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.

The Ship of Dreams

Ever since my parents moved to Belfast, something that’s bothered me has been the pride the city has in the fact that the Titanic was built in its docks. “It was alright when it left here” appears to be the mantra and over the last few years, with the ship’s centenary approaching, Titanic fervour has increased. Like anyone who was a teenage girl in 1998, I watched the movie multiple times and sobbed as Kate assured Leo that she’d never let go…and promptly did. The historical side of me is fascinated in it, but even I would have struggled with the amount of attention given by Belfast to the centenary back in April.

The centenary has provided its own legacy – a ‘Titanic Quarter’ has been developed, at the centre of which is the Titanic Experience – an awesome piece of architecture (easily spottable from a plane) commemorating the ship and the subsequent disaster. Surprise birthday guests Juliet & Doris were keen to go, so yesterday morning we heading there en route to the airport and their flight home. Sadly, we missed out on the official Experience as the bank holiday meant prior booking was needed, but we managed to create our own informative Titanic adventure.

Behind the building (whose inspiration I’ve yet to establish – is it based on the ship’s stern, or the iceberg that hit it?), is the dock in which the Titanic and sister ship the Olympic were built. Laid out before you are various hints of the scale of both the task and the loss of life. Rectangles of grass and decking alternate to illustrate the numbers of 1st, 2nd and 3rd class as well as crew who died – the grass marks the survivors. It’s rather damming to see the patches of grass grow wider as you travel up from crew, through steerage and to the 1st class section. Panels of glass have the victims’ names etched upon them (as well as the names of the 8 men who died during the Titanic’s construction). All very moving.

And then you have the gift shop… Rest assured, all kind of Titanic tat is available – from tea-towels, hats, pencils and notebooks to replica china. I’m sure every single bit of it was created in the best possible taste. Doris acquired a keyring incorporating a thermometer and compass (so she can check whether it’s cold enough for icebergs) and a notebook, so she was happy despite missing out on what’s apparently an excellent experience. Next time I’m due to come over, I’ll have to book a slot.

Oh, and there’s an interesting statue outside the front entrance to the building. Obviously, the inevitable happened:

Mim was initially doubtful that she’d manage this one – she did, and we then introduced Doris to the Statue Game. 
(Some people behind me were intrigued and had a go themselves afterwards.)

An eggceedingly eggcellent eggspedition

As mentioned last week, the Big Egg Hunt has become something of an obsession over the last fortnight. In fact, last Tuesday my student group heartily mocked me for my enthusiasm and excitement (eggcitement?) for the approaching girls’ day out. But only part of my excitement was owing to the eggs – the rest was the thought of spending a day with some of my favourite people.

We planned carefully. Zones were selected according to maximum egg potential (Mayfair – 47 eggs) and proximity to other zones (Green Park, Piccadilly & Carnaby were all within walking distance of Mayfair) and egg related food was gathered. Not only did we have egg shaped cookies baked by yours truly, but there were mini-eggs aplenty, scotch eggs, Haribo eggs, egg salad and grapes. Yes grapes – they’re egg shaped, surely?

London streets were walked for around 8 hours and 66 eggs were discovered – not too shabby, I feel! The statue game was continued; the first picnic of the year was held; and Marks & Spencers’ Giant Chocolate Buttons were discovered – all in all a pretty eggcellent day…

 The statue game simply never grows old…
Were you aware of giant buttons? They’re simply amaaazing! 

The Piccadilly zone. Note the Dowager Downton egg – in Fortnum & Masons, naturally.
(The black square represents the one missing in Burlington Arcade. Apparently, the artist hasn’t quite got round to finishing it yet.)

I’ve learnt quite a lot since last week’s tips. Not least that it helps to have a strategy. If I were to do Saturday all over again (which I would at the blink of an eye, as long as I had the same company and weather), I would have planned out a route for the Mayfair zone in order to catch the eggs in a logical order. Choosing the largest zone in terms of egg numbers was a good idea, but it was hard work – hours and hours of it – and we only managed three-quarters of them. Realising we’d come full circle and that stray eggs were far away was somewhat disheartening. [Though me and Mim did have an encounter with Bill Nighy, which more than made up for it!]

Further tips include:
  • When all else fails, check Flickr. Typing in the egg’s number and name will usually yield a photo – from which further clues can be gleaned. I first realised this when hunting in Selfridges. It’s a big place and finding eggs was like the proverbial needle – to stalk the whole shop would be a daunting task, so I worked out more precise locations from the photos online.
  • The same tool can also give hints to further information. For example, one of our missing Mayfair eggs turned out to be deep in the bowels of a menswear store – hence our not spotting it through a window.
  • Talk to people! We passed many other groups on the same mission and many provided handy hints as to where the next egg was. On the same note, when visiting large stores, don’t be afraid to ask staff. They may not provide the right information, but ask around and you’ll get there.
  • Visit the Fabergé store in Mayfair. Fabergé sponsors the hunt and were so hospitable – letting us hold the grand prize (a £100,000 bejewelled egg) and chatting with us for quite a while.
  • Make the most of having an excuse to enter swanky hotels. I was entranced by Claridges, anyone want to take me to tea there??
Anyway, it was all generally fabulous, as Jenni’s lovely video shows perfectly. I highly recommend it, if only for Mim’s comedy routine with a statue of Churchill and my chocolate button antics…