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The Making of Harry Potter – Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Harry_Potter_Leavesden_entranceYes, I finally made it to the Harry Potter Studio Tour!  And yes, this post will contain 5000 pictures.

First, a few notes on getting there, tickets, etc.  Get tickets early–at least a few days during the off-peak times, and possibly a week or two during holiday weekends and tourist times of year. I would recommend getting the digital guide along with the admission–you can get this ahead of time, with your tickets, or pay for it when you get there.

Speaking of getting there. Their website lists the ways it can be done. Coming from London, you can either take a coach straight from Victoria station, or take a train to Watford Junction and catch a special bus from there to the studio. I did the latter. When you exit the station, turn left toward the group of bus stops. You’ll know when you find the right bus.6879219692_c39133f9fd_z

 

Tickets are timed, so you may have to wait just a bit from arrival before you can go in. They have a Starbucks and you can access the gift shop while you wait.

You’ll be able to see Harry’s cupboard as you queue. Then you’ll be shown into a room and told to stand there–they’ll talk and show a video.  I recommend standing all the way at the far end of the room, next to one of the three doors. Then you’ll be the first out.

…into another room where they’ll show a video. You get to sit down for this one! I recommend finding a seat in the front row, or very close to an aisle. But they will force you to move all the way down each row, so that may not be possible.

The reason you may want to pick a good seat is because of what you’ll see next.  The Great Hall!

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For the rest of the tour, you have as much time as you like, but in this room you are limited, so make sure you see everything you want to see.  The house tables, the goblets and plates.  The costumes!

DSC_2762 DSC_2755 DSC_2746 DSC_2765They display them on slightly creepy mannequin things, but they are the real costumes. House robes, including the wee ones Dan Radcliffe wore in the first movie.  Most of the staff are up near the head table, including Hagrid, Dumbledore, Filch, McGonagall, Snape, Flitwick, and Trelawney.

So make sure you get a good look around before they usher you into the next room.  Also, note for photos: the whole place is pretty dimly lit. If your camera has a mode good for candlelight or low light, you may want to use that. I hate using flash when I’m in a space like this, but it is almost necessary for the photos to turn out.

The rest of the tour is just you wandering–this is when the digital guide comes in handy. You can hear about the specifics of different props or costumes, from the actors that used them or the people that made them. Quite cool.

You wander around a room with sets dispersed within it, as well as small nooks displaying more costumes, props, wigs, architecture. All of it just stuffed in a big space, like the room of requirement with all the junk in it. And it’s all wonderful. There are the Hogwarts gates with the 2 boars:

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Then its straight to the familiar Gryffindor common room and boys dormitory, complete with some more costumes, some comfy armchairs by the fire, and personalized bunks for each of the boys. Dean’s has a West Ham blanket; Ron’s cubby area is covered in Chudley Cannons posters.

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The next sets you’ll see are the Potions classroom, Hagrid’s Hut, and the Burrow.

DSC_2829 DSC_2852Can I say how much I want to live in the Burrow? I wish you could actually walk in, be in the space, but I understand why you can’t.DSC_2864

DSC_2869I did, however, find out the answer to a very important question. If you’re wondering what wizards eat for breakfast, look no further:DSC_2862

Cheeriowls. Of course.

You can sort of walk into Dumbledore’s office, a little, but the upper portion (with all the cool stuff) is roped off. DSC_2843

But you can see the pensieve up close.

In between all of these sets there is just a cornucopia of props, costumes, everything you’ve ever wanted to see. Here are just a few pictures of what is nestled in every corner.DSC_2778 Ron’s dress robes. The robes of prominent and terrifying death eaters, and some of the Order of the Phoenix.

DSC_2901 DSC_2819Muggles in their rightful place, the Black family tree tapestry, Lupin’s trunkDSC_2898 DSC_2876 DSC_2929

There are just tons of things, all over the room.

Also in this room, you can wait in line for a go on the CGI broom experience. I did not feel like waiting in line to make an idiot of myself, so I skipped this. If you don’t mind looking an idiot, it’s probably pretty fun.

The section of this room that I actually loved was all the print media and products that were produced. Books, the Daily Prophet, the Quibbler, anything with text. This one case was one of my favorite parts–these little props have so much detail, for minor use during the films. DSC_2912 DSC_2911 DSC_2907 DSC_2904

Leave me alone and I could read those entire issues of the Daily Prophet. I’d probably enjoy reading the test booklet as well.

After the first building, you can proceed into the courtyard outside. This was home to some of the larger sets. You can walk across the Hogwarts bridge, take a look inside the Knight Bus, and knock on the door of 4 Privet Drive. And you can get some Butterbeer at the cafe. I really like Butterbeer.DSC_2937 DSC_2942 DSC_2941

They also have the chess pieces from Philosopher’s Stone, the ruined home of the Potter’s in Godric’s Hollow, and some of the other vehicles (motorbike, Ford Anglia) that you can sit in/on.

From here, you enter the second building. This one is more devoted to how they made things happen. The creature shop is a mix of CGI and lifelike models that is filled with extremely creepy things.

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You get to walk through a life-size version of Diagon Alley, though this experience may be dwarfed if you’ve been to the expansion at the Wizarding World in Orlando. I haven’t yet, so it was pretty exciting for me.DSC_2975 DSC_2977

And now you can start to see how Hogwarts was created, from drawings, and small models, to filmable miniatures. I found it really fascinating and would love to own some of the concept art they had on display. DSC_2984 DSC_2987 DSC_2988 DSC_2994 DSC_2999

And the big finale.

The final room you’ll see (before the obligatory stop at the gift shop) is a massive miniature of Hogwarts, in its entirety. It’s stupid large, and I would pay a lot of money to be shrunk down small enough to wander through it. The detail is too difficult to see from the viewing area, but apparently they made little torches to line the halls and everything perfectly to scale. Why hasn’t science invented that shrinking thing yet? Rick Moranis, where are you when we need you? The room also cycles through lighting changes, so that you can see the castle during daylight and at night, lit up by the many torches. It’s really lovely and hit me right in the feels, to be honest.DSC_3003 DSC_3010

I really enjoyed the tour, and I loved seeing all of the little details that went into creating the movies, and making these worlds believable. Especially the real costumes. I’d highly recommend it to any HP fan within a 500 hundred miles of London.

That being said, I preferred my trip to the Wizarding World (and would probably prefer it even more now that it has expanded). The thing about this studio tour is that it is showing you exactly how everything was created to look good on camera. That’s very fascinating and I’m glad to see it. But, the Orlando Wizarding World is sort of saying ‘yes, it’s real, and here it is, and you can come in and have a look around’.  And that’s preferable to the part of my brain that will never quite give up believing that it is really real.

 

 

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My Experiment with Sport(s)

Subtitles of this post might include ‘Am I a norm now?’.

There are two types of people in America.  People who like and watch and care about pro. sports, and people who don’t.  I really believed this for most of my life, and have hated every group sport (both as a spectator and a participant). I would roll my eyes and sigh as people around me discussed the Phillies or the Vikings or…whatever. I am quite proud that I can’t pick a winning QB out of a crowd–at least 2 of them are named Manning, right?  I spend Super Bowl Sunday watching Animal Planet (Puppy Bowl Sunday, as it should actually be called). The closest I’ve come to enjoying sports is bingewatching Friday Night Lights on Netflix.

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But this year, that all changed. As I said in my post on UK sport last year, I planned to watch the entire season of the Barclay’s Premier League (soccer). I picked my team, pointed out some very helpful condiment-based analogies to illustrate the offside rule, and I was set to go.  What happened next, I did not expect.

In last year’s post, I explained that I was going to support West Ham.  I used Harry Potter to make this decision–a strategy that usually works for me in life. I also explained that it is absolutely unforgivable to support one team, and then support another when the first team starts to do badly.  Punishable by death for many football fans. But…there are a few things I didn’t take into account.  The first problem with my support of West Ham–they were never on TV.  NBC Sports broadcasts ~2-4 matches per weekend, and the rest are available on their app.  West Ham, throughout the season, were only featured on TV if they were playing one of the top 4-5 teams.  The first weekend of the season, they were not on TV.  Instead, I watched Arsenal (my bf’s team) lose to Aston Villa. The second week, they were still not on TV, so I watched Arsenal again.  And so on, and so forth.  After about 3 weeks, I abandoned all pretense and admitted that I support Arsenal. Luckily, I am not in the UK and cannot be extradited to face capital punishment for my shift of loyalty.  Hopefully the statute of limitations is pretty short.

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So, I watched every Arsenal match in the season.  Every. Match.  I even watched some of their non-BPL matches, in the Champions League and FA Cup. Here’s what I learned:

1-Football players can be very attractive:

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Though loved by many, Ronaldo is not my type (he’s too shiny). But there are enough of them to please everyone. David Beckham is not an anomaly. Bonus: They take their shirts off at the end of matches.

Unfortunately,

2-Football players can also be really unattractive:

250026119Sorry Jon, if you happen to ever see this.  Remember you get paid a lot of money to play a sport, if you ever feel too bad about how you look. Also, I could have used a far uglier picture of you, but I felt guilty and scaled back.

3-Wayne Rooney always looks like he’s about to say ‘you talkin to me?’ with false bravado, and get abnormally close to someone in a bar

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4-Arsene Wenger (manager for Arsenal) cannot operate the zipper on his ludicrously long coat:Arsene-Wenger-Jacket-Football-Realm

 

This has been such a constant problem that the cameramen will now pan to AW whenever he’s doing up his coat, to catch brilliant bits of film like this:

5-Jose Mourinho is awful. If you see this man:

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Punch him in the nose for me. Trust me, he deserves it. You should be able to tell, just from this picture, that he deserves it.

6-Being a BPL manager is probably the worst job in the world.  I lost count of how many managers were replaced during the season, but I would say there were at least 10 managers sacked just in the 20 teams in the BPL. Stupid.  This seems like such a bad strategy.  But the fans are very fickle and want a new manager if the team loses 1 or 2 games in a row.  People were howling for Arsene Wenger’s resignation after the 1st match (and loss) of the season.  After that match? Arsenal was top of the league for almost 5 months, finished in the top 4 and won the FA cup. So…people are stupid.

7-A large percentage of football players are probably assholes:

There’s a lot of proof of this, and who would really not expect that?  Who’s more of an asshole than young men who can get everything they want?  They are under a lot of pressure, but they also have fame, money, adoration, and male and female fans ready and willing, wherever they go.  That’s the perfect equation to produce assholes.  In my opinion, the worst of them is Luis Suarez.  He bit a competitor during a match.

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WHAT?! Who does that? Who, in any way or capacity not related to kidnapping or attempted assault resorts to biting someone?  wtf.

8-A massive percentage of football fans are terrible human beings:

A visible and audible percentage are racist, and more racist, pathetic hooligans, and just every combination of awful humanity you can picture. Recently, a racist fan threw a banana at one of the black players.  Like…how do you even associate that in your mind? If someone threw a banana at me, or anyone around me, I wouldn’t even understand that it was an insult because who the fuck in this century associates people of color with monkeys? I mean, any more than the general theory of natural selection and evolution associates all people with monkeys?

After a player got injured in Arsenal vs. Tottenham, the Spurs fans threw coins (coins in the UK, btw, are much heavier than ours in the US. They also threw a water bottle, and some sort of bread roll!) at him while he was being carried away on a stretcher. Last year (!!!), a horse was punched when Newcastle fans rioted.  what the fuck.  Fuck you, football fans. I currently live in a city that boos Santa Claus, Robots, and a man who was the recipient of the world’s first hand transplant.  Sports people in Philly are some of the worst sports people in the world. Or so I thought, before I watched the BPL. BPL fans boo, they throw smoke bombs, they rush the fields, they make up horrific chants–most of which I can’t really hear from this side of the pond, so that’s lucky. If I could hear them, I’d be even more horrified.

One more (far more positive) thing I learned from watching football.  This man,

santi-cazorla

Santi Cazorla, is the most adorable thing I have ever seen, and I really want to snuggle him in a totally not-weird way. Like, the way you might want to snuggle Kermit the Frog. Also, I always root for the short athletes, out of commiseration, and he is a great football player who is only 5’6″.  Here he is next to Per Mertesacker, who is a ludicrous 6’8″

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So…the real thing I learned is that I can actually get into sport(s).  I have never had the least interest in basketball, baseball, (American) football, or any of the sports we watch over here. But I do enjoy watching soccer.  While I’m in the US, soccer is still something a bit on the fringes–it implies a slightly more elite and worldly fan, when compared to 250 lb 45 year old men tailgating before the next Eagles game.  But that’s only true here in America.  Everywhere else in the world, soccer is a main sport, and there is nothing elite or worldly about it.  So I’m not sure my new found interest would (will, I should say) continue when surrounded by the mass of truly heinous behaviors displayed by players and by the fans.  I suspect my new passion for football will be nurtured by quiet watching at home, and will shrink to nothingness when in a large group of totally insane fans. This turned out to be a great year to watch football for the first time.  The championship was up in the air until the very end, I got to watch David Moyes age 10 years in 6 months, Arsenal won the FA cup, and the World Cup is just next month. So, in short, I plan to keep watching.  But if I ever act like a heinous douche-bag about it, someone needs to pull the plug on me or tell me to snap out of it.

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Moving to the UK – part two

So, we’ve covered how to get a visa, finding somewhere for you (and your pets) to live, and some money basics.  What’s next once you get past the border?

Student visas being abused 1. First of all, you have places to go.  How should you get there?

  • Driving license procedures and policies here and here. I’m hoping you realize that they drive on the left side of the road and the right side of the car.
  • London congestion zone info here. Don’t have a car in London unless you need to. If you need further proof, look at the gas (petrol) prices
  • Boris’ bikes (Barclays Cycle Hire, officially) info here.

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  • Public transport info. London has the tube, buses, the overground, and several rail stations. You can look at maps and schedules, plan journeys, and learn about policies at the TFL site. There will usually be special discounted rates for students and for senior citizens. Here is the policy for the London Oyster cards. Other major cities (Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds/West Yorkshire, Liverpool/Merseyside, Glasgow) have similar systems.
  • Travel between cities is fairly easy but not particularly cheap. You can take buses (coaches) or trains–different London train stations go to different locations, do your research online. Buy tickets at least one day in advance and you can usually get them for cheaper.

2. Furnishing your home

  •  I won’t be doing it, but if you want to ship your things across the pond, here is some info on that process. Plan on it taking time and money.
  • In large cities, there are more furnished flats and homes in the UK than you will find in the US. Make sure you consider those homes in your search, but also weigh the extra costs and find what will work for your budget and your length of stay in the UK.
  • If you want to buy furniture when you get there, that is obviously possible, but plan on it taking more trips and more money than you might spend in the US. The thing about shopping in the UK, is that they don’t have large big box stores there (not many, anyway), which means you will not be able to stop at your local Target/Walmart and get an outfit, a futon, your groceries, and an iPad.  You’ll probably have to go to 4 separate small stores.  That being said, here’s a list of ‘equivalent’ UK stores to popular US stores. Also, there are some Tescos called Tesco Extra, and that is the closest you’ll find to a Walmart/Target.

Tesco-Extra-Drive-Through

  • When I moved before, my first stop was the Ikea near Wembley.  Ikea is wonderful, but be warned that none of the London-adjacent Ikeas are easy to get to from public transport.  You may want to rent or borrow a car if you plan to get palette furniture. If Ikea is not for you, here is a list of the 50 best UK furniture stores.

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  • Electronics–there are two items you may need. A power converter and a plug adapter. The power converter actually changes the current going into your device. The plug adapter just makes your US device fit into the UK power plugs. Your US computer should work without a power converter; it only needs a plug adapter. Make sure you check the specifics for your product. Don’t take my word as gospel, because everything is different. For nearly everything I had, I only used the power converter to charge my Nintendo DS.  Everything else could just be used with a plug adapter. One caveat–I highly recommend buying heat devices (hair dryers, curlers, straighteners, etc.) once you get there. These seem the most likely to cause an accident when using adapters and converters, so it is far safer just to buy them once you arrive. Here are some other expat experiences with electronics, including some info on price differences. Expect to pay more for all electronics in the UK.
  • Small necessities – Boots is the place to go for cosmetics and toiletries. Asda can be a good place to get small items (cleaning supplies, trash cans, etc.). For cell phones (called mobiles), your best bet is probably Carphone Warehouse, just because they have so many locations.

3. Where to eat

  • Groceries. The biggest stores are generally Sainsbury’s and Tesco. There are other small stores like M&S Foods, where you pay a little more. Locations vary. Also note, just because it says ’24-hour Sainsbury’s’, don’t expect it to be open 24 hours a day, every day. My local 24-hour Sainsbury’s closed at 5 on Sundays. If you want something really fancy, try the Waitrose or food halls at Harrods or Selfridges. They’ll charge you 5 pounds for a box of Lucky Charms, which is highway robbery. But look how pretty they are:

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  • Eating out. There are a myriad of choices, depending on where you live obviously. Nearly every neighborhood or village will have a pub or gastropub, a coffee shop, and a fast food or chain option. The fast food chains that you will recognize are Subway, McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Starbucks, Chipotle (These were not available when I lived in London before, so I went through a very long period without any Mexican food. Tragic.), Five Guy’s, and (most recently arrived) Shake Shack. Mmm…Shake Shack.  Other mostly-universal UK fast food options are Pret a Manger (delicious, eco-friendly, but expensive), EAT, Costa Coffee, & Chicken Cottage. Sit down restaurants include TGI Friday’s (but I beg you not to go there), Pizza Express, Wagamama, and approximately 5000 different curry/Indian options. But…don’t go to a chain all the time! You’re in a new country, try something new. If you’re in London, I recommend perusing the Time Out website for reviews and ratings. I had great success picking from their website, including one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had in my life.

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  • Finding US products. If you just need some Cheetos, Reese’s, or Pop Tarts, and you can’t live without them, there are websites and stores that can get you your fix.

4-Miscellaneous

  • I don’t have kids, so this is miscellaneous for me, but it is probably fairly important to those who have kids.  Here’s a good source of info on moving to the UK with kids.

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  • Shopping for clothing and accessories. Just as with the US, cities contain large chain stores and small avant-garde boutiques. Smaller cities and villages will have fewer options and generally run more conservative. If you’re in London, Oxford Street should be your first stop. If you want something more eclectic, East London or Camden markets are a good place to try. If you have little money and want the best deal, regardless of store cleanliness or line lengths, head to Primark. Some general uk shopping info is available here.
  • NHS is the free health service for anyone in the UK longer than 6 months. But really, anyone in the country can use it. Important vocab note: do not refer to the ER at your local hospital, they call it A+E (accident and emergency department). Students generally use a university clinic.  You have access to doctor’s visits at no cost, and you will only pay something like £7 for any prescriptions.
  • Utilities–I haven’t done a lot of research, since I won’t need to pay them at the dorms. But here is some info from other expats.
  • Some tips and thoughts from fellow expats here, here, and here. Plus a very helpful Buzzfeed listicle here.

Okay, once again, caveat lector here.  I am just putting in this info that I’ve found, not implying that any of it is 100% correct or should be used as a reference. Do research on your specific situation before you take anything for granted. Also, let me know what I’m missing or what I’ve got wrong.

Here’s a link to my first post on moving to the UK, in case you missed it.

 

Moving to the UK – part one

I’ve been slacking lately, I’ll admit it. I haven’t made a blog post in over 2 weeks. All I can say is that I have good reason.

KCL

 

I recently accepted a place in grad school—a master’s program in Nineteenth-Century Studies at King’s College London. I’ll be moving to London in September. !!!

I’ve already lived in London of course, but 6 months just seems so much shorter than 1 full year. And it requires a considerable amount of extra planning and paperwork—paperwork that my university did for me last time. So I’ve been doing research, and thought I’d share some tips and facts I’ve discovered. If you are considering/planning a move to the UK, I hope this will be helpful.

1. Most importantly, you need a visa.

uk-border-agency_1738357cRules are very strict for entering the UK with a plan to work, study, or stay for more than 6 months. There are different kinds of visas available for different kinds of situations. I’ll be getting a student visa. This requires the university to send in some paperwork to the UK government, stating that I have been accepted, that I will be doing full-time study, and that my study is a ‘progression’ from previous study I’ve undertaken. This last point is to prevent people from staying in the UK and studying for several bachelor’s degrees, just as an excuse to stay in the country. Other visas are for specific types of professions (artists, actors, musicians can usually get into the country if they can prove they have money to support themselves, and/or are of sufficient cultural standing), workers that the UK is in need of (this used to be tech workers, but I’m not sure there are currently any categories that this applies to.), investors (with over £200,000 to invest). There are some others for specific nationalities or other categories. None of these are easy to get, as the system is designed to only accept people who will undoubtedly be able to support themselves, i.e., people who will not go on the dole once they get in. Just a note — currently these rules apply to everywhere in the UK, to my knowledge, but often Scotland, Wales, and N. Ireland have different policies, so be sure to do some research. I especially have no idea what rules will apply if Scotland becomes independent during the upcoming referendum.

2. Housing.  Once you’re legally allowed to immigrate, where are you going to live?! If you’re a millionaire, you can head to Foxton’s or Sotheby’s to find your ideal Regency-era townhouse or converted stables with granite everything.FMOS 142

 

If you’re not a millionaire (or only have a paltry £1-2 million), you can look at rentals or for-sale homes on Rightmove, Home.co.uk, or Primelocation. Here is a list of a few others. If you’re a plebeian like me, I suggest Gumtree or Craigslist (UK).  They offer rooms, houses, or flats for rent or sale. Most universities offer accommodation, particularly for international students. They also usually have partnerships or databases with information on local housing/rental companies that can help students find a place to live. Obviously everything in and around London is approximately 3,000 times more expensive than everywhere else in the UK. Some important things that may not be common knowledge to non-Brits:

  • Flat = apartment
  • Bedshare = a rented bedroom. Generally has a shared bathroom in the hallway.
  • Rent is often calculated and advertised at a weekly, rather than monthly rate. This is sort of crummy, because in months with 5 weeks, you pay extra than you would at a monthly rate.
  • If the flat has a washer/dryer, it is probably an all-in-one, and it is probably in the kitchen.
  • Do not expect an American-sized refrigerator. Expect a small one, like university kids have in their dorms.
  • WC = water closet = loo = bathroom

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  • If you watch TV (on a TV or computer), you must pay a TV license, of about £150. More info on TV licenses here.

3. Pets! Who leaves without their pets? Me, technically. My cat will be staying behind with my boyfriend, because I’m (hopefully) going to live in the dorms. But, for anyone who is getting a house or flat, here’s what you need to know about bringing your furry friends:

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  • It is much easier now to bring your pets (from approved countries), but you still need a pet passport and need to meet the criteria. See information on the process here.
  • Here is a list of inoculations and ID chip details you will need to get done.
  • Some breeds or types of pets are not accepted in the country, or in specific areas.
  • For pets that are not dogs or cats, more info here.
  • Make sure you do everything to the letter. Or they will come and take your pet away from you.
  • If you want to adopt a pet once you’re in the UK, here are a lists of shelters and rescues. Don’t buy a pet; rescue one! Or two!

4. Money, banking, credit cards, and taxes. I’m hoping you realize this already, but the UK currency is GBP (£). The current exchange rate is approximately $1.69 to £1 or 1.22 Euro to £1. Also note that Scotland actually has its own bank notes. They are accepted throughout the UK, and £ are accepted in Scotland. But you might get Scottish change back for a purchase made there, so be aware.

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  • UK banks and credit cards. There are several major banks in the UK, with the most ATM (cash  machines, as they call them) and branch locations throughout. These are HSBC, Lloyds, Halifax, Barclays, & The Royal Bank of Scotland. These will probably be the easiest to deal with, particularly if you plan on traveling throughout the UK, or have an account in one of their US branches. This site compares different credit card deals–be sure to read the fine print! According to this site, there are some problems setting up a bank account or credit card in the UK–more so than in the US anyway.  Still, all you can do is go in and ask questions, and see what they can do.
  • US banks and credit cards. If you are coming for a short time, you can probably live without any UK accounts. I did, when I lived in London for only 6 months. There are two potential fees involved with these. ATM fees – I was charged ATM fees and currency exchange fees by my bank, so this was expensive and I tried not to do it often. The other big fees are from credit cards. Be sure to check your credit card policies to determine whether it will charge extra fees when you use it abroad. Mine didn’t, so I used it for everything, and then paid the bill online, taking the money from my US account. That was the easiest way to live without a UK account. One downside to this: UK credit cards generally have an embedded microchip (called chip and pin), and American cards don’t, so it may take longer for transactions to go through, and may not work at all in certain places. You may also have to explain to cashiers that it is not a chip and pin card.  Also, very important: notify your US credit and debit cards that you are traveling or moving abroad. International purchases are generally declined unless you have notified your card beforehand.

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  • Taxes. Here is some info specifically for Americans working in the UK. If you don’t have income in the UK, you don’t need to ‘pay’ tax.  If you’re there traveling, you can even get VAT (sales) tax refunds. But if you do work in the UK, expect to have more taken out of your checks as the year progresses, because they have a system of pay-as-you-earn. Also, their tax year begins and ends in early April; they don’t use a calendar year.  All that being said, your employer should help you with this stuff, and I would recommend having a professional manage any tax issues, because …honestly it’s hard enough to sort through US tax info, let alone a totally different system. Also, FYI: being paid monthly is the norm. I hope you can stick to a budget!

Okay. Thus endeth part I of this large tome.  Next post will concern transport, shopping, shipping, and miscellaneous. If any of these details are wrong or incomplete, let me know! I want the right info, both for myself and for anyone who reads this.

 

Doll & Em

HBO aired the full 6-episode season of this show in 3 weeks, which means it’s all over before you have a chance to decide if you truly like it.  It premiered in the UK on Sky Living in February

doll-and-em-first-season.21771This show has both women playing themselves, or versions of themselves.  I recognized Em (Emily Mortimer) right away, because she is on the Newsroom, and she’s excellent in it. She’s been in a lot of other things as wellas is Dolly Wells, but I didn’t recognize her at all.

I wonder about the people who make these pseudo-real life shows/movies, where they are playing a spoof of themselves. On the one hand, the audience gets to see the truth behind cameras and how things tend to work in Hollywood (a satire can reflect the truth pretty accurately).  And there has to be some cathartic value in playing a mean version of yourself, or getting to yell at your best friend in a fight for the cameras.  On the other hand, wouldn’t it screw with your head to portray yourself interacting with your best friend portraying herself.   Seems like lines would become really fuzzy, and a la Inception, you might start to lose track of whether you’re being yourself or portraying a version of yourself.  My head hurts if I think about it too much.

This particular show has Doll breaking up with her boyfriend and heading out to visit Em on location for a movie in L.A. To keep her busy and have her around, Em offers to pay Doll to be her personal assistant for the duration of the shoot. Always a good idea–working for your best friend in one of the most demeaning possible roles.  Look, I just don’t get personal assistants. I understand work assistants–you’re helping to accomplish something. Personal assistants are just…helping someone control their own life? I get that certain people, actors, world leaders, etc., don’t have a lot of time. But I don’t think I’d ever be so busy that I’d make someone go out and get coffee for me or pick up my dry cleaning.  She makes Doll drive her too and from work every day.  Why?! What is she doing that she can’t drive? I just don’t get it. Being a personal assistant is predicated on the idea that your boss’s life is more important than yours. Unless you’re personal assistant to a world leader, I don’t buy it. So maybe that’s why this show sometimes left a bad taste in my mouth. Em was a bit spoiled and unsympathetic. Doll wasn’t perfect either.

The final blowout between them, predictable from the 1st episode, is depressing. I will say, though, that the final episode reeled me in again. Most of the show saw the two women competing against each other–for male attention, for professional success, for sympathy about their dead fathers. Women do this, no denying that, but it’s not particularly fun to watch. Most of the show is about this competition and the petty jealousy that springs up between them.  Until the last few minutes of the last episode. Seeing them communicate genuinely and support each other at the end made me much happier than all of the other episodes combined.

The show also boasts some impressive celebrity guests playing themselves – Susan Sarandon, Ben Chaplin (hopefully not as big of an asshole in real life as he was during he scene in this show), John Cusack. There was also a bonus cameo at the very end from Noel Fielding, which (despite lack of goth makeup) I recognized immediately as Richmond, from The IT Crowd.

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Obligatory 2nd anniversary post

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Yesterday was my 2nd anniversary of starting this blog. In the last two years, this blog has racked up over 40,000 views, which is approximately 38,000 more than I ever thought it would.  Last year, I confessed my addiction to the Stats page, watching my view count tick up, and especially my need to fill in all the countries on the map.  I made a lot of progress on that last goal this year. My number one goal last February was to get an elusive view from Mongolia.  I did not get a view from Mongolia; I got 17! Life = complete!  I also got a host of views from new countries this past year: Bolivia, Paraguay, Mali, Senegal, Sudan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Madagascar, Liberia, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Yemen. Plus a host of small countries/territories/islands that happened to find my blog one or 2 times: Grenada, the Seychelles (love your flag, Seychelles!), Palestine, French Polynesia, Martinique, Syria, New Caledonia, the Maldives, Faroe Islands, St. Lucia, El Salvador, Macao, Haiti, Andorra, Guadeloupe, Malawi…the list goes on.

Of course, I’m still hoping for a real dictatorship/censorship state to get through.  Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Cuba…join the party! I promise to corrupt you with my western ways!

My most popular posts, by far, are the informative posts about British vs American stereotypes, education systems,

In this year’s edition of weirdest search terms that led to my blog,

images‘Martin Freeman Naked’ is still the overwhelming winner.

Followed by these strange and terrifying combinations of search terms:

‘van buren facial hair’

‘stove kettle’

‘truck drivers heavy breakfast’

‘kristin scott thomas ice queen’

‘alec guinness brown face’

‘men alone in the house images’ —this one scares me

‘thranduil erotic’ —also scary

‘i have a list of paraphrased quotes in my book, can i use a bibliography?’

That last one might be my favorite, b/c this person has no idea how to use a search engine.  But the most terrifying one I’ve seen in a while is this one:

‘harry potter feet fetish’

Nope, nope, nope. Not even going to think about it. Wait, I just found a worse one:

‘soldier vomit’

Words cannot adequately describe how much I am frowning right now. Moving on…

This blog is mostly just fun for me, and a way to organize my thoughts about British cultural exports. It will never be the sort of blog that rakes in sponsors, or makes anyone any money.  Which, I think, is preferable.  I plan to continue offering up my thoughts on movies, tv, and books from Blighty, throwing them out into a totally ambivalent world.  I will be here to comment on Lady Mary’s 37 suitors, Sherlock’s confusing plot twists, and (of course) everything Harry Potter, including the new movies and the play coming to London.  And books.  tons and tons of books. I will continue to make this face

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when new Doctor Who episodes air, and will respond to any additional comments

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about the authorship of Shakespeare plays as follows…in fact, consider this my official response to anyone who believes the Oxfordian theory:

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To another good year wasting my time on the interwebz!

Broadchurch

broadchurch_thumbnail_02_webLet me preface this by saying I think my expectations for this show were just too high. And I don’t think I accurately anticipated what the show was.  It’s not CSI.  It’s not a procedural, and the real focus of the show is not finding out whodunnit, even though such a suspenseful show will inevitably leave you constantly wondering whodunnit–for the love of god just tell me who did it!!!  The show is really more about how one crime, and one secret, can impact so many people in a community.

The first episode sees Alec Hardy (David Tennant) as the newly-arrived DI in the small seaside town of Broadchurch.  His arrival is a shock and a disappointment to DS Ellie Miller, who hoped to be promoted to DI.  Their relationship is off to a great start, and is further improved by Hardy’s gruff and aloof demeanor and his refusal to accept coffee and foods she brings him.

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The normalcy of life in Broadchurch is disrupted mere minutes into this first episode, because the body of a small boy has been found on the beach.  The reactions of Hardy and Miller could not be more different. Hardy is calculating and professional.  Miller is emotional and reacts like a civilian. Two reasons–Hardy has seen this sort of case before, and Hardy doesn’t yet know the people who he must now suspect of committing murder.  For Ellie, on the other hand, this is very close to home.  She recognizes the boy immediately as Danny Latimer, her son’s best friend.

The most horrible part about the first episode (and possibly the entire series) is the long slow buildup to Danny’s fate being revealed to his parents.  They don’t know he’s missing.  He leaves early daily for his paper route, so they assume he’s at school.  It’s midday before his Mom realizes something’s amiss.  The scene where she runs to the beach and needs to be restrained is gut-wrenching.

BroadchurchOver the 8 episodes of the first series/season, we learn to suspect everyone.  And Ellie Miller does as well.

First, there’s the Latimer family.  Why didn’t anyone notice Danny was missing?  Where were they?

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Mark, the boy’s father, is particularly suspicious.  The entire time I watched the show, I couldn’t decide if he was a really bad actor or a really horrible character.  I will admit I irrationally disliked him due to the fact that he looks like my not-very-nice uncle.

But there’s also the Mom–something is up with her too.  And the daughter, Chloe?  She’s got a secret boyfriend who is too old for her (I’m not making a value judgment; he’s literally legally too old for her).

But the community is full of shifty characters keeping secrets.  Arthur Darvill (Rory!) plays the local vicar/reverend.

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Automatic suspicion there, obviously, given that it was a young boy that was killed.

David Bradley (Filch!) plays Jack Marshall, who runs the local news agent.  He’s haunted by his past and his story is both tragic and conflicting.

NYET290-1024_2012_102725_highBecause this is Britain, the interfering and immoral media show up to take advantage of the tragedy of Danny’s death. They run afoul of almost everyone, airing secrets and pointing fingers.

What started out as a small idyllic community is shown to be deeply and incredibly flawed.  The point that the show makes is that the secrets were always beneath the surface. It’s just this one event that has brought them all out.

And eventually we get to a killer, an answer.  But the answer just brings up more questions. We want to categorize what happened, but it’s difficult to do so.

Spoiler warning. Proceed no further if you haven’t seen all 8 episodes.

Here’s where I think they went wrong.

Sometime in episode 6, things took a shift and suddenly it hit me that it was probably Joe. I wasn’t certain.  I was still hanging onto my thoroughly-random theory that it was Grandma Latimer. But that scene at the skate park with Joe and Ellie made me realize that Joe was a pretty good guess.  Something about the music made him suddenly seem ominous and wrong-footed.  And I’m not the only one who thought this.  I discussed the episode next day with two co-workers and they both had the same feeling that it must be Joe.  The combination of the music and the acting and the directing acted like a bit neon sign pointing to Joe as the culprit suddenly.  The last two episodes, I was really hoping that it was a red herring and Joe was not the killer, because it just wouldn’t have surprised me.  And it didn’t.

I knew, for absolute certain, that Joe would be the killer. I knew it at the exact moment that Ellie looks down on Susan Wright and asks ‘how could you not know’ what was going on in her house?  That was a huge neon sign, a big red flag, an X marks the spot.  Don’t say shit like that.  That’s tempting fate, big time.  I knew it had to be Joe once she said that.  And it’s worth nothing that Beth said the same thing to Ellie at the end.  Digression–Beth has no room to talk, since she had no idea that her husband was cheating on her, her daughter had a secret boyfriend, and her son was going out late at night and on weekends to go paintballing, steal pheasants, and hug grown men. She had no idea he had a second cell phone or that he’d had a row with his best friend.  She should keep her mouth shut.

Back to the point: It’s not supposed to be a ‘surprise!’ kind of reveal.  It’s more the slow realization that everyone was keeping secrets, and then the slow horrible reality that it was almost definitely Joe. And then the aftermath.  They reveal Joe as the killer 14 minutes into the final episode, which left a lot of time for aftermath.  The scene when Ellie confronts Joe was brilliant and awful, and mirrored that first scene on the beach, when Beth is dragged away kicking and screaming.

The majority of crime shows (and there are a million of them) deal with the procedure of solving the crime, and make very little of the emotions of those affected by the crime.  Does CSI dwell on the grief of the murder victim’s family? Nope.  Does Law & Order spend time on the wife of the murderer? Not unless it helps them solve the crime.  It’s all about the solution and has nothing to do with the aftermath.  I sometimes find myself thinking things like ‘hey, family, stop interfering with the investigation!’, because you’re rooting for the answers, not for closure for those involved.

Broadchurch seems to have an opposite mission statement. It’s all about the effect.  When Hardy finds out it is definitely Joe, that secret weighs on him. He knows he has to tell Ellie, and Danny’s family.  He has to burden others with this horrible truth.  In instances like this, when the killer is someone you know, the truth can only ever make you feel worse.  It can only leave you angry with yourself and questioning everyone in your life because how can you ever trust someone again?!  It’s rare that a show really embraces such a heavy resolution. 

But at the same time I found some parts of the show irritating.  There were a lot of threads that were picked up for a minute, dropped, and never resolved. So many false clues and revelations that turned out to mean nothing.  And some of them were never discussed again.  A note though–we, in the US, did not get to see the full episodes.  Like a bunch of complete morons, BBC America decided to take out 15-20 minutes of each episode in order to fit in commercials.  Why couldn’t they just have made this a 90 minute program and actually show us the whole thing? One of the scenes I know they left out was after Joe is revealed as the killer.  Apparently Mark confronts Joe in the jail cell.  We didn’t see that.  That’s not a small scene.  And, really, we had to miss a lot.  Over 8 episodes, we would have missed almost 2 hours of content.  That’s pretty unacceptable.  And, from what I read, almost every scene they cut had Joe in it.  That seriously alters the way we perceived the show and him as a character.  I’m interested to compare the full episodes to what we saw. Of course, I can’t.  It’s not out on DVD yet in US format. And I can’t find any release date for a US format version anytime soon. You’re on my list now, BBC America execs.  And it’s not a good list.

They’ve already announced a 2nd series/season of the show will be aired in the UK. They haven’t revealed who will be part of the 2nd series, or really any details about it, its setting, its plot, or its cast.  News came in this week that David Tennant has signed up for the American remake of the show, that will air on Fox.  I think this is terrible news!  He’ll be on TV…in what will probably be a worse show, he’ll have an American accent, and it will (I wildly speculate) prevent him from being in the 2nd series of the original.  Boo!

No word yet on Olivia Colman.  I think she’s quite a brilliant actress, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tuning in every week for David Tennant.  I don’t know if I will want to watch without him.

Fun fact before I end this post.  Chloe’s boyfriend is named ‘Dean Thomas’ in the show.  That name will sound familiar to anyone who reads Harry Potter.  The actor who played Dean Thomas in Harry Potter (Alfie Enoch) has a brief cameo as a journalist in Broadchurch.