Warner Brothers Harry Potter Leavesden Studios Tour.

As you will frequently hear me say- OH-MY-EVER-LOVING-EAGLE-OWLS!!!!!!

So you are aware of my oddities and my real addiction (which is extremely well hidden in the presence of other Muggles) to all things magic and especially all things Harry.

Last Sunday I packed up my little black Corsa and set out on my pilgrimage to Watford, the home of Harry in movie form. The drive was fairly unspectacular as myself and several thousand other Muggles decided Sunday night was the best night to hop on the M3 North. Lovely.

Despite this crawling journey I made it to our overnight stop at the fabulously simple, occasionally decrepid and trashy Premier Inn. I think ever since Lenny Henry put his face to the brand they’ve spruced their hotels up a tad. This one was small, clean and comfortable. But first, I met my Dad, who’d driven from Yorkshire and had still managed to arrive before me and who was also sitting at the bar in the nearest TGI’s. Luckily this was less than 20 meters from where I’d accidentally parked. Beer drunk, burgers eaten, we retired for the night. I will recommend the Premier Inn in Garston for anyone getting to Watford the night before their tour, it’s easily found (sort of) and next to an eatery (try the blue cheese burger) 1.7 miles from Leavesden Studios and the SatNav didn’t have any problems getting from A to B.

I was so excited about the tour, I didn’t sleep a wink.

WARNING!! IF I’VE DONE MY JOB CORRECTLY THERE WILL BE SPOILERS (of some kind) WITHIN THE NEXT FEW PARAGRAPHS. AS WELL AS PHOTOS. OMG.

The area is empty looking but a very new and expensive industrial park. The roads and signage are all still brand new and sparkling (or it could be the Impervius charms they put on all of it…) the free buses they put on from Watford train station pull into the compound frequently and the car park is run in an extremely American fashion. Men in Hi-vis direct you from the front gate to the next empty spot, moving down the rows so people don’t go crazy and start parking in all manner of ridiculous ways. Wonderful.
I bet you’re practically yelling at me right now to ‘just get on with it!’ Well, I will…

The building is a low hangar with new frontage and giant chess pieces in front (HPCoS). Here you go, have a look.

I bet you’re all screeching for more. Shall we go in?

The atrium is typically American in set up (after all, this is all Warner Brothers dosh) with large format images of the highest ranking cast members from the various films around the top of the room. The cafe is to your left, the gift shop to your right. You guessed it, at two hours early for our tour we made a B-line (broom line) for the overpriced, ridiculous array of Harry Potter merchandise.

And we LOVED it.

Chocolate frogs, Every Flavour Beans, Gryffindor scarves, quidditch robes, brooms, horcruxes, diaries, owls (stuffed toys only) key chains, mugs,  t-shirts, sweatshirts, jumpers, hoodies, socks, ties, hats, caps, posters, fridge magnets, badges, earrings, Dumbledore replica costumes (pricey… Pricey.) the list went on and on and on and on. Warner Brothers have not missed a thing.

After that (and after spending a small Gringotts fortune) we made our way over to the cafe for a Starbucks coffee and a nice rest.

At 11:35am we decided to get up and collect our audio guides (more on these later) and our guide books from the booth under the flying Ford Anglia.

A little pause here to reveal that the audio guides were, for us, a complete waste of time. They were over complicated and took too much fiddling with to get not much information from in the end. We decided to hang them round our necks and take them for a good long walk and not use them for fear we’d miss something actually interesting while trying to figure the damn things out. For the kids around us, they seem pleased with them but for me and my Dad, like I say… Pretty much a waste of time.

So, after dropping bags in the cloak room we gathered ourselves up and got straight to queueing. We Brits don’t half queue well, although the same could not be said for our European friends (well, a lot of them there anyway…)

We tootled past another icon of the magical series…

We were then taken into a small room as a group of about 40 or 50, chatted to by a lovely guy while the theatre beyond the doors in front of us emptied out and then we carried on into this and took our seats.

The cinema we sat in was as wide as the huge screen in front of us. We settled into huge seats and watched an intro to the tour, filmed by the stars of the series; Harry (Dan), Hermione (Emma) and Ron (Rupert).

After that and the almost cried, tears of joy I nearly shed, came the fun part. The female guide asked if there were any birthdays being celebrated and I yelled a bit and pointed at my Dad, celebrating for the next day. He was asked to come forward and open the doors to the Great Hall (along with some help from a couple of others).

I was jealous, I can tell you but I know I take better photos so I was glad I was the one watching!

And now, for the really good bits!

Note the beautifully hand painted and ancient looking symbolic murals on the back wall which were hardly ever seen on screen…

A technique called ‘Forced Perspective’ was used on this 6ft long model to recreate the appearance of a fifty foot long corridor when the cameras rolled…

There are many many hundreds more to come but my poor post can’t cope with the volume and still publish properly so I will get round to adding the rest…

Happy looking!

Cats and their History with Magic

Not dogs and magic. Or even horses and magic. Somewhere along the path of Paganism or even Witchcraft there will be references to all and any kind of animal but the cat has long been associated with the occult and in particular women.

‘The cat, the animal which famously does not come when called, has long been an emblem of independence- and of free, independent, autonomous women.’ 1

Women have forever been inextricably linked with cats; their sinuous bodies, thoughtful natures and mysterious night time wanderings connected them also to the moon and from here, women too. Lunar phases and the midnight sky have for centuries been the territory of female deities and therefore all women.

Cat-fights and Hissy-fits describe, in colourful native dialects, the interactions and moods of women. It is interesting when people look at an image of an animal and see, not only what the animal is but what sex they perceive that animal to be, in that moment. For some reason this is important information for the human mind. Cats are female. Dogs are male. Doves are female. Hawks are male. We must get these perceptions from somewhere, history, our upbringings, cultural observations… I’m not sure. It’s just interesting.

I think even now this quote is relevant. In my own experience; all the men in my life, in fact, all the men I personally know have the wrong character for cats. They are all wonderful people and it is not their fault but by this I mean they are not suited to the intricacies or the subtle movements of a cat and it’s emotions. Them men I know who are what they call ‘cat-people’ just like the easy natures of a cat. I genuinely believe the male friends I have who call themselves ‘cat-people’  (there aren’t all that many, funnily enough) are really not. They are still heavy handed (physically and emotionally) clingy and attention-seeking (also physically and emotionally) and have no concept of the subtle nature of a cat. The men I know (and I actually know a fair few women like this too if I’m honest) who don’t know how to understand cats, tend not to ‘like’ them. People do not like what they do not understand, it’s a fact of human nature.

Personal space isn’t required when owning a dog for example. Silence and the fragile nature of peace is also, not required. Independence is not a word in the dog-owning dictionary, try inter-dependence. I believe in souls and the essence of one living thing being in a certain kind of harmony with another. Some people have an affinity for horses, some people know their pet, some people understand animals better than other people and I believe this is because of the harmony of their soul and the way they are in character and disposition. I’m not going on about some mumbo jumbo here; I believe that some people you just ‘get’ even when you have nothing in common, are drawn to you and you to them purely because of something intangible and undeniable and almost indescribable. The same with animals and maybe even other things.

But, I digress.

It has long been a folk-lore ‘fact’ that cats were tortured alongside their mistresses in the early witch burnings both in Britain and abroad for being Familiars or ties to the devil.

The fact that the cat cannot be manipulated like a dog, can move silently as and when it pleases and sometimes seems to have a ‘sixth sense’ all added to the mystery and intrigue surrounding them and historically added fuel to the flames of ignorance and fear.

I’m not completely convinced cats and indeed their people (we all know cats are never ‘owned’ but are the one’s who do you the service of owning you) were persecuted as violently or as massively as some believe but throughout history women have been persecuted, denied rights, tortured and killed. In witch burning tales the accusations of witchcraft usually came from the mouths of fearful or jealous men and women to then be taken up and acted upon by more emotionally damaged (to torture any creature, be it human or not, the person must be damaged) disturbed, violent and abusive members of the community.

It seems to me that even now, lone women (in certain circumstances) are still considered outsiders. I think for centuries now to ‘fit in’ and be one of the crowd is valued much more highly than what each individual member of said crowd’s talents and characters are. In the earliest communities in Britain, men and women looked very equal within society. Male deities have always been worshipped for strength and power. Female deities were once viewed in the same light- Freyja, Frigga, Bridgid, Hera, Athena, Minerva, Adi Parashakti, Bastet, Ma’at, Sekhmet and all the others. Bastet or Bast, the ancient Egyptian protector of the Pharaoh and solar goddess, was once a hugely popular goddess with the people. They could connect with their goddess through her animal ‘familiar’ or sacred animal, the domestic cat. Cats were every where in egypt, everyone who could have a cat near them would, they gave companionship- their own and that of the goddess, they helped keep rats and mice in check, protecting vital grain and food sources. Bast was a solar goddess and when my own cat comes to wake me every morning I can see how he also brings me the sun every day.

Freyja rode a chariot pulled by huge cats and they became synonymous with the Norse deity who by far one of the favourites of the people who worshipped at that time. Freyja was a warrior goddes, the patron of crops and childbirth, she also taught the gods the art of magic. Maybe she is the connection between cats and magic that was brought across the water for us Brits and our early ancestors?

So, was it the introduction of a religion who deified one single man and one single male God that spelled disaster for the strength of the feminine in Britain and Europe? Who decided man was greater than woman? And why do all the men I know still stick their noses up when I say I own a cat?

But again, I digress 🙂

1 The Element Encyclopaedia of Witchcraft  by Judika Illes, Animals; Cats, pg 44.

Leavesden Studios.

As you’ve probably all guessed by now; I love design, I love the making of it, the construction (hence my own degree in Jewellery Design & Silversmithing) but alongside this curiosity is the ‘I don’t want to believe it isn’t actually real’ feeling that my newly booked tickets and the subsequent Leavesden Studios Harry Potter Tour is making me feel.

This is going to be a bit emotional for me.

Like many millions of others I am a Generation Harry. I was read the very first book just after it’s release; sat on the thin velvety-feel carpet tiles in the reading corner in my tiny Primary School class room. Mrs Grey read it to us. We were all hooked. That one thing, that one story linked us in ways nothing else could. Twenty or so ten-year olds who had not a single thing in common would all feel the same, gasp the same, almost cry the same on that thinly carpetted floor.

That’s the power of a good story. For me, it has always been a struggle to recreate that awe-inspired, deep seated, so amazed I could cry feeling of stepping onto the cobbles in Diagon Alley for the first time with Harry, fresh from the ‘You’re a Wizard Harry’ comment and bursting at the seams with excitement.

Until now.

Leavesden Studios offers me just that. The reason I didn’t grab a broom and speed over there as soon as it opened this March is simple. I didn’t want to go alone. Dispite the many millions just like me, I don’t live with any of them. Other Half (as he is known on here) can’t abide fantasy telling me he’d rather poke his own eyes out with prickly sticks. The comment cut surprisingly deep. This is something I have a lot of time for, the world in which I grew up in, with the characters I’ve known for years. WWHD was a little phrase that practically got me through my GCSE’s. What Would Hermione Do? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in robes with a Hogwarts scarf  on but damn, sometimes just escaping to that world brings me comfort. When I’m stressed I read. When I’m lonely I read. Comfort in the form of old friends and familiar places I can access in seconds within these books.

So after my Aunt took her family to Orlando, Fl. and visited the Harry Potter World park-within-a-park at Universal Studios, I asked my wonderful Dad if he’d go with me on a slightly shorter trip to just outside Watford. Luckily not even leaving the country. He jumped at the chance, being almost as much of a kid as myself and even offered to pay for our tickets in. Leavesden has now become a possibility for me.

It’s not until October that I can get the time off to drive up to Watford and Dad can get the time off to drive down so we can meet in the middle. I thought it would be nice to go for some sort of occasion and since my birthday month is full of maybes and possiblys I thought we could do it for Dad’s.

The thing now is the wait. Having researched fully what we’ll get to see there I teared up a little when I saw the grand finale item. A 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts itself. This is definitely going to be worth the wait and I am even demanding a new camera for my birthday just to take high quality photos with on the tour (yes, it’s allowed) and now have to calm my breathing when I think of the very first moments after the curtain has lifted and I walk into the Great Hall for the first time…

Yes everyone, I LOVE THE HARRY POTTER WORLD.