Thursday, April 26, 2012

Where dreams come true

After some bad experiences, I don't stay in dorms so much any more - unless I'm in an expensive country like Japan, where even a shelf in what feels (and smells) like a laundry cupboard will set you back a couple of thousand yen. But there is one benefit I've noticed to sleeping in shared rooms and being woken several times each night by someone's unpleasant snoring and other nocturnal emissions - it's really conducive to wacky dreaming and recall.

I don't dream as much as I used to, or at least most of the time there's nothing worth remembering. I long for the nights when I'd wake with excitement after some gothic nightmare of an unseen presence looming in an architecturally impossible castle, animatronic exhibits that became inexplicably horrifying when activated, descending a staircase into darkness and being gripped with terror or being cast out into the unending void of space, to name a few common tropes. I was probably a bit of a weird kid.

Although I don't have nightmares any more, I still occasionally have dreams that make me laugh, and that I'm convinced are genuine comedy gold for about five minutes after waking. Until I look back over my hazily scrawled notes later in the day and realise that not only are they not funny, they actually make no sense whatsoever. Here's an example of a joke somebody told me in a dream that genuinely caused me to laugh myself awake:

Q: What's the heaviest thing in the world?
A: A pterodactyl with a rock.

What does that even mean? When I told this to Oliver, he said it made him laugh, which is either a compliment to the writing skills or my unconscious or an early warning sign of mental illness on his part.

Recently, I've had a few dreams that have stood up in the harsh light of daytime criticism and given me hope that maybe my imagination hasn't been completely pulverised by the corporate adult world. So, like a latter day Lovecraft, Coleridge or de Quincey, I thought I'd appropriate one of these enjoyable dreams near-verbatim and make an almost entirely unembellished short story out of it.

Megazone Revisited

My father built his own theme park.* That's a statement that carries a fair amount of positive baggage, so I'll handily offload all that by telling you it's not as good as it sounds. No, that hasn't worked, I can still sense a minor spark of optimism there. Fortunately, you've caught me when I'm just about to take a tour of this dilapidated, embarrassing ruin, so I can fill you in as we go along.
* Not in real life, in the fictional world of this dream that I'm now writing as a short story. Got it? Good. I won't have you holding back the rest of the class.
But first things first, you're really going to have to lower those expectations. No, those are still too high. Think smaller. Alright, now you're getting somewhere. Mind your jeans on that bit of jagged metal.

It's unlikely you've heard of Megazone, unless you happened to live in the South Cheshire area during its pathetically brief operational lifespan between Saturday 19th March 1994 and Wednesday 18th May 1994. There was a time when a genuine, albeit modest sense of excitement was centred around this doomed attraction, from its low-key opening day announcement in local papers right up to the point at which families passed through these gates, once pastel pink and inviting, now the colour and texture of diseased pie crust.

You can still visit Megazone today, as far as this remote plot of land not having been repurposed and most of the original structures still standing in varying states of deterioration. But it's changed. A growing landfill of beer cans and Bacardi Breezer bottles inside Mr Silly's House is evidence that young people have finally found some way to enjoy this place, which should be some consolation at least. My father didn't concern himself with obtaining the rights to use the Mr Men characters, incidentally, but I doubt the estate of Roger Hargreaves could prove any similarity between this asymmetrical fibreglass splodge and their classic character even if anyone had noticed.

While even the most complimentary review of Megazone from back then (not that there were any) would struggle in all good consciousness to describe this place as having an 'atmosphere,' whatever general ambience it once possessed has noticeably shifted with its decline into disrepair and safety hazard. What was once, at best, a disappointing venue for a family day out (at least it was clean) now stands as either a caution against thoughtless investments, a memorial for the death of some perceived traditional British value or other, or a quiet place for ambitious young people to fumble their way through formative sexual experiences, provided they've had their tetanus jabs.

What you're doing here is your business, I'm here to administrate. Which is a fancy title for clearing out garbage and trying to make this pointless place slightly less of a death-trap, to stave off the inevitable lawsuit that will finally finish this family off. It's not even a fancy title, is it? But it's better than the alternatives.

It's not only the Mr Men who make appearances here, you can spot a couple of other relics from then-popular franchises strewn around this unkempt ghost town too, which should help you to date this place. Or at least they would, if my father hadn't limited his pop culture research to the two of his three children who'd developed the capacity for speech by 1993-4. My tastes have never exactly been mainstream, even back then, before the public humiliation of Megazone had its full, irreversible impact on my social life in and out of school and I had to seek solace in the niche interests of pariah groups like the Manga fans, who seemed happy to take anyone. I never did succeed in getting aroused by my friends' enthusiastic illustrations of tentacles wending their slimy ways into anatomically inaccurate orifices (almost as if we didn't really know much about that sort of thing), but these are the sacrifices you have to make when your credentials are so low that even the goths won't touch you.

Over there, you can see the characters from Fantastic Max, and their baby-bottle rocket ship. Don't remember Fantastic Max? That's alright, it does tend to fall off the nostalgia radar for being short-lived and rather unmemorable. Don't expect Michael Bay to release a big-budget feature film adaptation any time soon, is what I'm getting at. But what can I say? It's what my six-year-old brother happened to be watching when our father rushed through another expensive decision that his children would continue paying for long after he took the easy way out.

And over there you can see Ristar. That one not ringing any bells either? He was a video game character who grabbed stuff with his arms, it was quite a forgettable game, sort of like a low-rent Sonic the Hedgehog. Yes, you've heard of that one. He could have gone with Sonic, I suppose. But he didn't, he went with Ristar. I feel you might be gaining an understanding now, of the sort of short-sighted planning that prevented this place from becoming South Cheshire's most lucrative tourist attraction. It could have put Astbury on the map.

Looking at it today, perched on top of that refuse mound, those bent points jutting out of Ristar's fibreglass head bring to mind the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes. I can imagine my father prostrate on his knees, decrying man's inhumanity to Megazone. You maniacs! You didn't understand my vision! God damn you all to hell.

It's not all curiously obscure franchising though, and my father took the bold/over-optimistic move of developing branding of his own for the park's main features. This only extended as far as clumsily inserting 'Mega' into the ride names, for wont of a general lack of consistency in colour, style or theme. The Mega Viking Ship used to be over there, next to the derelict Mega Bites restaurant (my father didn't capitalise on this pun with 1990s computer imagery, I doubt he even noticed). But now this ride is long gone - which is just as well, as it always stood out for being inappropriately entertaining. Along with the Mega Teacups ride, the Viking boat was sourced from another dead theme park in the Midlands and doubtless continued its journey through more failed parks and dilapidated fun fairs until someone did the decent thing and gave it a Viking funeral on a landfill somewhere. It was always too good for us.

I won't let my bitter personal grievances obscure the facts in all this, and I confess that this park did have another quite good ride. You won't have failed to spot that menacing structure of girders and angled track circling the perimeter - if only someone would pay for its safe demolition, I might actually be able to get on with my life without existing day-to-day in fear of the inevitable phone call about some adventurous young boy climbing the scaffold and plummeting to his death, but I digress. This was the park's feature attraction, a log flume ride, and rather fittingly a drain into which most of the park's finances gurgled.

In retrospect, Totally Mega might seem to be an appropriate name for a ride built in the early 90s, if you're under the mistaken impression that this was common parlance among kids back then. 'Have you seen the Power Rangers film?' 'Yeah, it's totally mega,' for example. This wasn't the case. Not before Saturday 19th March 1994 anyway, after which it became a permanent fixture into the lexicon of my school friends and enemies. Why call something 'good,' 'nice' or even 'fantastic' in the presence of the kid whose dad built that shit theme park, when you have the option of responding with 'that sounds Totally Mega?' You'd just be missing a trick.

Though it wasn't just the name that became well-known among this demographic, as most of them had actually taken the ride themselves, or at least heard the story second-hand from other people who rode it again and again and again. If Megazone's financial losses hadn't been so catastrophic, this place could have continued receiving visitors on a purely ironic basis.

The ride itself was nothing to write home or taunt that kid in the playground about, rather it was the distinctive feature of a recorded audio commentary provided during the ride by the owner himself - my father - that's made Megazone's memory live on. I feel fortunate that Megazone was too short-lived and obscure for its infamy to have spread further than the local region - you won't see it appearing in those Britain's Crappest Days Out paperbacks, though arguably it deserves pride of place - but even today, this excruciating and bizarre log flume commentary is still firmly ingrained into the consciousnesses of hundreds of twentysomethings who probably won't die until the turn of the century. There are just too many of them to make serial killing a practical option. Once you've heard it, you can't un-hear it.

I don't know if my father was paying for studio time by the second or was just too unprofessional to try out a second take, but from the stammering ride safety instructions at the beginning to the infamous final scream, the whole thing is crying out for an editor. I'm not surprised that my father wanted to record the track himself, not only to save the money of hiring a professional voice actor who knows the correct distance to sit from the microphone to avoid muffling, but also because the childish sod was really into the ride. He bloody loved it. Say what you will about the unprofessionalism, eccentricity or borderline mental illness of the ride commentary (there's much to be said), it's overflowing with enthusiasm. This is the nub of the problem.

There were three splashdown drops on the Totally Mega ride, and the final one was, not to break with tradition, the big one. As he sat in the recording studio, without a carefully prepared script or even some hastily written notes, making the mental journey up to the final drop with perfect timing, getting into character, feeling the anticipation of hundreds of thousands of future riders reaching this same pivotal point, my father recorded the line: 'it's the big one, this.'

'It's the big one, this?' There's naturalistic dialogue and then there's 'it's the big one, this.' But the riders don't have time to process what just happened, as their log tilts over to the final splashdown and my father joins in with their (presumably) excited screams in his own pre-recorded, painfully loud, unprofessionally close to the microphone, bloodcurdling 'RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!'

For years afterwards, my friends and enemies would find inventive ways (or, more often, just ways) to interject the catchphrase 'It's the big one, this - RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!' into any conversation. My life was ruined.

Dads, eh?

Other recent dreams of note:

  • Sonic the Hedgehog's Let Himself Go
  • See, I Told You I Couldn't Drive
  • Secret Shed Sarcophagus
  • You're Removing That Rib Cage Far Too Often
  • 'Think of a cross between Asda, Live & Kicking and Conan the Barbarian'
  • Unexpected erotic dream about Alison Brie from Community
  • I Just Dreamed You Died... And Then You Did! (In the Dream)
  • Adam & Joe's Incompetent Heist
  • Phallangalate Me

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