My Trip to Alton Towers

Posted on September 3, 2011

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Five o’clock in the morning, street lamps light the way, noises are out-of-place, unwelcome and it is cold, bloody cold. 14 of us are gathered in a small sitting room, waiting for zero-hour (when our minibus would disembark).

Ahead of us was a six-hour drive towards and eventually through, central England. On the bus was an erratic mix of science students, mathematicians, myself and a slumbering chef, all of whom were unlucky enough to be in someway affiliated with me.

The destination you ask? We were going to arguably the UK’s best theme park, Alton Towers.

All the alcohol and sleeping pills in the world couldn’t have prepared me for the hallucination-inducing journey that was almost like a Cherokee rite of passage test. Earlier I packed sandwiches, Pepsi and some beer to ensure every one of my desires would be sated. I was a fool, a fool. Food and beer are luxuries mankind have awarded themselves with nonetheless sleep and comfort are much more important… and I got neither.

Conversation started strong, everyone was excited with childish glee. The journey quickly molested that naivety out of us, aggressively. The fun became the boring, this eventually regressed to the mundane. I found the need to comment sarcastically on every road sign:

BEWARE TIREDNESS KILLS!

No it doesn’t, crashing kills, eh folks, eh.

I don’t know how quickly this grew old, probably immediately but I persisted, it was my only form of entertainment.

Overall the minibus was of decent quality, I was expecting a Bangladeshi people carrier with no doors and bullet holes though the body-work. Instead we got a clean, tidy bus with a polite, helpful driver. But… But and I stress this, all minibuses, no matter the size, should have windows that can be opened.

I don’t care whether the commuters are nuns, Nazis or football players, everyone has certain gases and smells they release. With no means of dispersing the smell the bus at least smelled like a Bangladeshi people carrier.

My girlfriend took the aisle seat, this gave me a powerful people barrier, I need not communicate with anyone I thought. This turned out to be an entirely fruitless.

I will just take in the sights I said… oh, it’s dark outside. Fine I will read my book then… oh, it’s dark inside. Fine, I will drink my beer… now I need a wee-wee. Fine I will go for a sleep… damn it’s now light outside.

ETC, ETC.

I was a tormented man those few hours, I was foolish enough to wear a watch, so I could conveniently count the year-like seconds, I swear, sometimes those clock hands were going anti-clockwise just to frustrate me.

Several hours into the journey, down past Carlisle, the inevitable, “I need a wee-wee” occurred. We pulled into the nearest service station.

Ah service stations, if Ben Kenobi accompanied us he may have said:

“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

These establishments inspire me, they are earthly proof that even dreadful concepts can succeed, flourish and be utilised into everyday life. If that doesn’t encourage an individual, I don’t know what does.

I avoided the food, not only is it dreadfully over-priced, it often looks like it has already passed through the digestion system, I am a firm believer of recycling; as long as it doesn’t involve my food.

The journey continued, slowly yet I was starting to come to terms with the fact that a camaraderie was building between us, we are in this together folks.

My girlfriend fell asleep on top of me, snoring away, content in her dreamy world. Fatigue and discomfort assaulted my senses as did cramp.

Later the sign post for Alton evoked a rise in our spirits. The park opened at nine o’clock. WE ARE ALREADY TWO HOURS LATE, I thought.

11 o’clock. We evacuated the bus rapidly and grabbed our tickets then we entered.

Into the thrall, Tower Street, the sort of cartoonish, wonderland you could see toy soldiers marching down. Surreal classical music edged us forward, I may have started skipping to the beat.

My childhood consumed me, I was so excited and embarrassed for being so, until I looked our dirty dozen. It resembled a gritty, violent episode of Rugrats with swearing and sex. Youthful happiness bled from us grudgingly, remember, few of us had any sleep in the previous 24 hours.

Alton Towers, the fabricated land of faux pas happiness and capitalism was becoming ever more real. Dangerously real. I felt out of my depth, how could I possibly remain grumpy and stern, here of all places?

Naturally we split up into smaller groups, getting lost in our own respective directions. The first ride we saw was Sonic Spinball, basically a small, dinky coaster that couldn’t have survived on its own merits, however with the Sonic insignia painted all over it, I couldn’t resist the need to conform, and we agreed it was a good “starter coaster”, so we started queuing.

That was until a troll crossed our path:

“This queue’s 75 minutes long, if ye cross my palm with gold ye can enter thee fast-track queue”.

Nah hen, I will’nae bother. I backed off, embittered, detached, apathetic, the child within had been consumed by the troll woman.

Instead and as an act of pointless revenge I decided to finger the Sonic model…

Son, show me on the Sonic model where the bad man touched you.

Next we regrouped, emboldened by the need to actually get on a roller-coaster. We went on a few of the smaller rides, working our way towards the more malevolent rides, thankfully queues turned out to be shorter than expected. I was having a wonderful although I was taken aback by the blatant commercialism that Alton not only endorses but stands for.

For example, every roller coaster had a gift shop at the exit, this meant that you were herded through corridors jam-packed with crappy souvenirs after perhaps the most terrible, terrifying experience of your life. Hit the customer when he/she is most vulnerable, eh Alton? What a philosophy.

When I dizzily made my way away from Air (one of the best rides I have ever been on), the combination of sickness and fatigue almost destroyed my impervious drive not to purchase a gift.

And that’s another thing, they call these places “gift stores“. Imagine the husband bringing his wife back a miniature Oblivion key-ring as a gift? Why did you bring me that, I wasn’t there, this miniature Oblivion key-ring certainly does not please me. Take it away, burn it, I want a divorce. BEGONE.

The only person you would buy a miniature Oblivion key-ring is yourself. Therefore, instead of calling it a gift shop, they should rename the establishments self-indulgence shops. My reasoning, who buys themselves gifts? Not I, that’s for sure.

Next up was the Flumes. Essentially, you sit in a bath-tub shaped carriage and the water carries you along past large, discoloured, paper-mache duck models who for some reason quack aggressively at passersby. This upset me, if I could speak Duckish I reckon I could have recognised a few foul (or foul) curses, at receiving foul Duck language, I felt shaken, it was like hearing the dreaded tongue of Mordor. Through dark tunnels and down steep inclines the carriage went but I was unimpressed. As were the two other passengers of the ride. We hardly got wet at all…

We were on the last stretch of the ride and we were mostly dry, however I noticed that there were some shower heads at the penultimate corner. As we passed under them they sprayed us with water. What the hell?

I felt robbed, the ride itself did not wet me, just an outdoor shower at the end. If I wanted soaked without the thrill of flying down a flume I would have tried to drown myself in a urinal.

Others disagreed, they told me the ride was fun. I agreed to go back on. This time with five people… almost doubling the weight of the carriage.

Suffice to say, our bathtub carriage transformed from a buoyant amusement ride to the world’s worst submarine on the first incline and remained so until the ride mercifully deposited us at the exit (and gift store).

Next I seen the workings of an evil genius. Next to the Flume rides were dryers, basically cubicles that you stood in whilst heat was blasted at you. £2 a go. There’s a money spinner if I have ever seen one, make them want to get soaked then make them want to get dried. Why bother at all I wondered?

Some of our group (including my girlfriend) decided to purchase some of the on-ride pictures of themselves looking wet and retarded during the ride. It was an eye-catching image and one I would have paid money for: to be destroyed.

Also I later noticed that the picture itself was sponsored by both Imperial Leather and Mastercard. If anyone cares to enlighten as to what there corporations have to do with a flume give it a go, for I am without words.

After several hours without nutrition, we decided food was at the top of our to-do list.

Unanimously we settled on A KFC bucket between less of us than the box recommends. The meal was engulfed instantly, no grace was said before the meal… although plenty was said afterwards.

Full of greasy chicken, we were content to take it easy. We settled on visiting a haunted house (of sorts): Hex – The Legend of the Towers.

Our logic was that if we went on a violent roller-coaster, our bodies would not have had the time to enjoy the food before it was ejected, via our mouth, from our bodies. The attraction was a silly walk through part of the old ruins of the Towers themselves, with an old legend clumsily integrated into the narrative.

A glorified haunted house, half ancient castle, half crappy set.

The “Local legend” is basically a flimsy tale involving a chained oak tree found at Alton. Apparently the 15th Earl Of Shrewsbury was cursed by an old beggar woman. Every time a branch fell from the tree, the Earl suffered a death in the family. To combat this he “chained the tree up”. How spooky.

After some tedious waiting, some pathetic back story and the ruination of the spooky atmosphere by blatant fire exits every 50 yards, we climbed onto a seat with a safety bar. What was going to happen?

Basically the ride gave me the impression that the seats were spinning around the room, in reality the chairs swung back and forth up to 15 degrees in each direction whilst the surroundings of the vault rotated through a full 360 degrees. We were in a rotating “crypt”. Why it rotated I to this day have no idea, what did this have to do with the chained tree?

It was difficult to dislike though, even with the stupid, fragmented story line and the unimpressive sets.

Next on the agenda was Th13teen, the much heralded “new” ride. It was supposed to be a psychological thriller ride, instead we got the opposite. The sets were covered in scaffolding, clearly unfinished, the staff looked bored as did those leaving the ride.

.

.

Th13teen was amusing, thrilling and when it is finished will be fantastic (I hope what I experienced is not the finished article). If I was to be picky I would complain about the how often we had to listen to a little, creepy bitch singing:

If you’re going down to the woods today, YOU BETTER NOT GO ALONE!”

This occurred every 20-odd seconds and I have to be honest, it was more annoying than unsettling. After that mix of feelings we hit a couple more rides although fatigue was setting in. I was dizzy, spewing bile and in desperate need of a sleep so I headed back to the car-park for the bus; wet and cold yet content for I was fulfilled.

Upon reaching the bus I decided to change into my spare clothes stealthily in the back row of seats. I was all too aware that people could see in the window from buses on either side of me. I hid under a blanket, removed my boxers and replaced them with a crisp dry pair. All the crouching and hiding was hurting me. It may have been the most awkward experience of my life. I applied the same pathetic routine to my changing of t-shirts, shorts and socks. I was now dry, comfy and no one had the misfortune of seeing my shriveled manhood: Hey, it was freezing out there, cut a man some slack.

Little did I know the windows of the minibus were tinted and that I really wasn’t on display for the world, my whole crusade of idiocy was for nothing.

I tried to get a half an hour of sleep before everyone else returned but ended up talking to the bus driver about Apocalypse Now. I couldn’t help comparing the film to my trip.

We left after six o’clock, I waved goodbye to Alton but longed for the mundane, normality I am more accustomed to.

The return journey was much more eventful, many stories were shared. The most notable was a tale of the staff repressing a group of fine ladies.

Basically each coaster has two queues, one for groups who don’t want to be separated and another for single riders who can be slotted into extra spaces in the carriages. After queuing for around twenty minutes in the single riders queue the ladies were met by a great lout of a human being. The man, whose name-tag actually carried the name “Maverick” decided to close the single riders queue just as they were ready to ride climb onto the ride.

With logic defying stupidity Maverick rattled the cages of the impatient ladies for no apparent reason or in his words: “Just coz innit“.

Upon hearing the revelation, a managerial summoning was requested by the ladies. Maverick abandoned them for a small period and returned… managerless. He had failed his not-so-glorious quest. The useless primate was clearly wanting to go home because he was clearly disinterested.

On another note, do people named Maverick even live in houses? It is more likely they are sub-human oompa loompaesque denizens who occupy the amusement park’s subterranean settlements. They maintain the rides in return for second-hand clothes and affection.

After this I decided to read a novel aloud in my BBC Radio 4 voice, because you see, this wasn’t just any novel. It was an erotic novel. Fundamentally it is a romance novel but around 50% of the text described pre, during and post sexual rituals i.e. the girl was either thinking about, preparing for or recovering from sex when she wasn’t actually have sex.

The story line was rather interesting, a young virgin meets a rich gentleman who has sex with her… that’s as far as I got. Although I reckon it was a book crammed full with diverse scenes, obviously it wasn’t all idealistic smutty rubbish. [SARCASM].

Cover art: A topless hunk cradling a baby...

So to conclude:

Sure my trip to the Towers was tiring, sure it took two days to recover from the said tiredness and sure the trip was long and distressing but I have to say, the ticket was the best £70 I have ever spent. Every moment, even the boring ones, were amazing compared to actual reality. It has been years since I have been liberated from the bonds of adolescence, it was a place where I was encouraged to act like an infantile lunatic and I indulged in that behavior, all too often.

Yes I acted like an erotic-novella reading, Sonic fingering, alcohol consuming, duck-loathing 3-year-old…

Thanks to Amy Duggan for doing what we were all too lazy or stupid to do, arranging the damn trip must have been a pain in the rectum so as my way of thanking you I didn’t mention the fact that the erotic novel did in fact belong to you… 😉

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