Â How long would YOU queue to scream for 165 seconds?Â '“Â Simon CarterÂ
Us Brits are world class at queuing. We might not like it, we might moan while doing it, but we still do it.
Why? Because we're Brits and that's what we do.
We queue for high street shop sales, to get tickets for sporting events, and at supermarket tills '“Â especially if stuck behind an old woman hunting for loose change in her purse in the latter.
But how about this? Have you ever queued for over 90 minutes '“ an hour and a half '“Â just to do something that lasts for 165 seconds?
And, what's more, for most of those 165 seconds you will be emitting a noise that sounds suspiciously like 'waaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggghhhhhhhhh.' I suspect most people would answer 'no' to that question, but if you said 'yes' then congratulations '“Â like me, you've obviously ridden The Smiler at Alton Towers.
The UK's most well known destination for thrill-seekers, Alton Towers is a 500-acre park in Staffordshire which ever since it opened in 1980 hasÂ contained all sorts of weird and wonderful structures to propel you at a variety of fast speeds for short periods of time after you've spent long periods of time queuing up for theÂ opportunity, enthusiastically taken by lots of people,Â going 'waaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggghhhhhhhhh.'
It possesses world class rollercoasters and an equally world class ability to relieve all those who pass through the gates of large chunks of cash '“Â especially if you have children in tow.
I visited for the first time ever earlier this month with my two kids aged 14 and 16. What follows isn't a travel feature by any stretch of the imagination; just a series of observations which help paint a fascinating picture of parts of 21st century UK society.
First off, anyone suggesting we are still living in times of austerity have never been to Alton Towers.
Thousands of people visit every day '“Â regularly over 10,000 during the holiday period '“ and tickets aren't cheap. For example, a two-day adult pass if booked a week or more in advance is Â£40.50.
Children aged 12 and above are classed as adults. Kids aged between 3-11 pay Â£35 for two days.
Cost for mum, dad and two kids '“Â one aged 14 and one 10, for argument's sake '“Â works out at Â£156.50. And that's before you factor in accommodation '“Â if you don't have the luxury of living nearby '“Â petrol costs, food and drink.
You could stay at the Alton Towers resort hotel for one night, but '“Â including tickets '“Â that same family of four would pay Â£323 to do so. And then there's the food and drink inside the park for two days, plus cash for ride photos and any souvenirs in the many gift shops which invariably are located as you exit each of the most popular rides (ie, you have to go through them '“Â a cunning marketing strategy indeed).
You could of course negate some of the huge queues via Fastpass, but it would cost you up to Â£60 to do so '“Â more expensive than the entry tickets in the first place.Â
There are also a selection of stalls where you could win very large cuddly toys, but we '“sorry, I mean the bank of dad '“Â went through Â£20 in next to no time failing to win any.
On one of the stalls all you had to do wasÂ throw two balls (which cost Â£2)Â just a bit bigger than a cricket ball into a large tilted bucket positioned literally three feet away.
It looked so ridiculously easy, but none of us could do it. The balls just bounced out. I watched others try '“Â no-one got one ball in, let alone two.Â
A few feet away, you could pay Â£3 and win a cuddly toy for successfullyÂ dangling from aÂ metal bar for twoÂ minutes by your hands.
Most lasted less than 20Â seconds, and again I didn't see anyoneÂ walk away with a large toy.Â One guy managed one and a half minutes but by the end had a pained look on his face akin to being whacked in the nether regions with a cricket bat.
I also paid Â£10 for sevenÂ attempts to throw a basketball into a hoop. I have no idea why, I hadn't seen anyone actually do it in the 10 minutes I was watching. One guy in front paid Â£30 '“Â Â it would have been easier, and cheaper, to buy one in a shop.
But that's the skill of Alton Towers (and the likes of Legoland and Thorpe Park are no different) '“Â once you're in, they are Jedi masters at making you part with even more money in a bid to win things you don't really need.
What's more, it costs Â£6 a day to park if you're not staying at one of the on-site hotels. More than a bit cheeky, bearing in mind everything I've already mentioned.
Now don't get me wrong, the ticket prices are reasonable. Premier League football fans pay over Â£30 for 90 minutes action, so Â£40.50 for two eight-hour days of screaming at the top of your voice bears healthy comparison.
Top quality entertainmentÂ nowadays rarely comes cheap, whether it's a sporting event, theatre production or music concert.
For example, if our hypothetical family or four want to see Madagascar the musical at the Kings Theatre in Southsea on August 23, they'll pay Â£80. Some may raise eyebrows at that figure, others might not. What is rather expensive to one person could be considered a bargain to the next one.
And it's worth repeating '“Â some of the rides at Alton Towers are world class. Nemesis, Oblivion and Galactica provide white knuckle thrills like few other rides in the UK, while if you want to know what it's like to go from 0 to 100km per hour in 2.5 seconds then Rita '“Â yes, Rita '“Â is for you.
And then, as mentioned at the start of this piece,Â there is the Â£18m spaghetti junction of metal called The Smiler, an inappropriately-named coaster possessing a world record 14 inversions.
You might well know that but, sadly, most people will know The Smiler better for the events of June 2015 when two youngsters had to have one of their legs amputated after the carriage they were in collided with a stationary one.
The park was shut for several days, reportedly costing theÂ Poole-based Merlin Entertainments group, which owns Alton Towers, half a million pounds every day.
Perhaps it's just me, but I'd have changed the ride's name after that '“Â if only out of respect to the two girls who suffered life-changing injuries.
Some of you reading this might never have been on an Alton Towers rollercoaster and, with The Smiler's tragic history in mind, some of you might like to keep it that way.
But incidents like the one three years ago are rare indeed. And judging from those who queued up alongside my daughter and I '“Â my son BenÂ has more sense! '“Â thousands of us remainÂ willingly happy to put our lives in others' hands.
Anyway, if we avoided all places where people have ended up maimed or killed, we wouldn't get past our front doors. We certainly wouldn't take a car, bus, train or plane journey.
That's my philosophical musing on theme park safety, which I admit wasn't at the forefront of my mind as I was merrily whizzed around 14 inversions in under two minutes with my daughter Ellen going 'waaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggghhhhhhhhh' next to me.
Ben certainly enjoyed Galactica, though. Here was a ride with a real difference '“Â the world's first 'virtual reality' coaster where riders wear headsets showing space-related visuals and graphics synchronised with the twists and turns of the coaster.
You can easily forget you're actually on a coaster flying through the Staffordshire air.
This could be a glimpse of the future. After all, when you've built coasters with 14 inversions and Oblivion-type sheer drops into black holes in the ground, you need to offer something different. Galactica is certainly that.
And talking of something completely different'¦
We also spent a few hours at the Alton Towers waterpark, which contains a flume with five different pre-programmed sound and light options '“Â including Calypso ('Baby Come Back' blasted out as you career your way down a cylindrical piece of plastic towards a splash pool finish) and Tropical Storm (thunder noises and flashing 'lightning' white lights).
I wasÂ fairly impressed '“Â after all, there's only so much you can do with an enclosed pipe and a large rubber ring. It goes without saying that we had to pay extra for the waterpark '“Â Â£16 each, for four hours of flume fun '“Â but, as you now understand, the Merlin Entertainments group don't do cheap.
The bottom line is this, though '“Â these places are hugely popular, ridiculously so in peak season.
People were queuing up for an hour for some of the flumes.
So the next time you're stuck behind an old woman in Tesco's while she hunts for loose change in her purse '“Â and you will be, don't worry '“ spare a thought for those of us who REALLY know what it's like to queue ... and pay through the nose for the privilege.