Of Musings and Wonderings











{October 7, 2012}   London Calling: Part II – Thorpe Park

Please note, this is quite a long post. Longer than I intended. But if you stick with it…thank you, and hope you enjoy.

As mentioned in my previous post, my intention in going to London was to visit Thorpe Park. I’m a huge fan of theme parks, and especially of roller coasters. I think I have a strange reaction to them – at times, I can find fast, twisty rides relaxing. Just me? Nevermind. Anyway, I had two free tickets – thanks to The Sun newspaper and my dad buying a copy every day to get the tokens – but was unable to find anyone to go with me. Most of my friends are either studying hard for post-grads, working and unable to get time off, or not working and therefore too skint. So, what did I do? (I hear you cry.)

I went.

On my own.

I know they – and by they, I mean the mysterious ‘they’, those that no one quite knows who ‘they’ are – say you should do one thing that scares you every day. But how often does that chance present itself? In my experience, very rarely. But, in London, with my brother and his girlfriend at work, I had the chance to do something that did scare me, for different reasons. The main reason surrounded the fact that theme parks are social experiences – maybe going by myself would be a bit sad. They are designed for groups of friends, families or couples, not for someone on their own with a day to kill.

Going to a theme park by yourself. side-effect: This.

And yet I went. Not just that, but I am very glad I did. It was an experience, and I rarely do things on my own. I felt, in a way, that I kind of proved something to myself, not just that it is possible to enjoy an experience like a theme park when you have no one to share it with. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to have one of my good friends at my side, screaming alongside me as we dipped and turned. But I didn’t. So, dear reader, I present to you an account of my lonely yet fun day at Thorpe Park.

The most useful item in any theme park.

I set my alarm for half 8, with the intention of getting up and going by 9AM. The park opens at 10, and I wanted to be there sometime before 11. At ten past 8, my brother came into the room he had so kindly given me for the weekend, and asked if his girlfriend could borrow his make-up. I had had a bad night sleep, for no apparent reason. So, I gestured to my make-up bag and, after a few minutes, decided to get up. By quarter to 9, I was walking towards the bus stop, feeling nervous but excited, eager to get to the theme park and get on the nearest roller coaster to the entrance. At Clapham Junction, where I arrived about twenty to ten, I waited for my train. My MP3 player was on, and Footloose came on. Resisting the urge to dance, I settled for tapping my fingers against my leg.

I hadn’t wanted to take a big bag – I wanted something I could clutch onto, tightly, and keep my things safe if I had to take it onto any rides. This meant I didn’t have a book. Luckily, I grabbed a seat on the train with a copy of Metro on it. So far, so good. The shuttle bus was already at Staines station when I got there, and I eagerly jumped on. £3.50 for a return journey, straight to Thorpe Park, was pretty good, and I happily handed over my money, after being asked if I was staff.

My first thought was “No, I’m just on my own,” but I resisted and instead, with a huge smile on my face (and the driver saying “Not that you look like staff! You could be, but…” and fumbling over his words) I said “Nope!” and got my ticket. The bus journey – they crammed a lot of people on – wasn’t that great. I was standing, and was the only non-staff member on the bus who wasn’t with someone. Groups of kids, families and a few couples were stuffed on, and all I could do was listen to my music and lean against the window, watching the town (I think it’s a town…) of Staines go past.

So, things had dipped. Yet, as I jumped off the bus, I felt that eagerness and excitement return. I headed to the entrance, before glancing behind and seeing the short queue of people waiting to buy tickets. At the front were two teenagers, a boy and a girl, rummaging in their bags for, I expect, money. Darting over to them, I fished out my own tickets. As I reached them, I asked if they were waiting to buy tickets. The girl answered yes, and I handed over the spare one – with a smile – just saying “I’ve got a spare free one, here.” She looked surprised, asking if I was sure, and I rushed out “Yeah, couldn’t find anyone to come with me,” with a shrug, but still smiling. Funnily enough, the closer I got, the less being on my own was bothering me. I told them to have a good day and headed back towards the park.

I didn’t spot anywhere to get maps, so just followed the signs for the closest ride, Colossus. I could barely contain my grin as I turned the corner and saw…it was closed. Damn. Okay, never mind. Maybe it would be opening later (it was only about half ten), and Saw: The Ride was pretty close, so I headed for that one. Now, I love Saw. The first film made me totally fall in love, the main guy reminded me of one of my brother’s friends from Uni – a lovely guy who once walked me through London to head back to my brother’s place – and the other guy was, well, Cary Elwes. As in, my favourite Robin Hood ever (except for the fox, because you just can’t beat a fox with a bow and arrow) and Westley.

“As you wish” – immortalised and made romantic by this man

I even liked some of the later films, though have not yet got around to watching the last couple. With my love of these films, Saw was one of the rides I was really, really looking forward to. I joined the short queue, and texted my friend saying “I want to play a game. I will give you a clue and you can guess which ride I’m about to go on. I’m about to go against Jigsaw.” I have to admit, I didn’t pay much attention to most of the surroundings, as I found myself right outside the warehouse almost straight away. The set-up is brilliant; you go in, where you see a cage with a contraption inside, and climb some stairs. There’s a TV, flickering, every so often showing Jigsaw’s famous puppet face, telling you he wants to play a game. Then, you pass another cage with barbed wire inside and a shadowy shape caught in it.

By the time I got to the ride itself, I was buzzing. I think a lot of excitement for roller coasters does come from the build-up, and it’s great when that is aided by what is around you. And, much to my relief, there was a place to hand your items over and receive a band for your wrist, so I didn’t have to worry about anything falling out while I was on the ride. I sat down, grinning as the ride took off.

The games have just begun…

You start off in the warehouse, rounding a corner and, if you’re in the second cart, you stop. Waiting for you and the other riders is Jigsaw, on his tricycle. He tells you about how people are ungrateful to be alive, but if you survive his games you won’t be, not any more. It fits in brilliantly with the themes of the films, and again adds to the expectation and excitement of the ride. And it’s so much more than just the drop pictured above. In the dark, you drop, twist and turn, while saws do their job dangerously close. After all, you’re in a saw mill. Once you come outside, it picks up – bigger drops, bigger twists and, thanks to the Great British Weather, I even got pretty wet. Everything about the ride fit in with exactly what I want from a roller coaster, and I even stumbled a bit getting off.

With no map to guide me, I just headed off in the direction of another track. I found myself at Nemesis Inferno – texting my friend with “An enemy bursts into flames” – and, again, joined the nicely short queue. The ride is based around a mountain (or mine, maybe) but the build-up wasn’t as good as Saw, and the ride wasn’t as memorable. Still, I wouldn’t suggest missing it if you ever find yourself in Thorpe Park, but it was nothing to write home about.

 

 

45 minute queue = worth it.

More so than Saw, Swarm knows how  to keep you entertained in the queue. As you walk through metal fences, there are TVs showing a constant broadcast, detailing apocalyptic scenes across the UK, thought to have originated in the thrill centre of Thorpe Park where a plane has crashed. The more you hear, the more you realise there’s more than meets the eye to this story. People have been told to stay in their homes, and they ‘write’ in to state their belief that the authorities know more than they are letting on. The second time I went on the ride, they were discussing a known conspiracy theorist they were hoping to get an interview with…who has disappeared. It all builds up, and there’s enough layers to make you really wonder what’s going on. If you check out the website, and read the diary  of – I think – the conspiracy theorist, it becomes apparent that there is a creature hiding beneath the lake. It’s brilliant marketing, and damn do I love a good story. Hell, it kept me very entertained, and I was on my own.

The ride itself starts in a hollowed out church, adding to everything else going on. The surroundings, too, are done well, with emergency vehicles abandoned and a helicopter in a lake. It was also waiting for Swarm that I got my first random encounter of the day. You’re seated on the rides in twos, and being a single rider makes it pretty easy to slide in anywhere. I stood with an older woman in an Alton Towers poncho (there were a lot of them that day), who started talking to me. Of course, I ended up explaining none of my friends could make it, but that I had free tickets. She was nice, and we commented on the weather before getting on the ride.

I liked her – as the people around us screamed and swore, she just laughed, shaking her head. As the ride finished, I commented, “Is that it?” She replied with “They don’t last long considering the queues.” True, but still worth it.

It wasn’t even one, and I had been on the three (open) rides I was interested in. So I went to grab some lunch. It wasn’t too expensive, considering, and I ate my hot dog and chips (fries for any American readers) while wondering what to do next. I was still wet from the rain, so going on Tidal Wave wouldn’t hurt. But I’d still want to buy a poncho for that, which was five quid. I also wanted to go on Saw and Swarm again, and maybe check out the Saw Live Maze. Even the thought of that scared me – I was on my own, after all, but I was determined to go on it.

So I headed back to Saw, near which is the maze. It was closed. Kind of grateful for that, as it is meant to be pretty scary. The queue for the ride this time was 45 minutes, so I joined the back and waited.

Again.

I found myself queuing behind a couple, maybe my age or a few years older. The girl was in one of those Alton Towers ponchos and the guy in a track suit. Another couple soon appeared behind me, chatting happily. The guy had a call, and explained to the person on the other end that he had two free tickets from The Sun so he was at Thorpe Park. As I listened, I heard him comment “Yeah, quite busy. You can tell unemployment has gone up.” This was less than a minute after he had said he’d booked the day off work. In a way, it kind of annoyed me. I’d noticed the park had a few groups of kids/teenagers, a few families and other pairs (perhaps having had the same free tickets I was lucky to get). To me, it wasn’t an example of being unemployed. After all, others can book time off work – as I had done – or just don’t need a job at this particular time. (The kids/teenagers being an example) And, anyway, if they were unemployed….

Why spend £40.00 on entry to a theme park???

Anyway, moving on from that…one thing about being on your own in a Theme Park is that it allows you to people watch. You can listen to conversations, notice how people interact with each other, and that – stuck between these two couples – is what I did for the long queue to get on Saw for the second time.

Being between these two couples was actually quite interesting. The couple behind me – with the guy no longer on his phone – talked happily, joking with each other and seemed to be having a pretty good day, despite the rain. The couple in front…well, the girl slouched down in her poncho and when the guy said something to her, she would turn to look at him with a frown fixed on her face. A few times, he leaned forward and kissed her, but it seemed to get no response. It was like she was determined to just be in a mood. They did comment to each other a few times, but whenever he tried to engage with her it seemed to fail.

Now, you’re not supposed to smoke in the queues. I stuck to the rule, as I think it’s reasonable and understandable (and, also, because in situations like that I am terrified of getting caught. Yeah, I’m a wuss) as you have a lot of people crammed together. But ahead of the queue were a fair few people smoking. And damn, did they looked like they were trying to act cool about it. (As in, they looked like they thought they were cool. They really weren’t.) One guy blew his smoke out and it came our way.

Most people’s reaction, I think, would be to sort of roll their eyes and maybe comment to the person they’re with about it. The girl in front of me made a show about waving her hand in front of her face and coughing. To me, it seemed a bit over-dramatic, especially as it’s obvious she wasn’t exactly going to say anything – not that I would, in that situation. Fair play, they shouldn’t have been smoking there. Maybe it was her whole attitude as I queued up behind her that made it worse; she seemed like she was going to let the smallest things ruin her day. Later on, as the queue snaked around by the warehouse, she stared through the metal fences at the warehouse. I had to try hard not to laugh at what happened next.

I think it was mainly funny because of the impression I had of the girl, and because it was random. The guy put his hand on the back of her head and gently pushed her forward, into the fencing. She ‘ow’ed and asked him why he did that while he laughed, and after a few seconds, she smiled.

And I felt like cheering.

After Saw, I decided to go on Swarm again. On my way, I discovered Stealth was now open, and eagerly joined another 45 minute queue.

Two men queued up behind me; older men, joking and teasing each other about rides they wanted to go on or rides they had been on, with one of them saying he wanted something relaxing, like the teacups. Both were bald, with glasses, and after a while one turned to me and said “You’re missing someone, aren’t you?” Once more I explained about no one being able to come and the free tickets, and the pair chatted happily to me about their day, my day, and as we were waiting on the stairs for the ride, saying I was wearing “Proper shoes.” (I was wearing my blue Converse, for anyone who is interested) They were nice, and looked disappointed when I mentioned Saw Alive was closed. The current ride we were waiting for was short, but it wasn’t as twisty as the others. The whole point about Stealth was speed.

Again, I was impressed by the effort gone into making the queue entertaining. There was a radio station playing made to sound American, in a very cheesy way, playing hits from the 60s and with the DJ in his Southern American drawl detailing the efforts of someone to break the world record for speed. There was an advert for a stopwatch, which Johnny apparently used when attempting this same world record using Stealth. The front of the rollercoaster was made to look like the front of an American classic car. All very themed.

And holy shit did that ride go fast! It was amazing, and coming off I actually found myself trying to catch my breath. A brilliant but simple ride, I was so glad I had the chance to go on.

I still don’t understand why some of the others were closed, but I headed off, stopping in the gift shop and picking up a pack of Saw playing cards and a Swarm key ring, glad that I had come, even if I was on my own, and satisfied that I’d had a good day, going on rides I had wanted to go on for ages.

If you ever do find yourself with the chance to do something you really want to do, but are supposed to have someone else to do it with but can’t find anyone, do it. If I hadn’t gone, I think I would have really ended up regretting it. I had a great time.

So, what about you? Anything you’ve done recently that, originally, you were hesitating about but ended up being glad you went through with it?

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