Our first trip away in a long, long time was in fact little more than a weekend city break to London and the Warner Bros Harry Potter Tour. Just my daughter and I, my youngest child aged seven. She’d just finished reading all seven books in the much adored series. A year’s solid reading every night without fail. A spectacular reward was called for.
For us, a trip to Harry Potter World in Orlando was just impossible so Watford it was, and a tour of the film studios instead. The challenge was to make a trip to Watford somehow “spectacular”, and I wasn’t entirely confident my magical powers were going to be up to it.
A lack of finances meant the rest of the family would stay behind this trip and keep the home fires burning, literally. In the rural west of Ireland, feeding the turf fire is a Sisyphean task for those like us, forced into fuel (and other) types of poverty. But I’d promised. This trip would happen and the money found for it somehow, somewhere.
The usual spots came up trumps and we triumphed. The penny jar, the dresser drawers, between the sofa cushions, the depleting stash of birthday, Communion and Confirmation envelopes, tucked away in locker drawers under balled up football socks, the “rainy day fund”; all were thoroughly raided.
We arrived on a Saturday, and spent the afternoon window shopping, muggle-watching and sampling all the earthly delights of the London metropolis that our meagre budget of €150 would stand. Sunday would be entirely devoted to our main mission, the trip to Warner Bros, also known as Hogwarts.
We had a tight shoestring budget. Ryanair flights and a cheap hotel with no frills. We had baulked at the first hotel near Luton Airport, where a window was offered as an optional extra, plumping instead for a cheap central B&B with our own peanut butter sandwiches to sustain us.
The place was a gem. A room for £25 a night in the heart of Belgravia where several terraced houses, knocked together, formed one confusing rabbit warren of creaky staircases and winding corridors. An industrious Bangladeshi family scurried about tending to the guests, like frantic house elves.
Tucked away behind Victoria station, and dwarfed by gleaming mansions populated entirely it seemed by Russian mafia-types and other mega-wealthy people of varying ethnicities, we’d found our own “Grimauld Place.”
Furtively crouching on our tiny balcony, we were quite invisible. As night fell, we watched the limos and porches disgorging their exotic, bejewelled inhabitants. We were strangely fascinated as they’d clatter up the stone steps on the other side of the street and disappear into the glittering interiors, heavy doors shutting with a solid clunk behind them.
Later, up the street a bit, we spotted two homeless guys bedding down in a doorway advertising “Pampered Pets”, the tiny glow of a cigarette catching our notice. Dementors? Runaways waiting for the Night Bus?
The Harry Potter studio tour was indeed spectacular, and who couldn’t but be overwhelmed and impressed by the creativity and skill on display? We even met Hedwig! However, with each new technological “reveal”, I witnessed a fresh scale fall from my daughter’s eyes. The magic of the books was dying as the queue for the green screen quidditch battle snaked round.
That evening, tired from the long day but with tummies pleasantly stuffed with pizza, we turned the corner and met the homeless youngsters. A tenner was handed over, cheery smiles, and somehow magic was back in our hearts.