If you’ve read much of this rubbish you will probably know that I have been to the top of both the Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building in New York. I have spent time looking out over the city from both which offer mesmerising views of everything from the Statue Of Liberty and the Chrysler Building to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. The Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building are high. Very high. And I don’t like high. But if you’re going all that way….
Compared with all of this the top of Blackpool Tower was going to be a breeze. Hopefully without too much of an actual breeze considering high winds had stopped us going up there the day before. But easy. No bother. It stands 158 metres high, or 518 feet which must be some sort of mathematical anomaly. Surely not all heights and distances can be converted from metres to feet using the same digits? No, they can’t as we will see but it should be remembered that I failed GCSE Maths twice. When I say failed I mean I got a D when I needed a C. I got it at the third time of asking, which I still believe is down to the fact that nobody marks maths papers and instead names are drawn out of the education authorities’ equivalent of the FA’s velvet ballbag. Once they have the required number of successful candidates the rest get sent back to re-sit. In my case I re-sat with one-time Saints centre and winger and noisiest person in the class Andy Haigh, and Andy Mikhail who once carried Sonny Nickle on his shoulders in a particularly exuberant celebration of some Saints win or other and can now be found managing the affairs of St.Helens’ middleweight boxing contender Martin Murray. I’m an administrator for a wonderful organisation I am still not allowed to name. Maybe you had to be called Andy to go on to greater things from that maths re-sit class.
Which name dropping bullshit does nothing to lead us to where we should be going. Which is comparing heights of well known global landmarks in tenuous preparation for my telling you about the day I went to the top of Blackpool Tower. So allow me to continue. The Empire State Building is more than twice the height of Blackpool Tower at 381 metres or 1250 feet, while Rockefeller Center stands 266 metres high or 872 feet. So given that, the 158 metres or 518 feet of Blackpool Tower was small beer. Except for the glass floor. Glass floors tend to freak me out a little bit. At the Yorvik Centre in York I had trouble crossing a glass floor which overlooked about a three-foot drop to a model of the old Viking digs beneath the glass. I was ok if I looked straight ahead but when I looked down at it and was hit by the optical illusion of nothingness beneath me I struggled a little bit. The glass floor was going to be interesting.
Getting there wasn't straightforward, however. The set-up is quite similar to the New York landmarks in that you are led from queue to queue by the staff before you actually reach the lifts to take you to the very top. There is information about the tower on the walls to distract you from the fact that you are waiting but the truth is that you are not waiting nearly long enough to be able to take it all in. Just long enough for it to annoy you. Included in the price of a ticket for the Blackpool Tower Eye, to give it its proper name, is a 4D show. So before you get to where you need to be, but after you have finished queuing and failing to read the end of the paragraph on the wall that you had started reading to make the waiting time go more quickly, you are given a quite absurd pair of 4D specs and ushered into a small theatre. Whatever happened to 3D? Is 5D a thing and if it is, is it hurtling towards us? In the 4D theatre there is a bar at absolutely the right height to stop someone at my eye level from seeing at least a quarter of the screen. None of which turns out to be particularly disappointing as the underwhelming 4D 'show' consists of a small boy who seems very taken by the tower, the ballroom and the circus and experiences some deranged fantasy about the whole thing launching like a rocket. Kylie Minogue's 'All The Lovers' is the soundtrack to all of this for reasons which are beyond my comprehension. But then I could only see three quarters of the screen so perhaps I missed something. Perhaps the names of all of Kylie Minogue's lovers scrolled across the screen like headlines on the Sky News ticker.
On the subject of tickers (another seamless link) the lift to the observation deck is not for the faint hearted. It's fairly transparent so you can see the framework of the tower as you go up to the top. We also had the bonus view of the scaffolding which currently envelopes parts of the tower as they carry out some refurbishments. If anything needs refurbishment it is the 4D show. Regardless, Blackpool Tower currently (at least at the time of our visit but bear in mind that I am writing this six weeks later) looks like an enormous version of my house, which is currently unrecognisable due to all of the building work going on. On the first day of work the builders phoned Emma and told her that they would have to remove my ramp, as if that wasn't really important and we could do without it. After all, Emma can help me inside and why the fuck would I want to go outside anywhere on my own given that I am a disabled retard who is a danger to himself and society? It's bad enough that I have to park my car at my mum and dad's house.
Back to the Blackpool Tower lift. I had a sneaky peak outside but I spent most of the ascent looking straight ahead at the door of the lift. Unlike the windows at the side you can't see through the door in front of you so it becomes just like any other lift if you focus your gaze straight ahead. We were let out at the top and advised that when we were ready to go back down a member of staff would assist us in using the lift around the other side. Normally I get irritated when there are signs on lifts asking you to refrain from using them without a member of staff to assist you, but in this case I'm reassured by the idea. If this were a free for all and little Johnny was allowed to press the call button whenever the mood took him, and then the lift broke as a result, well then we'd all be buggered. Or at least I would. I don't know how many steps there are from the top of the tower to the bottom of it but in the event that the lift breaks no emergency service worker is assisting me in descending them. I'm waiting it out on the top deck, on the glass floor, until they fix the fecking thing. I don't even know if this thing has steps any more. Nobody uses them. And this a listed building. Progress, that.
The glass floor is on the west side of the tower and offers some very special panoramic views of the seaside town. Directly in front of you is a huge glass window overlooking the sea. I focused completely on this and rolled over the glass floor without giving it half as much thought as I had in York. Perhaps the views of the sea and the town were a useful distraction. In the Yorvik Centre I don't remember there being much to look at other than the glass floor and the model beneath it. If you looked in front of you, you might catch a glimpse of a pre-historic stool from some ancient bowel. In a frame. Or an interactive touch-screen offering you information about the history of the horned helmet. Certainly not Blackpool beach.
Having gained in confidence I decided to look down at the pavement below. It's at that point that you realise just how high 158 metres or 518 feet really is. You can expect to lose at least part of your stomach but hopefully none of your breakfast. On the ground below there is the comical sight of the outline of a human body, the kind that you see drawn around dead bodies in crime dramas on television or film. Nordberg, all of that. Beside the outline it just says.....'ouch...!'. Which is amusing but I suspect inaccurate. I'm not sure you would feel anything if you fell 158 metres or 518 feet on to a concrete pavement. It's not long before I stop contemplating this and go for another wander around the viewing deck. It's far easier to look at tall buildings in the distance than it is to dwell for too long on the pavement and the ant-sized people traipsing across it.
Predictably, the ride down in the lift takes a long time. Since you cannot operate the lift yourself you have to just wait until a member of staff becomes available to do it for you. By which time everyone has had enough of the views and the heights and wants to go back down aswell. You do get to go straight to the bottom though, so at least you are spared another viewing of all Kylie Minogue's lovers. Any more of that and you could be tempted to try to find out whether you'd feel anything if you jumped off the top of the tower.
With nothing too vital to get home for we decided to spend part of the afternoon in the Tower's other major tourist attraction, the dungeons beneath. Adverts dotted around the town promise 10 live actors taking you through the history of various types of horrific punishment in England, going back centuries. The actors take their responsibilities very seriously, which they should do for £15 a throw, never once showing even the merest hint that they might exit their characters at some point. They've zoned out completely, and become medieval peddlers of torture and instruments of torture. No expense spared in the special effects department either as at one point one lucky punter is sprayed with fake blood from a body lying prone in the centre of a small room. All of which is surprising given that the body is both a dummy and supposedly dead. In another scene a young girl is shown the delights of some ball-crunching instrument of pain before being invited to lock herself into a small cage while another tour guide character finishes telling us the about the many and varied painful ways there were to impose justice in those days. But just to prove that the old ways can still be effective and at a much cheaper rate, one man almost vacates his skin at the beginning of the tour when an actor dressed as a monk leaps up from behind a desk and shouts something along the lines of 'boo'. Or something.
Upon being led from room to room in the dungeons we also manage to get lost among a maze of mirrors, which has to rank as one of my worst nightmares.
Of course, if you go to enough of these sorts of things you are going to get picked on. It seems everyone loves a bit of audience participation. And so it was that inevitably, after one lady who had declared herself to be called Fred and was found guilty of fornicating with a horse or something, I was called upon to move forward into the spotlight to face a bit of medieval justice. The judge reminded me of David Schneider from I'm Alan Partridge and The Day Today. Except he had a robe on a stupid wig on, of course. He asked me my name...
"Geoffrey." I replied. No, I don't know why. It was just the first name I thought of.
"And where are you from, Geoffrey......?" he asks, in a voice that would have been at home in the local shop for local people in The League Of Gentlemen.
No, I don't know that either, except to say that I thought about saying Wigan and then felt like that was a bit too predictable. Believe it or not there is a point where even I start to think that hammering Wigan becomes a bit stale. I've known two people in my life who have lived in Skelmersdale, on the other hand, and both have assured me that it is an unblemished, perfect shit hole. Either way I was going to answer the two questions with anything other than 'Stephen' and 'St.Helens'. I can't remember rightly what I was accused of. It may even have been more equine fornication, but naturally enough I was found guilty. But he'd already punished me by sending me to audience participation hell for the last ten minutes and charging me £30 (there were two of us, remember) for the privilege.
There was nothing more he could to me now.