Thursday, 23 June 2011

Places to go, people to see: Hogwarts and Hogsmeade Village

What do you mean 'those are fictional places'?! Shut up.

Yeah ok, this post is actually about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando. For those HP fans who've not been, go. And go now. It's completely amazing, magical you might say. Even my non-HP fan dad was thoroughly impressed when we went last year. The headline ride (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey which makes up the contents of Hogwarts Castle) is spectacular, the merchandise is brilliant (stand out pieces: a wand from Ollivanders, Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Botts' Every Flavour Beans) and Butterbeer is the best thing you'll ever taste, especially a frozen one in the mid-afternoon Floridian humidity. 

It's also a topical post for obvious reasons film-related reasons and because WWOHP itself has just celebrated it's first birthday. And I'm spending my Saturday night - all of it - at the BFI watching films 5-7. Hugely exciting geekery. 

I don't claim that these photos represent the definitive account of WWOHP - because they absolutely don't - but I quite like them. And I can't wait to take more when I go back next summer!

One entrance to Hogsmeade, with Hogwarts in the background.

'Please respect the spell limits' 

Hogwarts Castle. Famous for its palm trees. (Taken from the bridge between WWOHP and Jurassic Park)


The metal work in the background is the Dragon Challenge dual coaster. Slightly underwhelming for this coaster fan.

The other entrance to Hogsmeade, from Jurassic Park. 

Part of the INCREDIBLE queue area for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the INCREDIBLE main ride in WWOHP. The best ride in Orlando as decided by me, my mum, my non-HP fan dad and also Jonathan Ross.
Ridiculous attention to detail.

More detail. It's difficult to photograph the queue area because it's mostly in the dark - and involves some amazing technology that isn't easily captured - but it really is just incredible. Especially the 'magic' paintings.

Detail on the outside of Hogwarts, at the entrance to the ride.

One of the many hugely lucrative and cool merchandising opportunities. Not a hugely practical thing to buy in Orlando in the middle of August but do you really think that stopped me?! A huge, solid block of super sweet, American chocolate. Also has the trading cards, as per the books. I got Godric Gryffindor. 

The first view of Hogwarts you get on entering Islands of Adventure where it's located. Jurassic Park is to the left.

The Hog's Head pub.

The Three Broomsticks (restaurant).

A very very VERY quiet day in Hogsmeade, relatively speaking. You can see the pavement and everything!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

BBC reveals new Strictly Come Dancing pro lineup

Exciting news to stimulate some rare lunchtime blogging from me: the BBC has released the list of pro dancers who'll be taking part in this year's Strictly Come Dancing.

And it's good news if you're me. Anton is back for another series! Hurrah! My other favourites, Erin and Brendan, are back too. Slightly-less-enthusiastic-but-pleased-nonetheless hurrah! All three of them will have been in every series since the beginning, a not inconsiderable feat given the Beeb's propensity to fiddle with the pro lineup every year.

That said, though, this year's fiddling has been kept to a minimum with just one change: Jared Murillo is out, Pasha Kovalev is in. Honestly, I'm kind of glad to see the back of Jared. As cute as he was paired with Tina O'Brian last year, I never felt he clicked with the show. Maybe it was because he was too young, I don't know, but I did find him pretty annoying. His replacement, a veteran of the US version of So You Think You Can Dance and the stage show Burn The Floor, is older and, frankly, hotter.Good stuff.

The full pro line up for Strictly 2011 is:  Artem Chigvintsev, Brendan Cole, Anton Du Beke, James Jordan, Pasha Kovalev, Vincent Simone and Robin Windsor; Erin Boag, Flavia Cacace, Ola Jordan, Natalie Lowe, Kristina Rihanoff, Aliona Vilani and Katya Virshilas.

You can read the BBC press release here.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Things I'm loving this week: #12

Favourite random news stories
Sean Bean is hard. Fact. So hard that after get glassed in a fight he went back into the pub and ordered another drink. I imagine he pulled the glass out of the wound with his teeth or something. Either way, what a legend. (Don't try this at home kids!)

Somewhat more predictably, the fact that Anton won Rear of the Year has also been keeping me amused:

Du Beke described the award as an ''absolute honour. Sadly, it has often been said that my rear is better than my front, so thank you very much indeed,'' he said.

It's nice that sometimes awards go to people who deserve them:

Photo stolen from Katie H on Facebook. 
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off for a lie down in a darkened room. 

Soundtrack to my life
At the moment I'm obsessed with Kanye West's new(ish) album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. As the name suggests it's not for the faint hearted - or easily offended - but I love it. Not sure there's a standout track for me, I love them all, but if pressed I'd go for Monster, which also has a completely mad video (serious health warning on this - it's an incredible video, in both senses of the word, in my opinion - I love the bit with Nicki Minaj - but not without... controversy). 

Speaking of mad videos I'm also majorly loving Katy Perry's new offering, Last Friday Night. This video is a work of genius: 

Rebecca Black AND Corey Feldman? What more could you want!

New reading matter
I've just started Tony Blair's 'A Journey'. Initial thoughts are positive - it's very engagingly written and his analysis is incredibly sharp, even if I don't agree with all of it. It's also disarmingly self deprecating - very unexpected from someone like TB! I'm looking forward to getting stuck into it properly.

Best film I've seen in ages
I'm increasingly a massive comic book geek, as my Batman Converse and tickets to Batman Live will attest. So perhaps it's unsurprising that I loved X Men: First Class. It's that rarest of rare things: a big budget blockbuster with a brain. I thought both Michael Fassbender (who, incidentally, is seriously fit - how did I not know this?!) and James McAvoy were pitch perfect as the young Magneto and Professor X and I adored the scene stealing Kevin Bacon having way too much fun as a proper comic book baddy. I think pretty much everyone I know has seen this film now but if you haven't then go and go now!

Monday, 6 June 2011

RIP Andrew

It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

So says Shakespeare in Cymbeline (Act IV, Scene 2). That's all well and good - part of one of my favourite passages from any Shakespeare play, discovered through a beautiful song in the Stephen Sondheim musical The Frogs - but sometimes the idea that 'death will come when it will come' is an extremely troubling, heartbreaking and infuriating one.

I'm talking, of course, about the achingly premature and frighteningly sudden death of Andrew Reeves. Much has been written, blogged, tweeted and Facebooked about Andrew by others who knew him much better and write much more eloquently than I do (Mark Pack over at LDV being one of many that really touched me). It's a testament to the affection and regard in which he was held and something which he clearly would've really appreciated, especially the fact that for a few hours on Friday he was a Top Trend in the UK on Twitter.

I first met Andrew at the Norwich North by election. He was due to arrive mid way through the day and I distinctly remember everyone, even the most hardened and long serving staffers, being genuinely excited that he was coming. It had been decided that he was going to spend his spell in NN working front of house, a job that his particular brand of down to earth warmth and unflapability (clearly not a word, but it just fits) was perfectly suited for. For reasons best known to someone else, I was sent to join him. The two of us were starting our front of house 'shift' just as the blue letter stuffing/sorting job had arrived. Anyone who's run an election of any sort knows how prone to stress and disaster this is and I was apprehensive at best about taking it on with someone I'd never met before.

I really needn't have been. Working with Andrew that weekend was an absolute joy. At the time I was seriously considering whether I was really up to working for the party, and whether I wanted to. By the end of the weekend I had been convinced - in typical gentle, warm, non-hectoring style - that I was and I did. I took a massive confidence boost from that campaign and so much of that was down to realising that people as well qualified to judge as Andrew thought that I knew what I was doing. It's probably down in no small part to his encouragement (at NN and since; I'll never forget the congratulatory bear hug I got after getting my current job) that I'm still working for the party now. Whether that's a good thing for the party is for someone else to say, but it certainly is a good thing for me.

The last time I saw Andrew was back on the by election campaign trail in Oldham East and Saddleworth. Once again there was a sense of excitement around his arrival, just for the day this time I seem to remember, which given the general hard slog of a campaign in the middle of an excruciatingly cold January was quite something! We didn't get much chance to speak but he did come over to say hello and to mock me for having as my desktop wallpaper a photo of Anton Du Beke swinging Ann Widdecombe around by her ankles on Strictly. We'd enjoyed some spirited Twitter banter on the subject of Widdy's continued presence on Strictly during the series and he was amused that I was still keeping the faith even after the series had ended. He told me that he worried about my taste in men and headed off to deliver some leaflets.

The fact that that's the last thing he'll ever say to me is the thing more than anything else I'm struggling to comprehend. How can there be another by election without a visit from Andrew Reeves? Or another conference? It's all too strange, and sad, to take in yet.

So I suppose what this post is supposed to say more than anything else is thank you. Thank you for the encouragement and advice. Thank you for always knowing what to say about my many and varied relationship crises (and on a related note thank you for not telling anyone who The Bloke is even though I know you knew). Thank you for the gentle, and occasionally not so gentle, mocking and spirited debates about stuff that really didn't matter - the best type of debate I find.

And my god I'm going to miss you.   

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Things I'm loving this week: #11

Have to be honest, the main thing I'm loving this week is the fact that I'm only working for three days of it. Bank holiday + taking Friday as leave to go back to Wales for my dad's birthday = win. Other than that, though...

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. I'm a bit of a devotee of this franchise mostly, and highly obviously, because Johnny Depp's Cap'n Jack is pretty much the best movie character of recent times. Savvy? And for my money POTC4 is the best of the three sequels to the outstanding originals. I love the new characters it introduces, Penelope Cruz's Angelica and Ian McShane's (Lovejoy to Blackbeard via Al Swearengen, oh for his career!) Blackbeard especially. Frankly, I'm quite glad to see the back of the irritating Will and Elizabeth too, and the new love birds (the missionary and his mermaid) are charming in a cute-if-contrived sort of way. Watch out for genius cameos from Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths and (blink and you'll miss her) Judi Dench. Overall a great watch that's a lot of fun. Bring on part five...

Quite excited to be heading to see X Men: First Class this week too - another film franchise I love. Will it be as good without Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen driving it though? And finally on film, if you're a Harry Potter fan and haven't picked up the current issue of Empire then do so, now. It's amazing. 

I kind of gave up on my much vaunted guilty pleasure of last week, Geordie Shore. I was a bit concerned that it was just going to basically be the same show every week and so it proved. Instead I've been getting back into Inked and rekindling my desire for a tattoo. For my money Inked (also set at a Hart and Huntington, the one at The Palms in Vegas) is much better than the '... Ink' series of shows. It cuts out the soap opera crap and just focuses on the tattoos. 

Incidentally, and I'm sure it'll never happen (I'm too chicken and not cool enough), but if I ever did get ink of my own then I'd be going here for some inspiration (I like the Mirror of Erised ones) and getting it done at Hart and Huntington at Universal Resort in Orlando. Or such is my geeky fantasy. I mean how cool would it be to wander into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and show fellow visitors to Hogsmead your Potter-based tattoo? Stop looking at me like that - cool is a subjective concept. But I digress...

I've also been fascinated at a slightly higher level by TV this week in the form of BBC1's excellent Egypt's Lost Cities. The technology on display here - using satellites to map long lost settlements, pyramids and tombs - was incredible. Also? I want to be Indiana Jones. With a tattoo.

Unattractive personal quality of the week
Stubbornness. I don't know why but this week I've been in one of those moods where if you tell me I can't do something then I'm sure as hell going to do it. Case in point: chatting to a friend on the phone whilst in Morrisons getting some lunch today. Conversation went like this:

Me: hey they have WWE Magazine here. I should totally buy it.
Friend: you're so not going to. 
Me: *proceeds to checkout, WWE Magazine in hand*

I don't really want said magazine. And it was £4 which, given for a similar price I could've got Vogue, is not money well spent. Still, it has some nice pictures in it: 

John Morrison's abs. Wowza. 

Web stuff
First of all a recommendation for fellow fashion bunnies: High Fashion Society. This is a great 'designer resale' (ie vintage) site that's definitely worth keeping an eye on. I bought an almost mint condition bright pink patent Miu Miu purse that I'd been lusting after for literally years from them this week for a tiny fraction of what it should really be worth. Their customer service, delivery and super luxe packaging all scores top marks and I'll definitely be using them again. 

Launching this week, and looking damn fine, is the new Anton and Erin website. This is ace and I love it. I especially recommend investing some time perusing the gallery. I'm sure you can imagine why..! The new site is very obviously based on Erin's recently relaunched site - no bad thing as that too is very good, useful and usable. And it has a shop so, y'know, if you're ever wondering what to get me for my birthday...