Harry Potter Goodies at Paladone

We were invited to review a selection of Harry Potter goodies at Paladone. Now, when you have a Potter-mad daughter you want to make sure that what you choose is sensible but fun. I decided I should choose gifts based on the kind of things she goes for when she spots a Harry Potter section in stores; namely, writing things, sorting hat related things and general cool things.

Harry Potter goodies at Paladone start with the basics; a simple writing set which looks a bit like your letter to Hogwarts. We had seen this recently and thought about buying it for H but the price had put us off. At Paladone it was a lot cheaper for exactly the same thing. Sometimes it helps to shop around to save a few pennies.

You get twenty sheets of paper, ten envelopes and ten stickers in each pack.

Harry Potter Letter Writing Set

When it arrived H’s first words were “Oh my GOD! COOL!” so now we’re encouraging her to write her friends letters like she promised. After all, doesn’t every ten year old child want to get a letter from Hogwarts; just in case it’s an invite?

Harry Potter Hogwarts Colour change coaster showing all stages of colour change.

I had never seen our next choice anywhere before, and liked the fun element of it – four colour change coasters. You pop your warm mug on the coaster and it changes to one of the houses. So my little Hufflepuff happily plonked a cup on hers and waited excitedly to see which house she had chosen. Slytherin. Whoops. It didn’t go so well – though she soon sussed that as there were just four coasters each one had a different house on it. Depending on how seriously your child might take it, this is one to consider – she’s taking it back to show family and find out which house they’re in for half term. Now she’s over her Slytherin shock she’s enjoying them again, and has also made sure she warms each one a little bit before choosing hers.

Paladone itself has lots of different themes of things to buy. What I liked about the Harry Potter goodies was that there is a lot of choice; often things that you may not have seen in shops before. We’ve been to plenty of shops too…

Harry Potter Potion no 86 colour light in green

Now H is ten her bedroom is moving from that of a young girl into one of a tween/young lady. We still have our beloved Miffy pictures on the walls; slowly the rest of the space has Harry Potter merchandise on it. When I spotted the Potion Bottle light I knew it would fit in with her room; and make a great night light too. Her room gets pretty dark at night, though you do need a bit of light to avoid the Lego on the floor. The Potion Bottle light does the trick. It comes with a cable but no plug, though any USB plug will work. We have it positioned on her bookcase where the room has a nice low glow but not too much to stop her sleeping.

At Paladone there are gifts to suit all price ranges, from pocket money to the more pricey.

We were gifted £30 worth of Harry Potter goodies at Paladone and spent that money easily. The prices were good and there was a lot of choice. Out of stock items are clearly marked as well. All in all, we have one very delighted ten year old with a load of new Harry Potter goodies – it’s a win-win for everyone!

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Tour at WB Studios

We were invited to Leavesden to visit the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire tour at WB Studios. It was our third visit, H and I eagerly going along as proper Harry Potter fans. Shaun joined us knowing that it’s quite good fun and interesting, having surrendered to everything several years ago!

The Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire tour at WB Studios runs until September 2018. There are a whole load of new things to see while you’re there.

Hogwarts Bridge section at WB Studio Tour

We found it was a good idea to watch the movie beforehand. It’s not often that a movie has its own exhibition which makes remembering and spotting things a lot easier. The thing I’ve found with the WB Studio tour is you see things you’ve missed on prior visits all the time. There’s always something new there.

The biggest change is the entrance – the large building (which we were told will be a Fantastic Beasts extension back in December) is well on the way. Nobody would confirm this on our visit, though it makes perfect sense, got to store the Nifflers somewhere, right?

Magical Menagerie Diagon Alley signs

Passport in hand, we entered the building making sure to stay on the left hand side of the room to get front row seats in the auditorium.

Large Goblet of Fire at WB Studio Tour Leavesden

It’s all about the Great Hall though, those doors,

Entrance to the Great Hall

the statues…

Statues by the Great Hall

The first thing you’ll spot on the right hand side in the Hufflepuff section is Cedric Diggory’s jumper as worn for the Triwizard Tournament.

Hufflepuff Cedric Diggory Robes

At the end of the Great Hall the Goblet of Fire was on display with a demonstration how it works, plus an additional ring around it so nobody can take some polyjuice potion and try and swing the result. It’s a nice touch having the Fred and George mannequins either side of the goblet!

Ring around the Goblet of Fire

You get souvenir parchment at this part too.

Once you clear the Great Hall you can do the tour in your own time. This means in H’s case you have to read every – single – thing. Again. Which is okay but the staff were closing areas behind us as we had a 6.45pm slot.

Prefects bathroom taps Harry Potter

Other things on display include the taps from the prefects’ bathroom – so tiny in real life.

Golden Egg Triwizard Tournament

There’s a golden egg from the Triwizard tournament plus how they created it.

Fleur Delacour's costume

In the costume area you can see Fleur Delacour’s costume which she wore to Hogwarts for the Triwizard Tournament.

Inside Dumbledore’s office you can look into the pensieve which was fun.

Pensieve at WB Studio Tour London

One of the most fun parts of the WB Studio Tour is the photographs. Within the broomstick area you can have two different photos (and a video) – one family shot…

Or maybe just a little bit of broomstick training.

Later on as we got to Platform Nine and three Quarters we got a family shot on the train carriage. [all photos were provided to us for free]

Tom Riddle's grave

Tom Riddle’s grave is on the main floor and is the centrepiece of the area by the Forbidden Forest (it was on a ledge higher up in December). Obviously you need your photo taking with it…

H and Buckbeak

The Forbidden Forest has plenty of sound and visual effects as well as the creatures who live there – particularly Buckbeak.

From there you’re into Hogwarts Express land…

Butterbeer Ice Cream

With the Backlot Cafe the next stop on the tour. We stopped for a quick bite to eat and of course the obligatory Butterbeer. This time we all opted for ice creams and as a slightly dehydrated old lady, mine went down a treat in about ten seconds flat.

Inside the Knight Bus

Once you’re at the Backlot Cafe you’re just over half way. You can sit and relax or just wander around outside taking in the Knight Bus (peeping at the beds inside), Privet Drive and Godric’s Hollow.

Godrics Hollow at WB Studio Tour

There’s also the only section of Hogwarts Bridge made (the rest was special effects) which is fun to wander down, plus the motorbike and sidecar as favoured by Hagrid.

motorbike and sidecar WB Studio Tour

There’s also the Ford Anglia as driven by the Weasleys. Top tip – when photographing the Ford Anglia make sure you’re not too far to the right hand side.

The next area holds the special effects where H tried to get Dobby to do the Macarena again (he wasn’t playing ball) and dabbing (he did that). You’re soon at Diagon Alley and the tour is getting closer to the end.

Durmstrang Institute ship Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

A model of the Durmstrang ship which the Durmstrang Institute used to get to the Triwizard Tournament is on display. Of course, the final part is the giant Hogwarts Castle. At the front is a small model of the Beauxbatons carriage entering Hogwarts – keep an eye out!

Beauxbatons carriage Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

As you enter the wand room you’re at the end. We spent ages looking for friends who worked on the films but only found Jarvis Cocker. It’s an impressive room with a wand for all the castmembers and people who were involved.

Oh, and right there, at the very end is the Triwizard Cup. One of several made for the films, it’s in a glass case and looks mighty splendid.

Triwizard cup

It’s also the point you’re about to enter the merchandise area. We spent a lot of money there in December so skipped this part, but for anything Hogwarts this is the place to spend your hard-earned cash.

The additions to the tour certainly do the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire book and film justice. It feels like there is they’ve included everything.

The WB Studio tour has the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire exhibition until the 23rd September 2018 – tickets are available now. We’d recommend going for early slots to get maximum Hogwarts time there!

We were given tickets to see the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire exhibition at the WB Studio Tour. We also received photo passes, our butterbeer, food and a chocolate frog. We’ve visited twice before, so this didn’t affect our opinion in any way.

Other bloggers who were there include :
Kippers and Curtains
The Stage Mommy
Hippie in Lippy

Hogwarts in the Snow

It’s New Year’s Eve and what are you going to do? Sit at home, relax, have a lie in, right? Or go to Hogwarts in the Snow at 9am that morning? Well of course we did the latter.

Hogwarts in the Snow

Hogwarts in the Snow is on at the moment at the Warner Brothers Studio Tour in Leavesden. We visited a year and a half ago and I felt like this was a big enough gap between visits. H has now seen all the films, with the Cursed Child play being the thing we haven’t seen.

Hogwarts in the Snow runs until late January and has the set decorated to look festive. There is also a chance to feel the different kinds of snow that was used when it was needed – as well as how fire and ice was made.

Hogwarts in the Snow Fire and Ice stall

This consisted of boxes of the three different types of snow used in the films, the special effects used for ice, and how to recreate fire (which was slightly hot but not fire-hot). One type of snow was like grains of sand, whereas the more gloopy kind was the sort which you could make snowballs from. It’s another one of those things you wouldn’t think about when watching a film. A small part of Diagon Alley also had snow on it, showing some disappearing footprints.

Hogwarts in the Snow, Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express

Diagon Alley – Gringotts footprints in the snow (which disappear), Shaun and H chatting, and the Hogwarts Express

For the first time, the set of the Main Hall is decorated like the Yule Ball, complete with Professor Flitwick and an orchestra.

The great thing about the Warner Brothers Studio Tour is how things change. The sets have been moved around to accommodate the Forbidden Forest since we last visited. It wouldn’t surprise me if things are changed around regularly, and indeed on chatting with a staffmember at the end, he confirmed that items from the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movies will be joining the Potter Universe. There’s an extension being built which will house it.

Newt & Porpentia costumes - Warner Brothers Studio Tour

In the main ticket area there’s a Fantastic Beasts area – soon to be part of the main studio tour – hurrah! Here’s Newt and Porpentia.

Let’s stop for a minute here. The last film was completed in 2011. Okay, so that’s only seven years ago – but everyone there was enjoying being there. Even Shaun! There is so much to take in that it’s impossible in one visit. There ware different exhibitions and features being added all the time.

The fact that something finished so long ago that still lives on, finding new fans all the time, well, that’s a great achievement.

I noticed changes from the last time we visited – just little tweaks but changes. H read absolutely everything again. Which took a long time – again! I’d love it if there was a guide you could buy at the end with all the information in there.

Hufflepuff in action at Warner Brothers Studio Tour

There were queues, but we were prepared for it after our last visit. I’d say we got through quicker in some areas too. We stopped for lunch at the Backlot Cafe whose only vegetarian burger option was a mushroom one (sob, not all vegetarians like mushrooms!). Fortunately there are sandwiches too.

Warner Brothers Studio Tour Night Bus, JK Rowling Quote and around a table

The Knight Bus, us around a table and a JK Rowling quote.

As before, H got her passport to look for Golden Snitches and stamp each page when she had spotted them, and even though they were in the same places it still took a while to find them (another good reason to leave a gap between visits!).

The Forbidden Forest was great – and a welcome addition to the tour. Inside is a moving Hippogriff (of course) and several moving Acromantula. Not one for arachnophobics – fortunately we’re not!

Forbidden Forest at WB Studios Tour

One of the smaller spiders in the Forbidden Forest and Buckbeak – a brand new model which moves too!

Over in the second part of the studio tour was a section where it showed the different stages where Dobby was animated. I don’t remember from last time – and it was brilliant. Cue loads of happy kids getting Dobby to Dab. Try saying that quickly…

Dabbing with Dobby at the Warner Brothers Studio tour

There was an interactive Dobby section where you could control him. Cue lots of kids making Dobby Dab.

H got Dobby to do the Macarena. Or maybe it’s the locomotion. I have no idea which song was in her head at the time…

We managed to spend six hours at Hogwarts in the Snow in the end. The model of Hogwarts at the end all decorated in one of the types of snow used in the films was as ever, impressive.

Two Dumbledores at the WB Harry Potter Studio Tour. Will there be three soon?

Two Dumbledores at the WB Harry Potter Studio Tour. Will there be three when Fantastic Beasts joins the Harry Potter world?

If you plan to visit and haven’t been for a while, then I think you’ll get a lot from seeing Hogwarts in the Snow. I know we’ll be visiting again once the Fantastic Beasts ephemera has been added, and I can’t wait to see it!

Hogwarts in the Snow Great Hall and Gryffindor common room

Alnwick Castle – Harry Potter-like fun and more

At half term we headed north, staying just outside of Alnwick. As Historic Houses Association members we get free entry to several properties across the UK over set periods during the year. Alnwick Castle was open, and was our destination!

Alnwick Castle state rooms from outside

Alnwick Castle is difficult to miss. It dates back to the early 1000’s, and has been (one of the many) residence of the Duke of Northumberland for many years too. When the Duke is away, us mere muggles can visit.

I didn’t tell H about the Harry Potter connection until the morning we went – I wasn’t sure how big a deal it would be. She’s a bit obsessed so I wanted to make sure I was careful. So instead we watched the first two Harry Potter films before leaving London – as all outdoor scenes were filmed at Alnwick Castle.

Alnwick Castle State rooms

It meant when we got there we could say “ooh, remember this bit?” “this is where Harry learned to fly” and thanks to a mistake on my part have to walk all the way over to the ticket office which is inside the castle to get our HHA tickets. Fortunately this was next to the area you get a ticket for a timeslot to do broomstick training.

Alnwick Castle Falconry display

We wandered around the grounds and learned about the history of Harry Hotspur, a gentleman whose name inspired our football team of choice. Add to that there was a Halloween Trail and actually, there was loads to do. Falconry displays were on all day, and you could pay an additional amount to do some archery.

H also helped the Alnwick Castle Alchemist make some Dragon’s Blood.

helping the Alchemist at Alnwick Castle make dragons blood

I found the most fascinating part of being there was being allowed to enter some of the State Rooms. The actual living quarters of the current Duke of Northumberland and his family. Their main library area and living area was several times the size of my house. Wealthy people have space…

Alnwick Castle

It wasn’t like walking around somewhere like, say, Hampton Court where there are artefacts from significant people who lived there or visited in the past. It’s someone’s actual front room! (with lots of other things because of this wealthiness and space)

However, the thing we enjoyed the most had to be Broomstick Training. Get over to the area to book a slot – at 10.30 we got a 2pm one. For the Potter-mad fan it’s fun. H saw it initially and declared it was “too babyish” for her which is utter nonsense. By the time she was doing it her face was like this – pure joy!

enjoying broomstick training

The broomstick training session lasts 20 minutes, then you get 10 minutes to take some great flying pictures. Let’s just say, people I thought would get it don’t at all (which is quite amusing). It’s cleverly done and tons of fun.

Alnwick Castle Broomstick training

Alnwick Castle is a great day out – plenty of walking to be done and things to learn and discover. If you have the time (and energy) then a trip to Barter Books up the road is worth your time too – even just to sit down and take in the amount of books there!

The website is here. Alnwick Castle is currently closed until next year.

Country Kids

Everything, at Once

This year has been so busy. It has flown by, and I can’t quite believe it is October tomorrow. How did that happen?

The days, weeks, months are flying by and I’d really like to hit the pause button for a short while, catch my breath and keep on. I guess that’s why we sleep, right?

For H we have a new school year, Year 4. She’s cross about home learning being an extra five minutes long while still finishing it in five. So far spelling tests are within her ability so she isn’t doing extra work. We’re not talking easy words here – last week was adding suffixes to verbs – I had trouble explaining their rules. She has started doing Young Voices with school which is the first choir she has ever been involved in – and she loves it.

Young Voices 2018

Add to that swimming, football and Brownies and that’s a busy week.

She’s also really proud to have earned her first Blue Peter badge!

H earns her first Blue Peter badge

I’m still doing my leadership training for GirlGuiding, and I’m getting closer to finishing. It’s just finding the time! This term we’re about to start work on a Harry Potter themed badge which will be good fun.

This blog takes up a chunk of time, my PTA responsibilities do from time to time, add in my dayjob and it can feel like four different jobs, especially at the moment!

Shaun is happy as we’ve finally bought a new car. A Skoda Fabia, a bit smaller than our old Vauxhall Astra but much needed. After our previous carbon monoxide incident I’ve felt like our old car needed to go. We have had leaky filters in there – I’ve been paranoid enough to take a CO alarm in the car with me and while it didn’t go off, a new car will be better for my nerves. I know the signs too well.

We just need to find the time to drive it now…

One big change this year, we’re not going to see Father Christmas. I’ve managed to convince H that going to Hogwarts in the Snow would be a far better Festive thing to do!

Making an Easy Harry Potter T Shirt

As a Brownie Leader in Training I like to try out things at home before we do them at a meeting. Last week I dug out our fabric pens so we could complete the Craft Badge. At home I had a plain t-shirt and we had fabric pens. H and I decided to make a Harry Potter t shirt.

Harry Potter t shirt ideas are all over the place. You can find quite a wide range at Primark, but we decided we’d like to make our own. It wasn’t too difficult.

harry potter t shirt things you need

All you need is a plain t-shirt, some fabric pens and an idea of what you’d like your t-shirt to be.

Back when H had a Harry Potter party last year, I downloaded the font that goes with the films. This came in handy as I could then make the wording we wanted in PicMonkey and make it as large as we needed it to be.

We decided on ‘I solemnly swear I am up to no good’ for her Harry Potter t shirt. I created a blank document in PicMonkey, printed it out and placed it in a central position inside the t shirt.

harry potter t shirt tracing

I traced the letters with a pencil as I wanted to make sure the paper underneath didn’t move. Mainly so it would stay aligned. After that it wouldn’t matter as the paper would stop the ink from soaking through.

harry potter t shirt i solemnly swear

The Ikea Loppstarr pens are great – ideal for decorating t shirts too and a bargain at £2 for six different colours.

ikea loppstarr fabric pens

We coloured in the letters using careful strokes in one direction, making sure to stay within the lines. H isn’t the most patient child and tends to rush things. I made sure she slowed down – after all we want this t shirt to last a few years!

Once we had finished, this was the end result. Our own home made Harry Potter t shirt which was pretty easy and quick to do!

harry potter t shirt i solemnly swear i am up to no good

2016 in Review

What can I say about 2016? It has been a strange year, but one where we got things done. A year when friendships got stronger or just disappeared completely. Where we did things and they actually happened. It has been a good year with plenty of memories, and as a family, one I know we’ll remember. Especially H now she’s at the age where your memories stick with you.

Here’s our 2016 in review.

The 1st January was spent in Brighton. We traditionally go to the seaside at the start of the year to get some cold air and breathe again. We usually alternate between Brighton, Eastbourne and Bognor Regis and it’s usually very closed and quiet apart from the odd Fish & Chips place. I like it because it’s cold, closed, dark and fresh and crisp; nothing like bringing in a new year that way every year.

We took out Historic Royal Palaces membership and headed to Hampton Court early on in the year, showing H somewhere I used to love going when I was her age. My Auntie Florrie lived in Teddington and that whole area was somewhere we spent a lot of time when we visited London back in the seventies.

H had her first horse riding lesson. It’s too expensive to keep up, unfortunately. She loved it though.

Horse Riding at Deen City Farm

I had always wanted to visit Kensington Palace as it intrigues me. You’re visiting somewhere next door to the almost-untouchable current Royals. Anyway, it was an interesting place. HRP membership covered that.

Hampton Court

March and we were back to Hampton Court as my friend got an invite to preview the Magic Garden, so we popped along. It didn’t disappoint!

Hampton Court Magic Garden dragon and water sand play area

March also brought H’s first proper gig – Adele at the O2. It was both of our first time going there. I booked us a hotel nearby so we didn’t have to get all the way home afterwards – and had a brilliant evening. H loved it too! Adele is one of her favourites and I’ve enjoyed working on her records for these last few years.

The following day we took the Thames Ferry to the Tower of London using our HRP membership to get in free. Again, loads of fun and we got our money’s worth.

Easter was an Emmett’s Gardens and Chartwell visit, as our National Trust membership was getting a bit unused, and National Trust always have the best Easter Egg trails. It didn’t disappoint.

Our Merlin Passes were also quite neglected so we made our first trip to Legoland, choosing a rainy day which was a bit cold. It seemed to work, and we got on most rides without a queue. We even managed Mia’s Riding School three or four times in a row before I had to stop.

When your gas boiler is switched off for safety reasons, Leaky Flue Safety Warning Gas Boiler

April brought the weird stuff. We found out we had a carbon monoxide leak at home, which explained a lot of things. Forgetfulness? Tick. Feeling sick a lot? Definitely. Just being sick without any reason? Been there, done that. Our boiler was taken out of action and a plan was set, to get central heating put in when we went on holiday in July. Mainly as it would be so disruptive so we wanted to be away from it all. Every morning I had staggered to work like I was hungover, wondering when the virus would shift. It had never occurred to me it was this. Once the boiler was shut off I never felt like it again. We’ve since bought more carbon monoxide alarms. Too close a call. But why did it affect just H and I? I think because Shaun falls asleep downstairs and would often leave the heating on. I’d go to bed at 11pm and eventually come downstairs to shut off the heating at 2am. Because the leak was in the loft, both H and I were exposed to it more than Shaun as he was downstairs.

That’s my only explanation.

I got out to some gigs in April too – Lush reformed and I had a rare night out. Just getting onto a train and going across London was making me pretty nervous. It was a great night, I had far too much to drink, and the night was to be repeated a month or so later but with Shaun while H went on a sleepover.

Getting to work became an issue. Southern Trains were becoming increasingly rubbish and I was having a lot of palpitations. One day I got into work and burst into tears which isn’t like me at all. One word – perimenopause. I’ve done several things to calm the symptoms, they still happen especially the anxiety, but I’m learning to control it. I had a Mirena fitted which is helping a lot too. I had a journey home with the best train driver ever.

Wembley Stadium players warm up

May also brought our annual trip to Wembley to watch the Women’s FA Cup Final. It’s good fun, cheap and I’ve already bought tickets for next year – they’re on sale now – and kids go free. It’s a great atmosphere!

We also saw Horrible Histories at Hampton Court – a great setting for a great show. H and her friend M really enjoyed it.

We popped to Kew to view Kew Palace on our HRP membership. Don’t forget to print out your 2 for 1 vouchers beforehand like we did… you don’t get in free to Kew with HRP, you get a discount. 2 for 1 works out a bit cheaper too – meant we had more money to spend in the shops there!

June brought our second trip to Wembley. I bought tickets for England’s last friendly before the World Cup. H has finally seen Harry Kane play football (and Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker). Next season we’ll try a Tottenham game. We missed the National Anthem thanks to it taking forever to get into Wembley, but caught the majority of the game.

harry potter tour broom training

June also brought our trip to the WB Studio Tour. H is a fully-fledged Harry Potter convert now – she has seen all the films and knows more about each character than me. She has also read my books more than I have… We all really enjoyed it – even Shaun who tolerates it (and usually falls asleep in the films). We’ll be going back when we can save enough money – maybe for Hogwarts at Christmas in 2017.

June also brought a trip to Southampton to see the touring production of Mary Poppins on stage. The production was nowhere near London so we decided to make a night of it, and booked into the Ibis there (which H loved as it had a bunk bed over our double bed). We had seen it way before H was born, and loved it again. Zizi Strallen is an excellent Mary.

BML with mary drinking fizz

June also brought BritMums which I really enjoyed, hanging out all day with Mary who is excellent company.

July brought the Bottersnikes and Gumbles preview where we interviewed one of the characters and found out the recording didn’t work. My memory was still a bit rubbish so I can’t remember anything he said either. I fail. H was interviewed for CBBC but it wasn’t used (I thought that might happen, she was quiet).

Yurt Life at Kingsdown Centre - wonderful setting!

July was also the start of our holidays, heading to Cornwall again. We stopped in Weston Super Mare on the way down, wandered around there and made the most of late evening beach walks, donkey rides, fish & chips and relaxing.

The following day we arrived at Hallagenna Cottages in St Breward, and had a lovely week there discovering loads of new places. Up the road at Coombe Mill The Boy and Me gang were staying. H and The Boy both got on famously, so next year we’re going back to Coombe Mill to stay!

OMG We're Staying at Coombe Mill next year face

I love Cornwall. Great beaches, great weather and having a proper holiday is always a good thing.

On the way back to London we stayed in a Yurt at the Kingsmead Centre which was loads of fun!

We used our Merlin Passes and visited Weymouth Sea Life on the way back to London.

H in front of the Disneyland Castle

August arrived. We had a short break to Paris planned which didn’t break the bank. We stayed near the Eiffel Tower for a couple of nights. After that we headed to Disneyland Paris and H didn’t have a CLUE! She also got in for free as if you’re six, then that’s what happens. She was seven the following day – and it counts from check-in date. We also managed to do Jedi Training Academy. So that was her surprise 7th birthday treat. We had glorious weather and needed a month to recover afterwards.

In September H moved up to Junior school. She has settled well and is loving it. Her confidence is growing too which is great. She also started Brownies and had moved up a level in swimming at the end of summer to Stage 5.

Because it was a new school we didn’t do a huge amount in September, although made it to Hampton Court again.

H and Milo the Giant African Millipede from Wild Fangs

October was busier though, with H’s birthday party which she really enjoyed.

At the end of October we headed back to York to see my mum, staying there for the first time in a long time. H loved spending time with her nana, and I loved stopping and recharging my batteries. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the whole of half term off, so we took H out of school for two days so she won’t get her 100% attendance this term.

We visited Fountains Abbey with my sister and her boys too.

We also found time to visit Alton Towers which I’d spent plenty of time at in the eighties. I recognised parts, but not that much really, although I’d occasionally have moments where I’d say “Hang on? Wasn’t The Corkscrew there?” and be right.

Fireworks at Carshalton Ponds

November was Bonfire Night which was fun – we stayed by our local ponds and had great views, rather than enter the park and have some views. The end of the year is all about saving money! I booked a ticket for Blogfest earlier in the year and attended but it wasn’t the same. I don’t think I’ll be going next year.

We went to Epsom Downs and saw the supermoon which gave me lots of silhouette photos I do love to take. We planted Miffy Tulips, and got some mesh to put over our plant pot so the foxes won’t dig it up. H did her Brownie promise and remembered it, and I wore my leaders uniform for the first time and felt like I had confidence to do it.

December. We had the school fair (which H helped me on the stall with – see, this is a new confidence she’s found. She used to hide behind me), she has moved up a level at swimming to Stage 6. She has lost two more teeth taking it to 10 total, and is almost there with her handwriting at school, holding out for a pen licence.

Completely unexpected, but H was Star of the Term as voted for by her teachers. She ran up to me incredibly proud in the playground. Their note sums it up. I love that the unexpected things make everything feel even better.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

We went back to York for the York Panto which was Cinderella. H got her name read out in the shoutouts part of the production which she loved – and she got a Wagon Wheel! I am still persuading her not to eat it…

We had two visits to see Father Christmas. One was at Chessington Garden Centre and the other at Tottenham’s ground. Of the two, the Tottenham one was the best – he was really warm, fun and engaging and had H chatting. I asked him if he could make sure Tottenham win the league for my present and we all left feeling cheery (but I don’t think he’ll have much luck with that, another good season would be good).

We’re finishing the year off inviting neighbours around to our house. This is a big one for us – until now I’ve felt like our house is too small, though a friend did it last year and made me realise it could be done. Then we had H’s party which proved over 20 people could be in our house with room to spare. My biggest problem had been our heating. It was fine us living here with the crappy heating which I always hated and felt like it only warmed the landing upstairs and our front room – but now we have proper central heating. This house is welcoming again… though I suspect our 1st January trip to the seaside may need to be postponed by a day… that and I’m sure our car won’t make it there and back!

So what will 2017 bring? I know my aches and pains and anxiety aren’t going to go away, but I’ve found if I keep myself busy it helps it not be at the forefront of my mind. I’m going to progress with my training to be a Guide Leader though I’m still not sure I want to be in charge. But we’ll cross that bridge…

We’ve taken out Historic Houses Association membership so at some point we’ll get to Hever Castle which we’ve wanted to visit for a while. We’ll probably need to buy a new car as ours is on its last legs.

See you, 2016. You’ve been busy.

Having a Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts Themed Party

H turned seven in August, which we spent at Disneyland Paris. She wanted to have a party, so we decided to keep costs low that we’d have it at home. I thought that a Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed party would be a good idea.
Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed party birthday cake

A Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed party was a good idea with the ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ film opening soon. Once we knew the theme of the party we had to work out how to make it fun.

H and Milo the Giant African Millipede from Wild Fangs

We booked Wild Fangs who were brilliant! Wild Fangs have a great website with all the information you could need and I highly recommend them.

H and Derek the Bearded Dragon from Wild Fangs

Wild Fangs were fantastic. Faik was brilliant when it came to keeping the kids attention. This was quite a job, there being seventeen of them. He brought along five creatures from his selection. The kids all got to meet each one, and H got special attention as she was the birthday girl. Even the shy children were stroking the creatures at the end which was good to see.

H and Tiny the African Bullfrog from Wild fangs

The creatures were only a small part of the Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed party. As it was at home it meant we could do bits to make it feel a bit more like Hogwarts. Poundland, Tiger Stores, Hema and Wilko all have a great range of Halloween products in-store at the moment. I stocked up on cobwebs, bunting, spiders, rats and halloween themed sweets at a low cost.

Tiger Stores cobweb bowl

Besides this, I had to create as much Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed party ideas as I could. There were some easy ones – Golden Snitches made from Ferrero Rocher. Just stick some greaseproof paper wings on them.

Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed Golden Snitch Ferrero Rocher

Train shaped cheese biscuits which H said could be Hogwarts Express cheese biscuits.

Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed Hogwarts Express cheese biscuits

Shaun was the creative one – he found some great things. Get a sheet and a bathroom cleaner sponge, and print bricks onto it.

Making Platform nine and three quarters for a party Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed

Stick it around your doorway and you’re going through platform nine and three quarters. I may have seen a few Potter-mad kids doing it several times as they thought it was so cool.

Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed Platform Nine and three Quarters

How about floating candles? Get the inside of kitchen roll tubes, use a glue gun to make some drips down the side like candle wax. Paint it white, and then make a ledge inside for a battery-operated flickering candle. Hang them from the ceiling using cotton and some good strong sticky tape. It looks fantastic too.

Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed party floating candles

Of course, no party is a decent one without party games. Our Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed party games included Judge the Odd Socks competition. All kids had to come with odd socks on in honour of Dobby. Sleeping Lions became Sleeping Fluffy, in honour of Hagrid. Musical Bumps was Musical Expelliarmus, and Musical Statues would have been Musical Petrificus Totalus. We had Pin the Scar on Harry – just a simple printed out picture of Mr Potter, and a post it note cut into the shape of the scar. We ran out of time for that one too.

There was an epic Pass the Parcel game too. Inside was a Smiggle glittery ball (£2 in their current sale) which you might find in a Divination lesson at Hogwarts… maybe?

Making chocolate frogs for the Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed party

My favourite thing were the frog moulds I bought. We made several chocolate frogs, complete with a cola bottle middle (which tasted SO good). After all, everyone loves a chocolate frog, right? You can get the moulds on ebay for about £8. H enjoyed making them, and initially we tried them with ground up Swizzels sweets which was good too.

All in all, H’s Harry Potter Fantastic Beasts themed party was a success. I’m pleased we managed to pull it off at short notice, and the kids enjoyed themselves.

Warner Brothers Harry Potter Tour

W recently made our way to the Warner Brothers Studio to see their Harry Potter Tour. To say we were excited would be an understatement!

Harry Potter tour - outside statues

The Harry Potter tour is unmissable if you’re a fan of the films. We booked the tickets way up front and got a 9.30am slot. Parking is included with your ticket, and we arrived with plenty of time. Fortunately within the studio is a cafe to the left of the building as you enter where you can wait for your slot to open and wake up with a coffee or two.

Harry Potter tour great hall

I don’t want to spoil the tour (too much) for anyone reading this who might be going. I really just want to include practical information, though pictures will give some things away. I’ve tried to be good!

Harry POtter tour great hall costumes

The Harry Potter tour exists as the films were being made before the books had ended, so props and scenery were kept in case they would be needed for later use. When production ended they had a load of super cool stuff which nerds like me have been desperate to see for a LONG time.

Harry Potter Tour Sorting Hat

When our first opportunity to go arose, H was way too young. I wanted this to be an experience we’d enjoy as a family. Right now H is starting Book 5, and has seen all the films up to the Half-Blood Prince (and knows way more about it all than I do).

Harry Potter tour yule ball

So what do you get on the Harry Potter tour? A fairly long queue at the start, but some fun stuff on the way. Groups are ushered into a room where there are three doors (hint – go for the left hand one if you can). The queue leading to this room goes quite slowly. Once you’re in there you’ll start the tour and can go at your own pace from a certain point.

The amount of detail that has gone into everything is amazing – and there is a LOT to see. The main area you go through houses almost everything you can think of. You could easily spend at least three hours in here. In fact, we only stopped as we needed to get something to eat and drink. A 9.30 slot got us inside by 10am, and eating by 1pm.

harry potter tour broom training

For kids there’s a complementary passport you can get stamped in a specific area while following a Golden Snitch trail – this was good for H and a major distraction too. She’s so obsessed with Harry Potter she wanted to read every-single-thing. We could have spent 13 hours (the current record for the amount of time spent there according to our guide) in there were it not for the passport.

Harry Potter tour replica letters

Quite often we’d find a snitch and then say “ooh, maybe it’s out here!” and distract her enough that she’d forget about the reading. There is a 15th Anniversary coloured badge you can get too, of which only one was available yesterday (Gryffindor) though if you check ebay some people seem to have them for sale… I’m guessing they offer a different colour every day maybe?

Harry Potter tour shoes

In the main area of the Harry Potter tour it is sectioned into scenes and areas. There are costumes in one part, you’ve got some Quidditch stuff going on. Your child can even pick up a broom (free) or ride on one (around the £40 mark). I love the interactive parts too. You can wave your hand above a sensor which makes the knitting knit in the film when they get to the Weasley’s house in Book 2. There are also options to chop some vegetables and stir a pot doing this!

Harry Potter tour the Dursleys

After you’ve left the main area you head to Platform 9 and three quarters which has the first gift shop you’ll come to. This isn’t as big as the main shop but does have quite a lot. Next to it they have a green screen area where you can create a film going to Hogwarts which we did but didn’t watch (we’d already spent too much money paying for the Broomstick one – it would be great if this could be added to the existing USB so you’re only paying a big price the once).

harry potter tour platform nine and three quarters

To the side of this area is the main eating area. There’s a lot of space, and we got a seat easily. Butterbeer was bought, of course which  reminded me of a cream soda float. We got one in a commemorative cup and two plastic ones at approx £15 total.

harry potter tour knight bus

We took our own packed lunch which saved us a bit of money too, it looked like they had a good choice of food there.

Harry Potter Tour privet drive

When you’re in the food area, you’re right by the outside set area. 3 Privet Drive open when we visited, and the front room was as it was when Harry’s first letter(s) to Hogwarts arrived in Book 1. We also got a replica envelope like the ones used and were shown a demonstration of how they did it. This exhibition has now finished unfortunately!

harry potter tour inside privet drive

In the outside area there are two vehicles – the motorbike and sidecar, plus the Ford Anglia where you can take free photos. There is an opportunity to have your photo taken on a green screen and be placed in the Ford Anglia – but this of course, costs!

harry potter tour free motorbike photo

It’s also around this point you realise you can’t go back.

When you do the Harry Potter tour you’re going round in your own time which works well (we got lots of photos without people in the background despite there being so many of us) – and you really felt like you had your own space.

Harry Potter tour pictures in Dumbledore's office

Onwards to the next area, where it goes into the masks used throughout the film. They also explain how Robbie Coltrane looks so big and what they did – I’ve always wondered! Then you’re entering Diagon Alley, some more models and then the very final room. I’ve seen many photos of this room and I wasn’t prepared for how incredible it was!

Harry Potter tour diagon alley

After that you enter a room full of boxes. But then you look… those boxes are wand boxes. With the cast and crew’s names on them. Many many boxes…. it was a real treat, spotting the names…

harry potter tour actors wands

So finally you end up in the main shop. I spent another £15 on merchandise, but bought H a fabulous Time Turner which was £8.95 and looks really nice and sturdy and not like it will fall apart (which if you know the time turner, you’d wonder).

harry potter tour magic is might

So is the Harry Potter Studio Tour worth almost £100 for the three of us?

Definitely. I’m glad we booked way up-front as it meant the tickets were paid for which freed up money for the extras. I’m a sucker for all that. Some parts were spoilers for H (the Horcruxes) so I steered her away. A short clip from Deathly Hallows has made her want to hold off from seeing the film, though she did have a sneaky read of the book not that long ago.

Harry Potter tour delores umbridge regulation notices

As a long-standing fan of the books and the films it was a fascinating experience. I just want to talk about it! But you can’t say a lot as I think knowing only what you need to doesn’t spoil it for others. (all food places take cards, there’s one cashpoint by the entrance, there are loads of toilets, nothing seemed too scary)

harry potter tour tom riddle statue

Will I be going back? I would love to! We have no plans, however I’m now left wondering if parts of Fantastic Beasts will make their way into the tour. After all it doesn’t actually say the Harry Potter tour. Just the Warner Brothers Studio Tour…. hmmmm……

In addition, one thing I’d wondered. If you get one of the final slots of the day, I’d wondered if you could get everything done. Well, the studios don’t close until 10pm, so in an ideal world, you should be able to!

harry potter tour castle

You can book your Warner Brothers Harry Potter tour tickets here. Look out for lots of fabulous 15th Anniversary events throughout the year!

Project 366 – Week 3

Sunday 17th January. We had some wussy London snow, so Shaun and H made snowmen. Teeny tiny snowmen. Melted by the end of the day snowmen.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Monday 18th January. Inspired by my old schoolfriend Nicky, I took a photograph of some of my football-related records. Yes, that is a Glenn and a Chris 7″ picture disc. Little did I know that a snippet of their marvellous song ‘Diamond Lights’ would appear on tv on Saturday night. Alas, Chris Waddle switched it off immediately.  It is a selection of glorious songs such as these that one day my daughter will inherit, to ensure her life is even more enriched.

some of my football records

Tuesday 19th January. H is properly engrossed in Harry Potter at the moment. My concern is she’s competitive about it, wanting to finish the books before her friends – I’m not having any of that nonsense. She can just enjoy the books and immerse herself in the world!!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Wednesday 20th January. Went to see Les Mis in the West End, and loved being in Chinatown late at night, the smells and the colours and lights. Les Mis was good too – though I was disappointed Phil Daniels wasn’t acting that night as I’ve seen him on stage before, with the RSC and with Blur!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Thursday 21st January. Someone got her Stage 3 swimming badge – she was super happy about that!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Friday 22nd January. H finished Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I’ve told her to hold off Book 4 for now, and to have a break, besides she needs to do some serious reading for books we have to review in the coming weeks!

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

Saturday 23rd January. A lazy day – I was sick from work on Friday thanks to having an evil cold set off by many things, and I had hit the tired part of it, just wanting to lie down and nap all day. H had a party in the late afternoon (good timing!) and afterwards we got home and settled in our pyjamas to watch The Voice. With a lightsaber. As you do.

A photo posted by Jo Brooks (@mumfriendlyjo) on

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