Just before the end of the Christmas holidays, we found ourselves at a theme park. It was the last chance to have fun before having to update homework diaries, clean school shoes, put together school uniform and write the final few thank you letters.
We’d been to the same attraction almost exactly a year ago to the day. During our previous visit, the big, scary rides had all been closed.
As someone who absolutely hates rollercoasters, this hadn’t bothered me at all. Mrs Adams, the kids and I had played on an adventure playground, we’d seem some zoo animals, posed for photos and had lunch. It had been a fun day and, better still, rollcoasters had played no part in it.
Not so on our second visit. Oh no. We’d arrived much earlier in the day and to my horror, the big scary rides were fully operational. I was desperately worried Helen might notice this. If she did, I knew she’d want to give it a go.
Soon after arriving, Helen did indeed notice the rollercoaster. This wasn’t good. Knowing full-well her mother would never go on such a ride, she immediately asked if I would go on one with her.
Now listen people, I hadn’t been on a rollercoaster in 20 years. The last time I had been on a rollercoaster was during my student days when a group of us went to Alton Towers for the day.
For some unfathomable reason, on that occasion I went on a ride called the Black Hole. It was notorious because the ride was in a darkened building so you couldn’t see what what was coming next. My student friends, knowing I hated rollercoasters, were impressed that I had been on such a well-known ride. I found the whole experience terrifying and didn’t go on a rollercoaster again.
The most outrageous ride I’d been on since that day had been the pirate-themed Jolly Rocker at LEGOLand Windsor. Interestingly, I went on that ride with Helen when she was just old enough, three, maybe four years old, and it didn’t end well.
Here I was, several years later with a determined, headstrong, almost 10-year-old Helen. She wanted to go on that rollercoaster and as much as her mother and I tried making excuses, she wouldn’t back down.
Rollercoasters, I was rapidly learning, are one of those elements of childhood you thought you had left behind at puberty. You know the kind of thing: Building LEGO models, playing snakes and ladders, using a catapult and drinking orange squash.
These are all things I have distant memories of doing, but never thought I’d do again. Then I had children and, slowly but surely, these things started entering my life again. Rollercoasters, however, are something I never, ever thought or wanted to experience when I was older. Alas, my luck was running out.
When Izzy, our usually more cautious six-ear-old, said she also wanted to go on the ride and passed the height check, the game was over. Mrs Adams and I knew we both had to go along with this absurd, terrifying plan.
Some passers by saw Mrs Adams and I talking about the ride as Helen and Izzy were bouncing around excitedly. They assured us that it was a sedate experience “for a rollercoaster.” The decision that we were going to brave the ride had been taken, but it was reassuring to know the ride wouldn’t be that bad by rollercoaster standards.
After a short wait we boarded the ride, Helen to my left and Mrs Adams in front of her. Directly opposite me, Izzy was strapped in. Of the many terrifying thoughts I had was a concern she might slip out of the seat somewhere along the ride. You could say this was irrational, but rollercoasters to me are like kryptonite to Superman.
Then the ride began. Quite how the couple we spoke to could describe the ride as tame, I don’t know. It was fast, it had lots of twists and turns and it went high. I screamed, Mrs Adams screamed. Apparently Izzy screamed, although I have no recollection of this.
Helen, meanwhile, made the odd scream-like noise. With the enthusiasm of a young kid, however, she spent most of her time time shouting: “This is epic.”
I spent most of the ride worrying about my own mortality. “What if I come off the ride?….If I landed on hard ground, would I live?….What happens if a human body hits concrete at high speed?…. Thank goodness I have life insurance “
Of course I didn’t just worry about myself. With Izzy being the smallest member of our family, I was worried both about how she might feel about the experience.
After what seemed like a million years, but was in reality about two minutes, the ride ended. My legs were all over the place, Izzy’s legs were all over the place and Mrs Adam’s face was distinctly red. Helen, meanwhile, was desperate to go back to the start and do it all over again.
I have a strange feeling I’ll have to go on similar rides in future. I already drink orange squash build LEGO models and play snakes and ladders. I think I simply have to accept that, from time to time, riding rollercoasters are an unavoidable part of fatherhood.
Rollercoaster picture credit: Aaron Burden on Unsplash.