Tag Archives: Alton Towers

Putting a price tag on health

After twelve straight hours in the ER last Friday, my friend was finally admitted to the hospital. I manfully stifled my laughter as he was put in a wheelchair and slowly wheeled around the medical corridors like an 85 year old war veteran by a man in maroon overalls. I wouldn’t normally have controlled myself so well, but the look on the face of my friend suggested that he wouldn’t have been averse to getting out of the wheelchair and putting me in my own ER cubicle if I didn’t keep quiet.

Wheeling through the hallways of the ER, and into the main hospital itself, I looked puzzledly at the porter. Had he possibly made a wrong turn, and accidentally taken us through an adjoining door into the Brooklyn Hilton? After all, the floors seemed to be vaguely marbled, and the walls had dark wood panels that wouldn’t have looked out of place at some gentleman’s club in Pall Mall.

To be fair, the presence of a number of wheezing old ladies suggested that we’d either wandered into the host venue for the “Lucky Strike for Seniors” convention, or else the guy knew what he was doing. Before we knew it, he’d put the brakes on the wheelchair and left us infront of the door to one of the rooms.

Now, I’ve stayed in a few hotels. This time last year I was kicking back in a two floorduplex affair in the Greek islands, with an infinity pool just outside the French doors and the sea only a few short yards further away. I know the things that hotels can include just to make you feel like you’re in the greatest place on Earth.

Last time I checked though, that list of perks did not include ‘a bed containing an old bloke with a hacking cough’. Admittedly you could only rarely hear the cough, but that was largely because his television was loud enough to be audible in Georgia.

Given that it was almost midnight by now, I had to make my way back home. But before I pushed off, my friend asked if I could make my way down to the foyer to pick up some bottles of water for him. After all, we’d already watched in horror as the old man had drunk directly from the water jug provided for the room, and neither of us fancied supping on ‘eau de pensioner’.

With a security guard having given me the dubious stares reserved for somebody who seemed to be visiting four hours or so after visiting hours had finished, I wandered the corridors looking for some Poland Spring. It was only then that I truly realised that I was in America.

Firstly, the vending machines contained every manner of crisppotato chip known to man. From TGI Friday’s cheese and bacon flavour potato skins to onion and garlic snacks, it was a veritable high fat, high cholesterol temple. Don’t get me wrong, I grabbed myself a bag of something salty and sickeningly unhealthy for the trip home, but that doesn’t mean I condone it.

But even the snack factory couldn’t prepare me for the sight of the gift shop. Yes, you read it right. The gift shop. Stand aside Disneyland, back off Alton TowersSix Flags. You’ve got nothing on the American medical system and its desire to shift souvenirs on the ill and infirm. And what better for the friends and family of the sick to take their mind off their troubles than a little bit of retail therapy?

Given the late hour, the gift shop was sadly closed and as a result I can’t comment on the range of products available for purchase. I might go back this weekend though, and if they don’t have “Welcome To Brooklyn” colostomy bags and clothing with the slogan “My Grandma Had A Heart Attack And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt”, I’m going to be very disappointed.

Trains cost…and right here’s where you start paying

Everybody likes to get something for nothing. Whether it’s the complete stranger walking up to you outside a cinemamovie theatreer and offering you tickets that they can no longer use, or a snack company giving away sample products on the streets, there’s no greater bargain than ‘free’.

But like a junkie desperate for just one more fix, the joy of the occasional complimentary Mars bar sends some people into a desperate downward cycle to get everything for free. Whether it’s a few illicit music downloads or a pad of Post-It notes from the office, no ill-gotten cost saving is too small for the true freeloader.

I don’t have categorical proof, but I bet Buster Edwards and the rest of the Great Train Robbers pinched a pint of milk or two off Mrs Miggins’ doorstep when they were mere nippers. And if Jesse James worked as an intern in Corporate America today, I’d say there’s a fair chance you’d need to pay closer-than-normal attention to your paper clip supplies in the stationery cupboard. The acorn of today is the oak tree of tomorrow. Actually the acorn of today is still an acorn tomorrow, but I think you take my point.

Most freeloading I can deal with. That’s not surprising given that I work in the entertainment industry, the whole foundations of which would fall apart if it weren’t for the phrases ‘guestlist’ and ‘plus one’. But sometimes, the something-for-nothing brigade really just get my goat. Especially when they’re breaking The Rules.

The Special One often tires of my unwillingness to break The Rules. She’ll happily get up on a plane when the seatbelt signs are illuminated, or smuggle food into the movies, leaving me to harrumph quietly in the corner. She thinks her refusal to play the game makes her a maverick. I tried to point out that mavericks don’t read the Pottery Barn catalogue, but she was too busy plotting her next coup d’etat to listen.

In any case, I’ve got no problem with rule breaking. It’s just that if I’ve got to pay for a product or service, it’s pretty galling to see somebody next to me taking the same thing for free. Particularly when it comes to public transport.

In London, the fare evader generally takes one of two forms. There’s The Athlete, who looks at the ticket barrier in the same eager-to-jump kind of way that Colin Jackson or Ed Moses used to look at hurdles on a sports track. If you see somebody travelling on a tube train casually carrying around a pole vault pole, you can pretty much be sure that they’re just planning to do a runner when they get off at Edgware Road. Well, either that or they’re Sergei Bubka, obviously.

And then there’s The Close Companion. It may initially seem that The Close Companion is attracted to you by your irresistible scent or ability to pull off that ‘just stepped out of a hedge’ look. But don’t be fooled, he’s just trying to get through the ticket barrier in the same 2.8 seconds as you. By the time you realise what’s happened, you’re either flat on the floor or you’re being sworn at by a scrawny man with ‘love’ and ‘hate’ tattooed on his knuckles.

Here in New York, the fare evader takes on a completely different guise. Sure, there’s the occasional student jumping the barrier, or the otherwise well-to-do person who forgot their Metrocard and hasn’t got time – or more likely, the inclination – to go home for it. But when it comes down to it, the ultimate New York fare evader is The Parent Of A Six Year Old.

Apparently travel on the subway is free until you reach the height of 44 inches. But given that there’s no Alton TowersSix Flags style height measurement by the turnstiles into the subway, it’s difficult to prove who is or isn’t entitled to travel for nothing.

The ridiculousness of the whole thing reached new heights this morning when a kid who was practically as tall as me was prompted to duck the barriers by his mum. Such was his size, he practically had to slither sniper-style to get underneath. It was like watching Shaquille O’Neal’s mother forcing him to duck under the turnstile on a shopping trip to the Big Apple.

With the desire for free stuff so strong among New Yorkers, most parents seem to shove any child they can lay their hands on under the turnstile paddles in an attempt to beat the system. Don’t even think of crouching down to tie your shoelaces near the entrance to the subway – you’ll be mistaken for little Johnny and thrust under the barriers before you can say Harry Potter.