Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Lifestyle // Warner Bros Studio Tour - The Making of Harry Potter - Hogwarts In The Snow

I love Harry Potter. Like proper love it. Fan girls weren’t really a thing when I was growing up (hashtag old) so I’m more than making up for it now. I buy all the Harry Potter Primark goodness, listen to the audio books non stop, and have watched the films an inordinate amount of times. I’ve somehow managed to get my boyfriend to covert to being a fan (he even watches the films when I’m not with him. Don’t tell him I told you that). And where does a Harry Potter fan have to go? The Warner Bros Studio Tour - The Making of Harry Potter of course! I have been super fortunate to have already been three times (and got to visit the studios when they were actually filming Deathly Hallows Part One and for the Part Two Wrap Party. Yes I am showing off. No I don’t care) but it’s something I like to do as regularly as possible as they are always adding new content and sections. However, there’s  nothing more magical than the special Hogwarts In The Snow exhibition, when they transform all the sets, dressing them in their festive fineness - including the Great Hall laid out for Christmas dinner. Absolute magic.

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BOOKING & WHEN TO GO

Hogwarts In The Snow typically happens every year between the beginning of November and end of January. I’ve been once in January, which was nice, but I was kind of over the Christmas vibe by then (though obvs my HP love lasts all year round!) This year Andy and I went on the 19th December which was the perfect time - it gave me all the festive feels! Be warned though, tickets sell out super fast - we booked ours in October and struggled to find a spot. If you know you want to go, get your tickets as soon as they’re released to avoid disappointment, especially if you can only go at the weekend. Tickets for the 2018 Hogwarts In The Snow exhibit are actually available now for Saturday 17th November - Sunday 27th January 2019. Go Go Gryffindor!

When you book you also have to pick a time slot, which ensures entry is staggered throughout the day and it never gets too full. I think Warner Bros have nailed this as never have I been and thought it’s too packed. Our entry was at 5:30pm which was perfect, gave us 4.5 hours to explore (it closed at 10pm that night) and there were less little kids which was great (so we didn’t have to feel guilty when we wanted to play with / photograph the exhibits!!) 

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COST & GIFT SHOPS

Our tickets were £39 each, which may seem steep, but I think you get a lot for your money. We spent a good 4 hours at the Studios and there really is so much to see and do. As well as walking round to see all the sets and props, you also get an interactive talk at the beginning, there are interactive displays and activities throughout (which change with each exhibition, so there are lots of special Hogwarts In The Snow ones) You can also ride a broomstick, the Hogwarts Express and take wand combat lessons for free, even if you don’t want to pay for the pictures afterwards.

Once in the Studios there are three gift shops - the main store, one at Platform 9 3/4 and one at the Forbidden Forrest. I can only imagine that heaven is as wonderful as the main gift shop. It really is a thing of beauty. And magic. Obviously. There’s a HUGE array of items which do vary massively in price, from the really reasonable and affordable to way-out-of-the-Weasleys-price-range for the high end items. I’ve bought a few things over the years but nothing excessive - think magnets, mugs and pens, but trust me, when I win the lottery I will be buying EVERYTHING!!!! The main thing everyone wants is the chocolate frog which is £9. Sadly I’m too much of an adult to know that that is an awful lot to spend on something I would never eat as it’s Just. So. Beautiful. But I’m not so much of an adult that I don’t want it with all my heart. One day you shall be mine frog, one day. You also get a free little bookmark with every purchase which is a nice touch.

There is also the Backlot Cafe where you can buy hot food, sandwiches, drinks, and of course the famous BUTTERBEER!!! It’s not the nicest drink in the world but it absolutely has to be done, and you can choose to have it in a souvenir tankard or cup if you like too, for about £6.95. We went for the cup and have pretty much used it everyday since so it’s a nice way to bring a little bit of magic back to the Muggle world with you. They also now do Butterbeer ice cream which was AMAZING! Literal butterscotch glory. You can also buy it in a souvenir sundae cup if you so desire.  

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GETTING THERE 

There is parking at the Studios, but we got the train from Euston to Watford Junction. You can now get there using your Oyster card which is great and saves faffing around with tickets and the journey should only cost about £8.60 depending on time of day. Once at Watford Junction you can jump on the Studio Tour Shuttle Bus which I do think is a bit cheeky that they charge for. It’s only a couple of quid but I think they should include it in the cost of the ticket, especially as they encourage people to come via public transport. 

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THE STUDIO TOUR

As I said above there is so much to see and do at the Studios, it’s awesome! It’s great for all ages and I’d say Muggles would enjoy it too as it’s pretty cool to see the props and costumes and behind-the-scenes secrets of any film. Other than a short section at the beginning, you walk around at your own pace so can spend as little or as long as you’d like roaming around and checking out the bits that interest you. My favourite spots are always the Mina Lima graphic design pieces, like the school book covers and Honeydukes packaging, and the Hogwarts room makes me cry every time. Getting to see the Hogwarts Express was also magical and I loved the interaction of the Forbidden Forrest (and strangely the spongey bouncy floor!) Diagon Alley also fills my heart with absolute DELIGHT!

As well as dressing the sets in Christmas decorations and dusting the Hogwarts Castle model in snow, there are also special Hogwarts In The Snow interactive exhibits too. You can see how they create invisible Harry's footprints in the snow, how they make ice and fire and the Great Hall was decked out for the first time with the props from The Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire.

I’m not going to describe all of it as there’s just so much to see, and I don’t want to spoil it all, so here are some of my photo highlights. Enjoy! You can also check out more on my saved Instagram Highlights - @emsypickle

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We had such an amazing evening at The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour, it really does keep getting better and better! I’m super excited to see what they add next and how it continues to grow. I’m also bloody excited to see what other merch they add to the gift shop. Swoon!  I'm pretty sure I’ll have no trouble persuading Andy to come back again with me either. I might order our 2018 Hogwarts In The Snow tickets pretty soon!


Have you been to The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tour? 

Which bits are your fave?


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Thursday, 15 February 2018

Lifestyle // How to Put On A Charity Bake Sale

A couple of years ago I held a bake sale to raise money for Parkinson's UK and was so thrilled to have raised £350! Not bad for an afternoon's work and indulging in one of my favourite hobbies! Bake sales are such an easy way to raise money to support your favourite charities and are actually really fun to put on too! When I started to plan my sale however I did find the process a little bit daunting, so thought I'd put together my top tips for holding a successful Charity Bake Sale.

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1) SET THE DATE EARLY & TIE IN WITH BIGGER ACTIVITIES 

I held my bake sale during Parkinson's Awareness Week as I also wanted to raise awareness of the condition, as well as raise money. Parkinson's is quite a misunderstood and unknown illness so I wanted to maximise on the press coverage the condition gets during Parkinson's Awareness Week, with the hope that people would see my sale as an extension of news and radio reports and want to learn more about it, or at least buy a couple of cakes or donate to the cause.

By setting my date during Parkinson's Awareness Week it also meant that there were pre-designed posters and themed marketing materials which I could use to promote the sale. Parkinson's UK had a number of materials that you could order for free from their website, which was great for helping to advertise my bake sale, as well as having some official leaflets actually on my stall for people to take as they bought their cakes. 

Also, by setting the date early and in advance, it means you have plenty of time to get organised and advertise.

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2) ASK FOR HELP

Don't be afraid to ask people to give you a hand with your bake sale - both with manning the stall, and actually helping to provide some cakes and treats to sell. My mum was a right trooper and baked at least 10 full sized cakes which she then bought up to my office, and she also was able to help me on the stand when there were meetings I had to go to (thanks Sue, you babe). My colleagues also really kindly offered to bake some goodies to sell and others also took turns helping me on the stand at busy points in the day such as lunchtime and after work when I definitely needed more than one person to sell. If people are offering to help bake I think it's a good idea to ask what they are planning on making so you know what you already have covered. Cake sales need variety so everyone turning up with a Victoria Sponge won't be very exciting or enticing.

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3) PLAN YOUR BAKES WISELY

Planning what you're going to bake is key. I had a good look through my recipe books to plan the best combination of treats. Here are my best tips for things to think about when planning...

***Baked / Non cook treats***

Go for a mix of baked goods and things that don't need to be cooked (such as Refrigerator Cake Bars). I only had a single oven at home so this meant I could maximise my time and whilst one set of cakes was baking, I could whip up some Fridge Bars and get two batches finished in the same amount of time.


***Make a schedule***

Shopping for ingredients and baking takes up quite a lot of time so make a schedule of what you're going to make and when. I did a huge shop on Saturday for ingredients and then planned my baking around the next couple of days. Think about what day your sale is on - are there things you can make in advance which will keep a day or so ahead of sale? Is there any last minute assembly / decoration required which should be done on the day? How long does each type of cake take to make and cook? Will you have enough time whilst one batch is in the oven to then start whipping up your next batch?

Also (depending on the location of your sale and method of transport) plan how you're going to get your cakes to the sale destination. I don't have a car so planned taking my goodies in around when I could use the bus / tube outside of rush hour to prevent anything getting squashed!


***Maximise ingredients***

When choosing what you want to make, try to choose things which involve similar ingredients. If you need 10 digestive biscuits for Fridge Bars, try to find another recipe which will use up the rest of the packet. This will stop wasted ingredients and be cheaper for you. I set myself a budget of money I would want to contribute to the charity and used that to buy my ingredients and what I had left over I put straight into the collection box. This is also why I used own brand chocolate etc too. It pretty much tastes the same and meant more money could go directly to helping my chosen charity. Shopping at a big supermarket also  helped as their prices were a lot lower than the smaller express stores.

***Sweet and savoury***

Try to choose a mix of sweet and savoury goods to sell. I found at lunch time lots of people said they didn't want cake for lunch as they walked by, but soon came back and bought after they saw I had quiche and savoury flapjack on sale too! I also had some sugar cookies and gingerbread on sale, so if people didn't want anything as sweet as a chocolate cupcake they had options too. The more you can appeal to a different range of appetites the more you will sell!

***Dietary requirements***

A couple of my colleagues made gluten free / dairy free cakes. These sold so quickly - people with specific dietary requirements were surprised to have something for sale they could eat and several people also just wanted to try something different.

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4) BE REALISTIC WITH PRICING

Pricing your goods can be quite tricky. Too high and people will just pick up a cake at the local coffee shop and too low you won't make any money for your charity which is why you're doing all this in the first place! Think about how much cakes sell for in the local area and don't be afraid to step up your game to fit in. I would advise being cheaper than the bakery round the road (after all, yours are probably of lower quality!) but don't under do it. My friend said that at her work they sell everything for £1 - that way everyone knows straight away how much their haul will be and keeps queues moving quickly. I would definitely recommend rounding each price to either 50p or a full pound so you don't have to fiddle around with smaller coins and adding up and working out change is quick and easy.

I also bought a few packs of pre-made cupcakes from the supermarket to use as back up in case I ran out of treats. These were a life saver towards the end of the day and actually a really good money maker! I think a pack of 12 from Sainsburys was £2 and I sold each cake for 50p, so they all sold for triple the amount I paid for them. Lots of lovely cash for Parkinson’s UK and lots of happy customers.

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5) DON'T FORGET TO SORT OUT A KITTY

One thing I very nearly forgot to organise was my kitty! You'll need to have a little stash of change available at the very start of your cake sale in order to give your first buyers change. I recommend having a couple of notes as well as plenty of pound coins and 50p's etc just in case. Remember to note down how much you had in the kitty so you'll know to minus this amount off your final total for the day so you know exactly how much you've raised.

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6) HAVE FUN!

Most importantly - have fun! I really enjoyed putting on my bake sale. Sure it was stressful at times but I really enjoyed planning my cakes, baking and decorating them all and also seeing how many people enjoyed them! It was a real thrill seeing the money pot get fuller and fuller and knowing that I was doing something to help an incredible cause both through financial giving and also raising awareness. I also got to meet lots of new people who I didn't know before and learnt more about my colleagues too - who knew our Head of Facilities was a professionally trained chef?! (His gluten free lemon drizzle cake was INCREDIBLE!) I also learnt that another of my colleagues also has personal experience of Parkinson's, so it's been nice to have someone to share experiences with too.

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I hope you found some of these tips helpful. Feel free to tweet me or Instagram me (@emsypickle on both) if you have any questions I didn't cover! I think I will post some of the recipes to the cakes that I made too, so do let me know if you'd like to see them.


Have you put on a charity bake sale before? What would your top tip be? 


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*Still spreading the love from my bake sale, if you would like to learn more about Parkinson's UK, the excellent work they do to support those with the condition and their families, or the condition itself and how you can get involved to support and help, check out their website here: www.parkinsons.org.uk

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Lifestyle // Harry Potter Primark Haul

Remember in my Looking Forward to 2018 post I said I was going to stop wasting my money on Harry Potter tat from Primark and sort my finances out? Yeh, that isn’t going so well! Mooching round Primark is one of my favourite things to do (I have such a busy, active life...) and they keep releasing such amazing HP merch I just haven’t been able to help myself! Here’s a little look at some of the magical bits and pieces I’ve picked up over the last couple of weeks.

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Acceptance Letter Cushion - £6

I first saw this on Instagram and made it my absolute MISSION to find (totally worth the 9pm-out-of-the-way trip to Marble Arch). I absolutely LOVE it! It’s a super cute design and also really well stuffed (all those lists of books and supplies to buy inside...) 

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Burgundy "Waiting for my letter from Hogwarts" sweater - £10

My lovely cousin bought me this for Christmas and I love it! I really like the burgundy colour and it’s made of the softest fuzz inside. It’s quite thin, so makes the perfect jumper for curling up in bed in when it’s too cold for a T-shirt.

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Platform 9 3/4 Knee High Socks - £2.50

My cousin also gave me these for Christmas and I’d never seen them in store before so was super excited. They’re a lovely burgundy colour, so go with my cute new jumper for ultimate coordinated cosy goals, and I really like the simple design. I’ll definitely be taking these on my trip to Iceland next month to keep me warm. 

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Hogwarts socks - £3.50

Primark has an amazing range of HP socks. When Andy and I went to the Harry Potter Studio Tour I bought him a set of house socks so he could rep his Hufflepuff pride (which he’s too attached to to let me photograph for this post...) Not wanting to be left out I treated myself to this cute white and gold toned trio which are super pretty and perfect for Sundays spent at home. My favourite is the Hogwarts pair as they remind me of the big Philosopher’s Stone film poster I had on my bedroom door as a child, which I lovingly saved up coupons from Coca Cola bottles for! 

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Framed Platform 9 3/4 Ticket - £6

Be still my beating heart! I actually let out a little squeal of delight when I saw this. I really do think it’s a piece of beauty and for £6 is probably the best value thing I’ll buy all year! The Mina Lima graphic designs are some of my favourite things about the films and these Hogwarts Express tickets are super pricey to buy at the Studio Tour or King's Cross Platform 9 3/4 shop. This was a snip of the price and comes in a nice inoffensive frame too, so you can get it past any Muggle housemates with no bother!

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Cauldron mug - £5

I first saw this around October time and thought it was really pretty but I didn’t need it blah blah blah. BUT MY HEART WANTED IT!!! After looking desperately in both the central London stores and my local one, I finally resigned myself to the fact I’d missed my chance and I’d have to either go without or buy a super expensive version from the official outlets. I suddenly spotted a fresh batch of them in the Bromley store a few weeks ago. I think it’s too pretty to actually drink out of so use it to hold my tv remote controls. Which when I haven’t got my glasses on and stand on the other side of the room looks a bit like a group of wands. So that’s cute.

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Hogwarts Candle - £7

If you’re a mega Potter fan and you don’t follow @PotterwatchUK on Instagram then you really need to sort your priorities out. But prepared to be poor. Very very poor. This purchase is entirely down to Shannen, who splashed its beauty all over my insta feed and I just had to have it! They’re £7 so pretty pricey for a Primark candle (and especially a Primark candle you have absolutely no intention of burning) but I absolutely love the design on the glass and the cute HP logo on the lid. They also have versions for each individual house and I momentarily considered buying one of each, but if I’m spending £35 on a candles you know it will be for a  Diptique bad boy.

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Marauders Map Cosy leggings - £4.50

I absolutely adore the pattern on these. I used to have some comfy pj bottoms in the same design from Primark but unfortunately they got worn too much and had holes in them left, right and centre. These ones are the perfect replacement for lounging round the house, and they’re even fur lined so super cosy. They are quite thin though, and more like tights than leggings, so not ones for wearing outside the house unless your bum is covered. 

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So there you go, my full confession haul of Primark goodness I absolutely needed. They are continuing to bring out new merch all the time so I’m pretty sure there’ll be another edition of "Harry Potter Crap I Wasted My House Deposit On" soon. I can’t bloody wait!


Have you picked up any HP merch recently? Please help feed my addiction by leaving your links below.


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