Showing posts with label Holidays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holidays. Show all posts

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Legoland Day 4 - Don't Panic!

While walking down the stairs for breakfast we passed two policemen standing outside one of the hotel doors ... <Sorry, can't publish the rest of this paragraph because there's probably an ongoing investigation. Shame, but there you have it. Come back to this page in a couple of years and maybe I'll update it once the court case has been concluded.>

Windsor Castle - but is it real or made of lego?
N wanted to chill in the hotel room a bit longer than yesterday (which I think we were all very happy about) so we watched TV until about 10:45. We set out to meet M at around 11am, and mosied on up to the castle to find a bunch of bystanders standing around the intersection. Spurred on by the thought that we might see the Queen or the odd prince mincing by we hung back with video camera at the ready but were rather disappointed to see nothing but two dozen furry black-hatted guards marching regimentally round the bend and off down the straight road, punctuated at front and back by a more modern looking soldier holding an automatic weapon. Would have been more efficient if they'd just given an automatic weapon to each of the tall black furry-hatted guards and then the front and back dudes could have had the day off. But then again maybe the tall black furry-hatted dudes are merely decorative and not trained in modern anti-terrorism urban warfare techniques.

Anyway, we eventually got on the bus to LL for Day two and even N remarked how funny it was that the other people on the bus were all excited but as it was second day in a row for us it was pretty much run of the mill. We declined to partake in the 'Le-go-land! Le-go-land!' chant the Welsh chap behind us had instigated and and instead chose to exchange glances and roll our eyes a bit at such 'Newbie-ish' behaviour, unlike us hardened Lego veterans.

The Easter Island Heads, but are they real or made of lego?
Today was a much more chilled out situation than yesterday. There seemed much less pressure to get everything done and we knew the drill, our expectations were re-balanced and we were aware that we might have to wait for some rides and that was just the way it was. By standing in long lines we were missing out on other things going on around in the park, but if we didn't stand in any long lines we would also miss out on things in the park. It was a Catch 22.

While having an ice cream break I spotted an electronic sign outside the Pirate Water Slide saying only 35 minute wait, so we jumped in the queue, just behind another hundred people who had received similar notifications on the grape vine, Q-Bots, or apps.


So what ensued was, for me, an hour long wait in a long snake-shaped queue, while N played on the kids' climbing frame within eye-shot nearby and making new friends. 

While standing in line I took time to take stock of my situation. Having no smart phone allowed me a moment to ponder my position in this great fairground of life called the universe. Where am I? (Legoland) What am I doing here? (Waiting in a queue for the Pirates Water Slide) What do I want from life? (To go on a Pirates Water Slide) How far am I from my goal? (About 250 people) Am I being creative enough? (If you can call standing in a line creative, then yes) How do I compare to my contemporaries? (Taller, skinnier, whiter, not staring at a smart phone, less kids, less bags) How do I get from where I am now to where I want to be? (By shuffling along) How do I become more sociable? (By striking up conversation with the couple in front of me who are shoving their backpacks in my face or the family behind who tried to subtly squeeze in front of me at the last bend) Is N happy? (Seems so).


At last I reached the front of the line but N was nowhere to be seen. What should I do? Go on the ride by myself? That would be a major bummer for N. "Sorry kid, couldn't find you and didn't want to hold up the line so just went on it myself. Hope you don't mind." Fortunately he re-appeared just in time and we mingled with Q-Botters, six of whom pushed on in front of us, which seemed a little unfair. But hey, whatcha gonna do? I felt kind of sorry for them anyway, having paid so much extra and in the end still having to wait. 


We walked across a big slow-spinning rubber wheel, assisted by a staff member, and climbed into our own 4-seat water-toboggan, N in front and me behind. Once the toboggan moved away from the wheel and joined the single lane waterway, we were off (at a water-snail's space). We were both prepared to get absolutely soaked and my thoughts went back to the huge automated dryers outside the ride you could put £2 in to dry off. But actually, due to most of the waterside pirate-themed water gun-yielding mannequins not working, we didn't get squirted as much as anticipated. I was actually glad of this. All I wanted was to get through this ride and out the other end a) without injury and b) without tears (mine or N's).

At last the bit we were most looking forward to arrived, and we found ourselves being cranked up the huge hill. The anticipation was great, intense, and reminded me why I never went on roller coasters anymore.

Flashback : The last rollercoaster I went on was a really cheap, ramshackle one at Strathclyde Park when I was a kid. It didn't have all the fold-down, padded shoulder safety harnesses they have nowadays - just a metal bar across your lap. There was this curve where your speed should have resulted in some centrifugal force to push you into your seat, and stop you from falling inwards, but for some reason the thing went round the curve really slowly and I was leaning half out of my seat which was at a 60 degree angle thinking, "This can't be very safe."

So we crested the hill and over we went down the other side, too fast for comfort, but I just relinquished control to the ride and made my body limp - another coping mechanism to deal with panic I'd discovered while riding the waltzers when I was an even younger kid back in the shows in my home town. Damn, this is bringing back so many memories. Those waltzers were nuts. I recall gripping onto them and screaming, terrified that I had no control and couldn't stop and get off. I had no buttons for the speed or the brakes and just had to sit there. The panic rising within me was intolerable. But then I realised if I just relaxed and went limp - there was no point in getting worked up about things as I wasn't in control anyway - the panic just drifted away.

Applicable to life? Perhaps.

I applied the same method here and worked straight away. Had no way to explain it to N. Hopefully I'll remember to mention it to him later. Maybe take him on the Waltzers.


So we crested the hill and shot down the other side, completely unaware that a camera would take our photo at the critical moment, and splashed into the pool at the bottom with howls of laughter. The relief that we were still alive rushed in, we waved to M, and went round the bend where the ride finished up.

We'd survived.

Been thinking about things and here are some of the skills that a ten year old at Legoland may incidentally develop other than shameless capitalism and instant 'Want-Buy-Get' gratification:

Map-reading
Balancing priorities
Patience
Decision making
Time-management
Delayed gratification
Making new friends
Arguing your case
Healthy (or not) diet
Climbing
Building (Lego)
Following detailed instructions
Imagination 
Driving
Showing gratitude
What to do if separated.
Problem-solving skills
Memory
Dealing with disappointment
Understanding (one's own) (emotional and physical) tiredness.
Panic coping mechanisms

While standing in the line at the Big Shop at the end of the day I looked around at people's faces again and decided that the staff members were in a better frame of mind today. Despite the weather being worse, people were chirpier. And when I looked at the expressions of the parents I couldn't help but be overcome by the love they had for their kids, and how this manifested itself by the sacrifices they made. They come here and go through all the rigmarole for the same reason as me. To make their kids happy. Didn't matter the colour of their skin, their gender, their religion, the size or shapes of their bodies, the language they spoke. The thing that united all the people there, was the love for their children.

Legoland = thumbs up.

Me in a hat - or am I made of lego?

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Legoland Day 3 - Lego At Last!

Friday 9thAugust

Tut n Come In
As we were approaching Windsor Castle a police guard strode right towards us and said, "Good morning, are you here to visit the castle?" 

I replied, "No, just looking for the Legoland bus. Does it leave from around here?"

"Just down there, opposite the church," he said, quite relieved as if glad he hadn't had to shoot us. I assumed someone important was in residence and visits from the public were a no-no.

Disappointingly the Legoland Bus was not made of Lego, but to all intents and purposes resembled a normal bus. It didn't even have Emitt or Wild Style on the sides. But I didn't care, I was just glad to get three seats together.

It's like Piccadilly Circus out there
Arrived at 10:15am. It wasn't too busy and we managed to get in quite easily after the security check and got our tickets scanned. 

While M & N went to the Little Shop, I took the opportunity to slip away almost immediately to find a cafe, but unfortunately I had neglected to bring a re-usable cup with me, and was faced with the choice of having a coffee and killing Mother Earth, or drinking my own water and saving £2.50. I drank my own water.


The first exhibit we found was the immersive Lego Star Wars one. Pretty impressive, I must say! Big ass Death Star and everything. Sadly not life size though. Am I asking too much? Am I expecting the impossible? I think perhaps I am.

This was a thing where your kid takes a metal pan-like sieve and goes up to one of four wooden water slides filled with sand and tiny bits of gold (pyrite - fool's gold (I asked)) and does their best to sieve through the sand to find the gold, take back and get weighed. If they find over a certain amount (zero probably) they get a medal (but not the gold). 
The Wallace Monument. No sign of Grommit.
(Am I asking too much?)

In fairness I have nothing negative to say about this. I thought it was one of the best attractions. No queuing time, completely free, keeps the kid busy and absorbed with a safe, physical, educational, fun activity, they weigh their gold and so get a sense of self-appraisal and achievement, and the medal they receive is actually metal, gold coloured, and has the Legoland logo on it to remember the whole visit by. The kid asks, “Why am I doing this?” and the parent has no choice but to launch into a semi factually accurate spiel about the gold rush in the American wild west and how there was once some found in Scottish rivers. Loved it.

Tried to get into water slide ride but too long a wait. Vowed to bring something for us to do while standing in line if ever at a theme park like this again. Some lego perhaps? Paying an extra £25 per person for a Q Bot seemed a little excessive and unfair. Surely if the queues are too long for the rides then their system isn't working. Interestingly the queues for the checkouts at the gift shops at the end were very speedily dealt with.

It was around this time that I failed to win my son a cuddly toy. This was far and away the worst moment of the whole weekend. Let me set the scene. 

There's a guy manning a stall with coin slots on the counter nearest the customer. Beyond the counter on the back wall is a huge array of awesome-looking soft toys just waiting to be won. Between you and the child-sized stuffed animals is the challenge – one of the impossible tasks assigned to Hercules or Sisyphus – a backboard set at an angle of about 25 degrees backwards from the vertical, and below the board, a basket. 

In order to win one of the prizes (and your child's happiness) you have to throw a plastic ball so it bounces off the board into the basket. Simple! Easy. The guy does it a few times himself to prove how possible it is. We pay £2 for one ball and N has a go, and doesn't get the ball in the basket. The angle of the board seems to bounce the ball up and out. I pay £5 for three balls and have three goes, my son rooting for me from the sidelines. I try to use backspin to make the ball spin down the board as in basketball, but fail every time. Then the rain comes on and starts to pour down like a melting glacier. Everyone runs for cover.

As should I have.

But just at that moment and to stop losing customers to the rain, the guys says, “Hey, 4 balls for £5, 4 for 5!” I think to myself, Okay, let's do this. 

So with my son watching from the cover of the nearby building, I try a variety of different tactics: back-spinning it, top-spinning it, throwing it really weakly, all the things I could think of. But it wasn't enough. Every time the ball bounced back with an extra spring in its step that took it over the damn basket. 

I thought, Right, forget it. It's a scam, time to walk away.

So I walk back to M & N and N is crying his eyes out. In the rain. Watching little kids after us winning the prizes and the guy loudly ringing the bell and congratulating them. My son saying, “Why? You did your best Dad! Why are they winning one but we didn't! It's not fair! We spent £12! £12 and didn't get anything!” And me trying to get him to stop crying by saying big kids shouldn't cry and making him feel worse. 

We could have been sitting on the green banks of a wide, beautiful loch not catching any fish for free instead of being in this man-made, saccharine-sweet commercialist emotional trauma park, watching tears stream down my kid's face in the rain, that I caused.

Later, once my son had calmed down, he said, “I will never forget that.” 

And then we turned a corner and stumbled on Miniland : tonnes of scale models of famous British landmarks made of Lego, and I thought, Ah, finally! This is more like it. Wallace Monument, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, and you are so engrossed in these that you don't realise that just over there are even more famous landmarks from all over the world. 



This was the part I had been most expecting to find and looking forward to. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but walking around these immaculately detailed lego models painstakingly built with loving attention, was a real joy. And the icing on the cake was the moving figures and vehicles with the accompanying music. You really felt like Gulliver stepping over Lilliput in this part of the park. 


One thing I noticed though was that the attendants of Legoland all looked pretty glum and unresponsive. They even ignored each other. No smiles, high fives or pre-practiced handshakes finishing with pointing at each other and saying, "You're awesome!" or "You are the special!" or "Honey, where are my paaaaaaaants?"

But perhaps that's asking a bit too much.

After the first full day at Legoland N had his huge new lego toy under his arm and a just as huge grin on his face and we got the bus back to Windsor. 

Seemed like he'd forgotten it already.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Legoland Day 2 - York to Windsor

Thursday 8th August

The Bar Convent was a really nice place. Not only did it have a wide selection of tea and coffee in the room, there was a large basket of biscuits. We all had a great sleep despite things going bump in the night. Not the ghost of a dead nun but N waking up in the dark, wandering around and banging his leg on the bed before I lead him back to the bed and he immediately conked out again. In the morning he had no memory (or bruise) of the occasion.

The Artful Dodger, York
Had a delicious breakfast of scrambled egg on toast, fruit and cereal in the covered central courtyard. (Would have had it in the garden but the seats looked a bit hard for my sore left butt cheek.) They even kindly printed out our tickets for the first day at Legoland. Nuns, eh? Nice folk. Who'd have thought it. No singing of "The Sound Of Music" or "Spoonful of Medicine" but you can't have everything. Am I asking too much?

At 10am we checked out and left our luggage (safely? Nuns are kind, but are they security conscious?) behind reception while we forayed back in to York for the morning. Our train was just before 1pm so we had time to go back to the Shambles and wander around again. N wanted to see the wand shop a second time but I was already getting sick to the back teeth of Hewlett Packard. 

The River Ouse, York
On the way there we passed a really nice old bookshop complete with movable ladder to reach the upper echelons. But no matter how great it felt to be in the shop inhaling disintegrating tome dust and the desiccated skin cells of long dead authors, no titles jumped out at me. 

In the next charity shop down though (Oxfam, same side of road) which also had a great selection of more modern books and records, the autobiography of Richard Prior called 'Prior Convictions' immediately leapt into my hand and began reading itself right then and there. I finished it over the course of the next two days and it's safe to say he shielded me from the full brunt of Legoland with his honesty, wit and insight. It is far and away one of the saddest most tragic stories I've ever stumbled upon. I had no idea the poor comic was so tortured. If you ever feel like your life is in the toilet and there's no way on for you, read this.

WoodsMill, River Ouse
Got train to Kings Cross (where we saw Platform nine and three quarters - Blimey! How much pop culture can one book idea spawn!?), Subway to Paddington, Train to Slough, Train to Windsor, walked to Oscar's Hotel, checked in and walked back to station to have dinner at Bill's Restaurant, where I had a beer and a Halloumi Burger and N had lemonade, beef burger and sweet potato fries and I have no memory of what M had. The Total came to £59 including 'Optional 10% tip' which was completely optional. Completely. But if we'd not wanted to pay it we might have had to say, "Er, excuse me, could we please change this tip to 7.5%? Because the seats were uncomfortable for me as I have a sore left butt cheek. No offence."

York sports many lovely pubs with abundant flowers
Oscars was (one of) the cheapest hotel(s) we could find in Windsor and had a wide variety of reviews from shit to shine, but we weren't that bothered with luxury, just needing a warm safe clean place to get our heads down while going to Legoland.

Funny thing was though, when I booked the hotel over the phone, the receptionist had a problem with the credit card machine running out of receipt paper and indirectly (or not) double-charging us. I called her back and she assured us they would refund the money when we get there... 


Oscars was cheap and cheerful but at twice the price we could have stayed at a real hotel made out of real Lego. When we checked in, the receptionist explained again how the mix up occurred. "Yes, I understand why the mixup occurred. I just want my double payment money back." But she said she couldn't access the bank account to make the refund. The manager would be here on Saturday to sort it out. 


This was going to put a whole dampener on the holiday. Instead of getting high strung at children screaming and frothing at the mouth because their parents won't buy them the next bit of plastic waste in this instant gratification capitalist hell-pit, I'd be distracted by whether or not Oscars was going to screw me over and how to deal with it.

And many artful but dodgy old houses
It occurred to me that if they hadn't paid up by our time to leave I would stand up straight with my chest expanded, hands up, palms out and say, "No! We are not leaving until I am refunded my double payment! We will stay twice as long if needs be to get what we've paid for!" But then I realised that would actually be in their favour, so decided against it. 

If the manager turned out to be a grouchy blue muppet in a bin I would be having strong words with his operator.

Windsor Castle, Windsor, hence the name
Incidentally the Oscars car park was completely empty making me wonder if we were the only guests, but the room itself was fine.  No biscuits though. Would it have been a sin to steal biscuits from a convent?

NB : This is Day Two and we still haven't even set a foot in LegoLand. That all happens in the next section. Stay tuned!

Friday, 16 August 2019

Legoland Day 1 - Yorkward Bound!

Wednesday 7th August 2019 

Watched Kung Fu Panda 3 while eating breakfast and getting ready to leave. I keep trying to find wisdom in Kung Fu Panda, as if it's some kind of deep form of metaphysical advice helping me find 'The Way'. But alas I have to keep reminding myself it's just a cartoon for kids. And yet, it seems to make a lot of sense. Inner peace. Be yourself. Be the best you you can be. A dramatic entrance is vital because the battle of the mind begins before the battle of fists.
View from the train
Left on foot with all our bags at around 10:20am and walked to the station. Managed to print out some train tickets to York at the station and took the train into Edinburgh Waverley, which was mobbed due to the Edinburgh Fringe. M insisted on taking an earlier train so we didn't have to rush for our connection at Waverley so instead ended up having to stand around for longer than necessary.

Micklegate, York
The queue for the toilets in Waverley was really long for the ladies and non existent for the men. Made me think of gender inequality. Didn't seem fair that women should have to wait for the toilets. Were gender neutral toilets the way forward? Or more cubicles for women? Or urinals for women? I didn't know. 

Smartphone zombies everywhere. Well, two. I think it should be permissible to throw a cream pie into someone's face if they are walking and looking at their phone at the same time.

Finally got on a really nice LNER train with red seats and mini screen displays telling us whether seats were reserved and where from/to, which is a nice change from having to check the white paper slips stuck in the back of the seats that I remember. Also very comfy and quiet, with air conditioning. N, M and I got a seat altogether at a table, prebooked. The train tickets seem to cost as much as the hotels. Why so expensive? Probably due to above. Made me wonder if maybe we should have just taken the train all the way to London in a oner rather than splitting it up over two days.

After playing slappy, thumb wars, and one potato two potato, we had some rather delish onigiri and I started work. The wifi seems not bad, and we have a plug socket, so I can relax in the knowledge that we'll arrive at our destination fully charged.

Looks like a right 'Shambles' to me!
As we passed what I believe was Torness Nuclear power station at North Berwick I couldn't help wondering why nuclear power stations all look like factories of death. Someone should really work on their PR. Maybe paint some mutated flowers on them or giant Hello Kitty's bleeding from the eyes. 

Right now I'm editing the wedding of D & Y, the chapter of the surprise Italian opera singer and Scottish chef, which happened right after dinner when everyone was bloated and sitting like overstuffed armchairs. Not bad, but I think Zombie singing waiters would have been an improvement. The next big thing for weddings, I'm convinced. They serve, they sing, bits drop off. Entrails slither out. They attack and eat the guests. The bride and groom have to fight them off with the big sword they use to cut the wedding cake, or a double headed axe hanging on the wall.

We've decided to break up the five hour train journey from Edinburgh to Windsor by stopping off halfway at York. Never been there before so quite looking forward to it. First night in a working convent so hopefully it has lots of history and ghostly nuns drifting through walls etc.

When we got to York at 2:30pm, and after checking in at the Bar Convent (Spanish style with central courtyard, tiled floor and garden) we set off in search of the famous 'Shambles' which apparently was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Henry Potter. HP shops abounded in the tight, tourist trapped, tunnel-like terrace, so much so that I felt we'd stumbled into a Henry Pinter amusement park with posters of the old wizard Dusseldorf and villainous Scrape standing around with their wands out.

Bar Convent Hotel : Recommended Stay
N wanted to buy a blank notebook with a great leather cover depicting a dragon and latch, and since he'd recently finished his Happy Self Journal I was in half a mind to buy it. Unfortunately the other half of my mind wondered if perhaps we could get a cheaper one online. So we put it off until our next visit on the way home.

The ceilings in Bar Convent were extremely low and I was painfully conscious of bumping my head at some point. Fortunately due to the ubiquitous 'Mind Your Head' signs I didn't forget to take my head with me when we left.

Mind Yer Heid!