I’m hungover, again. All the best stories start with a hangover, so now I attempt to drink whenever I can in case a rogue story appears the next morning and I have to deal with it. I am folded in half, crammed into the back of a purple car designed for a person half my height.
“Keep your arms in off the side,” says the woman in charge of the ride. Beside me, metal bolts slide into place which don’t strictly bar my egress but mean that I would have to dislocate both my knees if I wanted to get out.
“There’s a parrot,” she says, dead-eyed. “Smile when you see the parrot.”
I am at Cadbury World, a corporate theme park and chocolate propaganda warehouse nailed onto the back of the factory four miles South of Birmingham. I’m not a chocolate snob – I’m not a complex man to begin with – but it’s been an hour and I’m already tired of Dairy Milk. The instructional videos, during which you are physically locked in a room by automatic doors so you have to watch and cannot escape, treat Dairy Milk as a sort of modern panacea, a cure to all the world’s ills developed by the Socialist Visionary Mr Cadbury and his assistants.
It’s not that. It’s not that by a long shot. It’s nice, for sure, because sugar and milk are nice and it’s an easy way to eat those things without using a spoon or a glass. But it doesn’t taste of much, really, and it leaves your mouth coated in a sort of semiliquid brownish deafness after you’re done eating it.
Anyway. I am sick and fucking tired of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and now the Cadabra Ride is beginning and I cannot escape without dislocating my knees.
THE BROCHURE LIED
The Cadabra ride is one of the “Fourteen Amazing Zones” that the brochure lied about, right there, right on the front cover. One of them is “The Purple Planet” which is, and I shit you not, a curved wall covered in tinfoil and surrounded by mirrors. That’s not an Amazing Zone. You could claim the toilets were an Amazing Zone by those criteria. Maybe the automatic doors. Who knows. Could be that’s all lined up for the 2015 refurbishment.
The Cadbra ride is impressive because it manages to be so underwhelming it comes out the other side and overwhelms you, leaving you staggered as to how such a thing can continue to exist. It is, at the root of it, a haunted house with no ghosts or skeletons but is somehow, subtly, more distressing than any haunted house I’ve been inside.
It is a “magical journey” through the world of chocolate making which manages to be less exciting than the non-magical version of events, lead by a gaggle of partially-animated brown egglike creatures called Chuckle Beans. Roll that those words around in your mouth for a while. “Chuckle Beans.” Chuckle. Beans. Nothing good is going to come of those words. Think about them. Write down the first three things that Chuckle Beans could be, screw the list up, and throw it in the bin.
The Chuckle Beans are bastards the lot of them, represented by either a) shonky little models that hide in tiny houses or emerge from dustbins and watering cans around the area, as though they’ve built their horrendous warrens amongst humankind and keep us awake at night with their manic laughter or b) CGI models, but the sort of CGI models you’d associate with mid-90’s bowling alley scorecard animations. They speak in absurdly high voices, inaudible to humans, as though the whole ride was designed for dogs and people were allowed in as an afterthought.
The car – a yellow and purple car, everything here is either yellow or purple or both – shuffles around a track at the sort of speed that makes you painfully aware of how fast your fingernails are growing. I could get out, I think. I could stand up, eventually, and walk out of here, towering over all the tiny models, brushing my head against the low ceiling. What would the dead-eyed woman at the front say? Would she let me out? What happens when someone just walks out of the damn thing? Is that covered in their employee handbook? It must be. You must get walkouts every day. Weaker men than me would charge out of here in droves.
THE PARROT APPEARS
We go deeper into the land of the Chuckle Beans and there are faces, there are faces everywhere, there are faces where there ought not to be faces at all. There are too many faces. The bushes, the cardboard and plastic bushes, are moving. The Beans aren’t. What’s in the bushes? Are the beans fucking in there? Is that how they breed? That’s disgusting. Their little shiny brown bodies tensed in coital rictus, cocoa butter smeared everywhere, and those faces, those faces, always watching.
We walked around the factory before this, and right in the middle of the place set up in a corner that would otherwise be bare stood the shadiest-looking “Face and Body Painting” stall I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to raves AND Northern church fairs. There were a couple of women sat hunched under a banner reading “HAPPY EASTER” and various badly-lit photographs of their work. It looked like they’d broken in and set up shop in an effort to extort money. Maybe they had.
With a flash the parrot appears, a mad squawking thing covered in not enough multicoloured feathers, bursting through a window and instructing us to smile. A video of a high-pitched Chuckle Bean mangles out words that used to be English into an approximation of “Say cheese!” and holds up a camera. I do not smile. I thought it would be fun to look disapproving instead, but it turns out – as I saw after the ride was over – that I just looked small, and hunched-up, and scared. The place had got to me.
(There was a sign next to the sales desk that read “We reserve the right to refuse to sell any pictures that we deem inappropriate” and, you know, there’s a story there)
Anyway. At least it’s over, I think, except it wasn’t. The makers of Cadabra wisely determined that putting the camera at the end of this psychedelic shitfest would capture the point where people got angry at everything they’d seen, so they put it just after the first third of the ride in an attempt to counterfeit expressions of confusion as, I dunno, joy?
So immediately, of course, the ride turns a corner and enters an ice world because that’s the next idea the people had when they were making this and it was clearly designed in one go whilst blindfolded. There are a pair of cows looking at the ice world next to six milk churns, all of which have terrifying, gurning faces painted on them. This was clearly not designed for children, or at least the people who designed this had clearly never interacted with children. Perhaps they just watched them through playground fences and took notes. This – the goggle-eyed cows, the tooth-crunching milkchurn bastards – is the sort of thing that scars a child forever.
Distinct details are fading, now, a day after it happened, and the whole thing starts to run together into a blurry smear. I remember that some of the Chuckle Beans were sitting in deckchairs in the midst of this Arctic wilderness and that was somehow supposed to be funny. There was a cactus wearing a scarf. I think there was music. There must have been music. The whole thing played out like the sort of It’s A Small World After All ride that you might buy out of a wire basket in a motorway petrol station.
Earlier on in the day a tired-looking man in his mid forties with a dog hand puppet spoke to us while we stood in the impossibly long queue to get in, and he told us about the magic and puppet shows that were happening later on that day while the kids petted the puppet. A little further up the queue, he spoke to a Cadbury’s employee in her fifties with permed hair and the sort of makeup you apply with a spade, and she coquettishly toyed with the dog’s chin across the purple crowd divider while they spoke. Were they fucking, off-camera, once the lights are shut off? Does she rip off his striped waistcoat and dog and he her ill-fitting purple fleece and trousers and do the pair of them rut messily on the break-room floor?
BURST INTO TEARS
The ice world gives way to a cave bathed in UV light, which like all UV lights serves as a great indicator of where my dandruff is. It also shows markings on the walls, cave paintings in a variety of different fluorescent colours, presumably drawn there by the ancient ancestors of the Chuckle Beans, and I think some of them might have been hunting something. It’s hard to take that much crud in. It was like falling downstairs. It was awful.
There is a small child in the car with us and part of me wishes it would burst into tears so that I could validate the way I feel about this 99p Golgotha. It doesn’t. This whole thing makes my teeth hurt in more ways than I can really understand.
The cave ends and we’re out. A man tells us that we can buy pictures of ourselves at a kiosk down the corridor from here and I almost grab him and ask why, why would anyone want to do that, why would they want a memento of this cobbled-together bollocks, but I don’t because that would be weird. But almost.