All good things…

Mayhaps, dear reader, this shall be the final blog entry of my overseas adventure. I am sitting in a hotel near Feltham station, very close to Heathrow Airport. I have just had my first shower in nearly 60 hours and am feeling fresh as a daisy, and Sean is out gallivanting with Will for a final hurrah. It feels really, really odd to know that this time tomorrow we will have been flying for a few hours, and even weirder to know that a few hours after that, we will be home. I have missed Melbourne and all my friends and family back there, but I will miss the UK/Europe dearly as well. Some of the most memorable moments of my life have occurred in the last 14 weeks and I have been stunned and amazed by the people I have met and the experiences I have had. Meeting up with friends and family was a great way to break the trip up and, injuries aside, I wouldn’t change a moment of our itinerary. I am literally down to about 3 pounds (I may weasel some breakfast money from Sean tomorrow) and have chucked a whole bunch of clothes/toiletries that I don’t need clogging up my suitcase on the way home. Today was busy, but in a good way, beginning with actually chatting to the girls in our dorm and finding out they were actually really nice, then meeting Will at The Globe so I could do a quick, final shop, before having some drinks and talking about everything Shakespeare. We made our way to the hotel with no trouble and right now I am luxuriating in a comfy bed, a clean, private bathroom and our own space before we are herded into economy class tomorrow (fingers crossed for decent seats. I plan to use the crutches to elicit sympathy). Thankyou everyone for all your support and good wishes and joy in our experiences through Facebook, Skype, this blog and everything else we have managed. I shall see ya’ll shortly!

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Matilda!!!

Okay, so last night we went out to a really delicious Indian restaurant for dinner and then decided (after a brief pub stop) that we wanted to see a movie. The only movie we seemed to agree on was The Hunger Games, so we headed to Camden. We stopped at The Cultured Cow for some tastily hipster frozen yoghurt, and witnessed a bag-snatch. So uncool. I felt really bad for the customer, it had just been sitting on her table right next to her arm, but the guy was so quick. Ugh. Anyway, The Hunger Games turned out to be better than Sean and I expected (possibly because as we were entering, a guy came out complaining loudly to his girlfriend ‘That was TWILIGHT! I just watched bloody TWILIGHT!’). We were back at the hostel just after 12 and our roommates, who we have not met, were already asleep, and got rather snippy when we woke them. Might I point out, we were not bashing around the room like elephants, we were tiptoeing and kept the lights off in order to be respectful. Geez Louise. Anyway, they got up and left for the day at, I kid you not, 3.30 in the morning. And both Sean and I managed to keep our mouths shut when they woke us. Sigh.

Anyway, today we got up and found a hotel near Heathrow to spend the last night of our trip in. We are both too tired to put up with being uncomfortable the night before we get on a plane, so hopefully this means a god night’s sleep and a decent shower. Yay! Then we headed to Covent Garden to see Matilda. My goodness. I don’t know if I have ever seen a better show. First of all, I love the book, and I think Roald Dahl was a sort of genius. And all my favourite bits of the novel were included! Tim Minchin is also a sort of genius, and this is reflected in the amazing soundtrack. But it was the kids who completely won me over. Not just Matilda, though she was obviously the standout, but Lavender and Bruce and little Eric, and all the other children were so full of energy and character and when Amanda Thripp got thrown by her pigtails I thought I would die of laughter. And then there were the adult performers. First of all, the extremely funny Michael Wormwood was played by the same actor I saw four years ago on the West End in the Lord of the Rings musical. He played Samwise Gamgee and it was BIZARRE to see him as this tv-obsessed dumbo who couldn’t string a sentence together. Mama and Papa Wormwood were wonderful – extremely funny and ridiculous and completely owning every second of it. And they were so rude to poor little Matilda, but they didn’t hold back and neither did she. Miss Honey was suitably gentle and sweet, with a perfect voice and a really lovely stage presence, but, perhaps obviously, Miss Trunchbull was the best. Played by a dude, but he didn’t play it as a joke ‘drag’ routine. He just played her as a complete sadist, with a very quiet, dangerous voice, very true to the book. Absolute WINNER of a costume too 🙂 The script included many of my favourite Dahl-ian insults and a couple of extra characters thrown in that really added to the stage version. I would recommend this to everyone, whether you are a theatre fan or not. You will laugh (oh, you will laugh) and you may even shed a tear, as I may or may not have. Oh, and the set involved hundreds of books and alphabet letters. So. Awesome. Anyway, still buzzing off the feeling of Matilda, we went to Masala Zone for our second curry in two days and had a great dinner. Now we’re back at the hostel. 2 more sleeps til we hop on the plane!!

Back to Londontown

Yesterday I was extremely lazy. I pretty much read, watched television and ate yummy mozzarella, tomato and avocado salad that Anna made. We went for a walk to the pub for dinner and then went for another walk to another pub for a pint. Anna and Nige and Sarah-Jane have been such great hosts. We left just before lunchtime today and hopped on a train back to London. It was our last National Rail trip for the holiday…weird. Now we’re in Generator hostel in London. The next couple of days will be interesting ones, but its not long now until we hop on the plane. That will be interesting to, with my legs being the way they are. Attempts to get moved to a seat with better leg room haven’t proved too fruitful. The quest continues…

Tynemouth

We got up this morning (myself a lot slower than Sean, as usual) and Nige, Anna and Sarah-Jane kindly took us in the car to Tynemouth Market. We went on a biiiig walk, with some beautiful views of the river and looked through the market which conveniently included a book fair…before having lunch in front of the ruined castle and priory, all in brilliant sunshine. We drove home along the coast and it reminded me of the more beautiful parts of the Mornington Peninsula.

I had a nap when we got home, and Sean and Sarah-Jane had slinky tournaments down the stairs. The girl is only five and is being taught about Monet, and has thus produced a vast quantity of Impressionist drawings. Amazing stuff. Nige’s parents came over and we went down to their allotment, which is their plot in the community gardens where they are growing heaps of vegies, herbs and even hops! (Nige runs a micro-brewery). Then Nige’s sister and brother came over and we all had Sunday dinner with vegies from the allotment, and rhubarb crumble, also made from allotment grown ingredients! Nige’s mum used to be the children’s librarian for Newcastle and knew authors like Jacqueline Wilson before she was famous. Sarah-Jane and I made Lego masterpieces and later we watched Crazy Heart (SJ was in bed by then) before I headed upstairs myself. In another staggering display of generosity, Nige and Anna have insisted we stay another night, free of charge. Bless this house!

South Shields and Newcastle

After a day in which Sean went exploring and I stayed home because of my swollen knees (but I found Pottermore and then it wasn’t so bad), we had Chinese food and red wine with Nige and Anna and chatted and laughed at bad TV. Then this morning, we headed into South Shields. South Shields is not far from Newcastle (about half an hour on the metro) and Sean’s grandfather is from there, so it was a special place to visit. We had a great time hobbling up the very trendy shopping district until we got to the ferry docks. We went for a walk along the waterfront, and Sean took lots of pics, before we got stuck in a rainstorm and ducked into a nearby pub. We then whiled away the next hour or so, chatting to the bartenders and two regulars about travelling and the UK and Aus and history and leather repair (Dad!) and beer and all manner of things. There were also some old photographs around the pub of what the area used to look like, which was pretty special. Once we made our farewells, we went for a bigger wander, all the way down to Ocean Rd, stopping to look in the pet shop, and even a small museum of South Shields (though it was closing and we only got as far as the gift shop). At about 6, we met up with Michael, Sean’s great-cousin. He was really, really lovely. It’s always weird meeting up with someone you have never seen before, but he was really warm and inviting. We had a few beers (cider for me) and talked for at least a couple of hours. On the way home my knees packed up from a day of walking. Even with crutches and compression bandages they couldn’t stick it out the whole way home, so I went back to the house and Sean went and got us delicious Indian food for a late dinner. Cheers!

Singin’ In The Rain

I have now sent home 7 packages, and I hope that will be it! Yesterday we did some routine errands – finding a post office, booking Matilda tickets, calling Sean’s relatives in South Shields – before heading off to the West End to see Blood Brothers. The box office people were kind of unhelpful, but to cut a long story short, we didn’t get to see it. No matter, we wandered down the street, just to see, out of interest, if there were any reasonably priced seats available for Singin’ In The Rain. Neither of us had ever seen the movie or the show – I know, terrible of us, really terrible – but we ended up getting seats for 25 pounds (they were classed as ‘restricted view’, but we had no trouble with the view at all). After an insanely delicious dinner at a Mexican place, we took our seats in the auditorium. I loved it!! The dancing and the chorey were just mental. I’m not a dancer, but I know mind-blowing steps when they’re done in front of me and this stuff was so good it hurt. Particularly, of course, the climactic numbers in the actual rain. The first four rows of the audience got a generous soaking, but we were safe back in row H. The girl who played Kathy was the standout, but we saw the Lina Lamont understudy and she was wonderful. I’m so glad that our first Singin’ In The Rain experience was a production of such quality and magnitude. Afterwards, we hightailed back to Shepherd’s Bush to make sure we got in before Tim and Helen went to bed. We thanked them for having us, though there is no way we could possibly repay them for their kindness, and wished them luck for Egypt (exciting!) before dropping into bed. This morning we got up, packed up and headed to King’s Cross where we caught a train to Newcastle. We are staying in South Gosforth in a place we found on airbnb. Our lovely hosts are Nigel (away at the moment) and his lovely wife Anna and their beautiful daughter Sarah-Jane. And their cat, Buttons, who I shall be taking back to Aus with me. Sean and I went for dinner at a nice Italian place, had a quick pint at the pub, and came back for an early night. Phew!

Potter, potter, pott-er, POTT-ER!!!

Okay, so it’s been another few days between blogs, but that is because I haven’t done too much. My days have pretty much consisted of lying down at Tim and Helen’s and watching television and reading books and hobbling around Shepherd’s Bush just for 20 minute stretches and this is because my legs are still really freaking painful. Sean came back from Germany on Monday after a brilliant weekend at Volksfest in Nuremberg and I’m really glad he got to do that, because it sounded like he had a brilliant time. Volksfest is a beer drinking festival, which makes me glad I didn’t go, because there would have been very little for me to do! Anyway, yesterday we had to actually get up and out of the house because we had booked a tour for the Warner Brothers Studio Tour of the HARRY POTTER FILM SETS!! It was pretttttttty exciting. We took the train and then a big Harry-themed shuttle bus out to Leavesden. It was packed. You walk into a giant foyer with enormous prints of all different characters around the side of the wall. I had paid for a digital guide, so I collected it and promptly realised while they call it a ‘digital’ guide instead of an ‘audio’ guide. It’s an iPod touch, filled with stacks and stacks of photo galleries and audio tracks and short films and visitor’s information, covering everything you could possibly want to know while you are there, from how they trained the animals, to the costumes designer’s sketches for the Yule Ball, to where the toilets are and the souvenir shop.

After lining up for ages, you enter a room where they show you a short film about the producers and the development of the films and how they swept the world. Then you get led into a cinema, where they show  you another short film featuring the three main actors and their stories of ‘growing up’ in the studios. It is full of scripted cheesiness and I loved every second of it. And then, AND THEN, the curtain rises and you see the doors to the Great Hall. You enter through these and then you are there. The Great Hall. Where it all began. I nearly wet myself. All throughout the hall (and the rest of the exhibition) there are mannequins wearing the actual costumes used in the films. The actual props adorn the actual sets and the floor of the Great Hall is made from actual stone. Such. A. Cool. Place. For anyone thinking of going (and I highly recommend it to you all), make sure you book a relatively early time. Bearing in mind it takes a while to get to Leavesden, I would book a tour before midday. We booked ours for 4pm and the place closes at 7.30. It’s not long enough. Not if you want to see everything, read every placard, watch everything playing on every screen, do the Quidditch photo op, watch each and every item on your digital guide and have time to look in the souvenir shop. It is easily and definitely worth your money, but if you are one of those people who needs to go through it slowly and thoroughly, you will need a long time. Once you head out of the Great Hall, you go through a giant room with all the interior sets (it used to be an aircraft hangar, that should give you an idea of the size of this room). We saw make-up and costume stations, the Hogwarts gates, the Yule Ball table dressings, the Gryffindor boy’s dormitory, the Gryffindor Common Room, the Mirror of Erised, the Fat Lady’s portrait, all the featured character’s wands, props from Lupin’s classroom, not to mention an enormous cage filled with props and set pieces from all eight films (including brooms, books, suits of armour, chandeliers, Horcruxes, the Time Turner, the Deluminator – pretty much any prop you can think of was available to see). We then continued on and saw Dumbledore’s office (one of my favourite and most detailed sets), the Potion’s classroom, the Burrow, the Portrait Wall, Hagrid’s Hut, the animal training station, huge doors including the ones to the Chamber of Secrets, the vault in Gringotts and Hogwarts Castle itself, Mad-Eye Moody’s chests, the Gringotts vault mobile thingy, Sirius’s flying motorbike and plenty of Quidditch props and brooms. We saw the Triwizard Cup, the Golden Egg, and the Goblet of Fire. We saw sets of the Ministry of Magic atrium, Umbridge’s Office, the Magic is Might statue, and the Vanishing Cabinet. There was also an enormous set of shelves with issues of the Quibbler and the Daily Prophet, all manner of textbooks and Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes products, even the letter from Lily Potter to Snape. Also in this section is an opportunity to get a photo on a broom. It’s all against a greenscreen and they really make it look like you’re flying and all. But we couldn’t do that bit. Sad face 😦

Once you finish in this epic hangar of Potter-awesomeness, you head out to the backlot where they have more big pieces of set/props, including ones you can actually sit in eg the Ford Anglia, Hagrid’s motorbike and the Knight Bus. They also have number 4 Privet Drive, the house at Godric’s Hollow, a huge piece of Hogwarts Bridge, Tom Riddle’s gravestone and the giant chess pieces. Also…they sell Butterbeer!! We had to buy some, even though it was too sweet to even finish a cup (I think it may have been creaming soda…with cream…). Once we mined the backlot for every photo op possible, we headed back inside and went through the model rooms. This is where they created all the masks for the goblins, all the animatronics and movable things, as well as all the models for the special effects. So (get ready for another list), we saw Inferi, the Death Eater model that the DA used for practice, Bathilda Bagshot, Fenrir Greyback, mermaids, werewolves, Dobby, Robbie Coltrane’s animatronic face for his size double (creepy), dead Voldemort baby thing from King’s Cross (creepier), Hedwig, the Monster Book of Monsters, all the models of people’s bodies for when they were dead/cursed/underwater, Aunt Marge blown up, Charity Burbage, the Basilisk, the Hungarian Horntail, Thestrals, Buckbeak, and giant spiders among a million other things. There was an informative short film playing with some of the people in charge of making these models, with Warwick Davis who played various roles. Then, onto the final part of the set displays – Diagon Alley. You walk up the cobbled street between the shopfronts that you’ve read about and seen on the screen and a piddly little camera simply cannot do it justice. But seeing all these places, dressed to look just perfect, makes you feel happier than ever that you’ve read the books and seen the films. Ugh. Harry Potter is the best thing ever. EVER. Anyway, once you’re out of Diagon Alley, you head through some rooms with some really stunning art on the walls. There are not just sketches, but full-blown, enormous paintings and sculptures that were used while developing concepts for sketches. The exhibition finishes with an enormous, ENORMOUS model of Hogwarts. It’s filled with fibre-optic lights and real stone and all manner of things that make the detail simply extraordinary. Again, there is no way to possibly do this justice with a camera, so you’ll all simply have to visit yourselves. Cool. I didn’t buy anything from the shop, amazingly, but I have a souvenir guidebook that I paid for with my ticket to remember it by, as well as about 4 million photos, which are now on Facebook. Enjoy!!