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The Making of Harry Potter

As a birthday treat we went to the glamorous setting of the outskirts of Watford at the weekend to visit The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Bros. Studios. There was much excitement!

Caution – spoilers if you read on.

The tickets are for a timed entry that ensures that there isn’t an overwhelming flow of people through the exhibits. I was a bit concerned that this would mean that we would be herded through but this wasn’t the case. We were told that we could go through at our own pace and that the record for time spent there was 13 hours, set by a couple of Canadians!

As you queue at the entrance you can see the cupboard under the stairs. I’m going to have to watch the films again as I don’t remember there being so many gas and electric meters under there. Taking a leaf out of Disney this was the first of three holding areas. The next was where we were given instructions on what we could and couldn’t do and then the next room was a short film introduced by Harry, Ron and Hermione. Then, in an unexpected move, the wall shot up and we were in front of the doors to the great hall. The hall itself is enormous and pretty impressive even without the enchanted ceiling! This was the only part of the tour where you were herded through to ensure that it was clear for the next party. That wasn’t an issue as you still got plenty of time walkthrough.

The next area was a huge open space containing loads of sets including the bedroom and common room from Hogwarts, the clock from the entrance to Hogwarts, the rather unsettling centerpiece from the hall at the ministry of magic and much much more. This also included the only interactive piece in the whole place – a change to ride a broomstick or enchanted car on a green screen background followed by the opportunity to purchase a photo of video of your ride. You really could spend hours in this area looking at all the props that have been created – the number and the detail really is mind boggling.

Then you outside with the Knight Bus, Privet Drive and other larger props. Here you can get to take a rest, grab a bite to eat and try out the butter beer.

Next you are back inside for Diagon Alley with all it’s quirky charm and a selection of scale models of some of the major buildings used in the films. The detail in these and the concept artist paintings was amazing, it’s no wonder that these films cost so much to make. The paintings by concept artist Andrew Williamson are good enough to hang in a gallery.

The penultimate treat was coming into a darkened room where the centrepiece was a scale model of the whole of Hogwarts which I assume was used for the overhead and fly-through shots.

Finally (before the obligatory gift shop) was the interior of wandmakers Ollivanders. Here were thousands of wand boxes all individually made and labelled each with the name of a cast or crew member. It was fun wandering through to see how many people you could spot.

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A cynical view might be that this was Warner Bros. making back some money by opening up the sets used but it was brilliantly done and for us well worth the ticket price.

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The Library Enters the 21 Century

I did something that I hadn’t done in a very long time last week. I paid a visit to my local library.

Hit hard by the digital age it seems that they are fighting back and to see that for myself I needed to update my library card with my email address and a pin code.

It seems that libraries are refusing to take the advent of the ebook sitting down and are now lending ebooks just like they do the physical variety. Not only that you can borrow audio books and a wide selection of popular magazines too.

Once you have updated your card you can login on the library website and browse the selection of books on offer. Like any library the selection is limited, about 1,500 in my borough’s case and if someone else already has “borrowed” it then you can go on a waiting list just like with the physical counterpart. You checkout the book that you want and then download it where, using Adobe Digital Editions software, you can then either read on your desktop or on a variety of mobile devices and ereaders. However, the one exception to this is that you cannot upload the ebook to the reader that most people own – the Kindle due to the digital rights management employed.

The limited selection of books means that the latest blockbusters aren’t likely to be there and I found from my casual searching that some books in a series will be there but not all and not necessarily the first in the series which I found a bit odd. This service is therefore most likely to appeal to the casual reader who is just dipping their toe into the ebook reader waters and is less fussy about what they read.

Unlike the ebooks the magazine selection was first rate with many well known titles including Cosmopolitan, Practical Photography, Computer Shopper and The Economist. Surprisingly there didn’t seem to be any restriction on the number of magazines that you could download. You view the mags through the Zinio reader which is available on multiple platforms. Given that some magazine annual subscriptions can be well over £50 you could easily save quite a bit providing you can handle reading a magazine on a tablet.

Given that this is a “free” service (or at least one that is included in my council tax) it seems pretty good to me and something that it will continue to make use of.

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Is Reading Ready for ReadyBike?

So Reading has jumped on the local bike hire bandwagon with the launch of ReadyBike (surely it should be ReadiBike?).

This is a scheme similar to the one so popular in London where a number of bike stations have been placed around the town and you and pick-up and drop-off from these. Coverage seems quite wide extending out as far as Thames Valley and Green Parks, which makes sense.

Judging by the picture below the service is already proving popular but, for me, it has one flaw.

The scheme offers two rental models – pay by the day or an annual subscription, where you get lower day rates. Both of these are fine but crucially you cannot just turn up on any day having registered, grab a bike and go – you must have nominated the day you want to ride in advance. For a casual user such as myself this just doesn’t work. If I turn up and find it is chucking it down with rain I wouldn’t want to ride. Similarly I might get to the station and think I’ll grab a bike on the spur of the moment but it appears you cannot do that.

Having spoken to the company that runs the scheme the restriction placed on the service is by Reading Borough Council rather than the operator. Either way it is a shame and I hope that it will change over time to become more flexible like it is in London.

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Bikes are clearly the in thing in Reading right now as the Reading Bike Kitchen has opened up in the last month. This is a not for profit organisation that provides space, tools and help for people that want to mend their own bikes.

When the chain broke on my bike recently I could have taken it into a high street chain for repair but elected to go to RBK instead which for £4 and the help of Dave I was able to fix it myself. I came away with a mended bike and a sense of satisfaction that I wouldn’t have got elsewhere.

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Bikes are clearly the way to go in Reading!

Tracks Added – July 2014

Quiet month for music with only three purchases along with the Society of Sound downloads and these three are all the same artist.

This months additions are:

  • Amarante - The Problem was Me EP
  • Amarante – Udana Prana
  • Amarante – Elapsed Euphoria
  • Tom Cawley’s Curios - Captive (SoS)
  • LSO - Brahms - German Requiem (SoS)

Sometimes I come across music in the most normal of ways, through my sons, the radio or film soundtrack, for example. Othertimes it is more unorthodox such as my discovery of Amarante who I came across while watching a video on the BBC website about a girl with Trichotillomania. It was a great sound and fitted the video, which you can see below, perfectly.

I loved the track used, Don’t Look Back, and was pleased to find that they weren’t just a one trick pony either so I ended up buying three of their releases. I really like the sound and recommend you take a listen on their Soundcloud page.

That’s it for this month.

Those above marked (SoS) are from a subscription service called Society of Sound which is curated by Real World Records, Peter Gabriel and the LSO. This provides members with two downloads a month of which you get no choice. This means that some months you get something that you really love and other months not so.

Statistics

All my music is held in a web-based music streamer called Subsonic, a roll-your-own Spotify if you like. This provides statistics on number of tracks and size of collection, as you can see below.

1,240 artists
2,704 albums
23,632 songs
243.79 GB
1,909 hours