Last week, we took the boys to Alton Towers for a couple of days.
I have many happy memories of going to Alton Towers throughout my teens and twenties (as well as some unhappy memories – mostly involving ‘Oblivion’, and the overwhelming sense I was about to die), but I hadn’t been in a while, possibly since I turned 30, so I was excited to be back – even though our two days were to be mostly spent in CBeebies Land.
This was, after all, a family break, and since only yours truly was keen to go on the big roller-coasters, I sacrificed my own personal enjoyment in favour of the boys having a good time. And, apparently, what our children consider to be ‘fun’, is meeting the likes of Upsy Daisy and Igglepiggle:
My wife, prolific hunter of short-break bargains (you may remember her from such family trips as ‘Peppa Pig World 2016’ and ‘Disneyland Paris 2016’), found a deal online which allowed us two days’ park entry for the price of one, as well as a night in the Alton Towers hotel, all for the bargain cost of a medium-sized family car. So, last Sunday, we packed our bags, and off we went.
We’re quite lucky, in that Alton Towers – the UK’s biggest (and best) theme park – is less than an hour from where we live, so we arrived quite early Sunday morning, and having collected our passes (and because we couldn’t check-in until 3pm), we headed straight for the park – and immediately towards CBeebies Land.
As someone who grew up visiting Alton Towers almost annually, I know the place like the back of my hand (which I have always found a strange phrase, as I’m not convinced I could identify the back of my own hand – at least, not with 100% certainty – if the situation ever arose). I am so confident in my knowledge of the park layout, not only could I direct you to any ride without the use of a map, but I can identify most of them purely from the dramatic music they play while you queue.
It came as quite a shock, therefore, to walk through the main entrance into the park, surrounded by the powerfully orchestral ‘music from the Alton Towers ad’ (or Greig’s In The Hall Of The Mountain King, if we’re going to be all twatty about it), and then into CBeebies Land, where the dramatic fanfare was immediately replaced by that other classical masterpiece of our time – the theme from Charlie and Lola.
Darkly menacing structures, statues, and signs, promising endless fast-paced (and frequently upside-down) terror, were suddenly replaced by so many bright colours and soft shapes, that even your average Ikea employee would have felt uneasy and in urgent need of some sunglasses.
Whilst many parents might feel more at ease, surrounded by the likes of Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka (or ‘Something’s Not Right’, ‘Insufferable Slut’, and ‘What The Actual Fuck?’ as I prefer to call them), when compared to some of the terrifying rides on offer at Alton Towers, but to someone who grew up riding ‘The Black Hole’, ‘The Corkscrew’, and (my personal favourite) ‘Nemesis’, I can say with confidence that I would take the roller-coasters every time. To be frank, some CBeebies characters scare the living shit out of me, far more than being spun around upside-down in the air ever could.
‘What The Fuck?’
Obviously, In the Night Garden contains the best examples of drug-induced character design, because aside from the three main characters I’ve already mentioned (and don’t think I was being harsh in my descriptions, because they’re spot on – watch two minutes of Upsy Daisy trying to kiss everyone, then flashing her knickers in order to entice them into her ‘special bed’, and tell me she’s not a slut), there are also the Tombliboos, Pontipines, Wottingers and, the most terrifying of all, The Haahoos:
It’s not so much their appearance, but the sheer size of them that scares me – not to mention the blank, expressionless stares, that bore deep into your soul. Honestly, if these turned up in an episode of Dr Who, the BBC would be getting complaints from grown adults having nightmares, but for some reason the jangly music and soothing voice of Derek Jacobi make it all acceptable. They’re honestly so frightening, I often find myself willing Upsy Daisy to start flashing her knickers again, if only as a distraction (wait, that came out wrong….).
Anyway, my point is that we were suddenly surrounded by all kinds of weird creatures, not to mention ridiculously enthusiastic members of staff, who interacted with the characters for ‘entertainment’. Never have I encountered so many frustrated actors in one place (and I’ve been to New York).
But here’s the weirdest part: of all the brightly-coloured, terrifyingly expressionless, pant-wettingly upsetting characters in CBeebies Land, it was some of the other people, outside of that little LSD-induced corner of Alton Towers, who turned out to be the most peculiar. You tend to expect strange characters in a theme park designed for toddlers, but nothing can prepare you for the even weirder shit that real-life people do and say sometimes. Three individuals, in particular, stand out in my memory.
First up, and contender for ‘strangest thing I saw all weekend’, was the woman with the hairy chest. Now, I will qualify this comment with two points that you need to understand:
- I do not constantly go around looking at women’s chests;
- I am very much pro-feminism, and will respect and defend any woman’s right to choose whether she wishes to shave or not.
However, it was the nature of the hair in question which caused me to double-take. Here was a woman who appeared to be generally hairless, save for a prominent tuft at the top of her cleavage, like a lone shrub, standing proud in a desert ravine.
There could be many reasons why she had chosen to leave this tuft unattended, and I am not one to judge, but you have to admit that this would cause most people to take notice. Still, if she’s happy with it, then so am I (not sure she appreciated me running my fingers through it like a hamster though…).
Next up, we have the most unnecessarily judgmental woman I have encountered in a long time, who was sat at the next table to us at breakfast. Normally, I would have completely understood why she was glaring at our children, as Ollie was in the process of devouring no fewer than four different varieties of cereal (mixed together) at the time, while Isaac had opted to go one better on the ‘weird breakfast’ scale, by selecting a diet of butter dipped in ketchup, all of which he consumed with just one grubby index finger.
I’ll be honest, I was glaring at them myself, whilst trying to keep down my sausage (not a euphemism), thanks to Isaac’s rather off-putting culinary choice, but what caused me to take offence, was the fact she was clearly judging our kids, whilst discussing her large morning poo with her own. This, to me, seemed rather hypocritical, and as the old saying goes, ‘people in glass houses, shouldn’t discuss their morning shit at the breakfast table.’
Last, but by no means least, I present to you the campest man in Britain (no, not me, although I do accept the irony of me calling someone camp, which is a little like Piers Morgan calling someone a twat), who Ollie and I encountered on the ‘Runaway Mine Train’.
Having ventured into the main park on our second day, I managed to persuade Ollie to go on this mildly-intense roller-coaster, while Isaac dragged my wife back to CBeebies Land, because he wanted to meet Mr Bloom again (not the real Mr Bloom, obviously, but another frustrated actor, with a similarly piss-poor Yorkshire accent).
I chose the ‘Runaway Mine Train’ for two reasons: Firstly, it offers a fair amount of excitement for those unaccustomed to roller-coasters, whilst at no point going upside down (so it’s a good entry-level ride for novices). Secondly, my mum is scared shitless of it, despite happily going on ‘Nemesis’ a few years ago, so it gave Ollie the opportunity for bragging-rights the next time he sees her.
As we took our seats, and the safety bar came down across our laps, Ollie was a little apprehensive, but my attempts to reassure him were interrupted by an audible conversation from the control tower, as two employees had a disagreement about whose turn it was to start the ride, seemingly oblivious to the fact their microphone was on.
From what I can gather, the ‘captain of camp’ flounced (for there is no other way to describe his movement) into the control room, whereupon he demanded that the seat be relinquished to him. Having put up a commendable, albeit brief, amount of resistance, the current occupant of the seat accepted he wasn’t going to win, and reluctantly left the tower.
Delighted with his victory, the captain pirouetted into the now vacant seat (imagine Louie Spence, if he were slightly less masculine), and gleefully took control of the ride – and microphone.
“Yoo-hoo! Hands up who wants to have some fun?! Get ready everyone, because it’s Runaway Mine Train time! Hashtag Choo-Choo!”
I swear I’ve not made that up. It was so delightfully flamboyant, I spontaneously burst out laughing (as did many others), only to face a barrage of questions from Ollie as to why everyone was laughing at the man with the funny voice. Still, it took his mind off the ride, and while he was still a little scared, he ultimately loved it. He even made me buy the ride photo, despite the fact we were sharing our cart with someone I am relatively certain appeared on Father Ted many years ago:
So, in summary, Alton Towers is horrendously overpriced, filled with extremely scary rides, and populated by some even scarier people.
I can’t wait to go back.