I went to the post office tonight to post a letter, only they had run out of stamps. According to Watching the English, the appropriate response in this situation is “Typical!”

Potter in 100 words

The winners of the BBC competition.

Or, if you can’t be bothered clicking the link, this is my favourite:

“By the way, Harry,” said Professor Dumbledore halfway through book six, “a prophecy says that you alone can defeat evil Lord Voldemort. That’s why he keeps trying to kill you. You must destroy all seven pieces of his soul, and you’ve got one book left to do it in. Don’t expect any help from me; I’ll be dramatically murdered in two chapters’ time. Besides that, there’s exams to pass and hormonal stirrings to contend with. Now do you wish you’d gone to that Muggle comprehensive?”

Spoiler free!

So last night I hadn’t even figured out where I was going to buy Harry Potter, since most of the bookshops around here are independent, arty, secondhand, academic, glbt, etc etc.  I figured I might head up to Borders in Islington.  With that in mind I decided to take a slight detour to catch some Potter film locations on the way: First up was Grimmauld Place: (what do you think?  I might have to watch the movie again to check as I can’t find any pictures online)

(there’s a whole row of these houses around a rather grim looking square, just like in the books, except the square doesn’t feature in the movies)

Then St Pancras:

Then I headed into Kings Cross to grab a photo of Platform 9 3/4 before getting on the Tube to Angel, only silly me, there’s a WH Smith at the station and a queue starting to form.  So I became number 33 in the queue.

It was about 9:30 so I still had some time to go, but I’d packed Watching the English (an appropriate book to read in a queue, I felt) and my knitting.  There were some incredibly obnoxious Australians behind me talking at the top of their voices saying stuff like as soon as they got the book they were going to read the last page out loud (London seems to be full of obnoxious Australians, but I’m sure it’s not, they’re just so loud.  I’m sure there are also lots of quiet, polite Australians too, but they just blend in with the natives.  That’s what I try to tell myself anyway).  I was starting to think this was going to be a very long 2 2/1 hours…

The press were out and about, with one reporter going around asking if anyone was English.  I think maybe she was going for the English queuing angle.  I’d actually just read on the BBC website before leaving home that they were having a hard time finding anyone English in the Waterstones queue as well (people started queuing there on Thursday morning!).

A gorgeous French guy (like, really REALLY gorgeous) dressed as Harry Potter came up to me, apologised for his English, and asked if I knew what the programme was.  Unfortunately I couldn’t help him and he left!  Stupid Sarah, that would have been the ideal time to start talking in French to the guy!!

However right at that point a magician appeared in front of me and started showing card tricks to me and number 32.  He stayed with us for ages and showed us all kinds of tricks.  Number 32 turned out to be  25 year-old Kenyan girl called Allison, and thanks to the magician we got talking.  And then the evening flew by!  So I’ve made a new friend in the bargain. Thanks to the number system, we were also able to excuse ourselves from the queue for a few minutes to go here:

And at 10 the entertainment the French guy had been looking for started: lookalikes, the magician (who had started early), and face painting.  The lookalikes in particular were pretty good:

At 12:00:50, Professor Sprout led the countdown, and at 12:01 we were finally allowed through “Platform 9 3/4” (a hanging thingy they’d put up with a slit in the middle to walk through), grasp our copies of the book fresh from the boxes, and proceed to the checkouts with haste!  And then block our ears as one of the obnoxious Australians made good on the promise to reveal the ending.

Actually it’s really funny, but since I bought the book I’ve had more strangers in London talk to me than I have in the whole two months I’ve been here.  On my way home a group of Gypsy (Roma?) women asked if they could look at it.  Then in the patisserie this morning a couple asked if it was good.  Then in the park a guy out with his family marvelled at how far through I was.  There really is something very magical about Harry Potter.  I’ve made a new friend and all of these Londoners are actually talking to me!

Loved it, by the way.

Grimmauld Place

Still on Harry Potter (and no doubt will be for some time leading up to and after next weekend).

When I saw the film the other day I almost went nuts when I saw Grimmauld Place.  The style of the terraced houses was identical to the typical building style here in Bloomsbury.  I was absolutely convinced I had seen Grimmauld Place before and that it must be somewhere near here!  That would be borne out if the filming location chosen for Grimmauld Place is in reality close to Kings Cross, as it is in the story.

So I did some internet searching and didn’t really turn up anything concrete, until I saw mention on a forum that Grimmauld Place shows up on Google Maps.   How about that?  You will recall that I live on the corner of Judd and Cromer, just a couple of blocks southwest of where Google Maps puts Grimmauld Place.  I’ll have to wander over and take a photo someday soon.

Watching the English

So, back to the “familiarities” of England I mentioned earlier.  New Zealand is a culturally similar place to England as it was a British colony and many of its inhabitants either have direct or ancestral ties to England.  However, New Zealand society is far more level and it is much more of a meritocracy than England.  Of course, given that my parents are English I am probably more English than some, and especially after the foreign-ness of Paris, London with its chip shops (never mind that I prefer french fries) and red telephone boxes felt like a welcoming place.

The reason I have been thinking about all of this is because I have just started reading Watching the English, by Kate Fox.  It is a book on the social anthropology of England (as an aside, I am currently not reading purely for pleasure but carefully choosing my reading material for personal study reasons as well.  This is my “reward reading” for getting through the French translation of Onze Minutes by Paulo Coelho.  Thank you for the recommendation, Louise!)

Anyway, I have to say this book has terrified me.  I have so far read the chapters on conversation and class, and I may never speak to another English person again.  Indeed, as the book quotes George Bernard Shaw, “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate him or despise him”.  Of course, my advantage here is that I am not an Englishman – I suspect have the benefit of being given the leeway afforded to foreigners while still possessing enough “Englishness” to get by.  But it is still a fine line to be tread!

I would recommend the book though as it cleverly explains all sorts of seemingly nonsensical English traits such as talking about the weather, saying “sorry” all the time, constant self-deprecation, and getting involved in pointless pub arguments.  I can’t wait to get to the bit where the author deliberately queue-jumps to observe how people react.

Friday 13

So I had a rather shitty morning yesterday, which I won’t go into except to say that people had warned me you get those days in London sometimes, and as they say, forewarned is forearmed.

But wanting to see a familiar face I organised to meet up with Kalman, who arrived in London last week.  I introduced him and his sister to Flat White (I am so going to be a regular there), we watched the new Harry Potter film in Leicester Square (good), and then we were walking along the road when what should happen but Kalman looks into a pub window and sees Charlotte.

I had also been warned that this sort of thing happens in London far more often than it should for a city of 7 million people!  It turned out it was Charlotte’s leaving do – she’s off to China for 2 1/2 months.

Incidentally, we also saw what looked like Shilpa Shetty getting into a pretty flash car out the back of The Sound of Music.   Although Kalman gets the credit for spotting her too, and it may have been some other Bollywood star, I’m not sure, but she looked mighty familiar to both of us.

What a day in in the big city!


I took over a hundred photos in Paris and it’s taken me most of the day to get them on to my computer, sort through them, put the panoramic shots together, and upload my favourite photos. This is partly because my laptop is very low-powered to deal with large photos (especially the panoramic shots) and partly because I keep losing my internet connection. I’ve also finally run out of my free allowance on Flickr… time to upgrade to a paid account I suppose so I can keep sharing photos with you all.

Needless to say I saw all of the usual sights but I didn’t bother to upload some of the more “touristy” photos.

Here’s a selection, the rest are on flickr:

The sky wasn’t giving any clues as to what weather lay in store (rain, as it turned out). But it made for a good photo.

Sunset from my window near the Boulevard St Germain.

The last two are from the Opéra. You know, the one with the Phantom. It is an incredibly large, opulent, and rather spooky place, with a thousand hiding places for any would-be Phantom. The part open to visitors feels huge but is only a fraction of the area of the Opera. It was also quite difficult to take photos that accurately represented the light and colour inside the Opéra, so I am quite proud of these photos, especially as I had no idea what I was doing with my camera! There are more over on Flickr that show the Opéra on a grander scale.

Staying in Paris was such an interesting experience, especially after London. You can understand why the French and the English don’t get along so well! While here it’s all about not making eye contact to anyone or talking to strangers, Parisians love to engage with their environment and each other. They are forever observing, and remarking, which meant that with my extremely rusty French I had to be forever on my toes! But once I got over the culture shock I rather liked it.

And yes it is true, from my observations the Parisians (even sometimes those working in tourist occupations such as crêpe stalls – but then if an American came up to me and asked for a “craype” I’d probably be a little unhelpful too) were sometimes a bit iffy about those who spoke no French, but absolutely thrilled if you gave it a go. For example, I stopped to get some sand out of my shoe in the Louvre, and a little middle-aged French man started talking about how you get sore feet from walking so far in the Louvre. We ended up having the usual “you’re from New Zealand, that’s so far away, how come you speak French?” conversation, which was quite good except for the fact I don’t think I’ve ever learnt how to politely extricate oneself from a conversation in France!

Still, being in Paris could be quite an intense experience at times, and I was quite glad to get back to the familiarities of England and a culture that’s not completely foreign to me (but more on that later).

ps: In case Christine reads this – yes, I bought Parisian shoes!