The queue ahead disappeared through a hole in the floorboards. Screams echoed from this pit, accompanied by the rattle of machinery. On the far side of an artificial lake, trains whizzed round impossibly tight corners and disappeared in and out of tunnels, carrying a gleefully howling mob of thrill-seekers. It suddenly occurred to me - my mood had turned grim after the first three- quarters of an hour of queueing - that the ride wasn't attached to this queue at all, that we were being herded to our doom and that these people were paid to ride the roller-coaster all day to lull us into a sense of false security.
By February this year, when 36 million people had passed through the Colditz-like edifice that fronts the theme park, some wag calculated that between them, they'd spent 41,000 years queueing. That's 6,000 years longer than Homo sapiens has taken to get from painting woolly mammoths on cave walls to worshipping Kylie Minogue. This is roughly six hours per person per day spent shuffling through holding pens in the name of pleasure. Only once have I had that much pleasure crammed into one day. I was taking O-level maths at the time.
Disneyland Paris, so benign, so colourful, so safe, is also very scary if you're prone to paranoia. I was quite sanguine when I saw a sign in a Manila hotel saying "gentlemen are requested to deposit their guns at the front desk", but Disney awakened my urge to run and hide. It wasn't that awareness of latent chaos one experiences in dangerous places, but the opposite: nothing in human life is so ordered, so clean, runs so exactly to timetable. You expect at any moment that the clocks will strike 13 and the television sets in the hotels start issuing orders.
Uncle Walt died in 1966, but the Disney steamroller rolls inexorably forward. The advance may be peaceful, but the results will last a thousand years: longer, probably, given the amount of plastic used in the construction of the theme parks. Ten thousand years from now, when another civilisation has risen from the ashes of our own, archaeologists will uncover Sleeping Beauty's Castle and the 56 hectares of domes, palaces, theatres and temples that surround it, and conclude that we had a mighty civilisation, execrable taste and an anthropomorphised Mouse God.
It was the mouse, actually, that started the gnawing panic. He is everywhere: picked out, grinning maniacally, in flowers, on the approach to the 478- room, Fr1,995 a night Disneyland Hotel which overshadows the hallowed entrance to the park; capering around the open spaces, hugging little children, waving, posing for pictures; stacked sky-high on shelves in every shop, dancing as though he were doing the breaststroke in a drag queen's fiesta shirt, followed by Mardi Gras chicks, their faces plastered with painted smiles.
At first sight he was impressive: lovable even. It's that face: the raised eyebrows, the big eyes with their enlarged, interested pupils, the shared-joke grin. He came over to me, took my hand and raised it to his plastic lips. I tried to return the compliment, feigning a kiss to his fingers, but he withdrew it, gently but firmly, before my red lipstick could besmirch the pristine white of his gloves. Fair enough. You would get through a squeaky amount of laundry if you let every old slapper wipe her make-up all over your clothes.You see a lot of Goofy as well, of course, but somehow it's hard to imagine a sap with floppy ears harbouring serious plans to dominate the world.
But just wait for an hour for Space Mountain, another for Indiana Jones et le Temple du Peril. Then take a boat ride through It's a Small World. Three-foot-high mannequins of all nationalities (which remain resolutely Aryan despite different skin tones, idealised costumes and a rapid background progression from palm trees to Big Ben) pat their hands up and down as though manipulating a basketball and wag their heads smilingly from side to side in polite refusal, and things turn seriously trippy. If you've never had a psychotropic drug experience, think of those dreams you get when you've got a fever: colours overwhelmingly bright, weird figures looming from nowhere. Suddenly, the sight of five-foot mice scampering everywhere is more than you can take.
But it's not just the mice. Everyone who works for Disneyland is so highly trained they could be robots: the smiles are fixed, the charm is uniform. Enjoyment is compulsory.
They employ roughly 12,000 staff, all checked for criminal records and tested for suitability. For such a large workforce the track record for nasty incidents is low: a cashier killed in a robbery soon after the park opened (which can hardly be blamed on the recruiting system) and last year a Pirate of the Caribbean charged with the rape of a 14- year-old German tourist. Otherwise, everything is gloss-paint perfect: everyone exhorts you to enjoy your meal, enjoy the ride, enjoy your day. Every fag butt, every discarded Coke container, every piece of chewing gum, is pounced upon with pooper-scoopers as theme tu nes tinkle from the flowerbeds. The cleaners, too, dress in uniform: pirate gear, gauchero ponchos, houndstooth plus-fours. Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but the customer must never notice that it takes work.
Some of the rides are great, though. When you get on them. Some of the queues are pretty hot for that matter - standing inside the dome of Space Mountain listening to the shrieks as neon-lit trains plunged past you in the dark was almost as good as corkscrewing round an asteroid. Then there were the celebs: Michael Jackson, dancing like an extra in Night of the Living Dead in the 3D Captain Eo. The 360-degree Visionarium provided more shocks: Jeremy Irons taking the shilling to ham it up as HG Wells, and Gerard Depardieu as an airport luggage flunkey. This performance was particularly unconvincing, as he didn't once take a knife to anybody's Vuittons and remove their jewellery.
We lasted seven hours, managing six rides and eight queues. Entrance for an adult is currently pounds 25, and pounds 19 for a child. Reeling and dehydrated, we hauled our dropped arches and jellybean blisters through the half-built American horror show that is Festival Disney - rock 'n' roll, deli-style diners, sports bars - to our first drink. You can't buy alcohol in the park without taking out a loan for a full meal as well. Then again, you needed some serious slack on your credit card in the hotels: rounds for four averaged pounds 25 a go.
The Hotel New York costs Fr1,025 a night and was obviously decorated by committee, with every Manhattan cliche - art deco, black and white photos, plants, wood panelling, whizzy lifts. As we stalked the corridors, we realised with a chill that it was a spit for the hotel in The Shining. All it lacked was the waves of blood.
Our room had a lamp shaped like the Empire State Building, Mickey soap and a television playing non-stop promos for the delights ahead. My bed was blissfully comfortable, the shower blissfully powerful. I passed out, leaving the window open. At two o'clock in the morning, I awoke to the sound of machinery. In the restaurant complex below, in a neutral halogen glare, an oblong, windowless truck moved slowly along the pavement, followed by a man in a space suit. He held the nozzle of a high-pressure hose and was systematically washing everything he passed: walls, pavements, windows, even the white metal cafe furniture. When the breakfasters started trickling in in five hours' time, it would be as though the world had been newly created just for them.Reuse content