Bye Orkney! 18/06/12

I'm sitting on the ferry somewhere in the middle of the North Sea sandwiched between Scotland and Norway on a 7 hour trip to Aberdeen from Orkney. I have taken this trip dozens of times but this one is a little bit more exciting. I am heading off to London, firstly, to spend two weeks working at the All England Lawn Tennis Club for the infamous Wimbledon Championships and then a week after that finishes I am bound for Africa to tackle it's highest mountain.

Usually I am more than excited to leave home for a while but this time felt weird which was strange since I was going away for less time than normal, but I suppose since I was going somewhere further and more exciting than Dundee with a lot more thrills and miles out of my comfort zone.

The ferry sailed on out away from the sun and into the darkenss, something there isn't much of in Orkney at this time of year amd I attempted to get some sleep on the boat but that is impossible at the best of times and this time I had managed to set up camp next to Northlink's resident wild boar. A nights sleep on the boat (without a cabin) is never much more than just having your eyes closed for several hours.

The Longest Day (Not just talking about the Solstice!)... 20/06/12

I never like to open with a cliche but this really was the day I had been waiting for for far too long now. I had arrived in Dundee the day before and spent a good 6 hours packing for all possible occasions: working at one of the poshest events in London this summer after the jubilee, climbing up a mountain that goes from +30°C to -20°C, for a safari and for a beach resort. Somehow I managed to fit all of this into a rucksack and small suitcase, still the thought of navigating London on the tube means every bag is a step closer to getting lost in a strangers armpit.

How often does this happen?

At 9 o'clock my taxi came to whisk me away after my fleeting visit to Dundee and after a quick train to Edinburgh, caught with minutes to spare, I was off to London. I have fond memories of East Coast trains as there is usually something good at the end of them.  I got a taste of what London might be like when I was trying to find somewhere to put my bags in the horrendously packed luggage racks. I wish people would realise that they can fit their tiny handbags in the overhead storage rather than clogging up the main racks. One of my travel pet-peeves! However after some pushing, shoving and impatient people I got everything in, alas at opposite ends of the carriage to the other. Opposite me there was an old woman who had been on since Perth and she barely said a word for the whole trip, but I constantly saw her peek over to nose at what everyone else was reading or doing. Next to her was your standard business man who had probably just rolled out of a meeting to head back home, both of them had excellent faces for a caricature and when I find the time to recreate them I will! As much as I was attempting to read what my fellow passengers were like, I am sure they were judging me as being a waste-of-space-gap-yah-kid too.

After York the train was non-stop until Kings Cross which meant we arrived a mere 4 hours after leaving Edinburgh.I like to think I have got to know this piece of track quite well and I look out for my favourite sights but there are the occasional new ones I have just missed completely like a huge stretch of forest after Dunbar that made me think I was back in Austria and the massive ferris wheel in York I have somehow missed over the years. I also like to look out for rail side artwork, for example the mileage signs on either side if the track pointing to London and Edinburgh but they are very blink and you'll miss it though making them all the more special when you catch them. As soon as I stepped off the train in London I knew that trackies and a hoody were a bad call as the temperature had increased, however Kings Cross was surprisingly empty as I had arrived before rush hour so my luggage wasn't going to be too much of a problem, as was my pertistant perspiration. For my time in London I was staying at my friend Heather's flat, she used to be my babysitter many moons ago so this is just going to be advanced babysitting for her!

Her flat is out in Lewisham found in South East London in a nice typically London-y area, then again there isn't really a "typical London" it is all so pick and mix architecturally speaking. I spent the evening getting to know the area by walking between the two Overground stations we were slap bang in the middle of. Having lived in Scotland all my life I never thought there would be that big of a difference between us and those across the border but I had only been  in England for a few hours and there was a quite a different look and feel to the place. I don't mean just in that "london smell" and the hustle and bustle, there were little things like the way people went about themselves, the fact there are off licences and there are flags everywhere. In Scotland, other than the Royal Mile on Edinburgh, we aren't really a flag waving bunch (contrary to popular belief) but in England, my god are they proud of old Jack. Maybe it's just because it's the Jubilee/Olympics, but still; I doubt I'll be forgetting what country I am in anytime soon.

As I was out on my walk it was getting rapidly darker and darker, something I was not used to at all. By 10pm the sun had already set on the longest day of the year and as my body clock forced me to head to bed I thought of my friends back home sitting on a beach watching the sun flirt with the horizon. Nevertheless, there was no time to be jealous as I have one impressive itinerary for the next 5 weeks and I will need my sleep.

21/06/12 - Two Pilgrimages in a Day

After a wonderfully relaxing morning I was going to attempt what could be my daily commute to Wimbledon, though mainly I just wanted to sneak a peak at the site. The journey took a surprisingly long time, by the time I looked at the timer I had set when I left the flat it had been 2hours 42 minutes... However, this may be partly due to the fact a group of Americans thought I was their guide to take them to The Wimbledon Museum and continued to accompany me and ask questions that I had no idea  how to answer. Luckily though my gut instinct did me well and I managed to get them there without losing one, and I left them at the museum so I could escape and wander about inconspicuouly without the baggage of loud american tourists.

I went a walk around the whole complex, around the outside of the gate and I was already an excited little puppy. Who knows what I'll be like on Sunday when I actually start work. From the wall you could see Court One and Centre Court and when I coninued round I got to the compeitiors complex, alas I didn't see any of them. However you could hear them, the familiar pop of a tennis ball against a racket was some pleasant background noise. Around the site everything was being prepared, everything down to the smallest detail as a man was painting over tiny chips in the railings.

I wouldn't be heading back there for 2 days when I will be having my first day and induction working for the catering company behind the Championships. One of the other places I was dying to visit as soon as I got to London was a little café just off Oxford Street that specialise in Scandinavian Cusine. I found them after I got a huge craving for cloudberries (multe) which are native to Northern Scandinavia and wanted to know where to get my fix. Since then I have had them on facebook/Twitter and enjoyed their Nordic banter and being gagging to go visit them. Halfway up Great Titchfield Street it is quite difficult to miss their bright red front of shop but their punny blackboard outside will get you inside if not.

The cafe itself was a lot cosier and welcoming than I had even imagined with sofas at the front and tables at the back with the shop section. If you thought this was still pretty limited seating then not to worry as there was more downstairs. I arrived pretty late in the day so their full range of smørrebrød/smørbrød/smörgås was not there but what was there tickled my food presentation-fetish. I also couldn't resist some Kladdkaka which is a Swedish chocolate cake that has the consistency of brownie, if not a bit stickier, with a meringue crust. If that didn't sell it to you then maybe their nickname of "Crack Cake" will. 

The cafe has a ridiculously friendly atmosphere in everything that they do, so much so you could probably fall asleep there and wake up to breakfast in bed, or them all snuggled up next to you. It's not just a café though, it is also a shop selling anything any homesick Scandi would want (mainly cheez doodles) and a great place for a non-native (such as myself) to wander around and feel like I'm on holiday. 

Unfortunately I couldn't stay in Rose heaven all day and I headed out back home. My little adventures today showed me how multicultural London is, something somebody who has been bound by the rural ways of life often loves to experience. From going from hearing nothing but the sing-song of Danish, Swedish and Norwegian to trying to interpret some Spanish and German people on the tube. It's these little things that make me feel like I am on holiday somewhere (okay, so I kinda am) and help me enjoy even the mundane and simplest of places.

More Formaldehyde Anyone?

Today I was having a spontaneous meet up with my two closest friends from England who I only see when I happen to be across the border. Although I wanted to give myself a lie in I had already trained myself to get up at working hours, aka 7:30am. However my friend Gabby is a morning lark and this meant we could arrange a meeting point and time. She decided to head into London for around 12 and although tfl told me it would take almost an hour, I arrived with half an hour to spare.

After numerous timing issues we did eventually all meet up and followed our stomachs to Covent Garden. Alas, our stomachs didn't get us much further than that as we did several loops around the place waiting for someone to make a decision. This is why Tasha is an integral member of the trio, otherwise we would still be looping Neal's Yard now. She led us along to a Carluccios, which happened to be the one restaurant in London I can remember eating in. Even still, it was better than wandering around in the rain again.

I had fritto misto which is battered things from the sea with garlic mayonnaise followed by some chocolate profiteroles. After a long catch up, and an extravagant lunch for a group of three students we headed back out to London with our classic mindset of none what-so-ever. Following our feet, and to some degree our noses, and ended up in Covent Garden Market trawling through the numerous gift shops including The Moomin Shop where memories of 10 year old me appeared out of nowhere and I finally figured out where my love of all things Scandinavian comes from. The many, many gift shops also unleashed Tasha's tea-set fetish and well Gabby just loved all of it. Using our feet again we decided to just wander off but for some reason we all decided we should go into the British Transport Museum after spying a pillow made to look like a train ticket, that's the kind of tacky crap I love. The entry fee to the museum was not even on the map of acceptable, but the shop was free and lets be honest a museum is just a warm up act to it's gift shop, especially this one to me since I am a major map enthusiast and wannabe pilot.

This time we actually did wander but with the aid of flipping a coin. We were testing out the theory that you can't really get that lost in London because no matter where you are you will probably stumble across a tube station  and a tortoise can travel between bus stops in the city is less than an hour. The game took us through Theatreland and we ended up at the Hunterian Museum which I had read about the day before in a "I-should-really-go-there-for-uni-brownie-points" kind of way. The Hunterian Museum is part of the Royal College of Surgeons and is a collection by John Hunt who was re-known for his skills in dissection and preparing specimens as well as teaching using comparative anatomy of different animals rather than focusing on just human anatomy. The Museum itself is quite a bizarre place, it would take so much time to properly look at every single specimen in the building, my friend Gabby put it beautifully, "He must have liked Jam to get all these glass jars."

The museum was a classic example of something grotesquely fascinating, some things were just plain shocking. The human specimens were the most bizarre and particularly the foetal examples, it was something you just don't see in any other scenario. As a biology student I found everything pretty fascinating but after basking in a room of unthinkable amount of death things in formaldehyde and watching several videos of arterial bypass' and brain surgery, I couldn't help but feel a bit pale.

Womble Inductions

My first day didn't start off very well. I got up at 6:30am in an attempt to get in for 9am, a domino effect of missed connections meant my eta was an hour later. My best example of how I missed a bus however came from a case of classic British mentality; "Oh well nobody else is getting on so this can't be the right bus." Alas it was the right bus. The rest were classic, new-Londoner mistakes, e.g. falling for the fact the bus stop with a street name is not necessarily anywhere on that street.

The queue of workers to get in wasn't as long as I thought it was going to be, it was also a good place to get chatting to people, even though I'd probably see none of them again. This first stage was basically just being in one queue, then getting lost before joining another queue. Eventually we were shepherded to our respective areas, and walking around the site was very exciting.

I was to be working on the Roof Top Bar which is part of the debenture section of centre court found at the very top floor of centre court. When the sun was out there were fantastic views of the London skyline and out the backdoor of the kitchen was a great view of centre court. Could be worse!

The first day was merely and induction day where we got to meet the other workers and got to know our way around. There was only an hour long "training session" which involved a man telling us basic health and safety as well as how to correctly pour the perfect pimms (even though our pimms came premixed). My manager was a man called Kendal who was from Trinidad and Tobago, I can only assume from the bracelet, ring and necklace with their flag on it. He seemed pretty relaxed which was a good sign. The chef on the other hand is rarely a role for a relaxed person and I'll always be a bit wary of them. Our chef for the Championships was Stefano who was an Italian-Geordie who was "quite a character" according to Kendal, that'll be a normal chef then.

Although I am only doing basic catering jobs I am still terrified as Wimbledon has such a reputation to do everything to such a high standard, and at this point it looked like it was only me on front of house- which was even more terrifying (on Sunday I'd be relieved to see that a fellow, be it fake, ginger was accompanying me out-front). 

I finished my induction day earlier than I thought and the sun was shining so I thought it would be a great excuse to get my bearings and wander around. The complex was pretty empty but tomorrow it would be full of people, and it was kind of hard to imagine. It all looked like it does on TV, but there are tons of bits you don't see and some of those bits are stunning. Henman Hill for example (or to give it's real name Aorangi Terrace) has some lovely little water features and green-fingered handy work, but I suppose that is hard to see when it's full of Andy Murray fans.

I got home at about 8:30pm and I caught the end of England's quarterfinal game against Italy. From a young age my Dad brought me up to follow the Scottish "A.B.E" approach to international football, this was a much harder task to carry out across the border. Being in the room with a big England fan didn't help as it just riled me up more and when Ashley Cole's penalty was beautifully saved my emotions couldn't stay quiet much longer and I shrieked in joy, resulting in a look like daggers.

Ready, Play.

It's barely 9am and I have already passed someone with their head painted like a tennis ball. It must be my first real day at Wimbledon.

After my commuting fiasco yesterday I arrived with half-an-hour to spare but enough time to sort myself out and get a locker, padlock and try on my uniform properly. There were so many people on site even though the doors weren't even officially open for another half-hour, even though I think most of them were still in a queue to somewhere. On my route up the stairs to the rooftop I realised I had just walked right behind Sue Barker filming a link for the BBC of the opening day of Wimbledon 2012.

There were some new staff members to meet and some last minute new things to learn then we got the first customers in. Instantly I realised cliché rich people do exist and they have far, far too much money. After looking up the price tag of a centre court debenture membership I thought there would be only a handful of people with them, forgive my ignorance.

 I spent half the day in the debenture bar and half the time on the light refreshments section for the "normal" spectators. Both were quite different, the people in the debenture bar were less likely to talk to you whereas in the other section everyone was interested in what you were doing. The regular ticket holders weren't so impressed on the Wimbledon pricing though and I think they could see me squirm every time I charged £2.20 for a bottle of water, still it wasn't as bad as £12.50 for a sandwich in the Debenture bar. Oh did I forget to mention I spent my lunch break watching Novak Djokovic on his opening match? No biggie.

Week One as a Womble

On the morning of my third day I had my first "small world" moment of the week (there were more). I started speaking to a fellow Scot and it turned out they actually went to my old school and was second cousins to the couple who run my local swimming pool. Of all the bars in all of Wimbledon...

The actual work was becoming fairly monotonous and busy everyday but the long hours were made up for after the shifts when I got to see some tennis. On my fourth day at work when I managed to catch the whole of Novak Djokovic's second round match against Ryan Harrison, who at 20 years old (the same age as me, which both impressed and terrified me) gave the world No.1 quite a challenge. This was the first real moment when I realised the perks of the job, the fact I was getting to watch these matches free of charge was worth any blisters and snobby customers. 

By the Wednesday my feet were absolutely aching but getting to watch my dear, dear Federer should have been enough to cure that. His opponent, Julien Benneteau, was two sets up on the six time champion when I creeped in after my shift and so there was going to be no relaxation yet. I should probably mention the wonderful  guys at London Fire Brigade who let me into the court to watch these matches, not without a free bowl of left over strawberries here or there, but I must owe them at least £50,000 to the amount of games I was allowed to see. 

After Federer's heroic comeback from two sets down, the Thursday was absolutely scorching at around 28 degrees Celsius. After work I went around to enjoy the sunshine for a bit and went to the Wimbledon Shop to stock up on (very expensive) souvenirs, after all it was only Nadal playing in the second round, nothing exciting will happen surely? However after a hover over Henman Hill and seeing the game was making some interesting turns I headed back to Centre court, since I have the privileges to watch it I should use them. My favourite guards were on top form chatting away to me and even telling me stories of how they knew Roger Federer, as much as I wanted it to be true I wasn't going to believe anything until I saw it. It wasn't rare for me to ease-drop and join in on conversations next to me and luckily nobody seemed to take this as extreme nosiness and just friendliness. This time I ended up chatting to an ice cream seller called Mike who helped me sweet talk the guards by getting sandwiches, pizza and ice cream that Wimbledon were planning on throwing out. I saw a lot of food being wasted at the championships, we weren't allowed to take anything home that was going out of date and none could go to homeless shelters, all because we live in a suing nation and they are scared of food poisoning threats. The guards were happy to take anything we did salvage off our hands, in return we were more likely to be allowed to watch, and in this case; get moved forward to better seats. We all know the outcome of this game now, the 100th seed Lukas Rosol aced the No.2 seed out of the tournament giving the shock of the championship, deserving every minute of it. Wimbledon always loves an underdog and this was the kind of scenario that drove the crowd wild, the atmosphere was amazing and it was today where I realised how much I love my job. Also, even though my famous people tally is pretty low, I have met some pretty awesome "normal" people here, from Claire, Alice and the Kate's who I work with everyday, the adorable guards that let me in to get a glimpse of world class tennis to the random strangers like Mike who I shared a moment of history with but will probably never see again.

The Saturday marked the middle of the championships and thanks to the dry weather it meant that there will be a day off tomorrow. The end of the day was a little bit more hectic than normal as our manager suddenly disappeared, I mean he was normally very elusive anyway but this time he didn't come back. The big boss of the debenture section came in saying something about going home sick and then time sheets were flying everywhere. I even had to help out downstairs on the Terrace as they were exceptionally busy. After the pandemonium I was introduced to Tom who said he was expected to be here on Monday, but we still weren't really sure what had happened. Eventually 2 hours after I thought I was finishing I headed to catch the Andy Murray match, which luckily was barely under way, however being Andy Murray the crowd was packed and Claire and I had to stand, which my feet just didn't want to do. The match was a classic Murray match, aneurysm inducing stuff and the five setter broke the Wimbledon curfew finishing at 11:02pm which I don't think would have happened if it wasn't a local player. 

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