This all takes place in 1999. I was 15, but if anyone asked, I was 19.
My best friend – who is still my best friend, even now, somehow – had tickets to Alton Towers. Going to theme parks wasn’t one of the things we really did; we thought we were incredibly mature and only did stuff that incredibly mature people did. However, she had tickets, so we went. We were poor back then, although if I was 15 then she would have been 17 and working in Canning Town (dreadful place) so we had enough money. It was just the difference between getting the train someplace, or going by National Express.
Clearly we weren’t too well off, because we took the bus. For some odd reason, we took a night bus. I think we went on a Sunday, and I can’t remember exactly what the plan was but it wasn’t a good one. We arrived in Stoke at some ridiculous hour of the morning and I had a feeling we were going to have a weird time when the first thing we saw as we got closer to the bus station was a woman pissing in the road. The bus driver just maneuvered around her.
Now, my best friend has had some fucking dreadful ideas. She’s had some of the best ideas ever, but she has seriously made me frown in dismay on so many occasions. She has no concept of getting from A to B in a sensible manner. I say ‘Do you know where we’re going?’ and she’ll swear blind that she’s been there before and it’s dead simple and then the next thing you know we’re in Catford (equally dreadful place).
So when she said “It’s fine, we’ll just get off the bus and start walking and then we’ll find somewhere to eat,” I had no idea that the bus station was actually something like a five-hour walk from the theme park. This piece of information must have slipped her mind. Frown. Still, I enjoy walking, and there wasn’t any other option, so we just set off.
We hadn’t been walking very long when a car pulled up. A bloke in his twenties was behind the wheel, and he asked what we were doing. We explained. He was extremely confused, particularly as we were heading for Newcastle-under-Lyme, and not Alton. Frown. He asked if we wanted a ride; he said he had a few errands to run but then he’d give us a lift to Alton Towers.
We shouldn’t have got in the car.
I will quickly say that nothing bad happened to us, in case you’re wondering whether or not to continue reading. Funny and weird, but not BAD.
We shouldn’t have got in the car, because the day just turned to absolute chaos. One of the errands this guy had to run involved him driving down a back road to a wooded area because he had to syphon some petrol from somewhere. He left us in the car while he went to steal fuel. It crossed my mind at numerous points that we might actually die here, but the guy seemed nice enough so we thought we’d give him a chance.
At this point, things weren’t too weird. We stopped off for cigarettes, and then just drove around listening to music and meeting up with a few of his friends – none of whom thought it odd that he had two teenagers from Essex in the back of the car. Maybe it happens often in Stoke. I don’t know.
He eventually dropped us off, about an hour after the theme park opened. (He had a lot of erra… oh god, he was a dealer, wasn’t he?) We said we’d meet up with him afterwards. We were lying. We didn’t want to meet again. We were a bit freaked out. We didn’t think he’d really come back for us anyway.
We went on four rides. Four. I can’t remember if the rest of the time was spent queuing, or just wandering about. I was tired. I hadn’t slept. I don’t even like rollercoasters. I went on Nemesis and worried the whole time that my trainers would get stolen (they didn’t). I went on Oblivion twice and worried my eyes were going to pop out if I kept them open when the ride dropped (they didn’t). I can’t remember what the other ride was called but it was kinda spinny and my friend’s elbows injured my ribs. Ow.
It got to the point where we were going to have to try getting back to the bus station somehow. We were just leaving, when, in a sea of strangers, we spotted our early morning chauffeur. And he spotted us. Balls.
Now, what follows is a bit blurry to me. I can’t remember where we went, or what we did. I remember pills, and I remember stopping at a garage because we needed air or water or something and someone produced some weed and a bucket and then suddenly we realised that hours had passed and we were going to be late for our bus home. And we were. We missed it by minutes.
We got back in the guy’s car. He didn’t really want to take two girls – one blatantly underage – back to his house, but he wasn’t enough of a dick to leave us on the streets. However, he was enough of a dick to chase the bus and drive the wrong way round a roundabout in order to cut it off and get us on it. He got out, we got out, the bus driver got out, and after a very heated exchange… we weren’t allowed on the coach. You can’t just randomly pick up passengers from any old place. Even if they have tickets and one of them is a child.
So one of his friends – who looked like Robbie Williams, incidentally – took all of us back to his house. And things are a bit hazy, but I remember his bathroom had a mirror that took up one whole wall and he had weights next to the toilet. My friend and I were given a bed to sleep in and a cat for company and they took us to the bus station the next day.
And I haven’t been to Stoke since.
A year or so later, I fell in love with someone from Uttoxeter, in that vehement way that I do. It didn’t last long. I always fall for the mercurial ones and can’t handle the way they make me feel. It’s like a damn rollercoaster.