Once upon a time, there was a fellow called Mr Blobby. He was bulbous and pink with big yellow spots, and back in the 1990s he was very popular for a while. He would knock things over and mess things up, repeating his catchphrase “blobby blobby blobby”. Some people thought he was hilarious but other people thought he was just very annoying. He was often on the television, and even had a number one record, cleverly called “Mr Blobby.”
His daddy, Noel, thought so much of Mr Blobby that he decided it would be a great idea to build a special Blobby theme park, and he did. For a while people flocked to see Crinkley Bottom in Somerset, to marvel at Mr Blobby’s house, Dunblobbin, and laugh at the antics of actors taking turns in the Blobby costume.
But soon the novelty wore off and the visitors stopped coming. The moss and weeds invaded Dunblobbin, and it stood neglected and forgotten. Until one day a man in a suit came by, and decided to buy the ruined park. He had a plan.
The man in a suit was called Slater, a property man. Blobby park was tacky and dilapidated but it sat on an attractive site with excellent transport connections. His plans needed more space, and he had quietly bought up large pieces of land around the old site. Also he recognised talent, and had heard about Dean Costello.
The French might call him an enfant terrible, the Germans might call him a wunderkind. Just 29 years old, flamboyant and louche, Costello had already started to transform the theme park world. Beginning from a junior position at Disney, he had turned around sagging visitor numbers at Disneyland Paris by devising exciting new attractions and by adding new twists to old favourites. Disney had copied his ideas to their other parks with great success, and Costello had been well rewarded.
But he felt he had outgrown the Company, and the Company, becoming wary of his increasingly ambitious and edgy ideas – some of which they felt were unsuitable for a family attraction – didn’t argue. So Costello parted from Disney, quite wealthy thank you very much, but now he was starting to get bored. So the two men went into partnership: Slater would bring his property savvy and arrange the finance, while Costello would design the park.
They called it Buzzworld-X. It wasn’t for children or young families: there would be a minimum age of 16 for admission, 18 for the numerous bars and some of the rides. This would be a place where teenagers and young adults would want to come: professionals with money to spend, stag and hen parties. A destination where you could spend two or three days, and would stay for a couple of nights in onsite hotels. Costello, liberated from the constraints of Disney, set to work with relish on designing high-octane attractions.
The park opened in a blaze of publicity, and the guests on that first weekend had never experienced anything like it. Did you ever ride the Tower of Terror? The Terror is supposed to arise from sitting down in a seat, clipped in with a safety harness, as an elevator pretended to plummet in a scheduled and carefully managed drop.
Buzzworld-X’s Death Drop was different – Costello wanted to give them the fright of their lives. He had specified a tower tall enough for a three second freefall drop. The lucky punters were given ferocious health warnings and made to sign a blood-curdling waiver. No seats, no seatbelts. They were taken up to a great height in a theatrically creaky lift, by dustily uniformed bellhops who were clearly part of the show. Nothing happened for a full five minutes, although some conspicuous signals had been given: the bellhops started exchanging nervous glances. A couple of security men came in and started conferring in anxious whispers.
After a while the mood among the guests turned from nervous anticipation to genuine fear, and one of the security men moved the bellhops aside and began an announcement: “Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, we have been advised there is an issue with this attraction. May we ask…”
There was a loud wrenching sound, the lift lurched to one side and suddenly plummeted, in a way that did not feel controlled at all. At that moment, most of the customers believed they were about to die. There were enough sightlines that they could see ground level approaching at speed, but they didn’t know there was a deep subterranean chamber where the fall would be cushioned.
The park roller coasters were ramped up to the maximum g-force fit and healthy guests could stand: anyone admitting to the mildest condition was excluded. Mechanical and hologram technology was harnessed to completely persuade riders that their car was about to hit a solid brick wall at 70 miles per hour.
The guests were usually too terrified to enjoy the attractions at the time, but in retrospect, buoyed by relief at their survival, realised they had actually had a wonderful time, and told all their friends that yes, they really must go. Soon Buzzworld-X was booked out at weekends, busy all through the week.
Some of the attractions were sex or alcohol themed, and the tabloid press was soon raging against this “depraved, decadent and dangerous” park. Of course the bad publicity only made people want to visit even more. Kids rushed to go as soon as they turned sixteen: it became a rite of passage.
Inevitably there were casualties. There were heart attacks and seizures, injuries as guests, in their terror, tried to escape. One woman leapt to her death, believing she was about to be consumed by the flames of Hellfire Hall. Unsurprisingly these incidents were more frequent than at more sedate adventure parks, but guests seemed happy to accept the risk that came with the extra thrills: indeed the sense of real danger only seemed to pull the punters in. Buzzworld-X made a big feature – and quite a lot of money – out of selling life insurance as an add-on to the tickets.
Costello’s proudest creation, though, was Gun Battle. You took your seat in a wild west style steam train, cow catcher and all, which trundled through a creaky wooden town. You peered, unimpressed at actors playing out a stagey gunfight. Suddenly a group of hooded men with genuine looking modern weapons stormed in and appeared to shoot the cowboys, who collapsed with copious blood pouring from their wounds.
Thus far you might have believed you were watching the scheduled attraction. Then the gunmen mounted the stage and started aiming into the train, and several of the passengers – perhaps including the one sitting next to you – then collapsed in a pool of blood. You weren’t to know that these were park employees, posing as typical customers, paid to pretend to die several times a day. More than once, serious injuries were caused by the stampede for the exits.
The first summer had exceeded their most optimistic projections, and bankers were besieging Slater with offers of finance for expansion. One Friday evening in September, Slater arrived at the park to treat Costello to dinner at the resort’s swankiest restaurant, said to be in the running for a Michelin rosette. Without waiting to be asked, the waiter brought a bottle of Dom Perignon to their table. The two men felt pretty good as they sipped their champagne and sampled their amuse-bouches.
“You’ve done a fantastic job Dino” said Slater, waving his arms expansively. “How do you get all these crazy ideas?”
“Oh, they just…come into my head…”
“But you have them so well trained! I saw those gun dudes just outside…they’re pretty damned convincing! If I didn’t know better…”
“You know, from Gun Battle.” Costello continued to look blank.
“Gun Battle’s closed until Sunday. We had to give it a deep clean.”
“Then who on earth…” But Costello was no longer listening. He was staring towards the entrance to the restaurant. Slater followed his gaze and they flung themselves under the table.