"Would you like a free waterproof poncho or pair of sunglasses with your purchase?" asked the teenager selling Daily Telegraph-branded picnic blankets.

The time was 5am. The location was Wimbledon Park. The sky was charcoal.

"I’ll take the glasses, please."

That decision represented a short-term gamble, but also a leap of faith.

In 30 hours' time, those complimentary shades would hopefully be shielding my eyes from the Centre Court sunshine on the middle Saturday at the All England Club.

For that to happen, though, I would have to do something this country is renowned for: queue.

Wimbledon, you see, is unique.

Not only is it the world’s oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament, it is also one of the few elite sporting events where tickets can be purchased on the day.

Around 500 are available for each of the three show courts for the first week-and-a-half of matches, while ground passes - which grant access to Henman Hill/Murray Mound - can be bought throughout.

The competition for tickets is ferocious, which is why myself and 3,000 other hopefuls - on the advice of the excellent @ViewFromTheQ - were standing in a sodden field before the tubes had even got up and running.



I returned to the pre-queue with the picnic blanket and cheerfully informed my girlfriend, who had agreed to accompany me on the two-day adventure, of the free gifts on offer.

Her upturned hand to acknowledge the spots of rain that were now falling indicated that she was not impressed with my choice.

Our tent could not be erected until the previous night’s campers had packed theirs away, so we were left exposed when those spots inevitably turned into a full-on shower.

We had also neglected to bring an umbrella in what was a foolish attempt to travel light given the recent inclement weather.

An arduous 90-minute wait later, a steward who had clearly been in this game for a while organised the Friday-for-Saturday lot into order according to the preliminary queue cards that had been dished out on arrival.

He then ordered us to pitch our tents and, after doing so with relative ease - a significant feat considering I struggle to take pizza out of the oven - we were then able to assess our new home for the night.

To our left were a couple of affable, London-living gentlemen from South Africa who were accomplished campers - an assumption made on the basis of their fold-out chairs - and boasted crucial queue experience.

They assured us that our commitment would indeed be rewarded with Centre Court tickets, which was not clear at the time and only confirmed upon receiving our second and final queue cards (353 and 354) a little later on.

To our right, meanwhile, were a couple of lads who had forgone sleep - and the temptation of an all-night FIFA session - in order to drive down from Oxford at 2am.

They introduced themselves terribly, volleying a mud-soaked tennis ball into our tent and onto the white pillow covers.

Their sincere apology and promise to take the fun and games elsewhere, however, quickly retrieved the situation and both were charming company from there on in.



We sheltered from the intermittent rainfall for the rest of the morning, drinking prosecco and nibbling on savoury snacks that were guaranteed to keep morale, and cholesterol, high.

Having passed out in a Kettle Chip-coma shortly after lunchtime, I roused an hour or so later and found myself observing through canvas walls a conversation a woman from the tent across from us was having with her neighbours.

She discussed her "blessed life", the success she had enjoyed working in finance and her pride at her son - a "lover of designer suits and expensive shoes" - following her to the City.

She then asked one of her friends to describe her in one sentence.

"You talk too much," I mumbled to myself before rolling over to get some more sleep.

So much for first impressions. When the rain relented and allowed everyone to sit outside and talk to each other, the same woman proved to be entertaining company and a real lover of tennis.

I learned that she was a 30-year veteran of the Wimbledon queue and had been camping in the park for the last seven days, which explained the blow-up mattress inside her tent and the kettle and gas cooker outside of it.

"I'm a five or seven-star girl usually," said the woman in between sips of Pimm’s.

She then summed up perfectly the reason why thousands of very different people are prepared to endure the rain, restless nights and showerless days every single year.

"I don't think of it as camping. I think of it as the greatest tournament in the world."



The impressive organisation of the queuing process meant the rest of our time - apart from our defective tent which leaked rainwater all night - passed with no bother. Even the sun turned up.

After packing our belongings into storage early the next morning, we made our way in stages to the All England Club and eventually entered the grounds at around 10.30am.

The woman had decided against it, choosing instead to wait for Roger Federer - who she referred to only by his first name - on Monday.

The South African gentlemen ended up sitting next to us on Centre Court, while I also spotted the two Oxford lads on the opposite side and gave them the nod that said: "We made it."

And having spent more than a day enjoying the company of strangers, it was now time for the fun to start.

A triumphant moment, then, and one which would have been marked with a certain pair of free sunglasses had the Wimbledon security staff not confiscated them on the grounds of the Daily Telegraph’s ambush marketing.

Turns out I should have taken the waterproof poncho, after all.

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