Gulliver’s Land is a rather tired-round-the-edges theme park aimed at the under tens, which we used to go to a lot when the children were smaller. Suddenly, out of the blue a few weeks ago, Ellen asked if we could go there again. Closed in the winter months, Gulliver’s opens for a couple of weeks in December, where it is possible to book a ‘Christmas Experience’. A £14.95 per person midweek ticket entitles the lucky holder to an hour and three quarters on the rides (plenty in the freezing weather), enjoyment of the half hour ‘pantomime’, lunch and a visit to Santa. The only concession they make for disabled people is that Ellen was entitled to a free upgrade to an adult’s meal; turkey roll rather than chicken teddies…but nevertheless I went ahead and booked the tickets and today was the day of our visit!
The trip didn’t start all that auspiciously because as soon as we entered the park Ellen became a kangaroo and ‘boinged’ off rather quickly, speed-walking as she does I almost lost her a few times. After a few laps of the park (which is luckily quite small) I found her looking rather forlorn, standing by a part of the park that was blocked off. Her favourite rides – the flying carpet, the swings and the yellow boats – were all behind the barricade, disaster! I have no idea why this area was shut off, although by the looks of it it was a dumping ground for all the broken rides; tragically lined up were the multi-coloured balloons which used to belong to an incredibly slow balloon Ferris wheel – another favourite ridge of Ellen’s – more disaster. But low and behold Gulliver’s have a new balloon ride – and kangaroo went on it and loved it!
As you can see, the park was pretty well deserted. Apart from a handful of pre-school toddlers and their parents ,we were the only ones in the park. Before we had arrived at Gulliver’s, I’d talked to Ellen about going on at least one new ride as, like a lot of autistic people, she becomes very rigid in her routines and to try anything new is a major thing. I was happy that we’d got on the ‘new’ balloon ride to be honest, but whilst we were up in the air I spotted another new ride, horses traversing very slowly round a small track. I wondered aloud whether kangaroo might like to go on a horse, and as she didn’t object we went there next. Disaster almost struck again when I read that the ride was only for children under 1m 50cm; strictly no adults. Ellen was just over the 1m 50 mark and I knew that the man really wanted to refuse her going on but as (a) there was no one else on the ride and (b) I was damned if I was going to let him say no when she was actually looking keen, I found myself saying merrily ‘Oh thank you so much for letting her on, it’s really kind of you’ and whether it was that, the Christmas spirit, or the fact that Ellen was already getting on a horse I don’t know, but he let her on and as you can see she loved it.
After this, because Ellen had been on the horses on her own, she wanted me to go on the ‘Boots’ ride on my own. On this ride, large boots slowly travel round in a circle and can be moved up and down by the press of a button. Obviously I felt (and looked) like a right saddo sat in this thing on my own, but Ellen was very happy watching me and even took a photo and a video of me on the ride. ‘Kangaroos don’t like the buzzing noise’ she declared as soon as I’d got off, but she was happy enough to go back on the balloon ride.
We went on a few more things before we totally froze; a small train with a non-working bell ‘it’s run out of energy’ Ellen declared, the teacups – ‘stay on as long as you want!’ said the operator with enthusiasm. Oh god, I thought don’t say that, I’m not good at the teacups at the best of times. The previous operator had rather worryingly wobbled off to first aid having apparently somehow managed to hit his head on a teacup. Lots of the staff at Gulliver’s land are very young and inexperienced and can be somewhat monosyllabic. However, today I have to say they were all pretty enthusiastic, even through the terrible pantomime which was some sort of Gully Mouse meets Alice in Wonderful fusion which must be short for confusion; containing as it did some feeble magic tricks. Still it was warmer than being outside.
So yes, Gulliver’s Land still looks like it could do with a coat of paint, and no one seems to have taken into account the fact that from the top of the new balloon ride you get a prime view of their rubbish area. The positives of the day do outweigh the negatives. Ellen went on not one but two new rides. She sat through the pantomime when she usually refuses to go into a theatre. She even went in to see Santa – in her kangaroo persona of course – and Santa coped with this curved ball rather well. One of the ‘yoof’ even opened the sweet shop just for us so that Ellen could get some pick-and-mix. And, above all Ellen wants to go back in the summer when all the rides are back open.
I think however, this time it will be her Dad’s turn to take her.