On Court: A Wimbledon queue

The 2015 Wimbledon Tennis championships is starting next week. Here’s a column I wrote in 2013 about the tradition of queueing up to watch a match

(Article published in Hindustan Times Next)

I don’t religiously follow sporting events but it is difficult to remain indifferent when the world’s oldest and most popular tennis tournament is taking place very near to your home. Yes, I live in Wimbledon in London, just a short walking distance away from the All England Lawn Tennis Club that hosts the annual grand slam in England. I did not have the tickets for this year’s tennis matches as these are allocated via a ballot process that starts a year in advance. The only other way to get tickets for the day’s match is to queue up in the park across the Tennis club. In fact, Wimbledon apparently is one of the few global sporting events where one can buy tickets for the day’s game on the same day. A quick online search about ‘the queue’ threw up many links such as official pages and tips. Clearly, queuing which is very much a part of the British culture represents a tradition when it refers to standing in line for the Wimbledon.

Not wanting to miss the excitement, I decided to queue up as well. The steward at the entry point enquired if I was getting in the line for that day or the next. I was initially amused thinking he was being humorous but learnt that people actually stand there days before just to ensure a spot to watch the game live.

Tennis lovers come from different parts of England and other places in the world and camp overnight in the park across the tennis club, hoping to get in. Extreme weather conditions do not deter the fans and followers of the game who camp overnight in the grounds. Although the event takes place at the end of June, which is the time of British summer, days can be rainy and cold. Given the scale of visitors, queues are managed in a well established process every year. For instance, the steward wakes up the people who camp overnight at 6 am. There are also iPhone apps to tell you how far you are in ‘the queue’. Everyone who lines up is given a queue number and you cannot reserve a place for others.

When I got into the queue there were already a few hundred people ahead of me packed in a distance of about half a kilometre. Five minutes later, the steward informed me that over hundred people had joined the queue after me. Such is the popularity of the game and of the ‘queue’.

Surprisingly, the crowd in line was rather well behaved and there weren’t frantic cheerers or queue jumpers. People waited patiently for their turn. The wait was also made interesting by corporate sponsors offering free coffee and organising games. People seemed to be enjoying themselves in the queue. I finally made my way into the grounds about three hours later but the ambience inside more than made up for the wait.

I can easily say that I have ticked off one the best experiences of living in London, made a bit more special with the Wimbledon queue.

Breastfeeding blues

When I was expecting my daughter people had warned me about sleepless nights and constant fatigue that is a part of every new parent’s life. Personally for me, being able to breastfeed my newborn properly was the most difficult issue to handle as a new parent. My daughter was unable to latch properly and for the first few weeks after her birth she was largely formula fed. I felt inadequate.

It really upset me as I had never heard anyone talk about challenges with breastfeeding before and thus assumed it was something that was just naturally going to happen on its own. I had faint memories of my aunts and elder cousins feeding their babies in rooms full of many other women but do not remember any discussions about the lack of supply or correct positioning and latching. We were young to know and I guess such matters would have been quietly fixed with a ‘jugaad’ (a simple workaround) such as giving top-up milk.

My midwife said that getting the baby to suck on your breast frequently was important to build up the milk supply. So I ended up having my daughter sucking on my breast for hours and still ending up hungry at the end. There was help available from lactation consultants and midwives but I was already quite disgusted with being taught to breastfeed by a variety of people every couple of days. At that time I felt that something was either wrong with me or I was simply not trying enough.

I read online that a few mothers had tried breast pumps and were able to extract and store milk sufficient for weeks. My husband brought me an electric pump as well but it was not worth the effort. In fact, I felt worse as I was able to pump very little quantity that was not sufficient for one feed, forget weeks.

My body was tired after a long labour, my brain half-dead with sleeplessness and the added self-imposed stress of ‘cracking’ BFing . But I was adamant and after some very painful and teary weeks, my daughter and I got on with breastfeeding.

Later on, I learnt from friends that they had similar issues as well, as if it were a unique problem of our generation. A close relative who happens to be a neonatologist (a doctor who cares for newborn babies) joked that while her own research and dissertation was on the benefits of BFing her own experience with her daughter was a failure. Another elderly one confided how her milk supply did not build up (in those days almost 30 years ago) because of not being fed complete meals until a week after delivery due to cultural reasons.

Clearly, breastfeeding might happen naturally for a lot of mothers but others may take time getting used to it. Simply knowing this can take off unwanted stress that new parents go through as they grapple with a newborn in their new lives.