Pottering into August

One of my birthday present highlights this year was a pair of Harry Potter, Marauder’s Map pyjamas. Because nothing says ‘responsible vicar type person’ like PJ’s with fictional characters on…

Marauders Map PJsBio-ethics mug + Harry Potter PJs = emotionally stable 30 something. Honest.

My birthday weekend coincided with the biggest Potter event to have hit the Muggle world since the final film instalment appeared five years ago. The Cursed Child play premiered and its script was released – both on the date upon which, in 1991, Harry Potter first discovered he was a wizard. [Yes, I just googled the year.]

In fact, the whole week was something of a Harry Potter fest…

On the Wednesday, a few days after the play’s premiere, with a couple of hours free in Soho, I took myself off to the House of MinaLima – a shop and exhibition of the work done by the films’ graphic design team. Nestling behind the Palace Theatre (the play’s home) on Greek Street, the shop is a treasure trove of Potter detail. Some of it’s familiar from the films (like the Daily Prophet front pages and the Ministry’s Proclamations) – but the level of detail in objects you probably hadn’t even noticed is phenomenal!

Hogwarts lettersHogwarts Text Books

Hogwarts letters to a certain Mr H. Potter & a selection of textbooks.

Thursday of that week had one priority alone: the purchasing of tickets for the aforementioned (and not at all high profile) Harry Potter play. For next year. In fact, for possibly 18 months’ time – depending on availability. The queue opened at 10am and I logged my place. At 11am *just* 10,000 people were ahead of me. Soon after noon, it was my turn.

Myy turn to click through EVERY SINGLE SATURDAY, any date within school holidays (in honour of my teacher sister) and even, when I got desperate, a few Sundays (believing I could always make a quick getaway for a 1pm start). I spent over an hour trying to get tickets, but failed. Informed that no tickets were available (presumably together) for the date I’d chosen. Every. Single. Time. Utterly depressing. (Especially as some friends later acquired tickets – on a Saturday – at gone 5pm. Perhaps I lacked stamina in my ticket buying!)

Cursed queue

I thought that would be the end of Potter for that week. I didn’t even buy the play as solace for my lack of tickets. [I have issues with play reading. And overly high expectations.] But I didn’t count for Friday…

One of my meetings that Friday was with a guy from Harvard Divinity School who’s involved in some fascinating research on non-religious communities and what the church can learn from them. [Potentially the subject of a whole other post. Honestly, it’s exciting stuff!] It was a fun conversation, and towards the end he threw in the factoid that he’d recently begun co-hosting a podcast based on Harry Potter. My ears pricked up, especially when I heard the title: ‘Harry Potter and the Sacred Text’.

I’ve now listened to the first few episodes (the most recent is only number 13) and I’m impressed. In fact, I just about managed to jump on the podcast’s bandwagon before it jumped into the iTunes podcast charts! Even the Guardian’s discovered it.

HPSacredText

Here’s the thing. What the podcast is *not* suggesting is that it IS a sacred text. This is not when all the uber-conservative Christians who claimed Harry Potter was occultish are proved right! What Casper ter Kuile & Vanessa Zoltan *are* exploring is what happens when we analyse, reflect upon and go deeply into Rowling’s work. It’s taking some of the principles of sacred text reading and applying them to a series that millions of people have read (more than once) and whose content in terms of number of words easily outstrips that of other sacred texts. [HP has, in total, 1,084,170 words compared to the KJV’s 783,137.]

As all readers of the series/viewers of the films will know, the central themes of Harry Potter are ones that are also found in sacred texts: death; good versus evil; violence; the power of love; resurrection… Comparisons between the series and the Chronicles of Narnia (a deliberately Christian allegory) are not uncommon. The way in which Rowling grapples with these big questions is largely to thank for the series’ popularity – they’re not dumbed down for the sake of being a “children’s book”.

Back to the podcast. It’s not too long (25 minutes). Each episode focuses on a chapter of the book – beginning at chapter 1 of Philosopher’s Stone. [Though sadly, being American, it uses the unfortunate – and wrong – US title!] Casper & Vanessa are engaging and competitive – I’m a fan of the weekly challenge to summarise the chapter in under 30 seconds. [Seriously, could you do it??]

It’ll make you think a lot more deeply about some of the themes and characters in the books – even in the comparatively (to the later books) cheery first volume. Like The West Wing Weekly, it might inspire you to return to the books and read along with the podcast. And, as far as I’m concerned, it provides a welcome alternative to my current journey through the back catalogue of You Must Remember This. [Which is a wonderful podcast, but if I listen to too many in a row, I forget which decade I’m living in!]

And, for now, the podcast helps alleviate a little of the pain I still feel when I think about those flipping Cursed Child tickets!

The American dream

Adventures in Texas continue. There has been a lot of work and even more fun (the main event I’ve been working on happened on Thursday, so prep and follow up is keeping me busy in amongst the fun). One exceedingly excellent element of fun was a night living the suburban American dream. A night engaged in a truly all-American activity. An evening of almost incomprehensible entertainment. My very, very first High School Football game.

The Wildcats join the pitchThe Wildcats join the field.

Most of my reference points for this experience were drawn from American TV shows (any Friends episode featuring football and that Glee episode when Kurt did the Single Ladies dance for a goal kick) and High School movies (turns out the school’s team shares its name and colours with that of High School Musical’s Wildcats). However, it turned out that the football was very much the secondary entertainment for our friends and hosts – they were all about the school band. It turns out that they, and Shannon – our Texan connection – are band geeks. Full on, uniform wearing, flag twirling, drum hitting and clarinet playing band geeks. Fabulous! [Of course everyone knows the main cultural reference point for high school band. “one time, at band camp…”]

Footballers

En route to the game, struggling to find anyone who could explain the rules of football to me, I asked whether it was anything like Quidditch. The car, en masse, laughed at me – yet, after an hour in the stadium it was clear that actually, it wasn’t that far fetched a question.

  • For a start, like Hogwarts’ favourite sport, football contains myriad terms that make absolutely no sense to the outsider. Quaffles and quarterbacks; bludgers and buttonhooks; snitches and scrimmages…I could go on for quite a while.
  • The goal pole thingys are really quite similar. Admittedly, football doesn’t involve hoops, but they look more Quidditch-y than soccer goals.
  • There are people wearing peculiar clothing. Various members of the band wore tartan sashes (I didn’t ask) or sequinned ones, over their black uniforms that were distinctly robe-like. The drill team wore short white cowboy boots and sequinned cowboy hats (plus clothes in between, obviously). Even the crowd was bedecked in the school colours of red, black and white.
  • Then, there was the coordinated movement – not so much on the pitch, but before, during and after the sport. The drill team’s display (I have learnt the important difference between drill team and cheerleaders) was as bewitching as a Veela’s dance – especially as it was special ‘Daddy-Daughter day’ and their fathers danced with them. At one point, an entire section of the crowd performed some routine they’d been working on for some time. It was weirdly impressive.

Daddy-Daughter drill teamDaddy-daughter routine.

But, like I said, it turned out that we were not there for the football, but for the half-time show incorporating the two teams’ marching bands. I had not realised that band was such a big thing – apparently these shows can cost tens of thousands of dollars! The students have to be at school for practice at 6am every weekday; then there are contests on weekends; then there’s extra rehearsals…it even costs parents extra to have their child in the band. It’s a far cry from my school’s orchestra, that’s for sure! [But, as they say, everything’s bigger in Texas.]

Every team’s band has a routine that they’ve worked on all summer, ready for the autumn football season. There are sectional, regional, state and national competitions (terminology that is familiar to those who have watched Glee – what works for glee clubs also appears to work for marching bands). Members rise up the ranks, only achieving significant positions when deemed good enough. The musical standard is exceptionally high, but so is the requirement for being able to move in a coordinated fashion. It was all I could do as a student to play my clarinet moderately well, while seated on a wooden chair – had marching and dancing been added into the mix, all clarinet playing ability would have vanished!

Oh, and the routines have themes! The opposing team on Friday night did one involving gondolas and Venetian canals (no, I have no idea either). ‘Our’ team, on the other hand, had a rather wonderful Superheroes number – complete with Wonderwoman themed flag wavers (I forget their correct name).

SuperheroesSuperheroes in action.

Whenever I travel, I’m on the look out for an authentic local experience, and this was most definitely that. It was awesome, despite not knowing what was going on for most of the time, because everyone around us was so into it and it was clearly such a huge element of local life. But I was surprised at how quickly I found myself adhering to the stereotypes I’d witnessed over and over again on TV and in movies. On one trip back from the concession stand, our way up the stands was blocked by a gaggle of drill team members, who (thanks to the commentary) I knew to be the captains of the squad. All of a sudden, despite being 15 years their senior, I felt unable to untie my tongue and ask them to move aside. Which was utterly ridiculous – especially as when one of the young men chatting with them spotted us, he immediately moved the group to the side of the stairs and the squad captain turned to me and uttered the words: “I’m so sorry ma’am, let me get everyone out of your way.” 

It was a ridiculous response! I am not a teenager in High School. I’m not even American. For me, the American dream is just that – a dream. But sometimes it’s nice to pretend that’s not the case for a few hours.

Friday Fun with poetry & singing

As is traditional for Friday Fun, there is some TfL geekiness, but there is an entire blogpost of geekiness imminent, so I’ll keep it to a minimum today, with just one piece of fun.

I am a big fan of tube etiquette posters – largely because I am also a big fan of keeping tube etiquette. However, the recent series of posters using rhyming couplets to instruct us to give up seats; not eat smelly food; and let others off the train first has been derided by some. One such person decided to bring some quality poetry into the etiquette messages, re-writing them in the style of Blake, Byron, Shakespeare etc…

Blake Tube Etiquette

Kipling, Byron, Barrett-Browning

Not, strictly speaking, TfL fun, but both London and Transport related, is Jake Foreman’s third instalment of Unfinished London.  The first two are well worth checking out if you haven’t already (the unfinished Northern Line plans & the inner London orbital) and this one does not disappoint. This time, the subject is London’s airports:

 
Moving on. Still riding high on the joy of seeing Les Mis in the flesh last week, I very much enjoyed this rendition of One Day More – with lyrics translated through layers of Google Translate. It’s excellent, partly because the singers are, and partly because it’s just ridiculous. Quality intellectual musical fun:

Next, am I alone in feeling something of a Harry Potter absence at this time of year? For years, early summer involved heady anticipation of a new book or film – until 2011, when the final movie arrived. If you share my wistfulness, and don’t have the time/inclination to read all 7 books or watch all 8 films, then you can relive the joy through 5 minutes of how Harry Potter should have ended:

And, as I said at the start, keep watch for further TfL fun in the next couple of days…

Friday Fun behind the scenes

I trust that we all watched last week’s required viewing? The 150th anniversary special episode of The Tube – telling the story of the history of London Underground. (It’s vanished from iPlayer now, but I’m sure it’ll be repeated at some point.) If  you missed it, and regret your actions, you may find solace in another LT anniversary tribute: 150 great things about the Underground. (It is exactly what it says it is.)

It’s possible that I featured this site a few months ago, but criminally, then forgot about it! Fortunately, a tweet returned it to my attention and I’ve now ensured I see its updates regularly – although it’s now on 101, so we’re two thirds through. As I perused the site, I discovered something I’d never known before…

Finsbury Park was a station I used fairly regularly when I lived in Muswell Hill. (The hill of the mossy well has no tube station, instead it’s a tube to Highgate, Bounds Green or Finsbury Park and then a bus. It’s how they kept the undesirables away…) Despite spending a not inordinate amount of time on its platforms, I had never fully appreciated its artwork. Yes, the hot air balloons are beautiful mosaics, but did you know that each balloon is part of a bigger design that runs the length of the platform? No, me either!

Finsbury BalloonsLooking down the platform. (Credit.)

The site is a mine of LT factoids. If you’re at a loss with where to start, I recommend the author’s reverie on the wonders of West Finchley station. It’s a lovely example of how strong the feelings are that the tube evokes.

Something else you could spend your Friday afternoon working your way through is this delightful collection of photos from behind the scenes of classic films. A lot of the really are classics, but true to my nature, my favourite ones are less classic, more childish…

Home AloneJoe Pesci gets to grips with Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone)

HP DH 2Ralph Fiennes transforms into Voldemort. (All together now: “Haaaaaryyyyy Pottttterrrrrr”.)

Dark KnightAnd, just because the world still misses him, here’s Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

Finally, a few literary fun things. Firstly, something a tad niche only suitable for Chalet School fans: “imagine how many Health & Safety forms Miss Annersley would have had to complete” – a Mumsnet discussion, of all things! Secondly, The Guardian has a feature in which you can explore annotated copies of authors’ first editions. I rather enjoyed perusing Bridget Jones’ Diary, though Harry Potter would be a close second. Thirdly, something interesting for all those who read novels and something potentially useful for all who aspire to write one at some point. A gallery of author’s plans, drafts and spreadsheets

Order Phoenix SpreadsheetJ.K. Rowling’s plan for The Order of the Phoenix. That’s both my kind of book and my kind of organisation. 

May this rather dismal looking ‘Spring’ bank holiday be one full of good literature, great films or at the very least, stress free London Transport.

A truly magical day

As previously mentioned, one element of “let’s get over the fact that we didn’t get Olympics tickets” was buying tickets for the Harry Potter studio tour instead. Morven and I decided to mark the fact that neither of us had been at the other’s 30th birthday celebrations, by spending a day acting like extremely geeky children – which is exactly what we are, underneath our mature, 30/31 year old exteriors…

In fact, most of other similarly mature friends had already been. True, my sister went on a school trip, but she has now declared it to have been her best day of paid employment ever (and this is a woman who gets paid to regularly sit in theatres with her pupils). Colleagues provided tips on what to do and when; albums on Facebook gave small hints as to what to expect – but nothing could prepare me for the moment we arrived at the doors of the Great Hall…

…honestly, there may have been an undisguised squeal. I won’t spoil the reveal, but wow. In fact “wow” was a regular response to everything, that and awed silence.

Actually, the fun started before we even got into the tour. We were early (they say you need a lot of time to get from Watford Junction station on the HP bus, but you kind of don’t), so we did the logical thing and killed time in the gift shop. [Great move – it was relatively quiet pre 11am, less so when we emerged at nearly 4pm.] And what is the logical thing to do in the HP gift shop? Try on cloaks and Hogwarts uniforms, obviously.

I don’t want to spoil the tour for others who are considering going, but if you’re interested in the whole thing, there is an inevitable Flickr set. The bottom line is if you were at all entranced by the films, it’s £28 well spent. Even if you are a HP cynic, there is no doubting the enormous amount of effort and detail that went into them. To be able to walk around the sets and discover some of their secrets is literally magical. In fact, I suspect much of it would be lost on children – we took four hours (including a lunch stop) to go round, we were told a group had recently taken nine and a half! I can’t think that younger children would enjoy it much at all – it’s not an experience to be raced around, it’s something to be savoured and enjoyed.

We did this in the most obvious way possible – playing the Statue Game with the giant chess pieces and generally horsing around – I tried to break into Hogwarts and drank a Butterbeer while behind the wheel of a Ford Anglia.

A note on Butterbeer: It is not nice. For a start, it’s meant to be hot and it isn’t, and I’m pretty sure that the Three Broomsticks never served it in plastic cups. Secondly, it’s super sweet and Cream Soda appears to be a key ingredient. I’d be intrigued as to how it compares with the Butterbeer served at the Orlando Harry Potter experience…

Finally, you know those things you always think you’ll never do, yet end up doing anyway? Like paying money for professional photos of you doing stupid things? Morven and I are now the proud owners of two shots each. Initially, we weren’t going to bother – then we discovered you could dress up in a cloak and ride a broomstick, so we figured we’d just do it for the experience and not bother with the photos. [I was strongly drawn to the cloaks. I guess it’s a good job I’ve signed up for a career wearing cassocks.] Then we watched the people ahead of us and all of a sudden I needed a photo of me, in a cloak, on a broom and in front of a London bus. Riding the broomstick was possibly the funnest thing ever – so fun, that we ended up unable to choose photos. Here’s me on my broom next to the number 73 (which goes past the end of my road, how apt):

My second photo is rather special. So special that the woman serving us laughed at it too. Apparently the green screen technology still has issues with blonde hair, so for one shot the guy supervising my flying lifted the cloak’s hood over my head. Thus, I was transformed from innocent Hogwarts student to potential Death Eater:

It’s a fitting tribute to something that I and many others hold dear. Emblematic of this is the final room of the tour – an Ollivander’s style wand shop that contains a wand box for every single person involved in the films. Cast and crew alike are spread across countless shelves and much fun can be had finding people. Utterly beautiful.