Friday, 26 June 2015

Dreamland rises from the ashes - part two

Seeing the new wood going up on the Scenic Railway was such a delight! There were time-lapse videos on the new Dreamland website, pictures from the park and, of course, us enthusiasts were discussing it all on the Save Dreamland Campaign forum. A slight setback in the early stages saw some of the bents being blown over, bents being the vertical support sections that are joined together horizontally to form a rigid structure. Time was made up nice and quickly, however, and the structure of the Scenic was finished well before the park was due to open. The Scenic is now listed as Grade II*, which means it has been moved from Grade II ("special interest warranting every effort to preserve them.") and is now considered by English Heritage to be a "particularly important building of more than special interest." Only 5.5% of listed buildings are Grade II*. The Dreamland Cinema, which is also undergoing restoration, is also listed at Grade II* - so much history in one small site!

On the All The Fun of the Fair forum, we were following the progress of some of the rides undergoing a full restoration by David Littleboy and his team: A set of Gallopers (four-abreast, no less), the Zodiac Jets that were once toured by Carters' Steam Fair, a rather rare double-decker juvenile roundabout, with a circle of rockets on the upper deck and a selection of scooters (of the motorbike variety) to be attached to the lower platform (giving rise to the name "Mods and Rockets") and a lovely Dodgem track. These rides were all delivered in plenty of time and in perfect order - they looked absolutely superb. You can read more about David's restoration projects on his website.

Now a word about campaigners and volunteers. We're an interesting bunch of people - just ask anyone who has to co-ordinate volunteers within an organisation where most people are paid to do their jobs! We don't expect anything special as a result of our efforts, but we do like to be treated fairly and with a modicum of respect. I sure as flip didn't expect what happened when the tickets went on sale: A two-hour priority booking session for Margate residents only, for the limited opening day tickets, with the resulting possibility that I would end up not being able to go to the opening day I had been working towards for a decade. Annoyed? Just a little! Then, it was revealed that the first 50 people to buy their tickets in person would get a special souvenir of the original Scenic Railway wood - being a Friday, that meant people who lived close enough to the park to buy their tickets in person - i.e. not me! The final straw was the Heart 103.1 competition to win the chance to be on the first public ride of the Scenic Railway - every enthusiast's dream. Guess what? Only open to Margate residents. I finally got my opening day admission ticket, but I have to say that this was an absolute snub to the many campaign members who weren't local. As I said, I didn't take part in the campaign for any kind of special treatment, but I certainly didn't expect to be actively discriminated against! Still - at least Dreamland will be open once more...

So the great day dawned! The Thursday had been such a lovely day that I found a place at a nearby hotel and drove down in the evening sunshine. I got to Dreamland shortly after 9.00am and, as I drove into the Dreamland car park, one thought entered my mind: "They are doing this RIGHT!". The sight was truly impressive, and the Scenic Railway was just - perfect! All new wood, left in its natural colour, and with the profile just as I remember it in the old days. The big wheel added the perfect finishing touch to the skyline of the park - even with dear old Arlington House poking up just to the right.

The Waveswinger
Security and press members were out in force - I was simply nodded into the park by the security guards on the entrance under the Scenic Railway turnaround. And the sight was quite something! So many people working flat out to make sure the opening went ahead. The hi-vis vest and hard hat brigade spraying tar and laying gravel, cementing-in fences and filling the tyres around the kiddies pedal-car track with sand; technicians were musing over the half-finished Waveswinger ride (sporting the well-chosen colour scheme used throughout the park); ride and customer attendants were lugging piles of boxes to and fro, dressed in retro chic. And they were (almost) all smiling and joking! The atmosphere was so incredibly positive that I wandered around with a huge smile on my face, wondering whether I should offer to lend an hand!

It was clear that several of the rides weren't going to be open in time, but this was more a problem thanks to "Scrappage-gate", as mentioned in the previous blog. Substitute rides had to be found at relatively short notice, so any issues with these rides would inevitably mean a delay. The trains for the Scenic Railway weren't ready, which was unfortunate, but thanks to the arson attack, the ride could not be regarded as having been in constant use since the park closed, hence new safety aspects had to be incorporated. The trains are coming along nicely and will look just fine when finished - and it is very sensible not to rush such important things!

As far as the workers were concerned, they had
to get the park into a state in which the public could enter and walk around in complete safety, so fencing off the incomplete aspects of the park was the priority this morning - and they were going for it hell-for-leather. I was pleased to bump into David Littleboy - all of the rides he and his team restored were tested and ready to run, including the Four-Abreast Gallopers built by Savages of King's Lynn many years ago. I heard a few tales from the past twenty-four hours, and my admiration for those still hard at work increased a hundredfold!

Even the Hook-a-Duck needed TLC
It was getting close to the 10.00am opening time, so I made a last tour of the site, keeping out of the way of the tipper trucks carrying yet more gravel to finish off the walkways, and watching out for people carting food to the catering units in the rather tasteful Food Court. I had another chat with a chap who had worked at Dreamland for many years. Like me, he was so pleased to see the park finally re-opening. Given the last-minute rush, it almost seemed to be a better idea to delay the opening, but then this is simply weekend number one, and the park was due to be closed from Monday to Friday of the following week - plenty of time to get these problems sorted. Treat this weekend as the preview weekend, I thought - and we all know that previews don't always go as planned.

Back at the entrance, a large, red ribbon was being installed across the entrance under the Scenic Railway turnaround. A raised platform was filled with TV cameras - members of the press had been wandering freely around the site all morning! A small crowd had gathered, but it was clear that a 10.00am opening wasn't going to happen. Out came a delightful group of entertainers! I think the theme was Cockneys on a Day Out as they started a sing-a-long. "Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside" and "My old man!", with some songs that had clearly been written for the occasion! It might have been more convincing if they all knew all the words to "Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside", bless 'em, but they were so enthusiastic you couldn't help but sing along! You could see the tipper trucks racing out of the park behind all the colour and bustle, and just before 11.00am the speeches and ribbon-cutting ceremony began! The crowd behind me had grown quite impressively by this time. And then the magical moment - the public were finally allowed to enter the park that had, ten years before, looked likely to end up under flats for commuters.

All I could think was how perfectly the plans were being realised. There were a fair few rough edges, but looking at the park as a whole, it was abundantly clear exactly how great this park is going to be. The pastel shades used in the designs by Wayne Hemingway are just - perfect. There are so many of those little touches that many people may not even notice, but which make you feel good on a subconscious level. Things like using the same colour wood in the ride walkways and fences as used in the Scenic Railway - it brings a sense of cohesion. Take the Jets and the Scenic side-by-side in the picture on the left - it just works! The Jets may be a travelling ride, designed to be moved from place to place on a weekly basis, but the addition of the wooden platforms and fences turns the ride into a static park model that looks completely at home here in Dreamland. The ride operators and other support staff are wearing T-shirts with classic slogans such as "Scream if you want to go faster" and "Put your hands in the air!", with those familiar pastel shades as drop-shadows. And they were the most enthusiastic and just plain jolly ride operators I have seen. Despite the cloud I arrived under, with the dreadful booking experience, I couldn't stop grinning from ear to ear - the atmosphere was one of pure joy (well, for most of us). There were some rides closed - the Scenic, of course, and, rather disappointingly, the big wheel. But I knew I'd be going back from the moment I entered - and everything will be running then.

Messham's Wall of Death was in attendance, which means that I had seen this version and Ken Fox's within a week of each other. As usual, the show was very loud, fast-paced and utterly thrilling. When you have two bikers riding the wall, overtaking each other and zooming up to within inches of the top, you can't help but be drawn in by the spectacle. And, of course, every performance was packed out and the crowds were generous with their donations to the "insurance fund" at the end. Once of the aims of the park is to bring back the attractions that have featured in Dreamland over the decades, and the Wall of Death was a major feature at the park in the 1960s, when the star of the show was Yvonne Stagg.

The Dodgems, Spinning Wild Mouse, Jumping Pirate Boats, Helter-Skelter, Twister, Gallopers, Jets and (temporary) Waveswinger were running full all day. There were some lovely juvenile rides as well, and the restored pedal cars and push-bikes were hugely popular with the younger visitors. Once the Big Wheel, Caterpillar, Kiddie Coaster, monorail, "proper" Waveswinger and the Scenic Railway are running, this park is truly going to have something for everyone!

The Food Court and bandstand
Another nice touch is the open space! There are plenty of seating areas, sensibly using astroturf underfoot rather than grass that would be subject to wear, tear, too much water and too little water. Giant deckchairs provide great photo opportunities and well as a novel place to relax. There is also a huge emphasis on up-cycling. So much of the old wood removed from the Scenic Railway has been used to build huge wooden signs, stalls and other features. Old arcade machines have been gutted and turned into shelf units. There is even an illuminated sculpture made out of random inert gas tube lights...

And then there is the arcade building! This houses the Roller Disco which has a beautiful wooden floor, a huge mirror ball and a great sound system. The seating is 50's Diner-style, with a Pizzeria and bar, all opening out into the main seating area. The information/ticket stall is here, together with the Dreamland Emporium, where a most impressive range of souvenirs is available for purchase. Pleasingly, there is plenty to buy at the lower end of the price range - and I must say I'm tempted to get a "Scream if you want to go faster" tea towel next time I go! The souvenirs feature that pastel colour scheme, but there is also a range of custom crockery and plate settings, mugs and other household bits and pieces. Good use has been made of the original wood from the Scenic here as well, with a range of upcycled wooden souvenirs for all budgets.

Oh dear - sounds like I'm slipping into fanboy mode. But that's the truth of it - I had such a great time I just can't wait to get back. As I left the park at the end of the afternoon session, a huge queue had already built up for the evening Hullabaloo - featuring Chas & Dave and Marina & the Diamonds, among others. And this is the last thing that made me think that this park is going to do well - events! There is plenty of room left, and once the rides that are still undergoing restoration have been added, there is the Hall by the Sea ballroom waiting to be restored (and The Rolling Stones played there once) and the possibility of a permanent outdoor event arena. As I drove out of the car park, the tracer lights on the Scenic Railway were twinkling away - Dreamland really is going to be a magical place!

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