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The Bubble That Burst

Author: Sam Kidd

This is the story of two celebrations. Both celebrating something weird, wonderful and staggeringly unique. One is now gone from this world, the other thankfully persists. The first celebration is of my brother who requested his name not be published and insisted, for reasons best known to himself, he instead go by the name “Crossbow”. Crossbow is one of the funniest and most creative people I’ve ever met. The second, I should mention, is the ride Bubbleworks at Chessington World of Adventures. This is the story of Crossbow’s birthday, and our last trip on that particular ride.

Chessington is, for those not in the know, a theme park-come-zoo located near London. The Disney’s Animal Kingdom of the UK, if you will. We have visited it several time since we were small. We loved it. But the ride we loved the most was always Bubbleworks. To describe the ride would be difficult. It was such a strange, unique explosion of creativity on a relatively low budget. In summary it was a “What if Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka ran a soap factory instead of a chocolate factory” type of ride… if you can imagine that. I’ll go into more detail about it later.

The trip came about due to the announcement of the ride’s closure. An upsetting piece of news, to be sure. Is it ridiculous to commiserate the closure of an amusement? From an outsider’s perspective, probably. However, in this case it is warranted. This wasn’t just a ride at a local park. It was something strange, creative and unique. And it would soon be gone forever, replaced with a ride based on the Gruffalo. And that’s not to disparage Julia Donaldson, her book is very good, it’s just a shame that something unique to Chessington was being replaced.

Our parents had an agreement that for one of our major birthdays, Crossbow and I would be taken on a holiday destination of our choosing. So, of course, when Crossbow heard the news about Bubbleworks, he decided to use his birthday holiday to take the trip from Scotland to Chessington. To experience it one final time.

Crossbow and I are both major theme park fans. I’m interested primarily in the history and artistry of the places. Crossbow, on the other hand, is interested in rollercoasters, both the sensory rush they give and in the stats and figures that pertain to them. He can rattle off rollercoaster facts like nobody’s business with a passion and energy that is wonderful and compelling. In fact, one of his prized possessions is a collection of roller-coaster Top Trumps cards. I don’t think he’s memorised every card but, at times, it feels like it! I’m telling you this not just to demonstrate his love for theme parks, but how he expresses his love generally. If he loves something, he wants EVERYONE to know and it is absolutely infectious. And his love was on display in full force that day in Chessington, as he excitedly described the manoeuvres of the mighty Dragon Khan coaster.

We entered the ride to the familiar and spirit-lifting Germanic Oompa Anthem of the Bubbleworks factory. We passed the blue walls of the loading area, climbed into the red ring raft and were off! The workers of the factory were small cartoonish scientists with big noses and small eyes. We passed the first of these taking a bath. Others were proving Bubble theorem on a chalkboard. We passed all sorts of fun, creative rooms. A colourful one that tests the durability, or perhaps popability, of bubbles. Giant faucets, and a cow suspended in the air attached to a breathing tube. Tall bronze pipes of machinery with blue faces laughed at us. We entered a more relaxing portions of the ride, lush green colours flooded in, a parody of a tropical spa with scientists relaxing in the foamy hot tub. And an elephant!

One family tradition we had while riding Bubbleworks centred around the photography ritual. Bubbleworks had another advantage over most of the other rides: its slowness made posing for family photos substantially easier. And that’s what we did. Every time on our various trips we’d think of funny things to do, and the results adorn the family fridge to this day. For our final photo on Bubbleworks, we all gave it a wave goodbye.

We passed the room where the scientists were testing the physics of rubber duck eggs, repeating the line, ‘Shush! Be quiet! Rubber duck eeeggs!’ (A line my brother and I still quote to this day as a way of affectionately shutting each other up.) We are then thrust into a rubber duck carnival. A miniature amusement park within an amusement park. Ducks riding Ferris wheels and rollercoasters. The boat climbed up a hill via chain-lift, passing a conveyer belt of unbranded shampoo bottles. We then splashed down into a room that glowed with a thousand colours, where fountains streamed above our gleefully smiling heads with the Bubbleworks theme crashing into crescendo. And in the final room faux fireworks in the form of lights on the wall signalled the end of our last ride through the Bubbleworks factory.

I will miss Bubbleworks, but it’s 20-year reign of creativity should be celebrated. In the realm of theme parks, where money rules all, truly unique attractions often don’t last for long. And it’s fitting that someone as equally wondrously strange as Crossbow would celebrate his birthday by celebrating its strangeness. Bye-bye, Bubbleworks, and Happy Birthday Crossbow! Two celebrations I will never forget.