Friday, 4 October 2013

Aaarggh!!-lton Towers

Face redder than our Kat's hair ...
Before last weekend, I’d only been to Alton Towers once. Now I'm publishing two blog-posts about it. One on my business blog and t'other here. Slightly different flavours on each. T'other one has some marketing observations. On this one, I simply go ... 'AAaaargghh!!'

I'd been there for a regional branch meeting of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. All very interesting too. Discount structures, special offers, the way they branded themselves as a 'resort.' The last resort if you ask me. It was also the first time I’d seen those therapeutic, toe-nibbling fish. Not that they nibbled mine but they did graze across my fingers picking off some loose skin.

I’d always felt guilty that I’d never taken my kids over, but consoled myself that there would always be school trips. They could go there on their own. They didn't need me with them. So when a young cousin from Australia approached us asking if he could stay and fulfil his long-held ambition of visiting Alton Towers, I guiltily agreed. I have a young aunt who had children later in life, so two of my cousins aren’t a great deal older than my own kids.

So, over we went, armed with vouchers and money-off tokens (there’s the discount structure) and up and over and inside out we all went.

My cousin insisted we went on The Smiler first, the latest fiendish device and, quite frankly, just one step up from something out of Guantanamo Bay. We didn't wear yellow boiler-suits but were herded through metal cages, bombarded with disconcerting imagery (think Michael Caine in The Ipcress File) and played a repetitive sound-track that mixed heavy-metal grind with diabolical childish laughter and a gloating nur-nah-nah-na-nar chant.

It was almost a relief when we were finally strapped into the carriage. After a second’s respite we were hurtled through 14 revolutions and supposedly ‘processed’ and ‘marmalised’. I’m not sure that the vaguely 1984-ish brainwashing theme was detectable during the fast – and mercifully short – ride itself. All I was conscious of was the grey tracks hurtling ahead and of losing any sense of orientation. The ride broke down when we were just 10 yards from the end and we had to sit there while they fixed it. I enjoyed that, a chance for some peace and stability.

Not wishing to wuss-out I joined my cousin and daughters in the queue for Oblivion, a sadistically ingenious ride where they suspend you for a second or two over a yawning abyss. The descent also turns you into a Peter Hain look-a-like – as you can see from the photo they ingeniously snap as you drop into the void.

Once we were out of the pit and up the other side, I quite enjoyed Oblivion. I enjoyed Air too. They fly you frontwards like Superman.  Nemesis was too much for me, though and I left the kids to it after that.

So, conclusions then?  Is Alton Towers still the last resort? Well, I came away with a lot of respect for the staff – they do their jobs courteously and with conviction – and a grudging respect for the warped minds that devised the rides. My cousin, of course, loved every minute. He knows his rides. He has visited all the big ones in the States. Alton Towers exceeded his expectations. You can’t say fairer than that.

After all, it's not every day the G-force turns a long-lost cousin into a Labour politician ...

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