This afternoon I am delighted to introduce a new regular columnist to Florence Finds – Victoria. Already a guest poster here, (remember Victoria’s review of Heston’s restaurant ‘Dinner’, Istanbul destination guide and The Soho Hotel afternoon tea?) Victoria simply has the most jam packed schedule I’ve ever seen and seems to be in all the most exciting places. I think of her as the ultimate ‘girl about town’, less about turning up to the opening of an envelope, more seeking out the best recommendations for you in our fair capital and right on the money when it comes to the hottest, latest and most interesting places to see and be seen.
Victoria’s usual post will come at the end of every month, but we have a bonus post today as Victoria reports back from the Olympics! I know so many people have been and loved it so do give her a big welcome and share your stories in the comments box too.
Welcome to the Florence Finds team Victoria!
As a general rule, with Wimbledon and the odd ice dancing championships being the exception, I’m sport averse. I hate the way people who have known each other for years fight each other because of football scores. I hate the way in summer all TV channels assume I care so much about men with bats wearing white cable knit jumpers they cancel all other programmes. I hate the way sexism is seen as a bit of a joke to an entire industry and fan base. Most of all I hate the way, as teenager I was forced to stand in a line in a muddy field in the pouring rain in a pair of oversized pants (before they were fashionable), hockey socks and a polo shirt, whilst a woman walked along the line and threw a football at our faces (we were learning “headers” and I insisted that if it came within a foot of my face I was going to have her for assault. I wrote lines all evening, but at least I didn’t have to re-touch my coffee shimmer – several references there will be lost on you if you’re not a graduate of the 90s comp school system!). I’ll stop ranting before I make some sports fan enemies (and please note, this is all in jest… kind of) and also add a small caveat – I really know nothing about sport, so don’t judge me too harshly!
So, shall I tell you what I do like? I love camaraderie. I love fairness and sportsmanship and cheering for the underdog. I love patriotism (not to be confused with nationalism. NEVER nationalism) and seeing people have a sense pride in their talent and ability, without arrogance. I love a big fat feeling of togetherness, support and doing something solely for the love of doing it… oh, and a symbolic disc of metal to take home to your country, a personalised stamp and a gilded post box.And thus I am, have been since Freddie Mercury sang Barcelona and always will be, utterly OBSESSED with the Olympics! I remember watching the “yay! we got it” announcement from my boss’ office window, on the giant plasma screen in the office across the road and literally whooping for joy. I have stood on my train platform every evening and gazed in wonder at the Olympic park taking shape over the last few years and I have smiled like a crazy person and made over-excited fan-girl conversation at – not with, because they back away – all the Gamesmakers who took up residence in my building every time I saw them in the lift. I was not one of those Londoners/Commuters who whinged about the delays, influx of people, lack of suitable infrastructure to cope etc etc etc. I was one of those people who said “it’ll happen, it’ll be brilliant, we’ll pull it out of the bag and the world will wonder what on earth London commuters are moaning about when they complain about TFL!”.
So far I feel that I’ve been proved right. Considering where I work and the route my commute takes me on, getting to the office has been much simpler in the mornings and on the way home the commuting rules have changed. That old London rule about no talking on public transport, whether to your travel companions (drawing terse looks) or to strangers (drawing strange/scared/shocked “who is this person and why are they making small talk with me?” looks) has been abandoned. People are chatting on the tube too – shock horror, strangers! There’s Olympic banter with people swathed in flags, official uniforms and suits, the tube drivers are telling jokes over the intercom and people are, god forbid, smiling! The only thing I can liken it to is the feeling of Rio Carnival where the whole city just joins in and goes wild for four days.
So, a few days ago it all began. My wedding? Big birthdays? Amazing holidays? My best friends’ kids being born? The Royal Wedding? The Diamond Jubilee? Nah. Nothing could compare to the excitement I felt about Friday 27th July 2012, at 12 minutes past eight (20.12) when it all finally kicked off. I won’t give you a run down on the Opening Ceremony. There are better commentators out there, but I will say I didn’t move from my sofa for five solid hours. I wept with joy, I punched the air. I whooped with pride. God it was good. If Queenie doesn’t make Danny Boyle a “Sir” by this time next year, she’s obviously completely senile and it’s time for Charlie to take over.Anyway, I digress, in terms of tickets I wasn’t able to go mad, my only Visa card is linked to my current account which doesn’t have quite as much available cash (i.e. not necessarily cash that belongs to me, just that is available to me) in it as my, ahem, credit cards so I had to be selective about which tickets I applied for in case I actually got them all and wiped myself out. As it happens I got nothing. Zilch. Nada. I was sad for a while, had a bit of a rant at the “complete unfairness” of it all and then sucked it up, got on with it and made plans to watch the events in the big public areas to soak up the atmosphere. And then, after years of sharing my Wimbledon tickets with one of my besties, Katy, she returned the favour with the best news ever – not only did she have Centre Court tickets for day three of the tennis, she was allowing me first refusal on the spare! Oh! Joy! Hurrah!
On Monday night, there I was at 10pm in Tesco dashing up and down aisles to collect the necessary components of our usual Wimbledon picnic: crusty rolls, assorted fillings, crisps, dips, crudités, olives, pop corn (cinema sweet), Jaffa Cakes, punnets of summer berries and posh apple juice. Sadly they had no pre-mixed Pimm’s left on the shelves so we went without.I chose not to go for the traditional red, white and blue outfit but dressed myself in the colours of the Olympic rings (red pac-a-mac, green jeans, black vest top, blue nails and a yellow bag) and topped it off with an Olympic Pink cardie for, you know, camouflage! I made sure to accessorise with my Union Flag heart fan and badge and Katy cleverly packed some face masks, just in case we were caught on camera (we weren’t). If you’re reporting for Florence Finds, you have to dress the part, right? Katy and I met up at Stratford so we could travel across London together with our free travel card, which were a little bit magical. Apparently they allowed us access to zones 1 through 9… huh? After eight years of commuting, these three extra zones are a mystery to me. Do you get to them via platform 9 3/4 ? I can only assume they allow use of overground trains out to the more further-afield venues. Who knows! We ignored the warnings, which seem to have scared people away, to avoid Waterloo and after a quick trip on the Jubilee Line we jumped on a train to Wimbledon which was, surprisingly, completely empty. Half an hour later, after a free ride on the shuttle bus from Wimbledon station, we were in queues for the airport style security. The tickets came with warnings about this and also some baggage restrictions, so with all the flashy colours you could be forgiven for thinking you were about to fly Easy Jet. I had to abandon my posh apple juice because of the no liquids rule, but we were able to take empty bottles in to fill up at the water stations around the grounds. They also confiscated all alcohol so it’s a good job I didn’t waste my money on the Pimm’s. Conveyor belts, watches and phones in trays, bag and body scanners and a few random searches and we were in. Knowing the grounds quite well we made our way directly to our seats, settled ourselves in with our picnic and got ready for some Olympic tennis.
First up was Venus Williams for the USA against Aleksandra Wozniak for Canada. It was a great game but it went how we expected with a reasonably quick win for Venus. Next up was a match between Team GB’s Andy Murray and Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen. It was a great game and the atmosphere was amazing with the home crowd going bonkers for Andy, but what was equally heart-warming was the way Mr Nieminen also won the British hearts and he got some equally big cheers, especially from me. Like I said, I always cheer for the underdog! Murray took the match and the Team GB supporters went wild with their Union Flags as he was interviewed court-side, but we saved some energy to give Jarrko a raucous round of applause and some cheers as he waved goodbye. After all that excitement we had another great match, Novak Djokovic for Serbia and Andy Roddick for the USA came out on to the court to wow us with some big serves, amazing rallies and breathtaking shots. In the end Djokovic won but again, some big names made for a great match and an electrifying atmosphere in the stands. But the best was yet to come – one of the most famous faces in female tennis, Russia’s Maria Sharapova, playing Team GB member Laura Robson. The crowd literally went wild, and even more so when she actually took the first game and then held her own to take them to a tie break in the first set. I can’t count how many times we were ‘quiet please’-d but there was a lot of flag waving, air punching and whooping! Sadly Laura didn’t win, but it’s ok – Maria was aiming for the “Golden Slam” (all the major tennis tour titles plus the Olympic gold), a feat only achieved by one other woman, Steffi Graff (in one year, mind!) so until her untimely exit I rooted for her to win.
After that we rounded off the day with David Ferrer for Spain and Blaz Kavcic for Slovenia and lots some more independent cheering. I liked Ferrer’s hair so I cheered for him. I told you I wasn’t massively qualified for sports reporting – don’t judge me! All in all a well organised day full of great people, great feeling, great sportsmanship and a great crowd… in Great Britain. I’m now spending every evening refreshing various screens to get my hands on some more tickets. There are loads out there to buy, just not in my price range. I did manage to get my hands on some men’s 100m final tickets for the Paralympics, so I will get my time in the Stadium that I have looked at so lovingly for all these months – I just have a few more weeks to wait.
How many of you have been? How much did you love it? What did you think? Is anyone heading to the closing ceremony?
Victoria – Girl about Town