London June 22-30, 2001
I decided to take my digital movie camera with me, in order to capture pictures that I might not have been able to get with a still camera. It allows me to take any of the frames (it shoots 30 frames per second), and use it as a still picture. So, most all the pictures here are from that approach. I don’t think they are as good as my digital still camera would have been, however, “it’s all I got,” as they say.
|As you read the story, there are three ways to link to the pictures.
• When you encounter an underlined word such as “airplane” you can link to the series of pictures I took during the flight, then come back to the story.
When I heard there was a chance to go to Wimbledon, and that we could do it on a special tour hosted by Stan Smith, I was excited. (29 years ago I saw him become Wimbledon champion, while watching on my black and white TV. I followed his doubles career with Bobby Lutz, as well.) Add to that the opportunity to attend a clinic by Stan, and play in a round robin with him and a couple of other pros capped it off. It would be a celebration of my 65th birthday and our 30th wedding anniversary.
We wanted to go to London four days early, so that the tennis encounter would be experienced by bodies not damaged by a five-hour time difference. The idea was to fly to New York on Thursday and stay over so that we could take the Friday Continental/Virgin daytime flight to London’s Gatwick airport. We stayed at the Marriott hotel near the airport so we could arrive at the Newark airport two hours before our 10 a.m. flight to London.
The 767-400 airplane was beautiful. In particular the seats were extraordinary. There was enough space between the seats that they would go almost all the way back for sleeping, without getting in the way of the person behind. The front part of the seat came up to get your legs off the ground (great for a short person). Each seat also had its own TV set, with a choice of perhaps 10 movies and other videos. We were served a five-course meal with lovely wines. By the time the meal was over and a movie viewed, perhaps a little reading done, they were serving pizza as a snack 1-1/2 hours before landing. The trip was mostly calm, with seat belt signs on sometimes, but nothing but a light bump. Our airplane was tracked on a video screen maps, showing where it was at all times, and information about altitude, speed, arrival time, etc. The flight only took 6-1/2 hours, so we arrived at 9:30 London time.
As part of the Stan Smith tour package, a driver met us at Gatwick after customs. As is typical in Europe, deodorant is not a big thing, so the one-hour fifteen minute trip to the hotel was a little rank. We discussed what is called “The Knowledge” with the driver (it was not a cab). This is a three-year process where people who intend to drive cabs must study the streets of London on a bicycle. At the end of the study, they are tested to prove they can get from any point in the city to another, without looking at a map. Our driver said he studied and passed, but chose livery service over taxi-driving. He also told us that cell phone theft was rampant, that 50% of all crimes were those where cell phones were stolen. Their system is different in England. Our phones are manufacturered with a permanent I.D. built in. If a phone is stolen, its location can be traced when it is used. British phones have a removable I.D. which is replaced by the thief and another one purchased, making the phone usable again.
We arrived at the Dorchester Hotel and were taken to our suite, which seemed impossibly huge. I thought they had made a mistake. Evidently the older hotels have bigger rooms. It turns out this was called the Eisenhower Suite, and it is where Dwight Eisenhower stayed in the early days of WWII, right next to Churchill’s rooms. The hotel itself was never directly hit by bombs, but several fires were put out on the rooftop before they did any damage.
The hotel itself is very well staffed. They say there are three employees for every guest (that includes restaurant folks, front desk, room service, maids, etc.). The bathroom had a heated rack to keep towels hot. There evidently isn’t a problem with water and the shower dumped a huge amount of water. However, water was not automatic at meals and had to be requested. The Dorchester is directly across from the East end of Hyde Park, on Park Lane. Traffic is horrendous and street noise very loud, so they went to a lot of trouble with double sliding doors on the patio to keep the room quiet.
Watching the traffic was interesting. The last time we were here most of the cabs were black. This time, perhaps a third of them were painted in wild colors with advertising all over them. And of course the red double-decker busses were everywhere, some with open tops for tourist gaping. There were mostly small private cars no big SUV’s. Some little cars looked more like a scooter with a cover on it, than a real car. However, with gas at 80p per liter, it’s understandable (in dollars that’s about $5.64).
Our bed had starched sheets (yes, a little scratchy), and 6 huge pillows. A small linen towel was placed every night on the floor at each side of the bed. The hotel furnished a bowl of fruit in our living room. It was freshened every day during our stay, replacing what we either ate or what had gone soft.
We were on floor 1 (there was a ground floor and a mezzanine), directly overlooking the front of the hotel toward Hyde Park. Pigeons romanced on the balcony wall every day, giving us a laugh or two. More about pigeons when I talk about Roosevelt Park and Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Up at 10 a.m. for a late breakfast a “traditional” English breakfast in the Promenade, which is a huge open area leading from the lobby to the back of the hotel. I guess we were too late to eat in the main dining room. The Promenade is also used for afternoon tea. We sat next to an Arab and 3 Koreans who seemed to be conducting some “big business” (in English, of course).
Ken chose to read his book while I went on a walk to try to get over some jet lag. I walked for an hour, detouring from the streets through part of Hyde Park, which is directly opposite the hotel. Parks in London are typically huge, open spaces where people can throw frisbies, picnic, take their dogs for walks, whatever. We thought we’d skip a big dinner, so we had high tea in the Promenade. High tea is really regular afternoon tea with a menu that includes some snack-like choices, and of course since it is more like dinnertime, one can have a cocktail as well.
We walked to a small French cafe for breakfast, called the Richoux. It was a struggle to ignore the fancy pastries and stick to scrambled eggs. I did indulge in a croissant, though.
Ken went back to the hotel while I took a walk to Roosevelt Park. It is directly across from the American Embassy. The park is essentially dedicated to the US, with a huge statue of FDR at one end, overlooking the wide open spaces, and a path leading to another statue of an eagle, which was a dedication to American flyers who helped the British even before the US had declared war. I found it interesting that Roosevelt was depicted in a standing position, considering all the hullabaloo about his presence in Washington and the efforts to have him in a wheelchair. The world saw him as a standing man, and I guess that’s probably the best way for him to appear. Only close associates knew how disabled he was. A statue of Eisenhower appears just outside the corner of the park and near the Embassy.
As I walked past the Embassy I was going to take pictures, but the guard said I shouldn’t do that. So, I went around the side and got some shots. You may notice in the pictures that the building is well protected from a car being able to get close to it lots of concrete bastions between the building and the street.
When I returned to the hotel a driver was there, waiting to take us to the Cotswalls. That was a shock. I had e-mailed the hotel several weeks before, asking about the possibility, but I had no idea that they would make an appointment. It cost 100£ to pay him off for my mistake (sorry, Ken), however, I think the man was happy to have the day off and to return to his family.
I hopped in a cab to take the trip to Mme. Tussaud’s wax museum. The driver said the wait in line would take longer than the trip through the museum, and he was right. While standing in line I met two nice young Americans who had been using a Euro-pass for two months, traveling to, I think, 7 countries. They had met in college in Louisville, though Liz DiNapoli was from New Jersey, and Josh Singer was from Pennsylvania. The time passed quickly listening to their stories. They pointed out the video cameras on the street, which I had not noticed, saying “they were everywhere.” I never really looked for them elsewhere, but I found it interesting when I got home that Tampa is installing them. It’s not for “spying” as such, but for face recognition of wanted felons.
The museum was very crowded, with tourists posing with the wax figures. So it was hard to get a clear shot. When I got to the Chamber of Horrors I zipped through it, not really looking at much. Seeing people getting their heads cut off, stabbed, ripped apart, etc. is not my interest. Toward the end of the museum there was a Disney-like ride (in faux cabs, of course), that exited at the gift shop (what else?), and I was out of there.
Once back at the hotel we settled for a high-protein bar (I brought along a bunch of them), and some fruit, for lunch.
British TV is very different from US. First of all, the quality of the picture itself is extraordinary. Way back in the beginning of TV, Europe chose a different method for displaying TV. We chose one of a lower quality. It’s a little like the Beta vs. VHS formats. VHS won out even though Beta was a higher quality. Whatever company chose the early American format was able to get their preference spread throughout the industry. Anyway, it’s a little like watching a real movie. The shows are quite different, as well. There were lots of shows about WWII and the US involvement. We watched a story about Bosnia from 1993-1997 and about how the US thwarted NATO efforts to help the Bosnians. According to this show, the US used the CIA as spies, and supported the Bosnians against the NATO plan, which ultimately escalated the war which NATO had wanted to avert. The program said that CNN had had a tremendous influence on US policy and the way the efforts went. It said that the US wanted to be influential on the efforts but was not willing to have ground troops assist, which might have saved a lot of lives. I mention this story because I was surprised that it had not been told in the US.
We had brought both umbrellas and raincoats, but found the weather as warm and sunny as we had left. However, the amount of daylight was interesting. These were close to the longest days of the year in the Northern hemisphere. It didn’t get dark until 10 p.m. and was light by 5 a.m. I looked at a map and London is the same longitude as the middle of Hudson Bay, in Canada. It’s only livable because the Gulf stream brings warm water up from the Carribean.
I decided that if I was going to do any shopping, it had to be today. I took a cab to the famous department store called Harrods. I really just wandered about, but especially loved the food courts’ presentation of everything from fish to exquisite jarred foods (too heavy to bring back), to produce, to bakery. If you lived near Harrods you could bring something new home for dinner every night. I looked for some tennis shorts, but just as in the US, they don’t seem to make them for women anymore. The displays of folded clothes were interesting only one of each size and of each color was on the counters. If a size was missing you had to ask for it. So, shopping by thumbing through the clothes, was not an option.
Since this was the first day of Wimbledon we watched it on TV. They carried two stations-full of tennis every day, from start to finish.
In the evening we ate the Grill in the hotel, which is considered one of the top 10 restaurants in the world. Great bread. Wish we could get that in Florida.
The weather continued to be very warm, and clear.
We had asked for an additional day of Wimbledon tickets and were pleased that our tour guide was able to get us seats on Court 1 for Tuesday. We decided to take “the tube” to the venue, and left at 11:30 for a 1 p.m. match. We actually got to our gate at 1:10, but couldn’t get in until 1:30 because the 2nd and 3rd game of the first set between Layton Hewett and Magnus Gustafson took 20 minutes.
The first part of the trip by tube to Wimbledon was under ground. There were lots of pictures and history on the walls of the stations, and homeless people sleeping along the walls. It was very hot outside, and since the train cars had no A/C nor windows that would open, it was sweltering. For our second leg we had to go up and take an above-ground leg to Southfield, where the matches are held (two stops short of the actual town of Wimbledon). Watching all the apartments along the way (“flats” as they’re called), was our entertainment. They were so close to the tracks that the noise must have been awful for people living there. On the way to Wimbledon there had been a fire at one of the stations, so travel was slowed down to just one side of the tracks. When we exited at Southfield we could either take a cab or a bus to the gates. We chose cab (along with four other people, believe it or not). Along the way we saw the long, long lines of people hoping to buy tickets. Some had been waiting all night.
We found Court 1. Our seats were right at the net, on the side about 15 rows up. The seats were nice and wide and it was easy to see over the rows in front of us. However, the sun never let up so I was very happy I had my wide-brimmed hat.
The grass court was a surprise for several reasons. First, it looked as flat as cement, and it was very green. Second, as the play continued, balls bounced up like a hard court. Because of one experience on grass in Palm Springs, CA, I thought balls didn’t come up at all. I learned that it has to do with how well the courts are maintained. If they are good courts and solidly pressed, the balls bounce. However, they are considered “greasy” when they get at all damp, and cause lots of spills.
My second eye-opening discovery was how hard and fast the men played. When you see tennis from the ends of the court (as on TV), the speed of the ball through the air is not as apparent as it is live, from the sidelines. It moved so fast that when I downloaded the movies, a still picture of a serve (1/30th of a second), presented a blurry racquet. (I worked out the math. A 125 mph serve travels 183 ft/second, which means that it moves 6 feet every 1/30th of a second, the time for one video frame). If the ball moves 6 feet during one frame , it might explain the blur of the racquet.
The referee asked people frequently to please turn off their cells phones and not to use flash cameras. Cell phones continued to ring, and because of the circular nature of the seats, the sound reverberated throughout. So I’m sure they could be heard on the courts. And of course, one could see flashes going off during points along the way.
At the end of tone match I went out to look at one of the shops to see about buying the shirts I wanted to get. Again, the layout of goods was so different from the US. Everything was simply pinned up to a wall, and you had to look at some distance for what you wanted, give your order to a clerk, and pay. I got frustrated and decided to wait until Thursday, trying a different shop. When I did that, the second shop was very large. It had a sales clerk who walked all around with me, so I finally was able to purchase what I wanted.
During my wanderings I headed up a long stair case that leads to a top of a hill that overlooks many of the courts. If you’ve watched Wimbledon you’ve seen all the people sitting on the side of the hill, picknicking and watching a huge TV. If they can’t get in to the courts, this is the next best thing.
It was fun to notice some of the signs. For example “Way Out” is our “Exit,” and “Left Bags” means “Checked Bags“.
By late afternoon we were ready to go, leaving Lindsay Davenport easily beating Sucha. If you leave before the match is over, you turn in your tickets and someone scans the bar codes. The codes are automatically sent to the ticket box where people are waiting to get in. They pay 5£s per ticket, and the proceeds go to charity. A nice touch, I think.
At night we ate in our room, then of all things watched the British show “Survivor.” It was so much like the first one here, except for the host and the accents, that it was as if we’d seen it before.
The first portion of our tour group met in the lobby at 10 a.m. I met Stan Smith and felt I had known him a lifetime. He was so easy to talk to and so nice. Some of our group would be going on a London tour, and as it turned out, only one of us wanted a museum (me). So I took off on my own to the Victoria and Albert museum, seeing two exhibits. One was called the “Victorian Age,” and covered the 65-year reign of queen Victoria and her consort. This time was considered the age of enlightenment, and so many new inventions and new mores and cultures developed. Many of the inventions I assumed were US, were developed in Great Britain. Dogs were considered great pets, however cats were not popular. One painting was of a cat, so of course I had to buy a print of that painting in the ever-present gift shop. The second exhibit was of an American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, from Seattle. The most exciting displays were in a space outside in the center of the museum. Huge, colorful pieces were spread everywhere over the grounds.
There was an early buffet dinner at the hotel for the 30 folks in our tour, so people could get acquainted. Stan spoke about Wimbledon, telling some of the history and how it works. He and Bobby Lutz are to play in the second week with the 45’s and over (just read that they lost in the second round).
After dinner the group was taken by bus to see the Lion King. I had seen it in New York, but was still thrilled with the costumes and music. To get to the theater district required traveling on many narrow streets. It’s amazing that these busses can get by each other, but some of the scrapes on the sides demonstrated a few close calls. It felt like New York the traffic, the sounds, many shops lined up on the streets, however the top part of the buildings definitely had the London look, and one is constantly reminded with driving on the opposite side.
We saw: Lleyon Hewett and Taylor Dent, Andre Agassi and Delgado, Linsey Davenport and Molek.
We were herded on to a bus for our trip to Wimbledon, which took almost an hour. We were dropped at a private home that was immediately across the street from some of the outer courts, and a short two-minute walk to the gate. The idea would be to have some place for people to come for tea, to gather for the bus back home, and a respite for anyone who wanted to get away from tennis. We were served a lovely lunch, after being offered champagne in the back yard garden. Evidently, many people who live in Southfield are happy to get away from it all for the two weeks, renting their homes to visitors, tennis players, and groups like us.
We walked from the home to the gates, arriving on Centre Court at 1:30. The seats this time were under the overhang, so we didn’t need sun glasses, hats, or even umbrellas if it rained. The sounds are deafening in Centre Court, especially crowd noises when someone like Tim Henman won an exciting point. Actually, I liked court 1 better in some ways, particularly the size of the seats. Centre Court seats are made for little people, and rows are jammed together. We read an interesting story about the pigeons at Centre Court. They used to be a serious problem for the players, since so many had made their homes in the undersides of the roof. A hawk named Hamish is used each morning to chase them away. The hawk is removed when patrons are there, because the powers that be reason that people would not like to see a hawk hurt a pigeon.
We went back to the private house for tea about 4:30, having small sandwiches, tarts, scones, teas, etc. Good thing, because dinner wouldn’t be until 9 p.m. Back to the courts for more tennis, then on the bus at 7 p.m. to return to the hotel. When we got back there was only 30 minutes to shower and dress and be back in the lobby for bus pickup to our dinner destination, the “Cellars” in the Stratford Hotel. We walked down several flights of steps into a sub-basement, to eat in a room with curved ceilings and feeling very much like a wine cellar. I followed Stan down the hallways and when we came to doorways he would say “Watch your head,” and my reply was that “I’ve never had to duck through a short doorway in all my life. “ I understand at his height why he has to be careful. At dinner I sat next to Don Baer, who works for “Stan Smith Events.” He used to be a TV sports announcer as well as worked at Olympics announcing. His son Matt is an animator for Dreamworks and worked on Shrek, so we both shared some Hollywood interests.
The bus driver that took us to dinner was a young man named Paul, who works two jobs to support a wife and two children. He is a prison guard in the daytime and drives buses until 2 .a.m. most days. Housing is so expensive that just one jobwon’t do it. I asked him why he didn’t move to Florida, and he said the person from whom he is buying his house actually did that.
After a late night I was up early to meet six other folks at 8 a.m. who would be going to the Queen’s Club with Stan and two other pros for a clinic and some round robin tennis. Two of us were ladies, five were men. The Queen’s Club hosts a tournament the week before Wimbledon and we could see the stands being dismantled from that event. The big hope was that we would get to play on grass, however that was not to be. The grass courts were reserved for their members. We played on a court made of really short astro turf, with an orangish sand spread all over it. It actually played much like the clay we have at the Laurel Oak courts. They are serious about dress codes and one of our players had to change from his navy shorts into a pair of white, used shorts that were in the men’s locker room. They were a bit small, so he got a lot of kidding.
After a short clinic about how to warm up, and to serve, we were divided into two courts. Stan was on our court, so I actually got to play as his partner for one round, and opposite him for two more. What a kick! I thought I would be nervous, but I wasn’t. We all had lots of laughs and at least I didn’t make a fool of myself. We just had time to shower and change before lunch.
The rest of the group came by bus to meet us for an early lunch at the Queen’s Club. On the subsequent tour of the club we were shown an indoor court where people were playing something called “Real Tennis.” There is a slanted roof on one side, and all walls may be used for shots. Typically someone serves a ball to the top of the slanted roof, and as it comes off the roof the other person hits it across the net, maybe to the side wall. The balls were smaller than tennis balls, and hard like baseballs.
We saw: Henman /Scholken, Rudzeski/Ferrero, Capriati/Panova.
We took our bus back to Wimbledon and Centre Court, and were dropped off at our private home. At one point I decided to go out for strawberries and cream, a Wimbledon tradition (by the way, the answer to almost any “why is....” question, is “tradition.” I finished my shopping, dropped the stuff off at the house, had some “tea” and returned until 6:30 for tennis. This time we had an hour to prepare to a dinner at Mirabelle’s, our final event. I sat next to a fellow who knew of Kaset (Achieve Global) and Deltak, Ken’s first company in Chicago. His company had competed for some of the same accounts as had Kaset.
Saturday, June 30
We packed, leaving the hotel at 11:15, arriving Gatwick at 12:30. I shopped a bit, but gave up on getting our VAT taxes back (I think they hide the booth). Gatwick is an immense multi-level airport with mobs of people. However, getting through customs wasn’t difficult. Our plane left 30 minutes late, but it was the same kind of plane we arrived on, which made the ride to Newark very easy. We barely made the transfer to the Tampa flight, but arrived safely and tired about 10 p.m. Jeanne and Missy picked us up and it was great to be home.
We’ve talked about the trip and decided if we ever went back to Wimbledon that we would take a hotel and watch it on TV. They show live tennis from the time it starts to the last match, on two separate channels, so there are lots of matches to watch. It was great seeing the real thing, but it’s a lot of work getting there and back. As we get older, the creature comforts we have at home look more and more appealing.