Hogwarts In The Snow

Predictably, as a 90s enfant, I was a little Harry Potter freak as a child. My dad read the first book to me when I was five, and by the time Goblet of Fire came out two years later I had read the first three on my own enough times to warrant a tally on the chalk board in my room. Not only was I an obnoxious over-reader, I was also very imaginative and an only child, so suffice to say I took things to the next level. I relabelled the spice jars in our kitchen as potion ingredients. I collected every vaguely magic-related object in our house, from lanterns and toy cats to a wand-shaped kitchen implement, and packed my Hogwarts trunk. I made class schedules on our computer. I was thorough. I was intense. I still am.

Fast forward to high school and the majority of my friend group is just as intense as I am which, considering how heavily we participated in The Vodka Years, is an interesting juxtaposition. Such is the duality of man, I guess. Satty night, alcopops and poor decisions. Sunday arvo, Harry Potter Cluedo. As the majority of us were the kind of people to be placed in an Extension English class, we did not stop at surface level plot points and went in hard on the background details and intricacies of the Wizarding World, so I am very confident when I say there is not a wizarding question that at least one of us could not answer. We had movie marathons. Sara and I had matching Gryffindor quidditch hoodies. I am about 99% sure one year Ruby and I received wands for our birthdays. Look, this all sounds a lot weirder out of context when I'm writing it all together at once and I swear to god we were also normal, functioning Hip Teens, but my point stands: the love was strong.

I wouldn't say I've fallen out of love with it, but over the last few years it hasn't occupied quite the monopoly of fantastical real estate in my brain that it used to. However, the idea of leaving London without having been to the Studio Tour was akin to blasphemy and abject failure at being myself, so when Fiona snagged us some cheeky tix I was ready to rock. As illustrated above, I was not disappointed.

Waiting in line next to Harry's cupboard: amped. Watching the pre-tour video: ready. The moment they give you zero warning before your heart drops to your stomach as they reveal the doors to the Great Hall: finna burst into tears. The next three hours: blind panic.

The moment those doors appeared I became so overwhelmed by the enormity of what was actually happening to my precious, Peter Pan ass woman-child soul (see: literally gasped out loud) that I think I entered a parallel reality and stopped really processing much of anything. It was as though my subconscious saw a tsunami of accumulated emotion and attachment coming and slammed the door shut. That's not to say I did not enjoy the experience, just that I didn't completely realise the gravity of where we were until we were on the bus back to the train station. It's like the first time you watch a really great movie you're just trying to take everything in and follow along, and then the second time you watch it you can take in more of the details and chill the heck out, so a return visit will be firmly on the cards next time I am in London.

Let's back track slightly. Not only was I finally at the tour, but it was also in the lead up to Christmas, so the whole place was transformed for Hogwarts In The Snow. I am the quintessential Basic Christmas Bitch, so this made the whole thing even more magical. Furthermore, November in London has always been particularly special to me (to the extent that I literally wrote an entire post about it), so couple that with Harry Potter, Christmas and the fact this was the start of a month over which I would quit my job, visit both France & Sweden and pack up my entire life, and you've got quite an an emotionally charged situation on your hands. I have just remembered that I did in fact have a full meltdown during the walk from our house to the tube station that morning, which makes a lot more sense in hindsight. However, I also remember sitting at a table outside Euston with my cappuccino, masochistically savouring the incredibly crisp (see: frozen) wind, buzzed out of my brain over the fact the cup had a little penguin on it and the heat sleeve was fair isle printed, so swings and roundabouts. Basically, there was a LOT GOING ON.

It is a bit of a trek to get out to the tour from central London, but if you grab a tactical snack and a coffee at Euston the train journey to Watford Junction is nothing, and there's a bus that runs from the station to the studio every 20 minutes. When I say bus, I mean fully illustrated double decker tribute to the movie franchise directly outside the station, so you're not going to miss it. Return tickets are £2.50 each, which is worth thinking of ahead of time since you'll need to pay in cash before getting on. Also keep in mind (this should be very obvious but you never know) that you need to book your tickets for the tour WELL beforehand, not only because slots sell out weeks in advance, but also because you'll need to show proof of purchase before they let you onto the bus. As someone who lived in London long enough to start booking brunch venues three weeks out, I will never cease to be astounded by the array of places people will show up unprepared, expecting to buy a ticket on arrival.
Don't be those people. No one needs a wizardless day trip to Watford.

Upon arrival we were greeted by an enormous snow covered Christmas tree, and I believe that is when the first portion of my soul left my body. The next departure occurred outside of Harry's cupboard, and by the time I laid eyes on the Yule Ball ice sculpture I was gawn. Even writing about this now fills me with childlike wonder and makes me want to spend the next two hours swaddled in a duvet going through my copy of Harry Potter Film Wizardry, but unfortunately it is somewhere in a box at my dad's country house with the rest of my books and also I have to go out soon, so I will have to settle for blasting the score via Spotify as I continue to type. Just finished listening to 'Leaving Hogwarts' from the first movie and it was a lot. Remember a couple of months ago when I wasn't that into Harry Potter anymore? Neither.

One of the contributing factors to this magical renaissance in my life has been listening to the Potterless Podcast. If you haven't listened to it before it's basically a guy reading the books for the first time aged 24/25 and discussing them with different people as he goes. I have mixed feelings about this because 1. literally every person I went to school with knows more about the series than any of the guests he's had on and 2. a few episodes ago the guest was some person who clearly had a massive chip on their shoulder because they didn't consider it a good enough fantasy series (???) and kept trying to pick apart unnecessary details, in response to which I was just like buddy it's a literal children's book and is also ludicrously fuckin intricate and rich in detail so maybe take a moment to unpack why you're so bitter and also do one. That anger has been brewing in me for like a month so #soz for unrelated #content but maaaannnnn. I just think it's lazy and boring to dismiss the thought and planning that went into the series just because you liked other books better and got hipster-rage because they weren't as widely acknowledged. Overall though the podcast is a fab background listen and will likely bring back a bitta the magic for ya, but it does vary in quality based on guest.
I am pretty sure my friend Dottie is going to be on it soon, so I have high hopes.

Whilst we are discussing supplementary media, I have also gone on a massive binge of my friend Cherry's videos, and am now determined to have an entire wall of my future children's playroom dedicated to movie quality props and magical objects so that any child of mine who shows an interest (please god let there be one) will be able to pack the most badass imaginary Hogwarts adventure bag ever. Also mummy can play too. Will wants to have some shit like replica Lord of the Rings swords so he can teach them to fight and I'm just like whatever man I don't care as long as I get my potion vials and spellbooks. So keen to go to Universal Studios and get them all robed up and pick some wands. Also myself. Mainly myself. I've also been really into Disney World videos recently so I am planning QUITE the trip in my mind. I have a lot of free time.

Over the course of my life I have found myself subconsciously factoring magical elements into my day to day operations. Yes, in the sense that I genuinely would not be surprised if magic is 100% real and if I saw a fairy one day I would be startled but not surprised, but also just mulling over details of J.K.'s world in the background of my everyday life. One of my quotes in our yearbook was "I will literally freak out if there are deatheaters an I am in a blazer" (a striking commentary on the panic-inducingly restrictive nature of the outer layer of our uniforms), and one of my more pressing realisations of recent years has been that the wizarding world we see on film isn't really my aesthetic.

The imaginary version of the world that I conjure up whilst reading the books could be made to work, absolutely, but the Warner Bros version would be a struggle to reconcile. Barely anything at Hogwarts (with the exception of snowy exterior castle shots and probs quidditch) would fit my instagram theme, which makes me feel slightly better about having missed out on attending, but in the context of the tour and trying to get that gram it leaves a LOT to be desired. For this reason I have always known that the Studio Tour would be a challenging experience photogenically; it is a momentous occasion and every corner holds something I want to capture, but the lighting is terrible. Truly.
I'm half joking but also not. Further coverage of this pressing issue later, I'm sure.

The majority of the tour I was pretty chill with standing back and having a casual browse, but when it came to the potions room I wanted nothing more than to gracefully leap over the barrier and have a solid bloody rummage. I feel like I'd be good at potions and would probably set up some sort of covert side hustle brewing and selling particularly handy ones to other students. I love the idea of being able to blast things and levitate stuff and fight off creatures and whatnot, but potion making could be a nice little lucrative hobby. Endless possibilities.

Fiona and I have a tendency to look in photos as though we are cousins who don't spend time together outside of family functions but are being forced to go on a joint day out because it was a Christmas gift from our grandparents. This particular occasion is when we nailed down that comparison, thanks to some particularly jarring shots of us in the Great Hall which you will not be seeing, but I think we did ok in the selfies.

I am in the midst of an identity crisis in the form of ongoing debate re: whether I am a Slytherin or a Ravenclaw. Pottermore would insist the latter, while my growing contempt for the general public over the course of this tour (and my life) would indicate a slightly more polarising fate. I often imagine myself perched atop a stool, Sorting Hat being lowered onto my blessed head, thinking three simple words: "Not fuckin Hufflepuff", which would likely send me snakeward, but the Slytherin commonroom seems really cold and I don't deal well with being cold and uncomfortable so I don't know. I feel like I would rather be the bitchy one in a smart house than be stuck around a group of miserable bitches 24/7 in a dungeon. Luckily I look fab in both blue and green so that's not really an issue. I dunno guys. By the time we reached the gift shop I was so done with every single man, woman and child that I was drawn unequivocally to the Slytherin merch, but I do still wonder. 

I do have a lot of Gryffindor qualities as well but I think I am a bit too schemey and self centred for that life. Who knows. As a child I thought I was a Gryffindor, but everyone thinks they're a Gryffindor before they develop the capacity for self awareness. I also believe that regardless of what house you think you're in, if you're even half okay with the idea of being a Hufflepuff then sweetie, you are one.

A fun Harry Hack that I discovered, in between dodging scuttling infants and The Selfies Of Others, is that if you crouch yourself down on the floor when the fog starts pumping out in the Forbidden Forest you can take a really fabulous cover for your next theatrical-infused emo album. It is not the most convenient place to pop a squat, but there are plenty of nooks between tree roots and such, so you needn't cause a traffic jam.

Back to the lighting rant.
I understand the need for dramatic lighting in the majority of the tour. I find it inconvenient, but truly, I do. Spotlights and harsh shadows create necessary ambiance and enhance the overall experience by making things feel more special and authentic throughout the majority of the tour, but the one section I refuse to accept being so poorly lit is the Hogwarts Express. Every photo in this post has been colour corrected to high heavens, but believe me the primary coloured glow coming offa that steam engine was almost unsalvageable.

Let's say for a moment that the engine itself remains aglow with various shades of red and blue to create the sense that it is a very special choochoo indeed; there is still absolutely no reason for the platform not to be lit up like a damn house from The Grinch in December. First of all, you've already broken continuity by having multiple platform entrances and trollies sticking out of the wall, so this is clearly a designated photo op. Chuck up a ring light. Maybe some reflectors. Create the illusion of day. This is a film studio. I know you know how to do that. Secondly,  the lighting at actual King's Cross is honestly pretty phenom. I know that HP King's Cross and Real Life King's Cross are very different places, but the real one has plenty of natural light and bright spaces, so MAYBE the FAKE ONE should catch UP. It's chill I'm fine I don't even care.

Really though, if you want to get a well-lit 9 3/4 photo your best bet is to just wait in line at the actual station.
Humiliating, but effective.

Happily, there is one section of the tour that, depending on the weather, is actually decently lit. The Knight Bus, Privet Drive and Godrick's Hollow are all outside, along with a few other bits'n'pieces, which was a welcome break from the eternal darkness inside.

Mood board.
Tag urself. Today I am 'Tentative House-elf Armour'.

Full disclosure, by the time we got to Diagon Alley I was 900% done with children and families and random people ambling across my path, so in future I would like for someone to take me as their +1 to a press evening so that I may have my moment without the interrupting proletariat.
This is how we know I'm not a Gryffindor.

Having not taken my books with me when I moved to England, it's been several years since I have read a HazPot (with the exception of Cursed Child which doesn't really count anyway), so I think it's probably about time to get around to that. Whilst listening to Potterless I've realised I remember roughly zero details about anything that happens in the sixth book, so that's sure to be a frabulous surprise. Won't lie, just took a break from writing this to watch the royal wedding so my train of thought is gawwwnnn. Basically this tour was a magical journey into the dearest dreams of my childhood (and adult) self, and despite what Fiona said when I remarked upon the fact that it's weird they used a model to film external shots of Hogwarts instead of just filming the real castle, I am more sure than ever that it is absolutely a real place and a real world and one day I will be able to shoot lightning out of my hands. I will not be told otherwise.

Complaints about lighting and dawdlers aside, there were so many moments on the tour that straight up took my breath away, from the Great Hall at the start to the castle at the end. I'm so excited to go back and really take in the details and read all the little bits of text next to things and appreciate the historical-movie-making side of things properly, but for now I'm very happy with my snow-capped Hogwarts experience.