacia Rodionova (Sharapova went through in straight sets). But despite the five o'clock wake-up call, the sore back and the rain, camping out has been half the fun. I may buy my Nan an advanced ticket next year, but I'll be camping.

Now, where are the strawberries?

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