I will very happily admit to being a fan of Harry Potter. I first discovered the books when I was on a school expedition to Venezuela in 2000. Sixteen of us were travelling for a month, and our books became a shared library. I tend to try to avoid ovely-hyped books, but after exhausting all the other books available, necessity won out, and like millions of other adults, I was impressed to see that a ‘children’s book’ really could capture adults and children alike, and the hype surrounding the series wasn’t overrated.
Years later, I was studying at Cambridge when Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix came out in cinemas, and have fond memories of a large group of us attending one of the midnight premiere screenings at the local cinema, all dressed in our Cambridge gowns.
Whilst I’m not a die-hard fan, and have only read most of the books once, every time a new book was released, I wouldn’t put it down until I had read it from cover to cover. In fact shortly before my Dad died, I can remember him laughing at me for staying up all night reading a ‘children’s book’. I have similar, more recent, memories of reading at the dinner table during Sunday lunch with my adoptive family, just after the final book came out. As an orphan myself, I’ve always had a bit of a soft-spot for Harry, and I can empathise with trying to find your place in the world once you lose your own roots (though I should probably point out that, unlike the Dursleys, my adoptive family are lovely, and have never made me sleep in a cupboard under the stairs!).
Finally, like most aspiring authors, I find J.K. Rowling to be an absolute inspiration. Not just her insane world-dominating empire, but simply because of her unrivalled imagination. She created a fascinatingly detailed new world, and I am a great fan of the incredible thought which went into laying the intricate web of clues and ideas woven throughout the later books. It’s brilliant when you find something out three books later and realise it was mentioned in passing all that time ago. It’s also really fun when you know you spotted the clue and have spent three books working out what it may lead to. One of the girls I went to university with absolutely loved the series, and had re-read the books countless times, and she would point out all the subtle nuances that Rowling had dropped in as we went along. I love fantasy books, particularly those set in the world we know, and I also really enjoy reading (and writing) books which are part of a series, because the longer you spend with characters, the more they feel like friends. Whether you’re writing about him, or reading him, the more time you spend with a character, the better you understand him, and one of the many many reasons for Rowling’s success, is the way in which Harry, Hermione and Ron became friends to millions of children and adults the world over.
And so with all that in mind, and the official opening of The Warner Brothers Tour – The Making of Harry Potter just a few months ago, it seemed fitting that one of my dates should take me to Hogwarts and down Diagon Alley, with a stop off in Hogsmead for a flagon of Butterbeer!
This Sunday was the first time in my Challenge (and actually ever in my life!) that I went on two dates in one day. After a long morning with The Exhibitionist, completing a treasure hunt around Southwark in the drizzle, and a rushed lunch of paella down by London Bridge, I was left with just fifteen minutes between my two dates!
I hopped onto the Tube, and was just five minutes late to meet The Big Kid in the centre of Euston Station. The station was completely packed, however when I went to call him, I realised he was literally standing a metre away from me, with his back to me.
The Big Kid was referred by his older sister, The Blushing Bride. I met the Bride on one of my best friend’s hen weekends, right at the very start of this challenge. We had chatted about how she had met her husband-to-be on Plenty of Fish – at that point they weren’t married, and their wedding was between my best friend’s hen do and her wedding, so that when I next met The Blushing Bride at my best friend’s wedding, she was newly married. At the wedding, we talked about how the challenge had developed, and together with another friend from the hen weekend – The New Mum, who had her baby Finlay this week, congratulations!! – and the Bride’s new husband, they decided they wanted me to go on a date with someone they knew, so that they could all read about it in the blog, actually knowing the man I was describing! And so The Big Kid was volunteered for the challenge, with The Blushing Groom taking great delight in winding me up about how bad the date would be!
The Big Kid gets his name from his enthusiasm for all things Harry Potter. When I’d suggested on Facebook that I wanted to do a date at the new Warner Brothers exhibition, The Blushing Bride replied immediately, knowing her brother loved Harry Potter. And when I got in touch with him over text message, he warned me in advance that he might forget how old he was when we got there!
The Tour is based just outside of Watford, a twenty-minute train journey from central London. A regular shuttle bus runs from the station out to the Warner Brothers Studios in Leavesden, so all in all the transport to the site and back from Euston cost just under £15.
The tours run at set times of the day, and you have to book tickets in advance, as no tickets are available for sale at the Studios. I booked our tickets early last week, and yet almost all the weekend slots were already fully booked, which was why I had to cancel my original plans with The Exhibitionist. The only time slot available was the last tour of the day – 6.30pm, however we arrived 45 minutes early. Being early didn’t cause any issues, and we collected commentary headsets, and then queued up beside the cupboard under the stairs, and waited to be let inside the exhibition.
First we entered a large room full of different screens, each showing clips of the history of the Harry Potter books and films. Next we filed into cinema-like room, where we were shown a film of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson welcoming us all to Leavesden. As they disappeared through the doors of the Hogwarts Great Hall, the cinema screen disappeared upwards to reveal the actual doors to the Great Hall set behind.
The Big Kid gasped like a small child, and whooped to himself as we entered the Hall! We admired the Hogwarts crests, the various house emblems and uniforms, and stared up at the costumes warn by the teaching staff, decorating mannequins on the raised platform at the front of the Great Hall. The statues included headmaster Dumbledore, standing behind his famous golden owl lectern.
From the Great Hall we filed into the main exhibit – two large hangers filled with different sets and artefacts from the series of eight films. We were shown props, costumes, and sections of the set, including the Gryffindor Common Room and Boys’ Dormitory, sections of the Ministry of Magic, and the Potions classroom, complete with self-stirring cauldrons. We marvelled at the intricate details of Dumbledore’s office, and watched interviews with the producers, directors, make-up artists and set designers. We were shown how the Quidditch scenes were filmed on green screens, and offered the chance to film our own broomstick flights.
The tour then took us to an outdoor lot, filled with The Knight Bus, Sirius Black’s motorcycle and side car, a section of the Hogwarts bridge, and houses from Privet Drive. Most importantly, it also contained bars serving Butterbeer – the Hogsmead special, which is only available in two places in the world – Leavesden, and the Warner Brothers Studios in America. Not factoring in the number of children visiting the site, I had expected Butterbeer to be alcoholic, which it wasn’t. It tasted a bit like cream soda, with molten marshmallows on top, mixed with caramel. So basically – it was delicious! But SOOOOOOO sickly!
Both The Big Kid and I took one mouthful, and remarked how we’d want at least one more mugful after the one we were drinking. By the time we were halfway through our first glass, both of us were complaining how sweet it was, and wondering if we’d finish it! We did (sort of!) finish the glasses, but we didn’t get a second cup, and we both then felt pretty sick for the rest of the tour!
After the outside lot, we returned inside, to displays of all the amazing creatures and special effects from the movies, various scale models of different sets, and then, one of the parts I had been most excited about – we walked up Diagon Alley!
Finally we walked around a scaled down (but still huge!) intricate model of Hogwarts – a site which made The Big Kid whoop out loud again!
The tour was really interesting, with heaps of things to watch and do. The amount of detail in the sets was incredible – every tiny detail had been thought of, and it was fascinating how the various creative teams took J.K. Rowling’s words and created such an incredible, visual spectacle. Everywhere you looked there was something fascinating – from the Ministry of Magic sculpture – which was made of foam, and yet could have been a masterpiece in its own rate, to the amazing detail the graphics team had gone into creating magical-themed kids toys, exam papers, make-up, newspapers, and other ‘normal’ props, in a very abnormal world.
Words genuinely can’t do the tour justice, because there was just too much to take in, and I’m sure if I went again, I would spot hundreds of things which I didn’t notice the first time. The experience is quite costly – we paid £30 each, plus an extra £5 for the headsets, but the tour can last up to three hours, and I’ve definitely paid far more, for far less, on this Challenge. I could imagine it could make a pretty expensive family day trip though.
As for my date? He was hilarious. The thing about going on two dates in one day (especially when I only had 15 minutes to myself between the two!) is that it’s impossible not to compare the two. And the thing I noticed immediately, was how much of a difference a shared sense of humour can make to a date. As soon as I realised The Big Kid and I shared a similar sense of humour, I relaxed, and it just made the date a lot easier! He wasn’t a perfect date, by any stretch – but he knew it, and he laughed about it. He spent a lot of time pre-empting his blog nickname – and suggesting it should be ‘Mr Inappropriate’ after a few choice comments – one being accusing someone loudly of ‘sh*tting himself’ as we left the Great Hall, and another being when he directly suggested to the couple sat beside us watching the introductory video, that we were ‘swingers’!
He also made a lot of really stupid comments. But hilariously stupid comments, where he laughed at himself, a lot! My favourite was probably when we walked out into the external lot, and he didn’t realise we were outside! He actually commented on how realistic the weather ‘inside’ the exhibit was! A comment which genuinely had me biting my fist just to stop myself laughing.
Because the date was so relaxed, and we were equally enthusiastic about the Harry Potter exhibit, we were perfectly comfortable acting like little kids in front of each other, which made for a really fun, simple date. We chatted easily throughout the exhibit, interrupted only by our headset tour guides, and when we jumped on the train home, I asked if he fancied going for dinner together. In the end we decided on takeaway sushi, which we ordered in to the flat I was looking after for my friends, and we snuggled up easily in front of a film, with a table full of sushi and a bottle of wine (or two! Because The Big Kid was having none of my rose drinking habits!).
It was genuinely one of my favourite dates, simply because it was so comfortable and easy. A lot of that was thanks to my date’s attitude, but I also think doing something a bit childish and fun definitely affected the tone of the date. This challenge has forced me to do some really different and unorthodox first dates, and I can genuinely say, doing something a bit silly and fun (as long as the other person is as up for it as you are), like the Toilet Tour I did with The Fresh Prince, or HintHunt with The Enigma, can really be a great Ice Breaker, and be a far more fun and easier way to properly get to know someone than simply having a drink in a pub.
It was clear how much fun I had on the date, because by the time we’d got back to London from Watford, I’d been on dates for over 10 hours that day. So asking if he fancied going for dinner was only something I would have asked if I was having a genuinely fun time, and I think the fact I opted for takeaway and a movie just went to show how comfortable and at home I felt around The Big Kid after just a few hours on the Harry Potter Tour – again something which had a lot to do with our shared sense of humour (something the Exhibitionist was definitely lacking!).
I wore – the same outfit as I did with the Exhibitionist (funnily enough!)
He wore – a t-shirt and whitish jeans, very eighties headphones (which were attached to a digital tour guide!)
We met – in the centre of Euston station
We drank – Butterbeer! (always wanted to say that on the blog!) Red Wine & Rose and Cloudy Lemonade
The date lasted – 8 hours
The date ended – around midnight, at Clapham Junction station (so I managed over 12 hours of dating in one day!)
Marks out of ten? – A very decent 9.5/10 – turns out acting like a big kid on a first date really does work!
My next date? Tomorrow (Wednesday) night
Miss Twenty-Nine xxx