I turned 30 earlier this month. Rather a relief, in a way. People have been celebrating their 30th birthday on Facebook for months, so in a way I feel as though I’ve been turning 30 for ages – in some respects it’s a relief to get it over with.
I had a little birthday party in the Brewdog pub at Shepherd’s Bush. I got ID’d on the door so I can’t look that old – I suppose? I spent my actual birthday eating ice cream and making my housemates watch Clangers followed by Jerry Springer: The Opera. I might be growing up, but I don’t plan on growing old.
When I was little, I could never imagine myself reaching this age. I visualised myself going to sixth form, then university, but after that… nothing. Except that I knew I wanted to move to London, ever since I first visited, aged nine. Seven hours on a coach from Durham bus station, and I fell in love with this city, full of history and theatre and people, so many people. Whatever else I do or fail to do in my life, at least I know I’ve managed to fulfil one of my childhood dreams. Yesterday I left the office at lunchtime and popped into the British Museum. The British Museum. How many people get to say that? I work within walking distance of Oxford Street, King’s Cross, the South Bank, Leicester Square, all those places I used to visit as a tourist. Now I’m the one getting mad at the tourists for standing on the wrong side of the escalator.
Getting older isn’t all bad. Ten, even five, years ago I wasted far too much time and energy worrying what people thought of me. I was embarrassed about the music I liked (I was never into indie like the “cool kids”), the things I am interested in, the amount of time I like to spend by myself. Now, it doesn’t bother me, and I just don’t care what other people think about how I choose to live my life, unless they’re coming from a place of genuine concern for me or the people around me. I’m a bit more confident, a little more assertive, less apologetic.
When my mam was my age, she had a house, a husband, and a baby on the way. I don’t have any of those things, but I have others: a huge collection of books, boxes full of theatre tickets, and lots of memories.
One of my birthday presents was a ticket to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, which is all about the making of Harry Potter. I’d been wanting to go for ages, but I’m glad I waited, as it was only recently that the Hogwarts Express was installed at the attraction.
The tour site is about 20 miles north of London, near Watford, and there is a shuttle bus from Watford Junction. My friend and I travelled from west London, catching the train at Euston, and were impressed to see references to the studio tour all over the place – it’s a popular attraction! Once there, it was VERY exciting to see the bus. It’s not free, but it’s very handy – taking you straight there and back – and there’s even a little Harry Potter video to watch while you’re travelling.
The entrance to the building is exciting in itself, with a number of props dotted around, including a number of the chessmen from the first film. Elisa and I took the opportunity to get a selfie in front of the attraction!
The main lobby is huge, with a cafe, a gift shop and cloakroom (and toilets of course) – there are even some attractions here, like Ron’s car that was used in Chamber of Secrets. We had loads of time to kill before our tour, so we went for something to eat in the cafe.
Afterwards we checked out the gift shop, as you do. Everything was incredibly expensive. I did buy a little something later on, but I might have bought more if it hadn’t been so pricey.
When it was time for our tour, we got in the queue and were thrilled to notice Harry’s cupboard under the stairs as we were passing.
We were taken into a room and shown a video, with the main actors from the films – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint – introducing the experience. Then it was into the Great Hall!
I loved the Great Hall. It was an amazing feeling to be in the space where so many things happened over the course of the eight films. There were tables laid out with food, and costumes from some of the characters, including the school uniform and the teachers’ robes. The Great Hall doesn’t have a ceiling, because it is meant to reflect the night sky, and CGI stars were added after filming.
Once out of the Great Hall, the rest of the building is full of amazing props from the Harry Potter series, complete with information boards explaining how particular tricks were done and how things worked on screen. There were so many things to see, from the Gryffindor common room to the Potions classroom, Dumbledore’s office and game props from Quidditch and the TriWizard Tournament.
I really liked the “green screen” section which explained how broomsticks, Hagrid’s bike and other objects were made to fly.
Later in the exhibition, the displays focused on sets outside of Hogwarts.
The next part was one that I was really excited about – the Hogwarts Express! You can see the train in all its glory, and even climb inside the carriages.
Following this we arrived at a cafe, which was perfectly timed – we were pretty tired by this time, having spent a good couple of hours wandering around, and wanted a sit down. You can bring your own food for a picnic if you like, or you can purchase food here. We weren’t hungry, but we did fancy trying the Butterbeer. It was very sweet: Elisa hated it, but I quite liked it!
Luckily it was a fine day, as the next bit was outside. We got to see the Knight Bus (made from two genuine double decker buses), Privet Drive, the moving corridor at Hogwarts, the cottage at Godric’s Hollow, and Ron’s car.
Back inside, there was a fascinating section on animatronics and how they were made and manipulated for the Harry Potter films. I was particularly interested in Dobby and in Hagrid’s huge head, not to mention Fawkes the phoenix.
Next we made our way into Diagon Alley, which was full of shops from the movies. I loved this section – I only wish it was really possible to go into the shops and buy wands and delicious sweets for real!
The next section was all about concept art and models for the sets, which was fascinating. Finally, we got to see the incredible model of Hogwarts which was used for overhead shots. The detail on this model is incredible and my picture really doesn’t do it justice.
I had an incredible time at the studio tour and it is a must-see for any Harry Potter fan, or even anyone who is interested in how films are made. It’s pricey, but worth it in my opinion as there is so much to see.
Timed tours are in operation and you do need to book in advance. My friend and I didn’t book far enough in advance for a Saturday in July so we ended up having to choose a later timeslot. The attraction doesn’t close until late so this wasn’t a big problem for us, but I think the earlier in the day you can go the better, as there are likely to be fewer people.
The tour was definitely a highlight for me, as a huge Harry Potter fan, and I’m so glad I went.
I visited the exhibition Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation at the British Museum, an interesting look at the history of Indigenous Australia, the first major exhibition in the UK to do so through objects. I thought the exhibition struck a good balance between representing the Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders, and the outrages heaped upon them by European invaders. It emphasised the different cultures of the peoples of the continent, with a fascinating array of objects on display including baskets, masks, statues and artwork.
I love immersive theatre and recently I visited Alice’s Adventures Underground, a show held at The Vaults in Waterloo, performed by Les Enfants Terribles to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’ve written a review here, but I thought I would go into my experience in more detail, as I want to be sure of remembering it all. Please note, the following may contain spoilers!
I arrived at the venue and, after a short wait in the bar, we were taken to the first room of the experience, a gorgeous Victorian study full of books, papers and developing photographs – perhaps in homage to Lewis Carroll’s interest in photography? Even here, it was obvious that nothing was quite as it seems – the bookcases were curved as if to fit a rabbit hole, with nothing but magic to keep the books from falling out.
There was a mirror in the corner of the room, and we could see Alice, trapped and unable to get out. The clock chimed and a hidden door in the wall flew open, revealing a passageway lined with the pages of books. We made our way tentatively through the tunnel, to find ourselves “falling” down the rabbit hole, as Carroll’s words were read out by a hidden voice somewhere above us.
Once again the doors flew open and we found the White Rabbit waiting for us; he introduced us to Wonderland and invited us to eat or drink to determine the route we would take. The set here was incredibly clever, using visual tricks to make it look as if you really were growing smaller or larger depending whether you chose the “Eat Me” or “Drink Me” route. I chose “Drink Me” and followed the White Rabbit, who smuggled us into Wonderland away from the eyes of the Queen’s border guards. I was hoping to keep my little “Drink Me” bottle as a souvenir, but sadly it was taken away.
I did get to keep my playing card: we were each given one of these which determined the group we would belong to for the rest of the evening. In a small woodland area we all met the Cheshire Cat, an incredible puppet who was chilling and magical.
We then split into our groups: I was a Club, and we first of all visited the Duchess in her kitchen, complete with pig baby. We helped to make some “soup” and were hustled into the office of the Knave of Hearts, in which we ended up having to eat the evidence – a plate of jam tarts. Again, the detail in each room was astounding, and all the characters were incredibly well drawn.
A visit to Tweedledum and Tweedledee saw us huddle down in an attempt to avoid the brothers swinging about over us, and squirting us with water pistols. Fortunately our next visit was much more relaxing: a trip upstairs to lounge with the Caterpillar (another amazing puppet) in his lair.
Throughout all of this, we were aware that we were part of the rebel forces fighting against the Queen – who was trying to stamp out all the “nonsense” in Wonderland – and we had to learn a special Raven hand signal. We were introduced to “Bill” the Lizard, the leader of this gang, before we made our way into the garden – full of white roses being painted red – and then a spooky vault containing a long table: the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
Following some party antics, we were taken through to the courtroom for the grand finale. It was at this point that I really began to appreciate the amount of thought and care that had gone into the production. It became apparent that the Clubs (of which I was one) and the Spades belonged to the rebels, while the Hearts and the Diamonds were on the side of the Queen. Each group had their own role to play in the ensuing conflict – would the Queen be defeated and Alice be released?
I thought this experience was truly amazing, one of the most detailed and best thought out immersive theatre experiences I’ve ever enjoyed. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, and I wonder if I could manage to get back before it closes at the end of August to take the “Eat Me” route…
I visited the Whitechapel Gallery on the day of my Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park visit, as I had some time to kill. The Gallery, founded in 1901, is a public museum of modern and contemporary art, and hosts a number of changing exhibitions throughout the year. The current exhibitions are in place until 30 Aug, except for the London Open which runs until 6 September, and A Utopian Stage which is on until 4 October.
When I visited, the London Open 2015 was the major exhibition on display, a triennial open submission show including innovative and contemporary art in a number of formats. The exhibits were certainly varied and to be honest they didn’t really appeal to me, although I thought the brick sculpture built by artist Demelza Watts and her bricklayer father Brian was quite sweet, and I did quite like Eva Stenram’s strange altered photographs.
Following on from this, I entered the room containing the Children’s Commission 2015 by Rivane Neuenschwander, a Brazilian artist who has created outfits to explore childhood fears, collectively entitled The Name of Fear. I found some of these outfits fun to look at and rather enlightening; fears ranged from “heights” and “bees” to “nightmares” and “silence”.
In the next section, James Richards selects from the V-A-C collection, Richard’s presentation from the V-A-C collection in Moscow focuses on Francis Bacon’s Study for a Portrait (1953) and is entitled To Replace a Minute’s Silence With a Minute’s Applause. It is a rather bizarre sound installation, made up of “silences”, the gaps in between speech, suspenseful pauses in films, church bells and acts of mourning and remembrance. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of all this, but I did find it rather unsettling.
In the screening room, the Artists’ Film International: Summer 2015 includes film by Eduardo Basualdo, Tanya Busse & Emilija Ŝkarnulytė, Brigid McCaffrey & Pallavi Paul. I stayed in here for a few minutes, mainly I admit to have a rest, but I found the film on show engaging and oddly dreamy.
The Archive room was displaying an exhibition entitled A Utopian Stage: Festival of Arts Shiraz-Persepolis. For me this was probably the most interesting exhibition in the Gallery. It looked at the Festival of Arts held in Iran, against the backdrop of the ancient Persian ruins of Persepolis, between 1967 and 1997. It was described by Artforum as “one of the most adventurous and idiosyncratic festivals in the world”, featuring artists from both East and West, and the artefacts on display, including leaflets, posters, programmes and photographs, help to convey something of this.
It’s definitely impressive to have a gallery of this calibre in east London, and it’s an example of how it’s always worth looking beyond central London to get your art fix. The exhibits are thoughtfully curated and would certainly appeal to fans of modern art. Personally, I doubt I’ll be visiting again unless there’s an exhibition I really want to see: I prefer more “traditional” art if I’m honest.
By the way, the café is very nice; I had a very pleasant cup of tea there, and the cakes looked good too.
Address: 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX
My attempt to visit each one of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries is coming to a close with my visit to Tower Hamlets Cemetery, the last of the seven to be founded in 1841. I visited one Sunday afternoon.
The address of the cemetery is Southern Grove, London, E3 4PX. The main entrance to the park is five minutes’ walk from Mile End underground station. This is the location of the Soanes Centre, where courses and educational activities take place.
The City of London and Tower Hamlets Cemetery (“Bow Cemetery” to locals) opened in 1841 after being formally consecrated by the Bishop of London. In 1966, an Act of Parliament closed the cemetery and redeclared it a park. Owned and managed by the Greater London Council until 1985, it was passed to the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Since 1990, when the “Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park” were formed, the Borough Council and the “Friends” have worked together to promote and care for the park and run a programme of public events. It is now a designated Local Nature Reserve and a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation, managed by the Friends via a Service Level Agreement with LBTH Parks.
Additions have been made to the park within the last few years: the Soanes Centre, offering workshops and classes, was opened in 1993, while land including Scrapyard Meadows and Ackroyd Drive Greenlink has expanded the original area of the park. Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park is a conservation area and has several English Heritage Grade II listed monuments.
Tours of the Cemetery Park do take place every month. However, though I turned up for a tour, it looked like I was going to be the only one there, so I didn’t bother, choosing to explore myself instead. Tours sometimes focus on the history of the cemetery and sometimes on the flora and fauna to be found within; I would certainly try and go on a tour in the future if I knew it would focus on the history.
The war memorial can be found soon on entering the cemetery. From here, you can look around you and see how the city has grown up around the park.
The graves are fairly close together and some of them are quite overgrown, but I think this adds to the atmosphere.
The cemetery is smaller than others I’ve visited, and I soon reached the end, where a railway bridge allows trains to rush past. This area is overgrown and wild: more meadow than graveyard.
A quick crossing of a footpath leads you to the chalk maze and a heap of wildflowers. I could see bees and hear crickets chirping, and for a while it felt as though I wasn’t in London at all.
Back into the cemetery, I found some interesting standalone graves, including this one in memory of a three month old baby, which I found incredibly sad.
I came across this memorial to those killed in air raids during World War II. The cemetery itself was bombed five times during the war, resulting among other things to damage to both of the chapels, which were later demolished.
This grave marks the resting place of a well-known local councillor.
The Rev. David Roe is another notable burial.
This spot marks the site of the Dissenters’ Chapel.
The Anglican chapel was located here.
This cemetery doesn’t have so many notable graves, but I did like the architecture here, which in many cases was more subtle and delicate than I’ve seen before. Traditional symbols like angels, crosses and urns are common, but more unusual monuments include this little horse.
This carving of a ship on the sea is evocative and very impressive.
This sunlight-dappled tomb looks like a bath with a headless individual relaxing in it.
I love the detail on this carved drape.
This Art Deco-style gravestone is unusual and pretty.
I enjoyed my visit to Tower Hamlets. It’s as much a park as it is a cemetery but it has a great deal of atmosphere. Plenty of people seemed to be enjoying it when I was there: dog walkers, runners, and those who were just sitting and relaxing.
Would I go back?
Possibly – it would be nice to do a history tour at some point. The cemetery doesn’t have many notable burials, but it is a lovely place.
And with that, my tour of the Magnificent Seven is over. Now I need a new project…
The School by the River by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer is a book I’ve had for quite a while, so I thought I should get around to reading it. Brent-Dyer is most famous for her Chalet School series, but this book is a standalone story about a music school in a small Eastern European state. Definitely recommended for fans of the Chalet School.
Do pseudonyms count? Lemony Snicket is one of my favourite authors, despite usually writing for children. The latest book in his “All the Wrong Questions” series, Shouldn’t You Be In School?, is a good addition to the series, with the usual quirky use of language.
Keene spoke about how and why fairy tales were seen as appropriate mediums to instruct children in science. Fairy stories were very popular in Victorian Britain, and science was also growing in popularity. In 1859 The Fairy Tales of Science was released, a compilation of non-fiction lectures. We were shown some impressive pictures, including witches flying through the skies on telescopes and an evocative image of “monster soup”, a display of life as seen through a microscope. One unusual love story saw a microscopist falling in love with a creature living in his petri dish, who sadly subsequently died. Fairies were drawn as chemical elements, holding hands to combine into molecules, while L. Frank Baum’s The Master Key was subtitled An Electrical Fairy Tale. Finally, referencing the title of the lecture, an edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was displayed, showing Alice’s encounters with creatures beneath the microscope, even more unusual than the ones she encounters in the Lewis Carroll original.
I visited The Power of Poison, a temporary exhibition located in the Old Truman Brewery in London. It took me a while to find it, as it is hidden away down a side street. Once inside the foyer, you descend into the basement, which is cloaked in black as a backdrop to this fascinating exhibition.
The first section looks at poisons that occur in the natural world, created by animals and plants to protect themselves from danger. It is decked out like a Columbian jungle and is full of scary, larger-than-life models of spiders, ants and scorpions that can kill or maim with their poison. Monkeys, too, can be poisonous, and some birds wipe their wings in poison to protect themselves.
I also learned about the distinction between poison and venom – snakes, for instance, are venomous because although they can bite and inject you with venom, they are safe to eat when cooked. A case of real Golden Poison Frogs is at the centre of the room.
I then moved on to the second section, looking at the myths and legends surrounding poison. This space touched on the Mad Hatter (mercury used heavily by Victorian hatters was supposed to make them mad), the Witches of Macbeth (whose ingredients for spells could be interpreted as different kinds of poisonous plants) and Snow White (is there really a poison that could give the illusion of death?).
A wall of books showcases the most famous tales that feature poison, including the Harry Potter series, the Sherlock Holmes stories and Agatha Christie’s detective novels.
I found it really interesting to see how the exhibition put these stories and fables into historical and scientific context, looking at the truth behind the tales. Antidotes and charms, real or supposed, are also included in this section.
The final section is about detecting poisons, and you can test your own skill using one of the supplied iPads to solve poison-related mysteries. I really enjoyed this bit and took great pride in getting them all right first time (in fairness they are really designed for children!). The exhibition as a whole is really well thought-out and put together, and while I’m not convinced it is worth the full admission price, it’s certainly deserving of a visit if you can get hold of a cheaper ticket.