I went to Alton Towers to write my column for The Independent this week because, frankly, I wanted to shove a stick of dynamite up its arse.
We hired a German car, stocked up on things like Jaffa Cakes, Jelly Babies and petrol and drove over the speed limit to the M1 and then "opened her up". We, in this case, being me, Lenny and The Doctor, and the mood in the German car was buoyant. I always enjoy going to Staffordshire (I'm only human) and the fact that our satnav was homing in on Alton Towers was a big fat bonus. It's one of the great hidden gems! We guzzled our junk, listened to the late Michael Jackson and talked excitedly about travelling upside down at pace.
Whilst in the queue for the first ride, 'TH13TEEN' (but pronounced 'thirteen'), we had a 75-minute discussion about why humans are magnetically attracted to rollercoasters. I can't remember what conclusions we came to because I was shitting myself at the prospect of riding on TH13TEEN (but it should be pronounced 'th-thirteen-teen'), but I think it boils down to the fact that a human's existence is so dull that we have to go on a rollercoaster once in a while to double-check that we're alive. Screaming "OH MY GOD NO STOP!" because an engineer's designed something quick and twisty does this. Staffordshire is as good a place as any to scream these words.
There are two basic species of rollercoaster riders: (1) he who plays it cool, possibly chewing gum, and (2) he who openly bricks it. I'm very much a category (2). I got panicky on the monorail that takes you from your German car to the gates of the park. So whilst these two-minute bursts of sheer exhilaration were lovely, the gloss was taken off by the fact that I was leaking gallons of sweat, convinced I was about to die. Horrible. And also eerie. Even though this was my first rollercoaster for over a decade. The feeling was eerily familiar. We rode Ththirteenteen, I hated it, and then we went for lunch.
It was The Doctor's b13thday so we treated him and we treated ourselves and he treated himself to a d13ty great burger, then we went on a ride called Air (pronounced 'Air'). One consequence of being a th3ee-person outfit at Alton Towers is that you have to take it in turns to sit next to a kid on the rollercoasters. On Air it was my go. I sat next to a tiny ginger girl and exchanged a look with her before we flew.
Each of us considered the other the wrong age for this behemoth. Our looks were respectively saying "You're too young and ginger" and "You're too old and have flecks of grey in your hair". She had a point. The last time I was at The Towers was last century and I was too old for it then. The average age of an Alton Towers patron is approximately f15teen. My average age now is about late th13t135 (pronounced 'thirties'; I'll stop doing that now) and, for this, the young Sissy Spacek glared silently at my silver sideburns as we zoomed and looped together. Too fast. A disgrace.
As night fell we reached the front of the queue for our third and final ride, 'Nemesis'. In case you don't know, Nemesis is a Billy-big-bollocks ride. More unacceptable even than Air, it's been going for nearly 20 years. Encouragingly, my seat didn't lock properly so they had to use an allen key, which added to the tension. Again, I wanted to vomit. Again, I was the only one to start screaming before we'd headed off. Again, it felt all too familiar. And then the penny dropped.
I knew this feeling. The colour draining from my face, the mouth dry. Yes. This was the same duodenum-mangling horseshit I get from doing live comedy. This sad cauldron of adrenalin and despair. Paralysed, helpless, but in too deep. I didn't need to be in Staffordshire for this. I could just say yes to a gig in King's Cross and avoid entering Staffs at all. "Sod this," I thought. And yanked at my restraints. But just like with stand-up, there could be no turning back. The car shuddered forwards. I yelled into thin air. I willed it to be over.