Alton Towers holds no fears for Peter King

28th July 2000 at 01:00
Alton Towers holds no fears for Peter King.

Summer is the season when school parties swamp England's premier fun park, Alton Towers - and coachloads of kids cannot be wrong.

For a fistful of fivers they make their annual pilgrimage to Oblivion and have a chance to drop from a great height into the steaming bowels of the earth as many times as the queues permit.

But for the hundreds of teachers who accompany all the groups, the day may seem something of a busman's holiday.

As they climb aboard the runaway train and lurch at breakneck speed on a rickety railway towards certain disaster, some get the feeling that they experience this kind of thing nearly every day of their working lives.

Next they are in the nightmare passages of the haunted house, where ghouls and indescribable horrors strike at every turn - and their minds go back to the corridors that link one place of delight with another that they were walking only yesterday.

Desperate to soothe their troubled minds, the year heads and form tutors make their way to the farm designed for the youngest visitors to the park.

They shield their faces when Year 9 pupils spot them on the Squirrel Nutty ride and hope against hope that they will not end up on the tractor named Puffy.

In ne corner all the animals are singing "Old MacDonald had a Farm" and bemused parents wonder at these over-aged children conducting the chorus and racing to keep all the buttons pressed down, little realising that, for the teachers, the whole thing is just a re-run of the last house music competition.

Then, like moths to a flame, the staff are drawn back to the house of horror - Hex, the legend of the Towers.

That old, familiar feeling of foreboding comes back to them as they process past all those shrouded figures of the Talbots, the ancient earls of Shrewsbury.

Then they finally reach the inner sanctum, an exotic place of musty mystery - and when the bars snap down and the whole room starts to rotate, there are those who say they begin to experience the kind of disorientation and nausea they sometimes get in staff meetings.

When it is time to leave, the children are disappointed because they find that - despite the slogan on their ticket - the magic of Alton Towers really does end.

But the people with the heaviest hearts are the teachers - because they know that they will soon be swapping all that fake fear for genuine terror - back in the classroom tomorrow.

Peter King teaches English at Wisbech grammar school, Cambridgeshire.

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