Why everyone should enter the ballot for Wimbledon

Wimbledon is everything England should be when it’s at its absolute best.  It’s about summer and sport; champagne and strawberries; the green of carefully manicured lawns and the white of tennis players dressed for glory.  Even the line-judges look as if they are about to stroll off court to join a garden party.

This year my lovely friend Sonia and I were lucky enough to have tickets for centre court in the second week.  And my level of happiness was set to ‘historic’.

IMG_0119As soon as I stepped out of my front door, I was enveloped in a cloud of contentment.  By the time my train had reached its first stop I was already texting friends and posting photos of my journey on Twitter.  There was a point where I worried I may not actually make it to Wimbledon, but would burst with joy somewhere on the Southwestern Rail trainline.

I arrived about 4 minutes after the gates opened and the entire place was already thronging with people just as excited as I was.  Everyone was chatting , taking selfies, and drinking it all in.  In fact, the incredible friendliness of everyone, from the spectators to every single member of staff, suffused the entire event with good cheer.

Just to be able to sit on Centre Court was amazing (cue posing for multiple selfies, all of which I look terrible in), but to watch Serena Williams play, for me, that is a once in a lifetime experience.  She’s so powerful that it’s easy to overlook how nimble she is around the court and how diverse her game is.  She may not have won the tournament this year, but she won the match we saw, and she was awesome.

 

 

And it wasn’t just the tennis.  We max’d out on the whole Wimbledon experience.  We ate cucumber sandwiches and strawberries and cream, we drank champagne, and we had a cream tea.  And then, when it seemed like the day might be almost over, we blew the doors off it in the Wimbledon shop.  Everyone I know now has Wimbledon sweatbands, Wimbledon socks, a Wimbledon water bottle, a Wimbledon t-shirt, a Wimbledon pin-badge, a Wimbledon pencil-sharpener or some combination of all of the above.

 

Then we walked back to the train station in the warm evening air, chatting to a young woman who was working as a player escort (getting players to and from their matches).  True to every other member of staff we met, she was an absolute delight.  Not only did she tell us all the ins and outs behind the scenes and blow our minds with the sheer logistics of it, but she waited patiently as I stopped after every third step to take a photo.

Maybe some people who live in Wimbeldon are sick of it, but not the home-owner below, or shoe shop, or bar, or Farrow & Ball…

 

It was the Best. Day. Ever.

So thank you Sonia.  Thank you for organising the tickets and thank you for being there.  I am so lucky to have spent a day I will remember for the rest of my life with one of my best friends.  Big hugs to you.

PS  Writing this blog has reminded me of the brilliant joyful poem about tennis, love and Miss Joan Hunter Dunn by John Betjeman – if you’ve never read it, I recommend it!

 

Colour and joy in south east London

What better to do on a warm summer’s evening than roam around a Colour Palace?  Or The Colour Palace at Dulwich Picture Gallery in south east London, to be more precise.  Last week I was at the official opening of the new summer pavilion designed by Peckham-based architects Pricegore and artist Yinka Ilori, whose vibrant design fusing European and African influences won an open competition.

Bright and welcoming, the pavilion is a ten metre tall cube made of hand-painted lengths of wood.  Built on four huge red cylinders it seems to float above the ground, and its layers of colourful timber shimmer in the sun, perfectly complementing the more traditional architecture of this lovely gallery designed by Sir John Soane.

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The Colour Palace by architects Pricegore and artist Yinka Ilori

The gallery itself is small enough to feel intimate, big enough to host some really interesting exhibitions.  I was not expecting to enjoy Cutting Edge, the Gallery’s exhibition of linocut art, even though in her speech the Director, Jennifer Scott, had bigged it up as a movement to make the artistic process accessible to all, not just those who’d been to art school.  As it turned out, I loved it so much that by the end was wondering if any of the pieces might be small enough to slip under my jumper and sneak home with me.  (Just to note: obviously I would NEVER do this and nor should you!)

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The Cricket Match by Edith Lawrence c.1929

The exhibition is divided into themes, which include transport, speed and movement, industry, labour and sport and leisure.  Simple and beautiful, and each using only a limited colour-palette the prints seem to be able to capture both movement and stillness equally perfectly.  Like a slow game of cricket on a hot summer’s day, each piece sings with the spirit of the 1930s, and the exhibition reminds me of the optimism and exuberance of the old London Transport posters exhorting passengers to visit Kew Gardens by tram or take the tube to London Zoo.

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Sumi the crocodile, by Nahoko Kojima

The entrance to the gallery is dominated by a giant paper-cut crocodile, created specially for the exhibition by Japanese artist Nahoko Kojima.  This is not, as I imagined, some limp white thing sitting on a plinth, but a black and gold beast suspended from the ceiling that demands attention and was drawing quite a crowd when I was there.

If you have time after your visit, there’s a lovely café at the Gallery, or it is right in the middle of Dulwich village which is awash with good eateries.

This gallery is good to visit all year round, but the pavilion and printmaking exhibition are really worth a trip.  Also, the Gallery is running Pavilion Lates – totally free music, talks and more after hours.  Catch the pavilion and exhibition while you can – Cutting Edge: Modernist British Printmaking is on until 8th September and the pavilion is open until 22nd September.

If you are the least bit persuaded, this is a helpful link to get there by public transport.

Treasure Trails: how I spent an afternoon outdoors with my husband and children and nobody cried

I have found the holy grail of the school holidays: how to entertain a family of four for the afternoon for under £10.  And I am claiming bonus points for it being outdoors and involving some mild exercise. Please pass my crown, because I am now the queen of parenting!

I am talking about Treasure Trails – hours of family fun solving clues as you tour local points of interest and discover hidden gems – and all for the bargain price of £6.99.  You just pick your trail, download and print the PDF, and you’re off.  We chose the London South Bank trail, starting and ending at Waterloo Station.

We started by reading our mission – we were in the Secret Service trying to stop the nefarious President of Vulgaria activating an encrypted file.  The children read out each clue and led the hunt to find and solve it, whilst Mr B and I strolled behind them enjoying the scenery.

One of the joys of the trail, is that it guides you past all the iconic buildings and sights of the South Bank, as well as highlighting interesting vistas and lesser known points of interest – like the graffiti tunnel (worth a visit in its own right) and the Royal Waterloo Hospital for Children and Women (no longer a hospital, but still an amazing building). And because you’re following a trail of clues, you notice things that normally you might walk past.  Even though I’ve been to the South Bank a few times, I felt like I must have spent the whole time walking round with my eyes shut.

 

Just as we were flagging, we arrived at the South Bank Centre and took a two minute detour from the river bank to the Food Market on the other side of the building for lunch (open Fridays to Mondays in the summer – check for other times of year).  Predictably, our children chose burgers, but Mr B and I had a thorough browse before picking more exotic choices.  If you have the time, this is a great place to explore interesting and delicious street food from around the world, but sadly this is not a pastime our children enjoy. *rolls eyes*

 

Although the trail is just under 2 miles of easy walking, we spent the best part of four hours on it, taking into account stopping for lunch and a reviving cup of tea en route. This particular part of London is tourist heaven, with landmark buildings and amazing views at every point, not to mention street artists – we saw an acrobatic act, live music, people pretending to be statues, and everything in between.

And as a small bonus, once you have solved every clue, you have the de-activation code, which you can submit to Treasure Trails to be entered in a monthly prize draw to win £100.  I’m not holding my breath, but it’s nice to be in with a chance!  In the meantime, we all enjoyed it so much that we are already planning to do the Temple and Fleet Street trail.

 

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PS Due to building works, clue 14 on this trail is behind some hoardings.  Luckily a security guard saw us and helped us out.  I’m not giving anything away, but this is what you’re looking for if it’s still covered up when you do the trail…

 

 

Top tips

My daughters are 9 and 11, which is a great age to enjoy hunting for and solving the clues.  But we were all getting a bit tired towards the end, so I would say you probably wouldn’t want to do it with any children much younger.

If you fancy the South Bank trail (and I highly recommend it), then you need to plan the best time for you.  If you love pushing through crowds, clutching your child’s hand so they don’t get swept into a sea of tourists, then a Saturday afternoon in August is the perfect time.  But if, like me, you prefer something a little more relaxed, maybe plan to do this trail at a quieter time!

If anyone needs the loo en route, you can always nip into the South Bank Centre, where the facilities are lovely and clean.  They also have a pleasant cafe on site, and if the weather is warm enough, you can sit outside.

If the South Bank is not for you, there are over 1,200 trails across the country, so it should be easy to pick a trail reasonably close to you.  Each trail is about 2 miles of easy walking taking you on a circular route.

Once on any of the trails, it’s difficult to plan when and where to eat, as you never know where you’re going.  If you know you need to eat whilst you’re out, I would recommend taking the opportunity when you get it. It also doesn’t hurt to pack a couple of snacks and a bottle of water to keep you going.

 

7 top tips for running the London Marathon from a lady who knows

Julie Creffield, author of The Fat Girls’ Guide To Marathon Running, shares her top tips with runners for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust

Taking on a marathon is a daunting task, particularly if – like most of those running for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust – it’s your first.  This year the marathon falls on the 25th anniversary of Stephen’s death, making it particularly poignant for all those running.  The Trust decided to add inspiration to all the perspiration by organising an evening with Julie Creffield, who writes popular blog toofattorun, recently published The Fat Girls’ Guide To Marathon Running, and is an all round good egg.   I was really chuffed to sneak a place at the evening, even though the furthest I normally run is to catch the train…

All the Trust’s marathoners said that running for a cause they really care about keeps them motivated whilst training, but Julie had some other practical advice to get them to the finish line.  I’m sharing some of her wisdom to help others, and if you get something out of it, please make a donation to the Trust or sponsor one of their runners.

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#Stephens Team meeting Julie Creffield (3rd from the right)

 

Julie’s top tips

  • Have a plan. Work out which will be your fast miles and where you expect to go more slowly; if people are coming to cheer for you, tell them in advance where to be; think about the sights and sounds that will motivate you, so you can count down to them as you run.
  • Let loved ones know that in the six weeks run up to the marathon, you are the Mo Farrah in your family. That means you need looking after – you don’t want to be humping shopping and get an injury at the last minute that means you have to pull out.
  • Don’t change anything on the day. Wear the kit you have practised in.  Eat and drink as you have been during your training.  Marathon day is not the time to find out that your expensive new trainers give you blisters!
  • Vaseline is your friend. It’s not glamorous, but every runner gets chafing, and often in the most unpleasant of places.  Avoid the worst of it by lubricating liberally!  You can also avoid it by re-dressing carefully after a toilet stop – lots of chafing happens because people rush to get dressed and don’t put their clothes back on properly.
  • Have an emergency plan. Statistically more people die playing monopoly than running a marathon, but its still worth planning for the unexpected.  Know what point you are happy to walk from and how you will get in touch with your loved ones if they, or you, are not in the place you expect at the end.
  • Make sure you have someone to travel home with. You’ve already been heroic and now your blood sugar will be low and you will be exhausted.  Now is the time to take it easy and let someone else take the strain of making sure you get home safely.
  • Remember the difference the money you raise will make. For Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust it means more support to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, helping them learn about different careers, and helping them get the qualifications, knowledge, skills and confidence they need to follow their dreams.

A massive thank you to Julie Creffield for giving up a precious evening to talk to #StephensTeam and for sharing her amazing expertise!  If you like what you’ve read, please show your appreciation by supporting the runners and donating to the Trust at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fund/25thanniversaryappeal or by texting the word SLCT25 to 70070 followed by either £50, £25, £10 or £5.

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