October 30, 2015 by Michael Madden

Harry Potter, Phoenix and The Middle Of The Doughnut (JK Rowling’s unfinished novel)

The weekend was supposed to be a chilled affair, but with the imminent arrival of Gabi’s first child it was anything but. There were Messenger updates, phone calls and text messages, with very little happening despite the hive of activity that appeared to be going on. First there was the induction, then minimal dilation. Next it was an epidural and further dilation, the Manchester Derby came and went with still no movement. Matt confirmed that everything was ok, so I tried to sleep. Every time my phone buzzed I reached across to see that all was still ok, EE would only charge £1.00 per minute for calls made in the US (though why they needed to tell me that in the early hours of Monday morning is beyond me), and finally, Phoenix Isabelle was born at 3.17am on Monday 26th October, weighing in at 8lbs 3 1/2 ozs. Good to see that, together with the measurements of a cricket pitch and the weight of cricket bats, births have remained imperial. Of course, everyone is thrilled with the arrival, and I was finally able to fall asleep, exhausted after the ordeal.

The arrival proved to be confusing for Zac who was not sure just what constituted an uncle. I tried to explain it, and also that if mum had another baby boy that baby would also be Phoenix’s uncle even though Phoenix would be older than him. ‘Do you have to be divorced to be an uncle?’ he asked, and his confusion remains.
Of course, all of this was forgotten at the prospect of a trip to the new Harry Potter train at Universal. We headed for Denny’s to start the day with an American breakfast, and parked outside was a Sheriff’s car. Inside, two very American looking Sheriffs were tucking in, looking like they had just taken a break from the latest Simpson’s episode. Honestly, I could not imagine them chasing anyone anywhere, and if they had to get in or out of their car in a hurry it would be a struggle, Anyway, I came up with the idea that we should go to Islands of Adventure, catch the Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios, and then spend the full day there. Later in the week we would do the opposite. I figured that the queue for the train first thing would be small, and I was right. Top tip if you are doing this – as later on the queues approached an hour each way. Universal have been very clever in devising this train (some might say cynical, exploitational, and many other words that indicate that they are a money grabbing conglomerate), as you need to buy a park to park pass, which is of course more expensive than just a single park day pass. So we rode the train and it was quite impressive, with windows that were actually screens depicting the true journey from Hogsmeade to Kings Cross, and various voices and shadows on the other side of the train walking up and down the corridors.
I haven’t been to Universal Studios for years, and of course the latest attraction is Diagon Alley (or whatever its called) which features many Harry Potter shops and a big blue bus, as well as the latest Potter ride. As I get older I like the motion simulator rides less and less. They make me feel sick, and although the new ride did move along, it still had a lot of imagery that did the moving for you. I still have no clue what the bus is all about.
We went from the Harry Potter ride to Men In Black, which is effectively ‘Duel’ from Alton Towers but with a much more entertaining preamble, I guess designed to entertain the potentially much longer queues than Alton Towers generally gets. After that it would have been the Simpsons ride, but the 45 minute plus queue put us off. We opted instead for a walk through Hollywood, when Ole got accosted by a fish on roller skates (I kid you not), and Zac had a small tub of ice cream that seemed to expand to cover most of his clothes and all of his face within a few seconds. I know you didn’t take that last part in, you are probably still thinking about a fish on roller skates, right? Anway, we went on the ET ride, one of two or three that remain from my earlier visit. It has to be said this is very dated, and will probably go the way of King Kong and Jaws very soon. Another that has definitely passed its Sell By date is Twister, Not so much a ride as a movie experience, with videos of Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt telling us how scary the filming was. The problem is, anyone under 30 has probably not seen the movie, and the special effects have been eclipsed by the likes of 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow.
Walking through the park it was apparent that many people have just given up. I guess they should be given some kind of praise for getting their sorry asses out of the house, but honestly, I have never seen so many people whose legs have no discernible joints, who are clearly not going to fit into the special seats that most of the rides have, and for whom the All Day Dining deal is the major reason for going to the theme park.
Yes, but what about the fish on roller skates? I hear you say. Ok – here’s a pic.
We sat through Shrek 4D which led Zac to ask, ‘What is 1D?’ which most people struggled to answer beyond Harry Styles, and next up it was Revenge Of The Mummy. This was interesting as it was an older ride with little or no queue. Again, the original movie is from several years ago, but the ride itself was quite good. Zac, not known for his love of coasters, enjoyed it probably because it was indoors and in the dark, so he did not have the reminder of how big and scary it was. It was a bit like the old ‘Black Hole’, a sadly missed attraction from Alton Towers.
We decided to head back to Islands Of Adventure via the mythical train, and although it was a slightly different journey my non Harry Potter self was definitely underwhelmed. I am sure Harry Potter fans will love it, Ole certainly did, but not my cup of tea. Back in IOA (hey, I’m even getting into the jargon!) Ole’s favourite ride had a queue of 20 minutes. It was another motion sickness ride and Zac refused to go on it, as did Sally. I reluctantly agreed to accompany Ole, keeping my eyes closed for the whole time which seemed to work. We came out to a very disgruntled Zac. Tucked away in a corner there is a kind of stage that is hardly ever used, and which makes for a great seating area. Zac had just about sat down when he got disturbed. ‘I was just sitting there when this group came on, and all they did was moan. They were doing a demonstration, and when they ended I was just about to sit down again but they asked if anyone wanted pictures. It was ridiculous. Who would want a picture of that? Anyway, when they had finished pictures they were just about to go when they asked if anyone else wanted pictures, and some people did, so we still couldn’t sit down. Then finally 
they disappeared, so we sat down, then we were told that there was a choir about to arrive. Can we go now?’
The choir even came with their own singing frogs!
Applebees is a popular destination for dinner. Billed as a neighbourhood bar and grill it is relaxed and the food is good, but Zac wanted to be sure. ‘Is it a nice place? he asked. ‘What do you mean by “nice”?’ ‘I mean do I need to have a bath before we go or can I have one after?
Recently, Facebook seems full of gruesome hunters sat alongside their prey, with taglines such as ‘beauty and the beast’ as the poster indicates their displeasure at the kill, and rightly so.Who could forget the furore that the recent killing of a Zimbabwean lion by an American dentist caused (ironically, their names escape me)?
Anway, here’s the latest trophy hunter with her prey…
It seems that Florida is awash with bears. A headline in a local paper indicated that there was a cull in progress, and almost 100 had been killed. Ole was very knowledgeable on the subject, suggesting that if they were black bears you just make yourself big and it scares them You should never run, as they can run faster than you. And if its a brown bear you should just punch it. He paused for a second, and then admitted that it could be the other way round. Probably best to make yourself big whilst advancing on the unsuspecting creature, and then giving it a left hook before it realises that you are still trying to find the right page in your Bear Grylls Survival book.
Orlando holidays aren’t for everyone, in fact they can be the worst nightmare for some people, but with a peaceful villa just far enough away from the mayhem that is Disney and Universal, it can actually be quite relaxing. And with a heated pool that can be lit up like a fairy grotto at night….ahhhh!


Busch Gardens is a favourite theme park but it does have its drawbacks. It is a bit of a drive from Orlando, and it seems to be a cross between a theme park and a zoo. Busch would have you believe that its all in the name of conservation, and to be fair they try to give many of the animals large areas to roam around in, but its hardly the Serengetti! There is the opportunity to feed and pet kangaroos, but these creatures are in a small enclosure, far removed from the outback. Many of them have sustained injuries, so it could be that they are in rehab, but that is perhaps giving Busch just a little too much credit. Lory Landing is a real photo opportunity as, armed with a cup of nectar, you enter an enclosure in which you are immediately swamped by colourful parakeet like birds. They are noisy, greedy and inquisitive, and they are not afraid to give you a sharp peck if you try to remove the nectar.


This bird was a bit of a problem, but the Lory didn’t seem to mind!
After Sally and Ole went on a ride that made Oblivion seem like stepping off the kerb, we went on three water rides. And there was no ‘you may get wet’. There was absolutely no doubt that you would get wet. Great fun whilst it was warm. We went on a few more coasters, and then, after seeing a very sad Orangutan and a Hippopotamus that swam back and forth in a wholly inadequate tank, the heavens opened. It got so wet that all of the rides were suspended, and we decided to head for home.
It had been a long day and we settled down for some tv. A medical experiment was in progress, trying to give some poor unsuspecting chap high blood pressure, which puzzled Zac, ‘What happens if you die of high blood pressure? Do you just explode?’
Today was Universal Studios followed by IOA – the opposite of our previous Universal excursion, and the queues were considerably smaller. One exception was the Flight Of The Hippogriff, an inoffensive and quite small rollercoaster. I went on with Zac, and despite getting the front seats he still wasn’t happy. The ride itself was ok, but he likes to get full value, and his complaint was, ‘We waited 25 minutes for 30 seconds of that.’ I fear he may have many similar disappointments in later life!
And finally, Zac’s quick tongue got the better of him, as he feasted on a chocolate ring doughnut. Ole told him, ‘You know that the middle of a doughnut is 100 fat free with zero calories?’ to which Zac replied, ‘Well why did they get rid of it then?’ Doh!