Jenny Morrill recounts her lifelong obsession with – and simultaneous shit-yourself-fear of – rollercoasters. Spoiler: It’s all about the queue.
Now imagine that not only are you about to be pushed off a cliff, you’ve also paid money to be pushed off a cliff, and there are a load of people all standing round laughing at the fact that you’re about to be pushed off a cliff. Also they take a photo of you being pushed off a cliff and put it in a nice frame.
Most importantly – what if I told you that you could get a novelty pen for being pushed off the cliff?
I think that would swing it for most people.
I’ve always been fascinated by rollercoasters. It’s a weird thing: until I was in my early 20s I was terrified of even the smallest kids’ coaster, but I kept attempting to ride them because they meant so much to me.
When I was a small child, I was convinced rollercoasters were magic. This was because the five-year-old me had dreamed one night that I travelled to a magic world on one. Because of this, I kept attempting to ride them in the hope I would be proved right. It was a strange obsession I had, and one not welcomed by my parents, who had to clean up my sick and take me for chips every single time my dream did not come true.
Things were brought to a head at Butlins in the late 80s, when my latest attempt to ride a ‘Kiddie Coaster’ (height: 2ft) ended in me crying until the man stopped the ride and spoiled it for everyone else.
For years I didn’t go near a rollercoaster, but the fascination with them never left me. By the time I was 12, I knew they weren’t magic trains, or whatever nonsense I’d thought as a kid, but I still wanted to be able to go on them.
Cue a 1994 school trip to Alton Towers.
The theme park nerds among us will know that 1994 was a huge year for UK rollercoasters. Nemesis, Europe’s first inverted coaster, opened at Alton Towers; Shockwave, Europe’s first standup coaster, opened at Drayton Manor; and the Pepsi Max Big One, the world’s first coaster guaranteed to be rickety and make you shit yourself to death while having a view of some cafes, opened at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
I was determined to ride Nemesis. If ever there was a magic rollercoaster, this was it.
Walking into Alton Towers’ Forbidden Valley for the first time, two things occurred to me. Firstly, Nemesis was about 12 times bigger than it looked on TV. Secondly, the weather was overcast and thundery, which meant the universe was definitely laughing at me. It was like being in the advert – if you took out the people wearing cagoules and muttering, “Where the hell’s Brian got to?”
That day, my version of conquering my fear consisted of mooching around holding my friends’ coats while they went whooping and yelling and generally having a good time on the ride.
“Fuck you,” said Nemesis. “You’ll never ride me because you’re a gimpy swot.”
“Fuck you, I’ll ride you one day,” I replied.
Years went by, and life got in the way of my rollercoaster ambitions. I became interested in other things, like booze. And then, when I was 22, I stumbled across an Alton Towers fan site. I discovered that not only was Nemesis still there, it had now been joined by a flying coaster, and a brand new faster-than-hell launched coaster.
“Queuing for Nemesis brought out the following symptoms in me: sweating, dizziness, nausea, hormonal imbalance, inability to do long division. By the time we were being loaded onto the train, I was reciting the Lord’s Prayer and crying.”
I wanted to ride all these rides, and it was only my stupid fear holding me back. Well no more, I decided. I was getting me some riding if it killed me; so I was going to bloody well get over said fear, which could be neatly split into the following parts:
1. What if I’m not strapped in properly and I fall out?
2. What if the car comes off the track?
3. What if going round loops at 50mph isn’t actually that pleasant, only now there’s not a nice Butlins employee to let me off the ride?
Statistically, theme park rides are nine times safer than fishing. The majority of injuries on rollercoasters are due to ignoring safety instructions, rather than technical faults. The reason big rollercoaster accidents stick in people’s minds is precisely because they’re so rare.
I arranged a day out at Alton Towers with some friends, and after psyching myself up all day, headed for the smallest ‘proper’ (as in – upside down and everything) coaster they had. As I queued up for the Corkscrew, I was heartened to notice several under-10s queuing alongside me.
Pro tip: You should not be shaking and nearly passing out while queuing for a ride advertised as ‘1.2m height limit, fun for all the family’. I almost chickened out at the last minute. Luckily for me, if there was one thing scarier than riding a rollercoaster, it was inconveniencing people and making them tut.
I’d never been more grateful for my British reserve, because I found that the Corkscrew was fun. And I didn’t die even once. This was a definite result – I was now the queen of being hard.
“Not so fast,” said Nemesis half an hour later. “Behold my big scary track. Also, you’re still a gimpy swot.”
Even though I was still buzzing from my Corkscrew high, I had to face facts… and I sloped off home. Although I’d proved to myself that I could now do drops and loops, I couldn’t yet ride a ride that threatened to scare me to actual death.
Next time I went to Alton Towers, I was prepared. I went with my friend, and he had strict instructions to drag me into the Nemesis queue, even if I threatened to beat him to death with my house.
Queuing for Nemesis brought out the following symptoms in me: sweating, dizziness, nausea, hormonal imbalance, inability to do long division. By the time we were being loaded onto the train, I was reciting the Lord’s Prayer and crying.
Up the lift hill we went, my insides desperately trying to claw their way out of every hole, and then…
“Wheeeeeeeee!” for a minute and a half.
Here’s the thing about rollercoasters if you haven’t ridden one: once the preamble’s out of the way and you’re off, you don’t have time to get your bearings or think about what’s happening.
That, I think, is a lot of the appeal. For a few minutes, you don’t have to make your brain do anything.
Predictably, as soon as the ride was over I went full-on Teletubbies – “Again, again!” – and dragged poor Nick straight back into the queue.
Since then, I’ve been a frequent visitor to Nemesis, to the point where I’m actually quite boring if you go to the theme park with me. To get the maximum number of rides per visit, I’ll stand in the single rider queue, ignoring pleas to “Come and have lunch or something, for God’s sake.”
Every time I went on a new coaster, I felt that familiar sense of dread at being thrust into the unknown, but every time it was unfounded, and more “Wheeeeeeeee!” action commenced.
I’m slowly learning that this will probably be the case for any rollercoaster I go on: the most terrifying part of the ride will be the queue. When you have time to stand there convincing yourself it will be terrible, you will inevitably blow it out of all proportion.
So, to summarise, if you’re apprehensive about riding a rollercoaster, all you have to do is get in the queue. The rest is easy.
The Big One at Blackpool, though, can still fuck off. I’m not mad.1800 Views
Jenny writes for Den of Geek and anywhere else that will listen. To date, the most Trios she has eaten in a row is 20. Her blog is the place to be if you like Bungle and expired food. worldofcrap.co.uk