In years gone by you could 'potter about' to your heart's content. Aimless, pleasant meandering was the order of the day and the older you became the more entitled you were to do it. There were perfect places to 'potter' and places where 'pottering' just simply wasn't done. Sheds were spiffing, gardens were great and 'pottering about the house' was a perfect day in for all over fifties. And yet one could never 'potter about' an industrial estate, airport or crematorium. That normally calls for bemused wandering or suspicious loitering.
Then in 1997 a literary phenomenon was born that was to change everything. Soon after 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' graced our bookshelves, it blossomed into an international bestseller and then transformed phoenix-like into a publishing phenomenon and cultural touchstone. The books were encapsulated by the name of their hero. He summoned up an entire world in just two words. Just as Dickens had his 'Oliver Twist' or 'Little Nell', J.K.Rowling had her very own 'Harry Potter'.
The word 'potter' had acquired a new tenant. Going for a potter in the garden I almost felt obliged to dig out my old National Health specs and levitate a few rose bushes. Not that I was complaining, for both pottering and Harry Potter are equally delightful. No surprise then that a birthday spent pottering around the Warner Brothers Studio Tour proved to be the perfect symbiosis.
Is there a typical Harry Potter fan? Well if there is, I'm not altogether sure I'm it. Perhaps 'admirer' would be a better description? When the first of J.K. Rowling's works saw the light of day, I was clinging obstinately to my 30s. Four years earlier I waved goodbye to my teaching career and said hello to the life of a househusband and an ever-present nappy bucket. Reading aloud to the children (and indeed my past pupils) had always been fun and this 'Harry Potter' fellow seemed the perfect fit. So Mr Potter took his place in our bookcase and was welcomed enthusiastically by King Arthur, Mr Toad and the Lorax.
THE BIRTHDAY TREAt
Before I continue, I ought to mention that the Harry Potter Tour really is something special. Slightly less so is the fact that it's official online name (takes deep breath) is the curiously bland 'The Warner Bros. Studio Tour London'. Now there must be a reason why Harry Potter isn't in the title? Perhaps it's so another extraordinary blockbuster can be gracefully sprinkled on the experience at a later date? Nevertheless one can hardly begrudge the company who poured so much money and effort in the films from trying to get their name in somewhere!
Now you might think I'm mad - there are a few people in that particular queue - but the image below is the main reason why your arrival at the tour is going to feel so special.
Yes, it's the M25. Britain's very own 117 mile 'London Orbital Motorway' that snakes around the capital city like a CO2 crazed Nagini. In many respects it's like an utterly bonkers fairground carousel which has the curious ability to give each ticket bearer a wildly different experience ranging from the pleasantly surprising to the desperately frustrating. In that respect it is a vehicular version of Bertie Bott's Beans. Had Dante owned a motorcar this surely would have been his 10th circle of Hell. On the day of our particular visit we ran into a grim traffic jam which soon gobbled up the additional forty minutes we'd allowed for the journey. By the time we arrived we'd seen quite enough of concrete and tarmac thank-you, and with our souls thus stripped to the bone even a poorly constructed rubber balloon sausage dog would have been greeted with utter delight. But what lay in wait was considerably better.
Harry Potter and me
As I wandered around the tour I felt unusually at home. Perhaps it's just me but a lot of the sets around me seem to reflect on elements of my own life. For example, the very first film set you stumble across isn't inside the 'experience' as such, it's sitting there right by your side as you queue up for your timed entry. Harry's little room under the stairs is probably familiar to 99.9% of all Brits. Not because wein the United Kingdom force people to live under our stairs but because the cupboard under the stairs is a little national treasure that so many of us have and use. I have little doubt that other nations have them too but we love ours. Bungalow dwellers, pray indulge me for a moment longer....
If you click on the snap above you will notice that whereas Vernon Dursley kept a boy magician in his, I currently keep a net of organic onions in mine. And only mine can be used to make a decent spaghetti bolognese. Other things also live within but it has been many years since I have explored beyond the confines of the vegetable basket. Better safe than sorry.
THREE CHEERS FOR THE SCHOOL!
When you are first led into the Great Hall it's difficult to know what's better to look at. The extraordinarily impressive architectural set or the amazed faces of the fans as they gaze at it. It's quite wonderful, and at Christmas time with the appropriate smattering of Christmas Pudding and decorations, even more so. You will be asked a question by your guide that many will doubtless have pondered deeply; namely which 'house' do you belong to? Thankfully you aren't made to face your own Sorting Hat inquisition but a general feel for each house's support is garnered by the offering up of a hearty cheer by those assembled. There were of course followers of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw who happily identified themselves but this was nothing compared to the almighty roar of approval that echoed around the Hall for Gryffindor.
Perhaps it's me and my strange British desire to 'do the decent thing' but the massive eruption of Gryffindor love did remind me of those football fans who live in a minor league town but instead choose to nail their particular colours to a major cup-winning Premiership side. But Gryffindor is of course the most heroic house and the house of Harry himself so perhaps it is only to be expected. In the spirit of fairness I let out a sinle cheer for Slytherin and my lonely effort bounced off the walls of the Hall and withered away somewhere near the gigantic fireplace. My wife gave a sympathetic smile as a surrounding huddle of twenty-something female fans stared daggers into my back.
Thinking of my own schooldays my own school was not unlike Hogwarts. It had boarders who lived within it's walls but most of the children were 'day boys' like me who went through their own particular sorting procedure. No hat was involved and unless you were a younger brother forced to follow in your elder brother's footsteps, it all seemed rather random. Pelham, Smith, Chichester, Ireland - take your pick! Unless that is you were one of the very few boarders. They were thrust into Marshall house and almost certain despair. Largely due to the relatively low number of members this house tended to do badly in pretty well everything and it had a reputation for being deserving of no reputation whatsoever. Even boys like me, who fled from football and quaked at the very thought of cross country, felt sorry for them.
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