Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Luna Park: Coney Island's Gone All Captain Sensible

Luna Park. For most Sydney-siders, the name conjures images of the famous big smile, the Ferris Wheel that provides ridiculously brilliant harbour views, the cringe factor that is The Mighty Mouse and everyone's favourite spew-generator: The Rotor.

On top of all that, it's Coney Island that we fondly remember from our childhood. The seriously old-school wooden slides, the rotating barrel that you have to walk through, the mirror maze and the moving floors known as The Wonky Walk.

For me Coney Island in my childhood was all about The Joy Wheel. I only discovered it's name 3 seconds ago when I Googled it. Prior to that, I knew it as "the big upside down plate that spins and you have to try to stay on" ride.

Fun times. But I feel compelled to tell you....something's changed.

We recently took the kids to Luna Park. It was a great day, kids had a ball, everyone was happy, it was all good.

From the moment we arrived the kids were stinging to get to Coney Island and frankly, I was a little eager myself. After climbing the stairs to the giant slide 387 times with Miss 5, the kids decided (thank God) they wanted to ride the dish thingie. I mean, The Joy Wheel.

So husband and I got a rest while they joined the queue. We watched as they made their way into two separate queues - one for the little kids, one for the bigger kids. Oh, that's cool.

The attendant pulled back the rope and the smaller kids were permitted to enter. About six or seven of them rushed up onto the middle of the wheel and sat their little bottoms down, looking around to locate mum or dad, sussing out their competition.

At this point, the attendant roped off the entrance and made his way onto the dish. Interesting. He then asked all the kids to stand up again. He proceeded to move them one by one, making his way around the dish until they formed a perfect circle, facing outwards. While we stood watching, sweating like pigs because SUMMER, he asked the children to sit once again, maintaining their perfect circle.

Naturally, the kids who had ridden before weren't interested in this shit and wiggled their bottoms back into the middle of the plate to improve their chances of winning the elusive Joy Wheel challenge. Nope, that wasn't going to wash with attendant man who insisted they all stand and start again.

When the children finally complied and the operator was happy with said child placement, he started the ride. Oh wait, no he didn't. He took to the microphone and rattled off 30 seconds of instructions!

"Now children, if I can just draw your attention to page 43 of the safety brochure....."

It was then that husband and I slowly turned to each other, our eyebrows twisted into full question marks.

"Is it just me?" I said, whispering in case someone had a bionic ear and would hear me over raving attendant. "Is this how you remember this ride?"

Husband shook his head slowly, both perplexed and disgusted. "No," was all he said. When the ride actually started, the attendant continued to bark instructions, ensuring hands did not touch the plate or any other child. When a kid slid off, the ride was switched to a painfully slow spin until that child had climbed over the barrier and exited the ride area.

And if a parent dared wait for their child near the exit, they were told nice and loudly over the microphone to move on. Oh. My. Godfather.

I'll tell you how I remember the ride. The rope was pulled back and you ran for your life onto the plate, pushing and shoving past 20 other kids, some twice as big as you, trying to get your arse into the middle of that wheel. The ride went full swing as soon as everyone was on and if you started slipping, you grabbed onto any limb you could (or probably a pair of flares) and you hung on for dear life. If clinging to someone else wasn't enough to keep you on the dish, you took that loser with you. You flew off at high speed and you bloody-well loved it.

I don't think the Joy Wheel even spins as fast as it used to. I also think Wagon Wheels are much smaller than they used to be; so maybe it's just me. But I don't know....I'm just not convinced on either of these things.

Now I get that we've come a long way in terms of personal safety. I agree that there's nothing more precious in our life than our kids and I'm sure that these new procedures have prevented a lot of sprained wrists but far out, talk about a freakin' kill-joy.

I'm not kidding people, watching this ride was like watching M.A.S.H. after Henry Blake and Trapper John left. It was OK, but you knew it used to be so much better. You knew it should be so much better.


I've often looked back at the '70's and wondered how so many of us lived. You know what I mean. But we did, and we rocked that bloody Joy Wheel like these kids will never know.

Do you remember Coney Island as a reckless free-for-all? And did you love it?

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