Saturday, 3 September 2011
Oblivion (and back)
Earlier this week Mel and I extended the bank holiday weekend to take my 10 year old son Harry away for a couple of days. I have only recently been reconciled with him after nearly five years (long story not for here) and we are still getting to know each other again. I suggested a trip to Alton Towers a few weeks ago, a suggestion which was incredibly well received and I think we were all counting down the days with excitement. I hadn't been since 1993 and was looking forward to revisiting a place that holds important memories for me.
I've been to Alton Towers five times. First with my parents aged around ten years old. I was forced to spend a day exploring the gardens and admiring the architectural beauty of Augustus Pugin. Actually admiring may be too strong a word, I recall spending most of the day with my hands in pockets, shrugging my shoulders, kicking gravel and repeating the question "Can we go now? this is rubbish...."
In the very early 1980's there were very few rides or attractions that were of any interest to a ten year old. The list of things to see and do included an adventure playground, a shit zoo (not the dog breed), a dolls house, skateboard track, a planetarium and worst of all dinosaur land. This last attraction consisted of huge model dinosaurs presumably designed and constructed by people who had never seen pictures or drawings of dinosaurs. (These fibre glass reptilian abominations were later to be found liberally scattered throughout the theme park, hidden away in tree canopies visible only from rides).
The day was most memorable for getting stuck mid-air on one of the cable cars that traversed the park. Any mere mortal would start to panic but I remember my dad pouring himself a cup of coffee from his flask and offering round corned beef sandwiches. I explained that there was no way I was eating food whilst dangling precariously 400 feet up from a rusty wire and in any case I only like corned beef sandwiches with branston pickle on.
I remember thinking that my friends were probably having a proper day at a proper destination like Blackpool or something and were probably at that very moment riding roller coasters and eating candy floss. It was only much later that I realised how lucky I was to have parents that took me to interesting places. Most of my friends never went anywhere at all with their parents.
On my return to school the following week, we were all asked what we had done in the summer holidays, I reeled off a long list of days out and things we had done and seen, other people in my class had very little to report. I remember being asked to write an essay entitled 'The day we got stuck in a cable car'
In the years that followed, I saw and heard about the various rides and attractions that had been built since my premature visit. I felt incredibly short changed as friends regaled me with tales of the Corkscrew and Black hole rides. It wasn't until 1983 that I returned on a school trip and tried these rides out for the first time. My memories of this trip and the return visit the following year are intertwined and mainly consist of queueing for hours, trying to impress girls, smoking fags, getting soaked on the water rides and getting a grade 'A' bollocking for being late for the coach home. Brilliant times.
My last visit was in 1994, when I went back with my friend Paul and once more queued for hours in order to sample the new rides Nemesis, Thunderlooper and Enterprise, a ride seemingly designed to shake loose and remove all of the small change from your pockets.
On Tuesday, we met and collected Harry from Nottingham Train station (he lives in Boston, Lincs) and travelled to a Hotel near Stoke where we hatched our plans for the following days rides, studying Youtube video's and detailed maps of the resort to plan our day with military precision. We determined to do the water rides last in order to spend the least amount of time wet and to hit the 'big rides' early to avoid the queues.
We were up early and wolfed our breakfast before setting off to Alton Towers at 9am in order to be there for opening time. After a minor mishap (the hotel had sold us an entry ticket which was dated 2010) we were in and hurrying towards 'the Forbidden Valley' where the rides Nemesis and Air are located. Harry and I queued and rode each in turn, whilst Mel sat and waited contemplating whether she felt up to it or not. Eventually she gathered the courage and we went on each in turn again, Mel's fear conquered.
We then had lunch before discussing whether any of us felt brave enough to ride on 'Oblivion' the worlds first vertical drop roller coaster. Fearless Harry decided he did, whilst sensible Mel declined. We climbed the steps and discovered there was hardly any queue. I now understand why.........
Mel had paid for on-ride photos and you can see here the differing reactions between the two of us. Harry's face is filled with wonder and adventure, the joy of anticipation. On the other hand, my face is etched with concern. If I remember that brief nanosecond correctly, I was wondering how to explain to my son why I smelt so bad and was trying to find a shop that sold trousers. Thankfully, I narrowly avoided that scenario. It was though, a very close call.
I came off the ride feeling like I'd been set on fire and put out with a cricket bat. For the first time all day even Harry looked off colour and we both needed a sit down. It's important for a man to set an example and I was soon on my feet insisting we press on to the water rides. Externally I was fine, inside I was a husk of my former self.
The rest of the day and remaining rides are a blur in my memory bank, I was physically and emotionally numb as evidenced by this photograph from the Flume where compared to Mel and Harry my face is not registering anything at all.
Immediately afterwards we returned to the car park. The journey back to Nottingham train station was very quiet indeed. Harry was shattered, we all were. As we drove back, I contemplated what a fantastic day we'd had and I also considered how extremely grateful I was that Harry would not have to write an essay on his return to school entitled 'The day my Dad shat in his pants at Alton Towers'.