Richard Perry

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An Awesome Birthday Weekend

  |     |   Birthday, Paralympics, London, Gilwell, Harry Potter

This year, my birthday landed on Gilwell Reunion weekend so Rosie decided to put together an amazing weekend based at Gilwell Park. Gilwell Reunion is a weekend for Scout Leaders that doesn’t involve bringing along any Scouts so it’s a brilliant chill out weekend where we get to catch up with friends from all over the world that we’ve met on various events, so it’s always nice when it lands on my birthday. This year, Rosie also arranged for us to take a trip into London on Saturday to watch some wheelchair fencing at the ExCeL Centre.

We arrived late on the Friday night for various reasons, and headed out early on Saturday morning to get into London, so we didn’t really take part in Friday night or Saturday at Reunion, but the Paralympic Games more than made up for this. Our session was due to start at 11:00 at the ExCeL Centre so we took a scenic route to get there. We got the tube through to the O2 North Greenwich Arena so that we could take the Emirates Air Line across to ExCeL. Thankfully the weather was great so we could see for miles all the way across east London. The views were incredible, and if you haven’t already had a chance to go on it, then you really should. It only lasts for a bit more than 5 minutes, but it’s well worth it! We arrived at the ExCeL with plenty of time to spare so I took the opportunity to give Rosie & George the tour of the place I spent the two weeks of the Olympics (although I couldn’t get everywhere because, apparently, my accreditation was only valid for the Olympics!).

We also realised that the tickets we had were day passes so we were able to watch anything that had spare seats :smiley:. As our tickets were for the wheelchair fencing first & foremost, that was where we began our day. The quarter finals of the men’s team event was on, and GBR were fighting Hong Kong. It seems that Hong Kong are ridiculously good in comparison to GBR, so we watched our guys getting knocked out (45 - 19). The way the competitors moved, bearing in mind their wheelchairs were locked in place, was pretty incredible. I enjoyed the Olympic Fencing, but the Paralympic fencing was far more exciting and appeared a lot more difficult. One thing I wasn’t expecting though, was some of the competitors being able to walk!

The next stop was the Table Tennis. We had no idea what category/stage was taking place, so it was quite good to find it was the Category 4-5 (wheelchair) team medal matches. Again, the wheelchairs were not even a slight hindrance to these guys, they were bouncing the chairs left and right to reach the ball as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The entire thing seemed effortless to them. The games were also just as fast paced as the Olympic table tennis, which I (ashamedly) didn’t expect because of the perceived difficulty moving back and forth along the table edge. The whole thing was a real eye opener for me. Olympians are always praised for the effort and skill involved in reaching the peak of their discipline, but Paralympians never seem to get the same recognition. In my humble opinion, the Paralympians deserve to be recognised in exactly the same way because they show the world that the word ‘disabled’ is simply a matter of mind. They are all less able, in one way or another, than somebody else, but their so-called ‘disabilities’ do not stop them from living their life the same as everyone else. It seems to me that ‘disabled’ is a moniker that can only really be applied to those that have given up, or believe that their disability defines them.

Before heading back to Gilwell Reunion, we decided to check out the view over the Olympic Park from the viewing gallery at John Lewis at the Westfield Centre. This was perhaps one of our less well-considered ideas. We had to fight against the hoards of people thronging through the shopping centre before joining the queue to get to the viewing gallery. When we finally got there, the view was less than fantastic. I can’t argue against the description, it was actually a view of the whole park, but it wasn’t looking down over the park so it was very difficult to actually see anything. Nevermind, the money was for charity so it doesn’t matter really.

We got back to site in time to have a quick dinner of fish & chips before wandering over to the Gilwell Camp Fire. It wasn’t George’s first campfire, but it was his first Gilwell Reunion campfire and they do things a little differently here. Unfortunately, he was so tired from the day that he didn’t really enjoy it and so Rosie & I spent some time trying to get him to settle away from it all. We had to take him straight to bed when we got back to the tent and so decided to retire ourselves.

The next day we were able to take part in Gilwell Reunion, so we strolled around the various stalls around the site and caught up with friends from all over the place. George even got to meet Wayne Bulpitt. I do enjoy Gilwell, even if it is a little overpriced. This year we were even able to stay for the AGM and have a nice chilled out day because we were planning on staying in London another night. We stayed in Chingford to have dinner with Mark before heading to the hotel closer to Watford, but just as we were leaving site we got a phone call from the hotel telling us that our booking had been transferred due to an incident at the hotel. Lucky we hadn’t already left then really! We reprogrammed our sat nav and found our way to the other hotel with no problems.

The last part of my birthday weekend was a visit to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter so, after our usual leisurely breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and made our way to the studios ready for our preallocated entrance time of 10:30. Unfortunately we arrived at the same time as a bus full of school kids! This seemed like an ideal time to make sure George had a clean nappy and wasn’t hungry.

The tour began with a the obligatory queue when we got to see the Cupboard Under the Stairs and Rosie managed to get me a birthday badge. We were ushered into a small room that had videos on each wall introducing how Harry Potter was chosen to become the next franchise, and then into an auditorium. This was where the tour really began, with an introduction to the Studio Tour by one of the staff, and then by Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson (on video of course). Once this finished the screen lifted up to reveal the actual doors to the Great Hall! What a brilliant way to open!

For the next few hours, we walked around Studio J (the home of the various sets, props costumes etc) taking in the enormity of the task to create the world of Harry Potter, ably guided by Tom Felton aka Dracy Malfoy via an audio/video guide (basically an iPod Touch in a custom case with a custom app running on it). We got to see the table decorations from the Yule Ball, the Mirror of Erised, the Goblet of Fire, the Triwizard Cup, the trunk that held Alastor Moody, the vanishing cabinet, the Death Eater masks, thousands of wands, junk from the Room of Requirement, the horcruxes, the portraits, the Great Hall, Dumbledores Office, the Gryffindor Common Room & bedroom, Hagrids Hut, the Burrow kitchen and so much more. I was like a kid in a candy shop! It really was brilliant to see how, and to what level of detail, it was all built.

After leaving Studio J, we moved out to the back lot where we got to try Butterbeer (not entirely convinced on this one, probably an acquired taste) and had lunch. The back lot is where a lot of the bigger props and sets are located including the Knight Bus (yes that’s right, it really exists and wasn’t just done with CGI), Sirius Blacks motorbike, the Ford Anglia, Tom Riddles gravestone, 4 Privet Drive, the Potter house from Godric’s Hollow, the bridge and the full size wizards chess pieces. This was brilliant, but the fact that you could actually get one the Knight Bus, Sirius Blacks motorbike and the Ford Anglia just made it that much better. Also, they’ve recently opened up the bridge to visitors so we got to cross that as well!

I really was having an amazing day at this point, and we still had the creature workshop and the models to go :smiley:. Just as the rain started coming down we moved on to Studio K. On entering the first room of the creature workshop, we were confronted by shelf upon shelf of goblin heads. This led on to a number of workbenches with various prosthetics and models on display in various states of completeness. This was also where we came across an animatronic Hagrid! It turns out that for some of the scenes it was necessary to use this model because of how big Hagrid is meant to be. In the centre of the room, they also had a display of a Fawkes, Mandrake, Hedwig & dying Voldemort models that were hooked up to buttons so you could see them working.

The main creature effects workshop area then leads into an area displaying some of the larger creatures including the Basilisk (both the living one and the skeleton), a Thestral, a dragon, Buckbeak and Aragog, and they really were big!

We then found ourselves in the real Diagon Alley set, complete with Ollivanders, Eyelops, Flourish & Blotts, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and Gringotts to name a few. This was the actual set used for all the films where Diagon Alley appeared, and if it wasn’t for the walkway that had been installed in the centre, this would have been a ‘hot’ set (i.e. ready for filming), which I thought was pretty cool. There was even a moving broomstick in the window of Quality Quidditch Supplies.

At this point I thought we were nearing the end with only the main Hogwarts model to go. How wrong could I be! We still had the art department to visit. This was one of the most amazing parts of the tour for me because it really gave an idea of how difficult it is to actually build a realistic looking set, and what steps need to be taken before any actual construction takes place. It seemed to me that it would be more difficult to build a realistic looking set for a film like Harry Potter than to build a landmark building in the real world!

In this section there were endless technical drawings plastered over the high walls (reminiscent of my last site office at BAM) with shelves full of box files, and architectural models of absolutely everything. Not only was all this stuff on display for the public, but nobody had any issues with you taking pictures of whatever you liked. There were also various different artists impressions of sets, characters and scenes on display along the walls of one of the corridors, and these were absolutely stunning! Unfortunately, very few of them were available to buy.

Then came the pièce de résistance, the 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry. It was, in a word, breathtaking. The sheer scale of the thing was incredible! The room that housed the model was set up with a descending ramp that wrapped all the way around the model so you could get the full impression of the structure. They had programmed the lighting to cycle through day and night on a fairly regular basis as well, so you could see the building in all its glory at various times of artificial day. Around the edges were interactive info panels that showed how they used the model when filming the exterior scenes for the movie. There were fly throughs that started in the model, then transitioned through to the post processed imagery giving a really good impression of how it all worked.

Well after an impressive 5½ hours, we were done and visiting the gift shop. I can’t quite believe we were in there for that long, especially given that neither of us felt that it had dragged, or was taking too long. I think I could have spent more time in Studio J, but otherwise I think it was just right. We had a brilliant time and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is into Harry Potter or has aspirations to get into film making/set building etc.

Thank you Rosie for a fantastic weekend!

More Photos - 0907 - 0910 Richards Birthday Weekend

More Photos - Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter

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