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.

Friday Fun with a song and a dance (or two…)

The last fortnight has been all about the televisual delight that is BBC 4’s three-part series entitled The Story of Musicals. Who wouldn’t want to devote three hours of their life to the story of how the British musical overcame the might American Broadway in the 1960s; went on to dominate it in the 1980’s; and how it got its come-uppance in the late 1990s? Honestly, I’ve watched each part twice and its prompted some fantastic musical archive digging – Cats, Joseph, Starlight Express…it’s been a joy.

This week’s Friday Fun is therefore musically inspired. For a start, dig out some classic tunes on Spotify (or similar – Spotify is out of favour in my world currently, but it is useful on occasion), then, if it’s your thing, check out what follows.

Firstly, do you know who was a star of episode 3? John Barrowman. The man so camply wonderful that really he only needs to be referred to as “Barrowman!” (for a brilliant example of this, watch this clip of David Tenant on Never Mind the Buzzcocks). Even if you’re not a fan, this video ought to bring at least a wry smile to your face:

Secondly, you know who was a surprise feature of musical London’s history? Cliff Richard. I know I shouldn’t be that surprised, but I’d honestly had no idea he’d starred in a chronically awful production in the mid-80s (it featured a 10ft hologram of Laurence Olivier) and I’d obviously blocked all memories of Heathcliff the musical from my mind. He’s not someone who has amused me much in the past, but that changed with the discovery of the tumblr: Cliff Richard is dying inside. The concept is a simple one. Take a shot of Cliff (there are many, he’s done calendars for decades) and consider the real emotion lying behind his eyes.

For example, the most recent one is this:

Fabulous. Obviously, I couldn’t mention musicals without somehow happening upon a Glee connection. Did you know that the utterly awesome Blaine Warbler (aka Darren Criss) is partly responsible for a Harry Potter musical? Given that this appeared on YouTube in 2009, I appreciate that I’m coming rather late to the party, but what could be better than a musical theatre, Harry Potter inspired parody, sung by a beautiful man? No, I agree with you, nothing.

Finally, a tenuous musical link… Last week was the annual London A Cappella Festival, at which the lovely Songmen were performing. I went along to provide sibling-in-law support and had a jolly good time. (Including hearing the most amusing rendition of a 16th century French madrigal ever.) The Songmen were followed by an intriguing collective from one of my alma maters. All the King’s Men are essentially King’s College London’s answer to the Warblers, only with far worse outfits. Morv and I could barely hold ourselves together during their performance of It’s Raining Men, but they are rather quality. I couldn’t find a video of that gem, so here’s an equally camp Spice Girls Medley:

May your weekend be full of singing, or dancing, or both!

"Isn’t everything a metaphor for a Christological meta-narrative?"

You know how, on Friday, I was going to watch HP7b in a nice, grown up cinema? I thought this would be a nice, grown up viewing with none of the irritating childish behaviour common to multiplexes. I was wrong. On arrival, there did indeed prove to be few children – however, there did appear to be a number of teenagers of a European tourist variety.

Three boys – possibly Swiss – sat in the seats nearest us and were annoying almost as soon as the film began. One kept talking (loudly) until his friends shushed him. Then a phone rang next to me, and was answered. Texts were sent and received. An hour or so later the phone rang again and was answered again. By this point I was on the verge of confiscating the phone for the duration, though apparently my companion would have stopped me if I’d gone for it (she could tell I was all set to go for it).

I would have been livid were it not for two things:
1. The grown up cinema has a bar, therefore we walked into the screening clutching an ice bucket containing a bottle of wine & two glasses. Classy. [I need to stop referring to the fabulous Everyman Screen on Baker Street as an ‘adult cinema’ as it suggests it shows porn. It doesn’t.]
2. I was greatly amused that some poor person developed hiccups at one of the film’s tensest moments. Whenever there was a moment of silence during the Battle of Hogwarts a distinct “hiccough” could be heard and this had me wiping away my tears and giggling.

This, people, is why the Wittertainment Code of Conduct is essential. All cinemas need to adopt it urgently and give staff (or customers, possibly) the right to enforce it:

Rant over.

Anyway, needless to say that HP7b was a wonderful experience. Laughter, tears and some fairly decent closure. All good. Plus, as I went with a colleague whose job title is ‘Evangelism in Contemporary Culture Officer’, it’s possibly unsurprising that it has resulted in some rather deep, possibly pointless, certainly controversial theological wonderings – a discussion on which Harry Potter characters might match figures from the Gospels/early church.

The discussion began last night after a couple of comments about Deathly Hallows’ theme of resurrection and how this related generally to resurrection theology – so far, so good. It’s fairly reasonable to relate the resurrection of a fictional character to Jesus’ resurrection. Then we went deeper and after a few minutes I made what was possibly a mistake – I mentioned it on Twitter. Cue an hour of frenetic tweeting amongst Twitter’s theologians…

We began with the following ideas:

  • Who was Peter? Originally Jo argued it was Neville [who makes a marvellous comeback in HP7b] yet Neville never denied Harry, so I suggested Ron – especially as during Deathly Hallows he abandons Hermione and Harry to their mission.
  • Who does Hermione fit? My first suggestion was Mary Magdalene, but we then decided that Ginny Weasley fitted her better. Hermione could be John, and, according to my theologian friend, HP7 is very ‘Johannine in terms of signs and wonders’.
  • Draco Malfoy is Saul/Paul. During the final battle with Voldemort, he’s still on the dark side – but he starts to soften after Harry saves his life in the Room of Requirement. In the epilogue he’s with Harry at the Hogwarts Express, so at some point along the way he must have had a complete conversion.
Then Twitter got involved, and the following thoughts cropped up, while me and Jo carried on our conversation on Facebook:

  • Some thought Dumbledore ought to be John; while me & Jo thought he was God; and someone else had him down as the Holy Spirit. Someone thought McGonagall ought to be God – resulting in a random idea of the trinity being Dumbledore, McGonagall & Harry…
  • Lucius Malfoy [we did comply with Wittertainment’s other Code and greeted Jason Isaacs when he appeared] as Pontius Pilate. He stands up to Harry, then washes his hands of it and walks away.
  • Percy Weasley as the Prodigal Son. (Though others felt this fitted Ron’s abandonment of Harry & Hermione better.)
  • We mused over Snape for quite a while, eventually landing upon Gabriel. (Especially interesting given as Rickman played Gabriel in the fabulous Dogma.)
  • Sirius Black as John the Baptist, paving the way for Harry. (There was a debate over whether Lily and James = Mary & Joseph that hasn’t been resolved yet.)
  • Bellatrix Lestrange as Herod – after all, not only is she responsible for Sirius’ death, but also the massacring of many innocents…
  • Cedric Diggory as Stephen the Martyr.
  • Dobby the House Elf as the Samaritan Woman at the Well. Or, the more I’ve thought about it, the leper who came back and said thank-you after Jesus healed a group of them…

It was after I told C this last one this morning that he informed me that “you need to stop thinking about this”. He may have a point, but it was a lot of fun and probably a good distraction for Jo as she faces a Phd viva in two days time! Some tweeters worried that we were taking this seriously – we were not – and besides, people have already written many, many books on the subject. All good fun though, and just goes to show that my theologian parents really ought to get on board and read the books themselves.

Can I write essays on this sort of thing at theological college?

Wizard Friday Fun

Today is an auspicious day.

Today, the final curtain will fall on a saga that has kept me occupied for a good many hours over the last 11 years. 
Today, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is officially released (henceforth known as HP7b) and I, for once, will see it the very day it opens. 
The media is full of Harry Potter retrospectives at the moment – and with good reason. The final instalment of an eight film franchise is a momentous occasion. Yes, not all the films are superb, but, as a general rule they do the books good service – especially Prisoner of Azkaban (the discerning Potter fan’s favourite book and film). The first film came out during my final year of university and now I’m on the cusp of another big change. To this day, parts of Hogwarts are still the room where I had choir rehearsals as a teenager and I will forever be indebted to Alan Rickman for making Snape a much more bearable character to read as the later books were published. [Coincidentally, right at this moment my parents are on holiday in Alnwick – location of Alnwick Castle, the main set used for Hogwarts. Wonder if they’ve realised?] 
Anyway, for those of you that consider this an important event, I have some fun for you. Those that couldn’t give a toss about Harry Potter can come back next week – I make no apologies for what I like… 
Firstly, a fantastically creative interpretation of all the films, via cartoon. The Summharry parody comic by Lucy Kinisley is utter genius and you’ll have to follow that link to see the full beauty of it. One cartoon for each film now turned into one massive cartoon covering all eight of them. The comedic detail is fabulous! 
Continuing the spoof theme and returning to my favourite blog written by a bookseller, Jen Campbell (of ‘weird things customers say in bookshops’ fame) has written some seriously fabulous spoofs. Yes they’re long, but to anyone who knows the books in a certain amount of detail, they’re hilarious. Books 1-4 have been done so far, and if this extract from the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Cup of Pretty Blue Flames is anything to go by, they’re well worth reading:

Chapter One: Some dude called Frank

JK Rowling: Once upon a time there was an old man who lived in a house…
Readers: WTF Jo, where’s Harry?
JK Rowling: Shut up, I am SETTING the SCENE.
Readers: Oh. Well get on with it then.
Nagini: Hissssssssssss.
Frank: You’re not a pesky kid.
Voldemort: So, David Tennant, what will you bring to the story?
David Tennant: An amazing cool leather jacket.
Voldemort: Fabulous. Fashion is my number one priority right now.
Nagini: Hisssssssssss.
Voldemort: Ooo, Nagini says that lunch is standing just outside the door.
Wormtail: Oh, fabulous, I was getting rather peckish. AVADA KEDAVRA.
Something I didn’t think I’d manage to include in this week’s fun was my traditional standby of comedy a cappella YouTube video, but, remarkably you can get a Harry Potter themed one of those too – superb! This is Overboard Vocals (friends of the ever-wonderful Swingle Singers) performing Hedwig’s Theme, complete with wigs…

Yes, I realise that you’ll now have quite an irritating piece of music going round your head for the rest of the day – but imagine what it’s like working in a bookshop on a Harry Potter release day and hearing nothing but that for many, many hours from very early in the morning. I have no sympathy.

Back to dear Alan Rickman. So Snape is perhaps not a role in which I’m able to swoon over him as I would in Truly, Madly, Deeply or that Texas video that I love, but he is utterly fabulous and thank goodness JK Rowling was able to persuade him to take the part. I love him even more ever since I read the letter he wrote to fans, published in Empire Magazine in April:

Finally, just in case you need a reminder of what’s happened in the last films, here’s a handy round-up of all that has gone before:

And with that, I’m off to enjoy a screening of HP7b in a classy cinema (which serves booze), with good company and no children. Awesome!

Can Christians play quidditch?

A couple of days into last week’s Christian camping extravaganza, a thought hit me: ‘this is just like the Quidditch World Cup’. Before someone accuses me of either blasphemy or flippancy, I should probably explain myself…

[If you have no knowledge of the Quidditch World Cup then shame on you. I won’t be explaining, you can look it up yourself.]

Firstly, I arrived at the venue without seeing how I got there – much in the fashion of apparition, floo powder or a portkey. (Ok, I was in the back of a transit van, in total darkness, but still…)

Then there was the camping set up. Presumably it wasn’t just me that read the description of wizarding camping and thought “wow – that’s exactly how camping should be!”? For the uninitiated, wizard tents look normal on the outside but are basically a tardis inside – containing anything and everything one might want for a decent sojourn away from home.

Last week, I spotted a few examples of camps that seemed to be emulating the wizarding world. One friend actually had a shelving unit (with wooden shelves) in their abode; another (1970’s number) had a line of neatly pressed shirts hanging from a pole; whilst a fellow church family had created a chill-out area complete with deck chairs, coffee table and tablecloth. My own camp was hosted by a family whose motor-home possessed an iPod dock connected to wireless speakers, ensuring that Mumford & Sons could be played all over our site – all kinds of awesome.

I also wondered just how aware our ‘muggle’ neighbours (the town of Shepton Mallet) were of the activities going on within the Bath & West showground. Could they hear the noise of several thousand cheery Christians singing choruses at loud volume? Or did they only notice when the traffic became awful or when strange people gathered in huddles on the platform of Castle Cary station?

Like wizards, Christians aren’t always adept at adjusting to the real world, especially if they’ve been ensconced with their own kind for an extended period of time. Spending my day off in the amazing world of outlet shopping at Street, I kept bumping into my brothers and sisters in faith – and often swerving to avoid them. Two girls appeared regularly in the various shops I perused, each time shouting “praise Jesus!” at intervals and singing worship songs.

Clothing-wise, they also struggle. Some might say that you can spot a Christian a mile off – just look out for a socks/sandals/beard combo and you’re pretty much on the money. Bringing hoards of them together in the safety of a Christian-only environment means that they can give up trying to fit in with muggle fashion and give in to their Christian tendencies. The worst symptom of this is the Christian t-shirt. I’m not talking about ones advertising charities and campaigns, I mean the ones that look like ‘real world’ t-shirts but are just slightly altered to get a Biblical reference in somewhere. The winner last week was one emblazoned with Lord of the Kings (in the appropriate LOTR graphic) – utterly (un)hilarious. [I’ve come up with a top 10 – this may have to be a whole separate post at some point.]

Behaviour wise, you’ll often find Christians doing odd things. They’re very nice – pretty much all the time. In all the hours I spent on a till last week, I encountered only 3 grumpy/rude customers – not normal for a retail environment. This is a good thing of course, but it results in things I find difficult. Like the chattering in the shower queues… I struggle with mornings – little makes me happy first thing in the morning – except further sleep, or a very attractive man bringing me breakfast in bed. [I joke…or not!] Away camping, the situation’s even worse. You’ve not had great quality sleep, you’re dressed in a random combination of clothing (in my case joggers & an obscure US college t-shirt, possibly without a bra) and I don’t know about you, but I’m not in the mood for idle chit-chat in such a situation. Conversation directly relating to the showers – the temperature of the water or the length of the queue are both acceptable topics – is fine, but nothing else, especially not theology.

Of course I’m stereotyping. Not all Christians are like this, but it’s only when you’re amongst them en masse for a long time that such eccentricities become very apparent (or very annoying). And, like many wizards, for me the transition back into muggle land was slightly traumatic – it doesn’t help when it involves Paddington on a busy Saturday afternoon. But hey, at least I didn’t disintegrate into tears while topping up my oyster card…