Having lived near to Alton Towers for the majority of my life I’ve been ‘fortunate’ enough to visit the theme park on an annual basis (sometimes more regularly). I guess there are three main reasons why I don’t go more often:

  1. the entry cost, which currently stands at £46.20 (although, if you book in advance it’s ‘cheaper’)
  2. I’m waiting for an operation on my jaw – therefore going at high speeds on a roller coaster is probably NOT recommended!
  3. if you go somewhere like that too often it becomes too familiar and actually rather boring. As a result, I get excited whenever I hear that they are in the process of developing a ‘new’ ride.

I was therefore really pleased to hear that in May we will see the arrival of ‘The Smiler’. (If the truth be told, I haven’t been this excited since the opening of ‘th13teen’ in 2010). Costing around £18 million and taking over a year to complete, ‘The Smiler’ is supposedly the first of its kind in the world as it combines the intense physical effects of plunging drops and turns, with five psychological mind manipulations: The Inoculator, The Tickler, The Flasher, The Giggler and The Hypnotiser – each designed to disorient and mislead it’s passengers.

According to Alton Towers: “This ride will put not just your body but also your mind through its paces… We want people to get off the ride and not know what is real. There are five different mind effects, which are all designed to mess with your head. You shoot towards giant syringes, spinning hypnotic wheels, and flashing lights, among other things.”

When I first read this, I thought it was actually describing my time at theological college! I’ve got to admit that even I was left smiling – it sounded hilarious! Having said this, the more I’ve thought about it the more horrendous it seems. I mean – “We want people to get off the ride and not know what is real” – WHAT??!! What is even scarier, is that the woman depicted on their current advertising is clearly terrified, and yet appears to now have a permanent grin stuck to her face.

Whenever I think about roller coasters I can’t help but think of Ronan Keating’s song: ‘Life is a roller coaster, just gotta ride it’. Whilst I’m not yet sure whether I will ever ride ‘The Smiler’ or not, life certainly is a roller coaster, with many ups, downs, twists and turns along the way. People often think that because I’m a Christian that my life is all rosy and that I’m somehow immune from difficulties that life can bring – this is anything but true. I guess the difference though is in knowing that I have Jesus there alongside me – and boy what a difference that can make!

Whilst my experience at theological college has similarities to that of ‘The Smiler’ – it has at times left me anything but ‘smiling’. It’s been a long, hard, uphill slog. It’s ‘taken my body and mind through it’s paces’ and has been like nothing I’ve EVER experienced before. Whilst it’s not quite what I was expecting, through it my faith in Jesus has been challenged and stretched, and I’ve discovered depths of my character that I never thought existed. I’ve also had the privilege of being taught by some outstanding lecturers, as well getting to know others – some for whom it’s a privilege to call ‘friends’  – they never give up on me, they make me smile when I don’t feel I can, and they make life so much better purely by being in it.

According to Alton Towers, ‘The Smiler’ will ‘turn you into a smiling advocate’ – oh, if only ‘The Smiler’ had existed 2-3 years ago, life could have been so very different! Having said that… – do I actually want to walk around like the woman pictured above? Erm… probably not!


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