A Trip on the Hogwarts Express

Day 25 [New Year’s Resolution]: A Trip on the Hogwarts Express

What’s your favourite childhood memory? A lot of the time, experiences from younger, more innocent times seem not only far away, but sort of magical because you know you’ll never get them back or feel that way again. One great memory I have is when my mum, her best friend Clarky, and my brother all got into the car one day. When we asked where we were going, they said it was a surprise.

This happened more often than you’d think. One time, we drove all the way down to Windsor to go to Legoland. Other times we’d go to bed on a normal night and wake up in the car park overlooking the pebbly shores of Portree for a surprise holiday on the Isle of Skye.

So when my brother and I got into the car at seven and nine years old, respectively (if I’m correct in thinking that this was 2002), we were pretty excited, making wild guesses all the way to York. I hadn’t been there before, but of course it would go on to be the city in which I went to university.

We arrived at York Station, and I remember thinking, even as a little kid, “why are we going to the train station when we just arrived by car?”

Our view was something like this:

Except there were a lot more people. Some, to mine and my brother’s bewilderment, were dressed as Harry Potter characters.

Then it happened. The scarlet steam train pulled up, so long I couldn’t see the end, and stopped before us. The exact train that takes Harry Potter to Hogwarts every year. The Wizard’s Express.

“Surprise!”

We went insane.

In short, the Wizard’s Express took us to Scarborough. We sat in a compartment, did a special Harry Potter quiz (I think only up to book four at that point), and bought a mass of Potter themed sweets, such as chocolate frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, Acid Pops, and a ton more inside a little cauldron.

It was the best. Now when I look back at all the effort my mum and Clarky put into it – back then, we didn’t have a computer, so it’s likely they looked it up in a magazine or newspaper – spent their hard earned money on tickets, packed everything we needed and then took us there, it makes me so warm and happy inside.

It isn’t possible to do a trip like this now, which I think is for several reasons:

  • In 2002, Harry Potter was popular, but not the billion-dollar industry it is now.
  • Tickets for a trip like that would probably be hundreds of pounds and have years of waiting lists.
  • Another reason, as some of you might know, is that the actual Wizard’s Express currently only has two carriages and is at the National Railway Museum.

Even back then I was writing books, and I briefly had a story in progress that involved a school trip where the kids travel around the world on the Hogwarts Express, a sort of mixture between The Magic School Bus and a Jacqueline Wilson book.

That trip is still a hugely fond memory. No one else I knew had done it, and I never saw it advertised again after that. After The Prisoner of Azkaban movie came out in 2004, Harry Potter gained a massive following, so it wasn’t really special and personal anymore. That’s OK though, because as far as I’m concerned, only me, my brother, Mum, and Clarky, as well as a few other people who were there that day, have ever taken that magical journey from York to Scarborough and back on the Hogwarts Express.

If We Could All Discover Our Love for Reading

Day 19 [New Year’s Resolution]: If We Could All Discover Our Love for Reading

You know, I got so caught up in thinking about losing our love for writing that I didn’t spare a thought for our love for reading. Reading, after all, must come before writing, and one can’t exist without the other.

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Last year, I played a lot of video games. I worked a lot. I bought hamsters. I even wrote a bit. This year, I’m hoping to write one post a day on this blog, among a lot of other things which I won’t bore you with now.

After re-reading the Harry Potter series, I realised with an unpleasant drop in my stomach that last year I hardly read anything at all. There were some indie books, some work-related stuff, and… well, that’s it, really.

I had lunch with one of my students after a lesson yesterday and she was asking me about all these famous western writers, asking if I’d heard of them or read their work. Her eager little face looked so disappointed when I said I hadn’t even heard of most of them. She seemed surprised that I, a native speaker of English, didn’t know about all her favourite novels that she struggled through as a learner of our complex language.

I felt really bad. So I decided this year that I’m going to spend a lot more time reading. There are loads of books in the spare room I bought or was given and never even opened. Worlds waiting to be explored, characters waiting to be known, pages waiting to be turned. I am shocked it took this long.

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We’re so distracted by social media and the busy pace of life that most of us have forgotten what it’s like to curl up with a book (paperback OR electronic; there’s no shame in owning a Kindle). There’s really no excuse; people who claim to love books, yet say they are too busy to read yet spend three hours a day on Facebook, what are you doing? I’m determined not to be one of those people.

So hopefully you’ll see a lot more posts about awesome books in the coming months! After all, what is a writer that doesn’t read?