Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Wands and how to use them

I will now tell the sceptical how a wand can be used to perform magic.  In London, you can buy a Train pass for the Underground, called an Oyster card. To use it you pass it over a sensor and the barriers open until the money you have put on the card runs out.  You can then top up and off you go again.  If you have a wand, take the Oyster card and very carefully cut the small chip out of the card and glue it to the end of your wand. The chip is an RFID device and does not need the card to work. On reaching the barrier, you wave the tip of your wand over the sensor and the barrier opens as if you were a magician.  People will stare and those who really do think Harry Potter is real may wonder seriously about what just happened.  It helps if you mutter the appropriate incantation too.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Summer Holls part two

On Monday, being close to London, we all went off for a trip to Diagon Alley. 

Yes we did!
I have the pictures to prove it; look, Flourish and Blotts. The camera never lies.
Click on the pictures to enlarge
It is all real but you have to know how to find it.   We were able to get on the Knight bus and looked around Hogwarts, bought some butterbeer and had a look at Privet Close, although the Dursleys have moved out now. 
If all this is meaningless to you, then all I can say is for goodness sake go out and buy the Harry Potter books, or at least watch the movies, but the books are better.
To get to J K Rowling’s world we had to drive from Kent more or less half way around the dreaded M25.  This under funded and under laned motorway was originally planned to be much wider but in its wisdom the then purse string holders decided it was unnecessarily expensive to make it more than three lanes so they then had to spend much more than it cost in the first place to add extra lanes when it proved inadequate.    It was not too bad for our trip, because we travelled outside rush-hour but it was still busy by anyone’s standards.

We needed to use two cars for the whole family and had allowed plenty of time.  Of course, Diagon Alley is a part of the Warner Brother’s film set that was used to make the Harry potter series of films and we had booked a tour for the saucepan lids (kids) at the Warner Brothers Studios in Leavesden Green.  This ex airfield is close to where some of my cousins, and in particular for those cousins reading this, very near the flat where your Mother and Father lived.
We rendezvoused at South Mimms services to buy lunch which we planned to eat on arriving at Warner Brother’s car park.  I love that name South Mimms and often wonder what it is derived from and since there is a South Mimms, is there  a Mimms, or a North Mimms?  I have never seen them on a map.
A few years ago my two sons and I were travelling to see my mother who still lived in Clacton.  As was our habit, we had stopped off at South Mimms services to have a comfort break and a coffee, when the fire alarm went off.  No 2 son had just gone to the toilets and I was half way through a coffee, but No 1 son and I went out hoping No 2 had enough sense to do the same.  As we passed a fast food franchise, we could see the cause of the alarm, a chip fryer was blazing away merrily.   Outside we found No 2 son and watched as the place was evacuated.   Many of the people there got in their cars and headed for the exit, creating an instant traffic jam, so realising it was impossible to leave for some time and it being a nice sunny day, we hung around and watched as the fire spread and the fire service arrived. 
I was impressed by the building’s design.  When the fire service arrived in their red fire engines, they took one look and realising the cause was not an easy fire to deal with safely, simply cleared everyone back a few dozen feet and let it burn itself out. 
What impressed me was how long it took for the fire to spread.  A chip fat fire is a very intense and sustained fire, but the whole place took well over an hour to become engulfed.   A credit to the designers of a public building that it gave the occupant plenty of time to get out before the place became a death trap.  Very different from the fire that happened at Bradford football ground in 1985, which became a ferocious killing fire after only three minutes!
South Mimms is now rebuilt and I hope the same safety standards went into the new building that was so obvious in the earlier one.
Harry's bedroom
One of the tables in the Great Hall
In the studio, we were able to wander through the various sets.  These had been left standing, firstly because they were used over and over for about ten years whilst the eight movies were filmed and secondly because they now form the Harry Potter experience and are earning money as a tourist trap.  Both kids have read Harry Potter from beginning to end and are familiar with all the movies so they were very keen on this trip and were delighted to be photographed in various recognisable sets from the movies.  Us older kids were quite enthusiastic too, having read all the Harry potter books and watched all the movies as well, so it was rather like seeing where an old friend lived.  The studio has all of the props that were not actually destroyed during the making of the movies and we were able to get a good look at things which were pure fantasy up until then.
The teacher's podium in the Great Hall

The Gate to Hogwarts school, a favourite photo call for visitors, but Boo from Monsters inc seems to have wandered in from the wrong movie
The Knight bus

The tour took us about three hours and the entry was at pre-booked and timed so that it never became too crowded.  It was very impressive seeing the workmanship that went into the props.


Privet Drive but no Dursleys
Harry's jacket in various states for different scenes

Some of the pre-production artwork was fine art in its own right
This picture is of Godricks Hollow pre production
Most impressive was the set piece at the end of the tour which was a scale model of Hogwarts.  I am not sure to what scale it was built, but it was easily over fifty feet across.
Another part of Diagon alley
The huge scale model of Hogwarts
 The kids loved it all almost as much as us grownups.  And of course we found ourselves in the souvenir shop at the end of the visit and I am now the owner of a rather special wand that I can assure you, chose me just as Mr Olivander would surely tell you it would.
 We managed to hit rush hour on the way home but were able to make it back in reasonable time for the Fish and Chip shop to still be open.

More to follow in our next, stay tuned...

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Summer Holls

We could not have picked a more interesting fortnight to retire to the depth of the country with the family, for a quiet rest and chill out away from city strife. The chilling out bit was OK, since after a period of sunny warm weather for the preceding two weeks, the temperatures plunged and the rain started in earnest. 

Day one
Day two
 We seem to have picked a record breaking fortnight when as much as a month’s rain fell in a few hours in many parts of the country, whilst each day weather warnings were broadcast on the radio and TV.  

During this time, floods have been occurring around the country, washing out holidays and creating misery and heart breaking damage to people’s homes and property.
You are probably familiar with the song ‘Drip drip drip little April showers’.  I have some new lyrics to that tune and which start; ‘Pour pour pour rotten June monsoon’. 

 I was lucky to get those shots of the TV, since clouds seem to block signals and a lot of the time the TV looked like this.

The Son (TS) and family, arrived from the USA to join us, coming from temperatures in the 30s to England’s ‘summer’ weather which barely crept above two figures. 

On a more cheerful note, a nice touch from the people who ran the holiday site we were staying in was that they had welcomed us by leaving some cakes for us on the dining tables in each cottage.  The cottages were not actual cottages but a purpose built place divided into separate units.  TBH and I had the two bed apartment whilst the rest of the family had the six bed apartment next door.   We got two cakes and some teacakes, whilst the family got a Victoria Sponge.  

We all had packed light summer clothes for spending time in the sun, but unless we had managed to climb to 20,000 feet, the sun was never apparent other than the change from night to day.  Being British (and almost British) and so experienced in the ways of British summertime, we had made sure we had some warmer clothes but being somewhat over optimistic, we had not packed enough to see us through the whole fortnight.   The two cottages we had hired were equipped with washing machines so this was only an inconvenience but drying the clothes was a little difficult since exposing them to the washing line only gave them a second wash, so the bannisters of the two cottages were draped with drying clothes for most of the holiday.
As well as this refreshing weather, there was the Jubilee and some footy, so wherever we went, flags and bunting were hanging from flagpoles, lines and draped over anything suitable, including the wing mirrors of cars.
Dover Castle
It did not rain all of the time and we were able to go out to visit some of the local area, starting with Dover Castle.   When we got there we firstly thought that the place had been occupied by the Nazis and almost turned around, but discovered that it was a World War II pageant going on and they were only pretending to be Nazis (or so they told us in heavily accented English, whilst placing a finger along side their nose in a conspiratorial manner).    
Natzi soldiers
The last time I visited Dover Castle was to attend the wedding of one of my first wife’s cousins.  He was serving in the Army at the time and was entitled to a full military wedding in the church in the Castle grounds.  It was quite an affair, with his regiment all in dress uniform forming an arch over the couple with drawn sword as they emerged from the church.  Apart from that I remember little of the visit since that was over thirty years ago.
The church within the castle grounds

This time the castle was filled with ‘events’ and people dressed in 1940s clothes and uniforms making the grounds seem crowded.   
Some of the enactors were so deep into their roles, they were a trifle rude to our American visitors declaring that they were a bit late joining in the conflict.   My view was that they were themselves a bit late with their opinions, since the conflict had been over and done with more than a few years ago.
The Grandson (TGS) was delighted with the events, since he is studying the World Wars at school in history and because of this our next planned visit was to The Imperial War Museum in Lambeth.

Lambeth is a district in South London and may have been heard of because of the song ‘Doing the Lambeth Walk’ from the musical Me and My Girl.  The museum is also close to the Elephant and Castle, another London district, popularly known as the Elephant’s a***hole by the indigenous population, who seem to like rhyming things.    
We travelled into London by train, starting at Faversham, the nearest town to our holiday cottages.  This line passes through the Medway towns of Gillingham and Rochester and from high up on the railway embankment, as we passed through Rochester we could see the cathedral and castle there and decided another trip would be necessary to explore this Kentish town on another day.
We arrived at Victoria station and travelled by Tube to Lambeth North, the nearest underground station to the IWM.
The Imperial War Museum London
The Imperial War Museum was explored from top to bottom and we saw enough hardware to fight both WWI and WWII again, or so it seemed.  One interesting feature of the IWM is the gallery of medals featuring nearly everyone who had ever received a Victoria Cross.  This medal is only ever given for extreme bravery in conflict, so there is only a relatively small elite band of people who have received this prestigious medal.   

Tired from a day of slowly moving past the displays, something much more tiring than walking at a normal pace, we started for the return journey but took a slight deviation.
The Daughter (TD) had taken her degree at London Southbank University and had stayed in the Elephant’s… er  the Elephant and Castle (E&C) area and wanted to have a look at her old stomping grounds, so instead of going back to Lambeth tube station, we walked a similar distance down to the E&C station and caught the Tube there, going on to the Embankment.  Here we did the tourist bit and had a look at the Houses of parliament did the usual photo shoot with Big Ben in the background and took a short walk across Westminster bridge.  We then returned to Victoria station where we caught the next mainline train back to Faversham.
The train service had had problems and the train was a number of coaches short for some reason known only to the South Eastern train service and so was very crowded.
We were unable to find any seats and so we settled on standing together in the open space between the doors and the children sat down on the floor.
The square space between the doors was already partly occupied by a lady who was sitting on the floor with her large Afghan hound, taking up much of the floor between them.  I was able to prop myself up against the end of the seats and by gentle positioning of my feet around a mass of long Afghan hair, managed to get into a stable position without treading on the dog.  The dog immediately moved position and rested her chin on my foot.   The children were entranced by this and spent some time petting the dog and talking to the owner and getting in the way of other seatless passengers trying to find mythical seats further down the train. 
The adults of our party all stood until a single seat became empty and The Daughter In Law (TDIL), who suffers from a form of arthritis, sat down gratefully.  Having spent most of the day on my feet, I was not too delighted to have to stand in a moving train for the next hour or so, unable to move my feet much in case I stood on the dog, but by the fourth stop, another seat was emptied and I was able to sit down too. 

On Sunday we stayed at the cottages whilst the Jubilee got into full swing.  I have never seen so many union flags since the battle of Waterloo. (OK I am not quite that old, but there were a lot of flags.)  And for the next few days the TV became wall to wall Jubilee and everywhere people were celebrating with street parties, causing streets to be lined with bunting and flags.
We managed to miss a lot of this hiding in our cottages until Monday.  On Monday, being close to London we all went off for a trip to Diagon Alley.  

More about that in my next.

A quiz
Thinking about the E&C, that sort of rhyming slang is usually much more obscure, so I will end this part with a simple quiz.  What is this geezer talking about?
 ‘Me an’ the Trouble took the two saucepans to the forty-two and me plates was aching so bad when we got ‘ome, I could ‘ardly get up the apples and what’s more, when it was time to go to uncle the Trouble sat on ‘er arris,  rabbiting on about it so’s I couldn’t get to bo peep.’   
Most slang words are just the first part of the rhyming phrase, as in ‘doing bird’ was doing 'time' in jail.  
Bird lime, time.