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Review Blog: The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studios

What to do with the Teen/Tween combo during the Easter holidays? How to avoid days of stultifying TV watching, kerb-trawling around the village and general boredom and lethargy? Well, we found the solution.

Yesterday we took the Terrible Two to the Warner Bros. studios at Leavesden, near Watford. A bit of a trek by car, given the state of the holidaying M25, but nevertheless we got there in one piece and without any tantrums. Result number 1.

The Two had no idea what they were going to, and it was a sick and twisted pleasure to keep the whole thing a secret from them for over three weeks! They were expecting the usual parental tortures of visiting castles and digesting historical facts;  yomping through open spaces requiring much movement of legs; or – worse – something involving home-made crafts. No, yesterday was not what they expected at all. Entry into the inner sanctum of the studio that filmed the Harry Potter movies was not on their radar. Result number 2.

We were ushered into the foyer to await our tour into the innermost workings of the Potter movies. We are all fans, even if we are far too cool and teenage/old to admit it. The first thing we saw was the poignant sight of Harry’s actual understairs bedroom:

Complete with cobwebs, spiders and a pair of round-eyed spectacles left by the side of the bed. Poor Harry! Then we went into a cinema for a brief film explanation from the main stars of the movies as to what we were about to see. Staff then lead us on to the first of the “wow” factors – the Great Hall. Gobsmacked doesn’t begin to describe the Mini-Pigs faces. I haven’t included the picture I took of them as they took it all in – I don’t want to spoil the surprise when you go along  – but it was an absolutely hysterical portrait of two kids who were trying not to show that they were seriously impressed!

The exhibition contains original sets, props, costumes and artwork from the movies that were filmed there. Harry’s Quidditch cape, the cloak of invisibility and Dumbledore’s robes – all here, all original and incredibly detailed pieces of work. The tour also explains to the layman how a movie is put together, who the main players are from the director of photography through to the make-up girls and runners. Satisfyingly, it also reveals how the children were part of a huge extended family of cast and crew – something I found very comforting given the 10 years or so the main characters spent at the studios and on these films.

There is also a creature workshop with all the ghouls, goblins and fantastical creatures that featured in the movie, from conceptual art to the moulds to the finished masks. There is even a hairy werewolf chest – the Man-Hog was momentarily intimidated by such manliness in a human dog. Then there’s the animatronics – moving works of art simply staggering in their detail and lifelike actions.

After all that, you can pay a visit to gringots Bank, wander through Diagon Alley, stop by the wand shop and pick a cage for your owl. You can sit in the flying car – and yes, that’s the real Hogwart’s bridge in the background there, not a painting:

Jump aboard the bike or take a photo on the back of the triple-storey night bus (seen in the background in the pic below):

You can even swoon over Ron Weasley’s bed with hand-knitted blanket, as the Mini-Pig Girl did….who knew she had long harboured such a crush??

Or, like the Man-Hog, you can marvel at the level of detail given to each prop, piece of original artwork or paper model which at every stage transforms the unbelievable creativity of J K Rowling’s mind and works into actuality. You can, like me, be moved by the simple things such as the sight of the REAL sorting hat (pic at top of page) or the incomparable final surprise of the tour which is so breathtaking and awesome I will not ruin your experience by detailing it here.

Besides all of this were the extremely courteous and knowledgeable staff, who knew details and snippets of information you will not get anywhere else. They were able to point out things to the children that they may not otherwise have noticed, and the experience was the richer for that. The Starbucks cafe at the entrance to the venue is an excellent, clean and comfortable place to meet with others before starting your tour. The shop at the end is full of everything a child could want and the prices were no more than you would pay in your local Disney or other concession store. Result number 3.

Forget what you may have read in the press, and don’t baulk at the price – I promise you it is well worth the money. The cost at the time of writing is £83 for a family of two adults and two children. The audio tour and digital guide are extra but are, apparently, excellent though we did not take advantage of it as I sometimes think those audio headphones cut off family enjoyment of being able to share things together. The price was worth every penny when your cynical “too cool for my own good” teenager turns to you in the final room and says, “Mum, that is just the most amazing thing I have EVER seen.” Worth the drive there when your son says “Thanks for today. I was a bit worried it would be boring but….it’s been brilliant.” Forget all of that when your husband says “Thanks for booking this….it wasn’t what I expected at all.”  The Man-Hog is rarely impressed by anything except my roast beef and Yorkshire pud. Successes on the family entertainment front, then, don’t come much better than this. Final Result: Harry Potter – 1,  Boredom & Lethargy – Nil

In conclusion, go and do this tour –  if you have even an inkling of the scale of astoundingly skilled work and people involved in bringing the Potter books to life, you will not be disappointed. You can book tickets at their website at http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk 

DISCLAIMER: All opinions expressed in this review are my own personal views and I have no link to Warner Bros. or any affiliated entity whatsoever. I wrote this review because I was impressed by the venue and did not write it for any form of monetary or other personal gain. All photos are my own.

I’m Bored….Summer Holidays Suck

“I’m bored…”. Two of the most overused, annoying and machine-gun-attack inducing words in the English language. Usually accompanied by flouncing, flopping, leaning etc. Ugh.

One and a half weeks in to the six-week summer holiday, and I have heard these words no less than 4,000,000 times already. As I write this, I am hiding in my office. Ostensibly working but actually in retreat from those words, those faces and those expectations. This is the bit they don’t tell you about becoming a mum. You also have to become a clown, magician, comedian, sports supremo and party planner ready to whoop up some fun and creativity at any given moment the children are not in school. Sadly, it is clear I just don’t have it in me to be all of those things, all of the time.

Only ten days of it so far, and I have already started to become sarcastic. I even suggested to someone on Twitter this morning that they might like to dart their hyper-active toddler with a safari-style tranquilliser gun. Stick a Haribo on the end and they’ll be mesmerised enough to let you get them square between the eyes. Anything for a few moments respite from “I’m bored….what can I do, Mum?”

There are many helpful blogs out there devoted to entertaining the kids (for free, in some cases) throughout the nightmare that is the school holidays. Most are aimed at younger children than mine and so simply do not apply. I have a pre-teen and a teen. One male, the other female. The combination alone is enough to induce a migraine. They never agree on what constitutes “fun”, and never will. So to retain my sanity, I have resorted to cynicism when it comes to what I am prepared to do to entertain them this holiday.

One of the depressing things about working from home is noticing that the ironing pile is bigger than me. 5ft 4 inches tall is one mo-fo of an ironing pile. And there’s more in the machine being washed as we speak. So this morning I suggested to the children that they lay all of the clothes out flat on the lawn and spend the day rolling over them until they got all the wrinkles out. That suggestion was met with blank stares.

The other bit about working from home is I am suddenly drawn to Delia Smith. First and foremost, you should know that I sometimes fantasise about stuffing Delia with apricots and breadcrumbs, wrapping her in tin-foil and shoving her into a pre-heated oven until she says sorry for making me and anyone else out there feel inadequate with her smug organisation. No-one smiles that much whilst making a spag bol unless they are chopping magic mushrooms. That aside, her recipes are easy enough for even a numpty like me to follow. Or Numpty’s children. So I have suggested several times over the past week or so that we could all make a nice meal for Dad/brownies for a picnic/phallus-shaped cookies to amuse Mum together, a way of whiling away the long hours between 11am when they rise from their pits to 10pm when I decide they either have to go to bed or be sold for medical experiments. None of my cooking mamma ideas have yet cut the mustard. I hate mustard anyway.

We are lucky enough to perch practically on top of tennis courts which are free to the public. When I suggest to the children we go and play tennis, they are – almost – enthusiastic. Only yesterday did I realise that this is because they can tag-team at one end to cleverly aim balls at anywhere except where my racket can reach and therefore have me running around like a maniac, sweating and turning puce much to their amusement. Even this nasty tennis-bullying, however, does not entertain them for more than thirty minutes. Only happy-slapping would do that. And to be honest, I am in danger of imminent cardiac arrest so tennis is most definitely off the menu.

Bike-riding is something they would like to do, but frankly I object on the grounds that nothing has ever been the same shape since double-ventouse deliveries. There is not a saddle known to man that does not make me pee, chafe or simply weep. So forget it, kids. When I suggest that older teen might like to take pre-teen out cycling around the lovely country lanes, that blank serial-killer stare greets me once more. Ditto swimming. It appears unless I am in the pool with all my wobbly bits on display for public- and offspring – ridicule, they are not happy to just let me sit at the side watching. Selfish mutts. They have no appreciation of the pain of the Brazilian that would be necessary before I can even don a swimming costume, not to mention the Hay Diet I would have to embark on which takes at least three months, I’ve been told. It’s not happening.

So here I am at Wits’ End. The only thing that appears to be interesting enough to illicit a grunt from Teen Girl is Chessington World of Over-Priced Crap. Except when we get there, she will be happy for ten minutes then want to go to Dubaiiiiii (said in a whine only she can perfect). Pre-Teen Boy is off on a football camp in eight days (and counting) – hoorah for the beautiful game. May it always release me from parental servitude! As for the remaining four weeks, I am already thinking they could dig their own holes under the patio and perhaps erect a springboard so they can somersault into them in creative ways before I cover them over and give them marks out of ten?

Hang on a mo – Social Services are at the door. How boring. Must dash.

It’s a Family Affair…….

I wrote this in 10 minutes flat in the bath on Tuesday evening. It’s raw, certainly, but it’s from the heart. The theme of my week, it would seem! So here it is – my ode to a family holiday in Devon.

Finding Utopia by pigletinapoke

Finding a holiday that suits a diverse range of ages is not easy. That pleases the whole family? NEVER easy. Combining both and retaining sanity and equilibrium? The Utopian dream!

Except. Nestled on Devon’s Southern-most tip lies the estuary-etched town of Salcombe. We journeyed West in April 2011 to this aesthetic gem in search of UK holiday Nirvana and, by Golly!, I think we found it.

The family age span stretches from the youngest (codename: The Prawn) at 10 years old to Uncky Mike (codename: Beg Pardon?) enjoying his seventh decade of holidays. Throw in one sulkily hormonal teenager, a City-stressed mum and Goldie-elders who’ve seen it all and want nothing but the best; phew! Frankly, you’re asking for trouble. It should have been Holiday Hell. Chaos at the very least. But it wasn’t.

Our journey took about 5 hours door to door, and was an integral part of the trip. We reminisced as a family the days when we would race each other in our lovingly nurtured VW campervans along the higgledy-piggledy A303, hoping desperately to arrive without breaking down and preferably in daylight. On the same day we had left. Today’s modern family equivalent of convoying Land Rovers was not quite as atmospheric but, thanks to the inclusion of car to car walkie-talkies which made all of us sound like heavy-breathing pervs, was nonetheless fun. Our usual hare-and-tortoise race ensued. Having marvelled at Stonehenge from afar, we paused for the obligatory rest-stop in the village of Mere, to re-convene and devour mildly warm, hopelessly crushed packed lunches.

Arriving en masse in Salcombe always brings a surfeit of emotions. The children squeal eagerly out of car windows as we round the bend and discover the view, straining to check a) the sun is shining, b) the water is as blue as they remembered (it is – South Sands beach having earned its Blue Flag this year) and c) is the surf up?

Us parentals are more restrained. I cheesily slip Morcheeba’s “The Sea” onto the stereo and its lilting melody accompanies us as we marvel at the stunning tree-lined cliffs, the almost Mediterranean beauty of homes and gardens drifting staccato-like down the hillside to the water. On a practical level, our eyes seek to check that all the stores necessary to a week in the town with varied loved ones and potential rain (we are still in England after all!) are still there; that Cranch’s sweet shop and Catch! Italian restaurant have not moved with their owners to Malaga in the intervening winter period since our last visit; and that a McDonald’s restaurant has had neither the effrontery nor planning permission to be erected on the marina.

The “Goldies” check the hill gradient up from the colourful hanging baskets of the Victoria Inn to our accommodation in lofty Cliff Road: assessing the best route on foot to do everything they want while only negotiating the hill once, perhaps twice, during their stay!

Accommodation has always been excellent. Coast & Country, based in Island Street, are our kind of holiday lettings agency, and have never disappointed to date. There are other options: the Salcombe Harbour Hotel boasts a central location, a health and fitness spa and pool with amazing views, while the contemporary South Sands Hotel has picked up multiple awards for its design and benefits from an impressive wine cellar and gourmet menus.

Given the tribe of us, however, we went the self-catering holiday let route. We pick up the keys and mount an assault on our accommodation. The view from our balcony is, corny I know, picture-postcard perfect. Some jiggery-pokery ensues over which child gets the upper bunk (youngest apparently, as he snores and she can kick him from underneath to shut him up), who gets the en-suite and where multiple wetsuits, wellies and boogie boards may be stored, until finally we’re in. And…..relax! This we do, with a well-earned glass of vino watching the sunset pinken our deck and listening to the seagulls wheeling overhead.

 

So what’s so special about Salcombe? Well, it has everything a family can want. Truly. There are two beaches within walking distance of the town, both sandy and safe for children with intriguing rock structures to climb and tidal rockpools to explore. In rougher weather, the resulting surf at North Sands gets quite knicker-grippingly exciting, and there are no rocks buried beneath the waves to injure young bohemians at play. Overlooking that beach is a fine establishment called The Winking Prawn – that of Cajun barbecue fame; server of fabulous Prawnetto ice-cream from its own pink van and excellent Sunday breakfast buffets. The Goldies chill out with lattes and lemon drizzle cake whilst watching the rest improve their board skills. Or not! There’s copious affordable parking to spend the day there if you wish, and even a tennis court to work off the extra calories inadvertently swallowed.

Then there’s the town itself. A proper town. With real shops that you can actually buy things in. Not just a selection of tea shops and a faux hand-crimped pasty parlour. The arty quarter around Island Street is home to various unique galleries, including the Bang Wallop! photographic studio whose work will not only amaze, but whose lovely people will immortalise a moment in your own family’s history – on a theme if you wish – to be ready at home when you return from your hols. There’s the amazing Salcombe Coffee Company whose bacon sandwiches and house-blend lattes bring a tear to the eye. And the fabulous Bibi and Mac over whose designer labels I defy you not to drool.

Then of course, there’s water – all-pervading, enticing and immediately accessible. You have to get in it or on it at some point – it’s compulsive. Salcombe is even more picturesque when viewed from the water. You can hire boats to potter about in, ribs to rampage a little further afield, join a mackerel fishing party going out to catch the big one, and there’s even regular ferries to the opposite Mill Bay beach with its clifftop walks (National Trust but worth the £5 parking fee if you drive there) and, tide permitting, up to the nearby town of Kingsbridge which boasts great Indian food, a beauty spa, yoga centre, the wonderful Crabshell Inn and a cinema amongst its manifold attractions.

For those who want to get in the car – the Goldies did sometimes go off on little jaunts – there is the pretty town of Dartmouth approx. 10 miles east, the wild beauty of Dartmoor approx. 12 miles north and historic Plymouth Ho! and its environs a mere 20 miles West.

So – is Salcombe for everyone? If your penchant is for a Kiss Me Quick hat, penny arcade, nightclub or jet-ski then, no. You won’t find them here. But if you seek quality time with your family spent against the ever-changing backdrop of the estuary; a convenient location nestled amongst the trees at the mouth of the river; a temperate climate thanks to its southerly position; views to die for out to sea; and warm, friendly locals to make your stay even more pleasant – look no further. Salcombe’s your man. Did we all argue? You bet. About what to do next and whether we should go home at all. Ever. So take it from me – go, take the whole family and who knows? Maybe, like us, you’ll never want to leave.