Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Number 4 Privet Drive

The first page of the first book.
Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone

And so it began. I've said before that words can hold hidden power to touch us in so many ways. Often it happens suddenly but sometimes the magic is so strong that the spell continues to work forever and we may only realise just how spellbound that we are until later,much later. A seemingly very ordinary person or place can become etched upon our minds and hearts because of a wonderfully written book or a film.

J.K. Rowling signed, 'the book that changed my life.'
Many could have signed underneath, 'Me Too!'

In the case of Harry Potter our lives have been graced by both.

Rubeus Hagrid delivers baby Harry to 4 Privet Drive
Right from the beginning when Rubeus Hagrid dropped off the baby Harry at the suburban address of number 4 Privet Drive this address had entered a special place from which, no matter how it tried, it could never be ordinary again. It would take on a life and meaning much bigger than the house itself could ever be in real life.

The current owners have put the house on the market. Though this little house was not the favourite abode of choice of Harry who much preferred Hogwarts, you can imagine the excitement of the children who knew that Harry had been there.

The real perfectly ordinary house in a perfectly ordinary road.
The film set created at Warners Bros Studio, Leavesden
for the subsequent films
The house in the book and film is at Number 4 Privet Drive, in Little Whingeing, Surrey. This was a clever touch from J.K. Rowling as 'privet' has a wholesome image due to the many lovely English country cottages tucked behind privet hedges, and the quiet well behaved suburban streets, such as those written about by John Betjeman, where the neighbourhoods are kept tidy by well tended privet hedges. And Little Whingeing? Well, you know how snooty folk can be keeping up with the neighbourhood.  

A vintage poster extolling the virtue of suburbia.
The real house, which is actually at 12 Picket Post Close, near Bracknell, Berkshire, is not far from us here in our little village and I was tempted to go and take a peak at it. Growing up I despaired that it seemed all the fair maidens, knights, ghosts and fairies always lived in grand houses in obviously magical places.

Professor Minerva McGonagall as a cat in Privet Drive
Not often did the hero or heroine arrive from an ordinary place. Later I came to appreciate hugely any that did and the writers who gave a magic life to plain things.

The quiet cul-de-sac where 4 Privet Drive resided

The sitting/Dining Room, Kitchen & small garden
The estate agent's brochure does not have any photographs of an under stair cupboard, which the owner admits was not used for the films but instead houses a non-magical ironing board and the toys of her children. 

The main bedroom and the two single bedrooms
There is nothing magical about the house itself, as you can clearly see in these photos. But somehow you do keep expecting Harry to appear. The main bedroom does have a touch of purple about it, but only a tasteful amount. And is that a Gruffalo in one of the children's rooms there?

The Dursley's  purple chintz bedroom in the films
Harry in his under the stairs bedroom, from Vanity Fair 2001
The idea that J.K. Rowling chose to hide the young vulnerable Harry in such a suburban street, in plain sight, so to speak, thrilled me. And I thanked her for that, knowing how it would give hope to so many ordinary children that their own lives could be touched by the magic that many literary sources deny to them.

Homes and Property in their article, say this about the house: full article here:

"The property in Picket Post Close near Reading, known as 4 Privet Drive in the film, was selected out of hundreds of houses around the UK to become the home of Harry's Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and cousin Dudley Dursley.

The three-bedroom house in Martins Heron, Bracknell, was cast as the "perfectly ordinary house on a perfectly ordinary street" for the 2001 film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The property’s then owner Sandra Smith was approached by filmmakers who spotted the house and thought it closely resembled the Thirties home in Little Whinging, Surrey described by JK Rowling. Filming took place at the location over two weeks as the property was transformed into the home of the Dursley family.

The Boy Who Lived famously did so in the cupboard-under-the-stairs - during his early years, at least.

Harry's aunt Petunia and uncle Vernon reserved two of four bedrooms in Privet Drive for their odious son Dudley, one for themselves and another for guests. While Harry kept the spiders and the vacuum cleaner company in the cupboard at night. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone the orphan wizard is quickly moved into “Dudley’s second bedroom” by his rattled relatives after he starts receiving letters addressed to “Harry Potter, The Cupboard Under the Stairs.”

Harry's mail

Harry's mail takes over the sitting room
The current owner has lived there since May 2010 when the house was purchased for £290,000.   Seven years earlier, it was put up for auction with a much higher guide price than its market value thanks to its connection to Harry Potter, but the home failed to sell when the £250,000 reserve price wasn't met - despite receiving a bid of £249,000. "

You can read an interview with the current owner Claire Powder who is blissfully unaware of the owner of Potter having never read the books or seen any but the first film which included their home.  Here:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There has been a lot of interest in the house. I had to smile when I read the usual warning that, "viewings are strictly by appointment only".  Better to be safe than sorry, Dementors might turn up uninvited like they have before.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This is a perfect excuse to remember some of the moments of 4 Privet Drive, from the first film when the real house was used, and later after the stage set had been built for the films that followed.

The owls are not what they seem ....

Proud and snobby Dursleys at home

Harry and his Uncle

Harry's under stairs cupboard bedroom
The Order of the Phoenix

Dobby visits Harry in his bedroom at Privet Drive

The Dursleys leaving 4 Privet Drive
Harry says goodbye to Hedwig

The Deathly Hallows, The final battle nears,
friends meet at 4 Privet Drive
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry is 16 years old, still underage for a Wizard and unable to use his powers to the full without attracting unwanted attention.  Members of the Order of the Phoenix come to 4 Privet Drive to escort Harry to the Burrow. The rationale behind this was that they couldn't use the Floo Network, they couldn't Apparate, they couldn't use a Portkey, and Harry still had the Trace on him. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
Harry and Hagrid leave Privet Drive for the last time

further Reading:

Well, the books, of course!

But you could start here for more information: Harry Potter Wiki for 4 Privet Drive

Or here, at Pottermore

Friday, 26 August 2016

The Mermaid's House

“mermaids have no tears, and therefore they suffer more.”
Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid

As August drifts into September we in England have the last Bank Holiday of the year. It's an odd time, before school re-claims the children and after mid summer dreaming has left us feeling a little drowsy. Things seem to have slowed down and I know I am not alone in my thoughts turning toward the sea and longing for one last weekend there. Like fairy tales, I believe that no matter how old that we become we still love sandcastles and a part of us knows there amongst those rocks there is a Mermaid. 

Miranda, the Mermaid of Dartmouth
As a writer it is interesting which blog posts become your most popular and amongst mine there seems to be a balance between the Summer and the Autumn / Winter posts. The sea and the woodlands both have a strong pull for so many of us. 

Deer on Exmoor overlooking the sea
Late summer kindles many memories from my Californian upbringing when the months of heat had baked the Earth and the flora dry. That sun shone so brightly that the world was seen through a gauze of glinting silver and gold too bright to look directly at.  It was an odd combination of desert / prairie dust and winds and the ocean where we would retreat to cool ourselves and the palette of our visions down. It was easy to imagine that you glimpsed a Mermaid there just by the water's edge.

We foolishly tanned and wore our antique Navajo silver and turquoise jewellery into the sea. Our hair tangled with salt we would sit on the sand and dry ourselves singing along with our favourite songs like sirens.  I now realise that young girls will always dream of being Mermaids.

I am drawn to the mountains but also to the sea. I love the quality of light there and for awhile thought I might one day live in a cheerful cottage in some little village on one of England's pretty coasts.

But then I visited the wilder beaches in Norfolk, villages along the top of Exmoor, hidden coves in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall and I saw the houses which sit precariously along the Bosphorus. There, in these places I found my true coastal calling.

Norfolk light
Durdle, Dorset
It's somewhere quiet, with less people, a little melancholy, where memories can dwell without being disturbed.

There the sea will not often be a tame one, it will command respect and play with you, battering the shores in great tempests before subsiding into shiny sequinned calm.  I will wrap up warmly for walks collecting shells and helping creatures which the sea has forsaken find their way home after the storm has gone.

My home is not a cottage. I live in The Mermaid's House, the old house by the sea which has a place in the heart of every ancient mariner who has ever loved the sea. 

For the Sea Captain who built this house fell in love with a Mermaid he found on the beach after a terrible tempest. Because he saved her life she gave up her deep ways to tend to him and the house he built for her. 

They shared a special love, they both knew that their first love, for each of them, was the sea. When he was away for long periods she was never far from the sea and it remained her real home. Over the years local people found her mysterious ways bewitching and many folk tales grew up around her.  Some say that she was not just a Mermaid, but a Sea Witch.

She had his daughter, together they gathered beautiful remnants from their beloved sea to adorn themselves and because he was a wealthy Sea Captain they could collect wondrous jewels and objects in the colours of their watery home to delight him when he returned from long journeys.

The Sea Captain's house they decorated in hues of blue and green and glints of silver and gold and their carefully collected objects drifted through and settled in all the rooms of the house.

William Morris 'Seaweed' wallpaper

Torquay Pottery Mermaid Jug

sea glass tiles
But alas, Sea Captains are not as long lived as Mermaids and when he lived no more they stayed on for awhile there alone. One night during a raging storm they disappeared and were n 'ever seen except by those who knew where to look for them.

a Tempest
People say that Neptune came to collect them and take them home and swear that on that night they saw great white horses pawing the ground outside of the house, and that upon the morn you could still see the hoof prints in the sand.
Walter Crane, Neptune's Horses

The Mermaid's House is spoken of in myriad tales, many is the place which has that name, but unless you have happened upon it yourself you will not know where that it is or exactly what that it looks like. It seems to have many guises, and do not become confused and believe that it is a Shell Cottage, for that is some other Mermaid dwelling entirely!

The Shell Cottage, Polperro
 and perhaps there was more than one Sea Captain who shared the love of the sea with a Mermaid.

Of course I know where The Mermaid's House is, because I live there. But I am not telling you.


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