What I Talk About When I Wander in London

What I Talk About When I Wander in London

Two big sporting events in London brought back fond memories. Ashes 2023 and Wimbledon too. Two great events. The second cricket test between Australia and England was played at Lord’s and it was the final day today. Wimbledon would begin from tomorrow, that is, on July 3rd.

I got down at St John’s Wood station. At Waterloo I could not board the first train, such was the crowd. I managed to get in the second train. Almost everyone got down at St. John’s Wood. The station authorities ensured that both the escalators were moving up. There was no one coming down anyway!

I came near the exit as I noticed a clear sign. ‘Lord’s Cricket Ground. 400 Yards. Walk down Wellington Road’.

I joined the crowd going to Lord’s. You do not have to ask address to anyone. Mumbaikars have that experience while going to Wankhede Stadium. Two Aussies were walking ahead, wearing their team T shirts. I thought there was a spring in their steps. Aussies were in a strong position to win the second test.

A young man was selling hats. But paying 20 pounds for a hat? That’s more than Rs 2000, I calculated.

There is a Wellington Road entrance to the Lord’s. And there are a few more. As you turn towards them, a wall with murals where you can take photographs, or selfies. This wall was wider earlier, obviously they have chipped it off at the sides. Be that as it may, I did not waste this opportunity. A volunteer obliged and clicked my photograph.

The main entrance displays the records clearly. Graham Gooch scored 333 at Lord’s in the first innings and 123 in the second innings (1990). Against which team? India!! (To give the complete the story, Ravi Shastri and Mohd Azharuddin also hit centuries in that match). Inside, there is a museum. And in the players’ room a board tells you centurions of various countries. Rahul Dravid’s name figures there, Sachin’s name is missing, he never scored a century at the Lord’s.

There was no way I could get in to the stadium. Today, the fifth day was crucial, England was on the verge of defeat. I proceeded to Abbey Road Studios, the Beatles studio. It is about 10 min walk from Lord’s. I walked back from there when I heard a big uproar from the crowd. Audible almost 200 meters away from Lord’s! Presumably, Bairstow was stumped, a decision which did not go well with the crowd. Let me come back to Abbey Road Studios.

‘Abbey Road is the oldest, purpose-built recording studio in the world, but is best known to most people for being the creative base for The Beatles.’ (  https://www.beatlesstory.com/blog/2019/01/11/abbey-road-the-studios-that-became-a-legend/  ). They did not allow visitors. Perhaps it was because today was Sunday. Or perhaps they do not allow entry at all. I guess the latter. But the store was open. I went there and clicked some photographs.

The entrance to the store is done imaginatively. But the memorabilia is predictable – T Shirts, books, mugs, photos. Maybe my children will buy. My generation is still stuck to Hindustani Classical music. Beatles we enjoy, but memorabilia? No Sir.

The walls of the entrance and stairs are white. Music aficionados have scribbled their names. A familiar sight in India.

I wanted to go to Baker Street. I had stayed at the Baker Street in 2006 when I attended training at London Business School. A two-mile walk from Abbey Road Studio took me to a building which looked familiar; it was the rear side of London Business School! Nostalgia!! And I saw this door to Behavioural Lab. A true HR guy will always land up in such places. The Marathi proverb explains it well – ‘Chukala Fakir Mashidit’ meaning if a Fakir loses his way you will find him in a mosque. No wonder this HR professional landed before the behavioural lab!

From there, Baker Street is about 100 meters away, and it is a familiar area for me. You spot the ‘The Sherlock Homes Museum’ where the queue at the entrance never ends. British people have a passion for history and monuments of historical figures are all over London. But to make a monument of a fictional character takes it a bit too far; but no complaints. Note the blue plaque on the building. It announces ‘221b Sherlock Homes’ which was the residence of the detective.

By the way, there are more than 900 blue plaques all over London. They tell us where authors, political leaders and generally speaking people of eminence, stayed in London. On Wimbledon High Street stayed Sister Nivedita who met Swami Vivekananda, and devoted her life to work in India. Watch this one-minute video about her residence. 

Back to Baker Street! A few meters ahead of the Museum, you turn left and see the Sherlock Homes Statue. Right opposite the Baker Street Station. It is made by sculptor John Doubleday. ‘Since 2014, Doubleday’s sculpture has been one of a series of “Talking Statues” across London where passers-by can receive a simulated telephone call from the statue’s subject by scanning a QR code or visiting a link.

From there I went to Wimbledon. The Mecca of tennis. I clicked some photographs for others and also asked someone to click mine. Wimbledon station was bombed during the second world war and they have displayed a photograph of the devastated station.

Wimbledon has one interesting building. “Eagle House’. It was built by Robert Bell, one of the founders of The East India Company.

‘Wimbledon means Wynnman’s Hill. Wynnman is a middle England family name and ‘don’ is from the Gaelic ‘dun’ meaning a hillfort. Legend has it that Julius Caesar camped out on Wimbledon Common after a battle there, but this is just a local legend as are the Wombles, and there are no facts to support it, or them. There is a place on the common called Caesar’s Camp.’

From there one can hop, skip and jump to the Centre Court, a shopping centre. The decoration announced the oncoming tournament. I settled for a cup of tea and muffin to give some rest to my tired feet and regain energy.

Wimbledon comes to life when the Grand Slam is running. Shop keepers display the official Wimbledon Club Colours – White, Green and Violet, and also use the tennis balls to raise the Grand Slam fever.

The Wimbledon Club is ready. It is painted and all set to host the tournament. There is usually a long queue on the previous day. Some pitch tents and stay overnight to get tickets.

The Centre Court tickets are unaffordable. But they do resale when people return tickets. If you are lucky, you get Centre Court ticket for 10 pounds! I got Court No. 1 ticket in resale, and watched doubles game in which Leander Paes had teamed up with Martina Hingis. The rule at the courts is clear – you cannot move when the ball is in play. You can move only when the players take short break after two games. And people follow the rule!

And Finally …..

In a tennis tournament devised by a trainer, a strange rule was imposed. The loser of a match moved to the next round. Players wondered why they were playing the game at all! The message was that you must play the game to give your best. That is why 128 players enter Wimbledon Grand Slam, knowing fully well that only one of them is going to win. Yet they play to give their best. Ben Stokes hit 9 sixers and 9 boundaries and took the battle to the Aussies side for a while, from what seemed to be a certain defeat for his side. The game of life, like cricket and tennis, must be played to give one’s best. ‘Elementary, my dear Watson!’

Vivek S Patwardhan

Photos: All my work, copyrighted

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”