If asked about the best way to spend a day off work, the average reader is unlikely to suggest making a day trip to another country for the sole purposes of attending an Annual General Meeting, even for an organisation as vital to humanity as the European Coaster Club. However, the prospect of riding a brand new roller coaster in its first few weeks was in itself a strong draw, and since the flights were not that expensive (€60) the die was cast. It seems inevitable that cheap flights will become increasingly scarce as oil prices continue to rise; it will be interesting to see what a round trip between Dublin and London costs ten years from now.
The new coaster in question is the fourth Eurofighter to leave the drawing board at Gerstlauer. Rage (#930) is the second smallest of the breed, measuring just two inches taller than the prototype model, Vild-Svinet. Previous diaries have covered my general feelings about these coasters; to summarise, I generally like them, the consecutive inline twists on Typhoon notwithstanding. Unfortunately this one felt, for me, mediocre. From the middle of the back row the ride is very smooth; however, the outside seats, particularly the front right, were unpleasantly rough. This didn't stop me clocking up seven consecutive rides during our exclusive session, but quite a bit can be inferred from my decision not to return to the ride at any other stage during the day.
Part of the problem with the ride may be its construction. I'm not an engineer, but the photo I took of the support at the base of the first drop doesn't look right to me. There is very distinctive vibration in parts of the ride course, and looking at this makes it easy to see why. The ride would not be operating if it hadn't passed a safety inspection, so potential passengers need not worry; I'm sure this is perfectly safe, but it is probably not helping the maintenance bill!
This session was followed by the club AGM. Having sat through a particularly animated (and unpleasant) meeting for something else earlier in the week I wasn't really looking forward to this, but I need not have worried; the style was very relaxed. There was an interesting debate about the cost of membership against the number of colour pages in the club magazine, with the general consensus being that half the magazine in colour was the best balance. Of greatest interest to me was the club trip plans for the next few years; it seems that I'm going to need to put some money away towards a trip out east in two years time. The event was about what one would expect for such a meeting in general, other than the absence of any discussion about the election of officers; the club has since its founding been run by those appointed by the existing team.
With the business of the day out of the way, a small group of us made our way over to Hairdryer: The Ride. The park map (and signage) refers to this under the title of Beelzee Bob's Trail, but I think my name is better. It is a relatively high standard dark ride spread across two levels. As with all such things there are certain scenes that don't seem to fit the general theme, but such complaints are puerile in the extreme. The highlight comes in the last few seconds, when riders are subjected to a high velocity blast of air which arranges riders' hair in an appropriate fashion for the subsequent on-ride photo.
This brings me neatly on to the brown Green Scream. My plan for this report was to make some sarcastic remark about the stupidly long train, which can take a lot of passengers at one time. Unfortunately none of my photographs caught the entire train; I managed to get somewhere around half of it (I think) using the widest zoom possible. A club takeover of the ride later in the day allowed me a rare treat, a ride towards the back of the train. As expected there is a pretty substantial difference. Unfortunately passengers rarely get to experience anything other than the front few cars due to insufficient riders; it seems the train won't make it over the lift hill if the weight isn't loaded towards the front. The ride operations staff get very irritated indeed if you attempt to go anywhere other than the front, almost to the point where it's worth heading the other way just so you can experience their reaction!
The other two coasters in the park have switched positions in my rankings since my last visit three years ago. At that stage my overpowering impression was that Mighty Mini Mega was the best coaster in the park, albeit with the worst name. While it still runs well it hasn't aged as well as the other rides around it; I found that I preferred Barnstormer this time. There were two main reasons for this; first, from the front car, there was a quite ridiculous amount of leg room; I could stretch out completely and still not touch the end of the car. Much more to the point, however, the mid course helix was surprisingly forceful, much more so than I remembered.
With the coasters ticked off, we decided to bring one of the easily frightened on the Sky Drop. As expected this provided a high degree of merriment all round. Our ride ended in a rather unusual fashion with the car being lowered at a very slow pace while the ride operator was clearly fiddling with the controls. Poor James didn't find this amusing at all. Whatever happened clearly wasn't too serious, fortunately, as the next load of passengers were boarded as normal.
Zamperla's wonderful Ramba Zamba, a production model Disk-O, seemed to be running faster than I'd remembered, leaving me feeling just a little shaky. It was a relief to recover on the Ferris Wheel, located in just the right place to get a good overview photograph of half of the park. With all stomachs settled, we proceeded to upset them again on the Gold Mine, a tracked ride with free spinning cars. This shouldn't have been particularly aggressive, and indeed it wasn't for any of us except poor Andy, thanks to both George and I doing our utmost to spin his car at the fastest rate possible. He could barely walk afterwards, which made his trip through the Crooked House positively hilarious.
Part of the charm of small parks such as this one is home-spun attractions. In terms of sheer enjoyment value I'm inclined to nominate Blackbeard's All At Sea as the best ride in the park. One might at least in passing describe it as a simulator or three dimensional movie but neither of those categories really do it justice. Suffice it to say that it is a show about bad weather (which mysteriously vanishes and reappears in the blink of an eye) and features a computer rendering an intoxicated parrot. Anyone who visits Southend should not miss this attraction under any circumstances. We did it twice!
My last few weeks have been, to say the least, hectic. Hard work in the office and voluntary work in a number of organisations has left me with almost no time to relax or unwind. This has, I'm sorry to say, left me short tempered and ratty. Seeing all my friends from the ECC today has left me largely rejuvenated, and much to my own surprise I'm deeply philosophical about my cancelled flight home. If I make it back this evening then great; if not, there's several theme parks in the immediate area that I could visit tomorrow!