I’m having real trouble writing a feature article for Journalism School. I think it’s mostly because I’m thinking of it as work, and actually doing work is so far down my list of priorities most days as to actually not be on it. So I had the brainwave of writing it for the blog, on which I can be rambling and whimsical and use as many brackets as I like (suck it, sub-man!), and then translating it into a Proper Feature from there. So, here is the first part (it's looooooooooong) of my account of the day I went to Platform 9 ¾:
First of all, it was really hard to find. I managed the Underground, and even found my way into the right bit of King’s Cross, but then there were builders everywhere. And dust. And stacks of things. I eventually had to ask for directions from a very cheerful station official who just said: ‘Harry Potter? Down there, two lefts, past the bicycle rack.’
Turns out 9 ¾ is a sign (white letters on black, I’ve heard it’s cast iron but you can’t tell) and half a trolley (the rest of it is supposedly in the wall, but I have a suspicion it is in fact a clever work of illusion, as it would otherwise risk rendering the wall structurally unsound) in a corridor between two platforms, bisected by a very noisy security door. I’ll be honest with you, after the initial 10 seconds of mild excitement, you realise it’s actually pretty dingy and cold and builders are looking at you funny because you’re hanging around a little longer than most people do, and not taking any pictures. Thankfully, the first tourists/fans arrived not too long after this realisation, and things got interesting.
Sachio and Yoko arrived with a giant suitcase (which was big enough to contain a friendly robot or possibly a fridge) and got quite excited. Drawing on my knowledge of fans (in general) from past conventions, I offered to take a picture of the two of them in front of the sign. It worked, and this went on to become my main strategy. Sachio and Yoko are Japanese, and have been fans for 8 years. They were meeting up after 6 years apart (Sachio had moved to the UK sometime during this period, and Yoko was visiting her) and (judging by Mr Giant Suitcase) this was pretty much the first thing they were doing together. They told me they were going to try to get onto the set of the last movie, which is currently being filmed somewhere. When I asked why they are such fans of Harry Potter, Sachio said: ‘The atmosphere is amazing.’ Yoko murmured something in Japanese, which her friend translated: ‘She wants to try the pumpkin pie from the movie!’ I have to be honest, these weren’t the mouth-breathing, cloak-wearing fans I was expecting (they weren’t even wearing glasses! (sorry, fellow glasses-weareres (I decided at the last minute that the term ‘speccies’ is probably quite insulting), but you’ve got to admit, there are more than a few of us in the Kingdom of Nerd) but I wasn’t too disappointed – they were really lovely. This proved to be something of a theme for the rest of the day.
In the quiet spell that followed the lovely ladies’ departure, I chatted to Robert Bundik, who is involved in the station repairs somehow (I’m guessing, from his bright orange overalls and occupation of a small office on the other side of a security barrier), who a friendly builder brought from his lair for me as he was too busy to talk to me himself. He told me that: ‘usually all day there are people here, from morning until evening,’ which boded well for my mission. He said that the visitors are ‘all different nationalities, sometimes big groups, tourists, that kind of thing.’ I was struck by his indulgent attitude towards both the fans and me. He was more than happy to talk, and didn’t seem to mind the constant coming and going which must surely make his job somewhat more difficult.
Next up to rattle the luggage trolley (it’s quite securely attached, but it didn’t stop us all trying) was a group of young Russians, over from St Petersburg for a conference. Liya, who emerged as the group’s leader, told me proudly that: ‘I read all the books. The first book I got from my sister, she was in London and sent it to me. I got the book before they were popular in Russia.’ She’s carrying on the tradition – her 8-year-old brother has asked her to bring him back something Harry Potter-related. Her friend Vera told me she isn’t a fan, although she’s read 5 of the books and seen all the films. I got the feeling she’s a bit embarrassed to be caught at the Platform – she described the books somewhat grandly as ‘really good books for children and young guys.’ ‘Of course,’ she adds, ‘the last book is not for children, it’s for adults.’ I’m tempted to agree. Another Russian declined to be named, saying (rather sweetly): ‘No, I’m a secret fan.’
After the Russians came two of my favourite Potterheads of the day, Aubrey and Sean. Both from Georgia in America, they told me with a touch of pride that they are ‘both big fans.’ I let them get on with the picture-taking first (so many of the fans I met had huge, impressive cameras, and Aubrey & Sean (in my mind, they’re some sort of double act) were no exception). Sean grinned as he grasped the luggage trolley’s handles. ‘This is to torture my daughter,’ he kept saying, somewhat sinisterly. It turns out she’s an even bigger fan than he is, and is very envious of his trip (the lads (see, that sounds much less appropriate than Aubrey & Sean, Aubrey & Sean are not lads, and never have been) have just nipped over the Channel from a Food & Wine Tour (that’s just how they roll (with &s!)) in France) so he wants to record his moment of triumph (he also wanted some picture for a friend he works with in Afghanistan, where he’s a chef (I know, hardcore (take note, Superchef!), he told me that normally when he meets journalists, he directs them into minefields. I think he was joking…)). Aubrey told me everyone in his house is a fan (he has 5 boys, ‘2 rented’ (he fosters, America isn’t that strange)) and they used to dress up to go to midnight screenings of the films and to the book launches (finally, someone who’ll admit to being more of the fan I imagined! Sadly, I get the impression he did it mostly for the kids), where one of his sons got a lot of attention as when he was younger he possessed a striking resemblance to a certain Daniel Radcliff.
Shortly after the departure of my new favourite double act, Heinz and his son Moritz, 13, (who says I’m not learning anything at Journalism School!) peered rather nervously around the corner at me. Heinz hadn’t been to London since 1972, and had brought his son over for the half term holiday to improve his English. Moritz is the fan, Heinz told me firmly (they were both rather solemn, but very sweet), but he hasn’t read all the books (his mum read him the first one; they started the second, but never finished). Asked what his favourite thing about Harry Potter was, he described the part of the 5th film when Krum walks into the Great Hall at Hogwarts, with fiery dragons flying around him. Heinz took a picture of Moritz holding the trolley’s handles and pressing his head against the wall as if disappearing into it.
The next fan I met (who merits a mention as she let me take a picture AND gave me her email address) was Mille, from Denmark, who was on holiday with her parents. Her favourite book is The Order of the Phoenix, and she likes the books because ‘It’s cosy and at the same time it’s scary.’ Her father told me (with a mischievous look in his eye, now I come to think of it) that Mille had just had her picture taken with Daniel Radcliff. It turned out to be his waxwork at Madame Tussauds, which is less exciting (although it’s very lifelike, they showed me the picture).
Right, hometime! More of this anon, hopefully (otherwise I'm never going to get this feature done!).