The Story Museum’s Other Worlds

I headed out last Friday afternoon, not only in an attempt to avoid working on a university submission, though mainly to visit The Story Museum, Pembroke Street, Oxford. Explain? Well post flyer perusal, I’d considered this to be a jolly good option for an afternoon’s entertainment, though I’ll be honest with you I wasn’t prepared to be really impressed.

I definitely wasn’t prepared.  I was balled over. It was an absolute hoot. An eclectic smorgasbord of brain fun.

Older Worlds – running from May 1 – 27 (so you better be quick), introduced me to a new way of thinking and experiencing. The installations (hoping that’s the right word) are housed over three floors and utilise the space, which at times is quite dilapidated, exceptionally well.

I shan’t tell you all, for that will just spoil the fun (so note some rooms aren’t mentioned), though I feel it would be polite to furnish you with the dégustateur de menu.

Following this route then:

Ground Floor

Room 10Windows to the Story World – thanks go to a number of Year 7 students at the Dragon School for this one.  It was  amusing to see a clear pattern develop between young ladies’ tastes and young gentlemen’s idea of a great tale.

Room 13Is my secret safe? – a quandary. Do you select a key and open the appropriate box to find out what’s concealed inside. Or do you maintain the integrity of what is hidden?

Room 16The invisible women – get to grips with the Mother of Adam Smith’s side of the story…produced on tea towels

Room 21The Queen of Found Objects Secret Store Room – a bursting button… its perspective

First Floor

Room 28The Word Storm – arm yourself with a torch and head in to be surrounded by words, and spot jewels cascading through the ceiling

Room 31The Many Faces of the Story Museum :The Eye Surgeons – fantastic photographs, offered up for your viewing (and purchasing) pleasure. Look out for PAPPED.

Second Floor

Room 32A Crafty Fag – go check up on Bob Hutchins

Room 33The National Audio Sneeze Laboratory – who would have thought

Room 35The Time Traveller’s Bureau – write a letter to yourself and it will be delivered to you, a year from now

Room 38The English Society of Lost Things – what a fantastic discovery.  
In a final effort to establish the whereabouts of my son’s school jumper, I entered this particular space and was met by a super, efficient Eileen (the Manageress), whom was immediately on the case. She made a quick call to Rupert (obviously another super competent employee), in an attempt to track down the recalcitrant item of clothing. Her confidence in its recovery was contagious.  I’ve been re-assured, it will be located and make its way back home.

A synopsis then?  It’s quirky, it’s kooky, it’s fabulous fun. And as it’s due to finish this Sunday, I’d recommend you either reshuffle your commitments for this weekend, or alternatively stray from the confines of your work place for a couple of hours this Thursday or Friday and experience and see things a little differently.

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Henry V – Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on tour

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’d fall in love with at least one character. Surprisingly though, I found my emotions divided last Saturday afternoon, not in half though in thirds.

Time for a little background brief
Since the young chap turned ten – yes, double figures seemed like the most appropriate time for the introduction – almost two years ago, I’ve been getting my kicks, as have the rest of the family, from Shakespeare.

Not only benefitting from our former and current proximity to Stratford upon Avon, where the performances are stand up and cheer material, but also from a variety of other companies and locations.

So, from the moment I’d discovered that the Globe Theatre on Tour were coming to town, I rushed off, bought the tickets and crossed off the days on my Goats in Trees Calendar, eagerly anticipating the entertainment I indeed experienced last weekend.

I shan’t even attempt to give you the plot, for I know I’ll get it wrong in too many ways, though I can assure you the moment Pistol walked on stage, my heart (the size of a small adult’s fist) began to patter a little faster. His presence; his delivery; his lines; his character; his visible enjoyment of Hostess Quickly; are for me the reasons why Shakespeare works now, then and perhaps always.

Proceeding with my sweet confessions.

So you’ve already identified where a 1/3 of my affection lies. So, let’s turn to No.2:

Captain Fluellen – He’s serious, amusing (how’s that???) and Welsh. In addition, Brendan O’Hea’s performance of the character couldn’t have been improved upon. He was (is) A Star Star.

‘And the final third goes to…’this is when it gets a little trickier. For my adulation goes not to one specific character, instead it’s awarded to a relationship.  It’s nearing the end of the play, the one that sprouts between King Henry V and Princess Katherine. Predominantly the scene where he expresses his feelings (however their proceeding dance also delivered lots of happiness), for both Olivia Ross (what a tremendous theatrical debut) and Jamie Parker, execute their lines and performance deliciously.

The only thing I pined for – a thrust stage.

Though, I guess that missing feature kept the actors at a safe distance.  Providing them with some kind of protection from that doe-eyed woman in the pink dress.

Indulge yourself and head to…The Making of Harry Potter

Though I was almost vomiting with excitement as we pulled up into the extremely orderly car park – I’ll be honest with you, I was slightly concerned that this might be a little light on detail and big on experience.

Spoiler time…How wrong was I!

I love Harry Potter and I’ve loved it from the very first book I read back in August 2000. From that point on, pretty much every July until that horrid day 21 July 2007, when I and billions of others, became upsettingly aware that it was over. For, I’d looked forward to our summers and I couldn’t wait to hear about my other life at Hogwarts.

Thankfully, my upset found solace in the understanding that the films needed to catch-up and though I couldn’t continue to play Dobbie (badly) and mispronounce Professor McGonagall’s name (shortened to Professor MacGee) at books at bedtime in our household, the anticipation and thorough enjoyment I’d secure from the films was real and I could continue to embrace it for a further four years.

Hence, finding myself at 4.00pm yesterday, armed with a small chap (not even for cover – he loves it too!) grinning, being overly polite to the staff as we lined up to enter The Making of Harry Potter.

Oh gosh the whole thing is good.  From the smiley car park fellows – to the ultra-clean facilities. Even the staff, throughout the whole tour, are visibly pleased to have secured their spot in The Making.

I’m trying to come up with ‘The Best’, but there are too many contenders.  I was pleased to discover this wasn’t a theme park, this was a welcomed and wonderfully enlightening lesson in which components can be utilised skilfully to produce a great movie(s).

Yes I entered the Great Hall; saw the Gryffindor Common Room; spent a while in Potions; feasted my eyes in Dumbledore’s study; felt shock and awe peering through Dolores Umbridge’s quarters; marvelled at sections of the Ministry of Magic; supressed a squeal during my mini inspection of the wardrobe and hair zone; was blown away by the craftsmanship and detailing of the props + sets. Though maybe my favourite bit was the Portrait Zone, or was it the realisation, that if you were a graphic artist – and obviously a pretty good one – how wonderful coming to work would be.

Then, we headed outside (the area between the two inside areas), where you’ll find the Knight Bus; number 4 Privet Drive (and its neighbour); a plastic cup full of Butterbeer (only £2.95); the home of Harry before He who must not be named,  took out his loving parents; and approximately eight HUGE chess pieces – before…another super destination. Creature Store.

This area deserves a paragraph of its own. The talent, the detail, the brains, the capabilities of the people who work in this area, just astounds.  Not only are you provided with an excellent video commentary if you so choose to listen to it – you can really start to get your head around the amount of work and effort that goes on prior to ‘Action!’. You’ll know the masks, for you’ve been to Gringott’s, you can make a Mandrake wail without the ear-ache, you can start to appreciate just how complicated and impressive the end product of a werewolf was (is). Aragog is there, the background of how you make a dragon breath fire is there, even an 82% version of Professor Dumbledore is there.

Then you take a further corner and more.  The architectural designs, conceptual artworks and the mini models of pretty much each building, or set, you’ve ever had the magical opportunity of experiencing is there.

Further too, everyone’s happy. Even teenagers are happy here. The infectious pleasure of Harry Potter envelopes you.

And oh…the SHOP. I had to fight my credit card off, as it so desperately fought to purchase a copy of the exquisite gown that the stunning Miss Hermione Granger wore at the Yule Ball.

Additionally, there are chocolate frogs, ear wax jelly beans, robes, school jumpers, snitch bracelets, owls, wands, beanies and so much more…So be very careful here, though don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I loved Harry before, now I love Harry even more.

Embrace and Benefit

How happy was I when I discovered on the 10th April, that Mr John McCarthy was coming to Waterstone’s in Oxford to chat and do a book signing.  Thus, inherent to my being and terrified that I might be missing out on something big, I rushed back the next day to Waterstone’s and purchased three tickets to see him live in action on 27th April.  Last Thursday evening.

So with my stomach really pleased (as we’d just departed Edamame), our seats selected – right at the back (just in case the youngest member of our party became less than perfectly behaved), we waited perhaps 3 minutes, with the rest of the visibly excited audience, until Showtime.

What a fabulous voice, what an honest sharer of experience he is.  For all those hours I’d spent engaged in the subject of Middle Eastern politics & affairs and the pleasure I’d bathed in learning about it (which I’d unintentionally put on the back burner – simmering for over 14 years), came flooding back. What remarkable people, what a remarkable area, what a remarkable history.

Returning to Mr McCarthy: His discussion was interspersed with historical fact, thought-provoking extracts (from his freshly published – You Can’t Hide the Sun) and several introductions (through references, not presence unfortunately) of key individuals he had had the obvious pleasure of acquainting himself with, whilst journeying through Palestine and Israel during 2008, collecting material.

Just this brief exploration into Mr McCarthy’s experience, opportunities and writings provided not just me and my small family, but also the rest of the 50 strong audience with an ample appreciation of the honest, personal, tender and human accounts he has captured and shared so talentedly, detailed on the pages of his latest book.

Naturally, post chat and I’m so sold and acting like a deer caught in the headlights – he’s a celebrity, he’s a real life author/journalist/broadcaster and I’ve just been in the same room with him for over an hour.  I rush and grab a copy of his work (I promise I paid later); stand in line; and bide my time (a little too nervously) before meeting the man himself. You’d think I’d have pulled it together by now (especially at my age) and learnt to be a little less excited. I so haven’t though. I’m perhaps worse.  So, by the time I’m head of the line and have managed to gush out how pleased I was and how great his talk was, I’d exhausted the possibility that he would ever find me normal, though hopefully he’ll take my streaming of compliments in the positive way they were intended.

Thank you AGAIN Mr McCarthy for visiting my local Waterstone’s.