I didn’t quite want to reach down and grab a handful of grass and eat it, but I was definitely thrilled to be touring the grounds of the All England Tennis and Lawn Club. Finally, I’d made it to Wimbeldon and I didn’t even have to lift a racket! I am sure eating the grass would have been prohibited, given that we couldn’t even touch it on our tour. Besides, this seems to be reserved for people who actually win Wimbeldon, beating Rafa Nadal in the process, like Novak Djokovic. I am with my friend and former Discovery colleague, Naina Mistry, who now lives a short bus ride away near downtown Wimbeldon and had the distinct pleasure of actually attending some of the matches a few weeks ago. I am green with envy when she talks of having Pimms and strawberries and cream on Henman Hill and scoring Center Court tickets to see Andy Murray play in the early rounds. I resolve to return as a spectator as we stroll through the museum before our tour. I find out why this is THE place to win a grand slam in tennis because it is the birthplace of tennis as we know it. The winner of the very first match at Wimbeldon, on space loaned at the existing cricket club, said that he didn’t think the sport had much of a future. We later learn than over 38,000 people attend Wimbeldon each year. It’s a pretty nice museum and we wish we’d allowed ourselves more time to see all the exhibits as we blow by a tennis fashion display, featuring lace ruffled and shiny blue tennis panties worn by past women’s players. I can’t miss the chance to get a shot of the gold and silver plate and trophy. The tour is chock full of tennis buff tidbits and behind-the-scenes peeks at Wimbeldon, like where the pros check in for their matches and winners collect their prize money of 1.1 million pounds. Even the first-round losers collect 1,000 pounds for their troubles. I pose for a photo in the place where the press interview players after each match. If only I’d started playing tennis at age 5. I could see my name listed with all the other tennis greats on a wall where members and players pass. We actually do see members of the club playing tennis. They look to be 80 or older, hair as white as their tennis togs. Their balls fly outside the court lines more frequently than they would like, I am sure. The only way you can become a member is if you have won Wimbeldon or if you’ve got a lot of money and connections and can play a bit of tennis. The tour ends appropriately at Center Court. It’s actually kind of cozy. I imagine sitting on the edge of my seat as I watch Rafa and Roger play for four hours straight or agonize over which Williams sister to root for in the finals. A lot of great tennis has been played here and I hope some of it rubs off on me. In the gift shop, I buy a Wimbeldon visor and t-shirt for inspiration.
After our tour, we have to rush back to Naina’s to meet her husband Josh and make a dinner date with my friend Sid’s sister in a town about 20 minutes away. Naina’s neighborhood is quite cute like most of the British neighborhoods I’ve seen so far. Each house seems to have a colorful door with colored glass cutouts, but no door knobs. Colorful tiled walkways lead up to these doors preceded by immaculate small gardens. Naina’s neighborhood seems to be ethnically diverse too. I’ve seen South Asians and people of African descent. Naina says there is a large ex-pat community here too with people hailing from Germany, Australia and America. One of Naina’s friends calls Wimebldon Nappie Town because of all the babies. I count about six strollers, called push carts or buggies, as we make our walk back. Josh walks in moments after we arrive. I’ve never met Josh before and he welcomes me warmly with a handshake and proceeds to pick large-winged ants, or may be they are gnats, out of my hair. We passed through swarms of them on our walk back and Josh witnessed several people freaking out at the bus stop in what appeared to be a mini plague. I am grateful for his help. Insects in the hair definitely are not cool. Once we appear to be bug-free, we head to New Malden for a Sri Lankan dinner prepared by my friend Sid’s sister Iresha. I’ve only just met Iresha a few weeks ago via Skype at Sid’s place. I met Sid at a New Year’s Eve party waiting in line for the bathroom and we became fast friends. He insisted that I meet his sister while in London and it was a lovely idea. Iresha greets us with a kiss on each cheek when we arrive at her home and the smell of curry emanates from the kitchen. We meet a few of Iresha’s house mates, also from Sri Lanka, and chat over tea before dinner. When Iresha laughs, she has the same laugh as Sid, genuine and contagious. Naina shares a bit about her travels to Sri Lanka as a child and Iresha knows a bit about the places she’s visited. Soon dinner is on the table. There is chicken curry, potatoes, dahl, basamati rice and a salad of pineapple, bean sprouts, cabbage, carrots and peppers. You recognize good home cooking no matter the nationality and we were about to have some good home cooking. There were only three places set at the table and we asked if they were eating with us and they said no, this was all for us. We couldn’t believe it and insisted they dine with us, but they would hear none of it and said this was their culture. So, we dug in, piling on rice, then curry, followed by potatoes, dahl and salad. It was all so good. Just the right spice. But the dahl was phenomenal. Unlike any dahl we’d ever tasted. The coriander burst in your mouth with perfectly cooked lentils. Iresha practically cheered when we got second helpings and Josh wiped out the last of the dahl. Josh, by the way, appeared to be in food rapture. He moaned happily with each bite. He said he was a fan of South Indian cuisine, but had never had Sri Lankan before. I am certain that he is a fan of Sri Lankan food now, too. We linger a bit longer before we say our good-byes. On our way back to the bus, we encounter the sweet greasy smell of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. A surprising sight in a south London neighborhood. Its sign says drive-in, which appears to mean drive in, park and sit at a picnic table to have a doughnut. Naina remarks that it is probably good that we have stuffed ourselves with food, otherwise we’d be lured in by the intoxicating smell. The bus arrives just in time.