Weston-super-Mare, Somerset: Dismaland

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I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled posts to share my experience at the most bemusing place on Earth with you…that’s right kids, it’s Dismaland!  As soon as I heard about Dismaland, I knew I’d have to go, if only for the sake of this blog.  It’s a five week event (and I think there’s only about a week left, at time of posting), and tickets do regularly go up for sale on the Dismaland website for a reasonable fiver a ticket, but judging by the prices some of them are going for on Ebay, they are not easy to get.  Fortunately, I was lucky enough to receive a pair for my birthday, so I didn’t have to worry about all that!  Thus, my boyfriend and I made the long drive out to Weston-super-Mare last Saturday to investigate.

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If you’re not in the UK, you may not have heard of Dismaland (or Banksy for that matter, in which case just click his name, because I don’t feel like explaining (and seriously, not being into modern art, I’d never heard of Banksy before moving to London, so don’t feel bad about it if you haven’t)); basically, Weston-super-Mare is a typical English seaside town (meaning it’s slightly seedy and run-down, but there’s ice cream and chips, which are really the main reasons for going to the seaside, for me anyway), where Banksy took over an abandoned amusement park/fun fair deal with some other artists to create a limited-time-only “bemusement park.”  If nothing else, it’s been brilliant for Weston tourism-wise, as thousands of extra people have been flooding in for the past month to visit it.

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We got there about an hour and a half early, because even with timed tickets, we weren’t entirely sure what the queuing situation would be like.  (Also, rather than pay to park in the Dismaland lot, we parked on a random residential street for free, so we had a bit of a walk.)  It took us probably another ten minutes to walk through the insane amount of barriers set up around Dismaland, even though there was no one waiting in the online ticket line (there were just that many barriers).  The line for people without tickets was another story…throughout the entire four hours we spent around Weston, it looked like the queue didn’t move at all, so I would NOT recommend showing up without a ticket, unless maybe you live nearby and can get there really super early in the morning or something.  Anyway, when we got to the front, the woman there told us there was no point queuing for that long, and to come back at 1:30 for 2 o’clock entry (even though the employees were all meant to be deliberately unhelpful, she was actually quite nice), so we left to get an ice cream (there’s a place nearby that will swirl your choice of like 28 different flavours in your Mr. Whippy…pretty good, for Britain at least (whenever I think of British ice cream, I think of that scene in Good Omens where Adam and his friends can’t think of more than three flavours of ice cream. Brilliant)).  Note: MAJOR spoilers ahead, so don’t read on if you’re going to Dismaland and want to be surprised.

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When we returned at 1:30 as directed, there was already a sizeable queue of people waiting, so we ended up having about fifty people ahead of us instead of being first in line. Oh well, once 2 rolled around, at least they were pretty quick about checking tickets and letting people in.  You have to go through a real security check before entering, followed by a fake security room where everything is made of cardboard, and “security staff” constantly yell at you not to smile.  Then, someone half-assedly hands you a map of the park (he drops most of them on the ground), and you’re off.  We’d heard it was best to see the inside things first, as queues form fast, so we duly headed to the tent immediately on our left, which was meant to hold an array of art exhibitions.  And a stage featuring the “Dance of Death,” which turned out to be a figure dressed as the Grim Reaper (that may or may not have had an actual person inside, we couldn’t decide) who comes out in a bumper car and spins around to “Stayin’ Alive.”

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I decided, it being Dismaland, that I should enter into the spirit of things by not appearing to have fun at any point, which is why you’re going to see a lot of pictures of me deliberately looking grumpy (though I’ve been known to do a pretty spectacular grump face with no encouragement whatsoever).  The art in here was ok, nothing particularly memorable, except for maybe the beach ball hovering about blades, and that big mushroom cloud thing.

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There was also a room dedicated to this big, dystopian model village, which had annoying people leaning all over it trying to take pictures.  Surprisingly, the guards weren’t actually yelling at them, but were rather nicely just asking them to stop.  If it had been me, and I was being encouraged to be unpleasant, I would have taken out the stress of all the years I worked in customer service and screamed at the lot of them, but that’s just me.

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When we left the tent, we came out next to a big stage that apparently screens clips from various movies (didn’t watch it, so I don’t know what), and hosts bands on Friday nights, but honestly, the carnival games seemed more interesting.  There were a handful of them, including “Hook a Duck from the Muck,” shooting apparently weighted cans with a cork gun, and attempting to knock an anvil off a post with ping pong balls…as you can probably guess from those descriptions, they were all essentially unwinnable.  Well, hooking a duck from the muck (muddy water) initially looked doable, but the girl working there constantly slaps your pole away, or throws stuff at your duck if you get close to snatching it, so there is no way we were able to get the “fish finger in a bag” that was the prize (someone must of though, because there’s some for sale on Ebay).  There also appeared to be a portrait artist who drew the back of your head instead of your face, but when we got closer there was a sign saying it was for demonstration purposes only, and you couldn’t actually have it done, which was a real disappointment.  They were selling so much other art, so why not something personalised?

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We popped into a random circus tent that didn’t have too long of a line, and it turned out to be filled with taxidermied stuff (taxidermied always comes up as misspelled when I type it, but I feel like it should be a word, so I persist. You all know what I mean anyway), and a curious tea set made up of dishes with body parts attached.

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There were also some gross Alien-esque things hanging on the walls (that on closer inspection may just be snakes with weird headdresses, in which case they’re not really gross.  I love snakes), and an adorable bunbun with a moving head and twitching nose that apparently had killed his magician master, hence the heap of clothes on the ground.  Or perhaps the magician had turned himself into a rabbit?  I guess it’s fairly ambiguous.

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The centrepiece of the park is undoubtedly the burnt out castle in the middle of the lake; intrigued to see what was inside, we headed there next.  It turned out to be the opportunity to have a souvenir photo taken (5 quid, and they don’t tell you what you’re posing in front of until after the photo is taken), and to have a look at the wreckage of Cinderella’s coach, complete with paparazzi.

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There were a couple rides at the park: a Ferris wheel and a carousel.  I’m not sure what the gimmick was with these, except for the Ferris wheel seemed to go much faster than a normal one, which made me not want to go on it since spinning things make me hurl.  This being Banksy, there was some kind of political thing called a “Cruel Bus” in the back of the park that we did not go in because the queue was insane, though apparently it has pictures of torture devices from around the world in it, and a whole lot of boring-looking charts (I glimpsed them from the open door of the bus).

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As promised, there were many ways to waste your money, if you were so inclined, which naturally also involved queuing (which was one of my main beefs with this place).  The Pocket Money Loans was something of a mystery going in, but they turned out to sell postcards and prints, which we duly acquired.  There are also black balloons that say “I am an Imbecile” that sporadically emerge from somewhere near the toilets, a van selling programmes, run by a notably grumpy-faced girl (she was obviously really into her role), and a gift shop (which you exit through, natch) with t-shirts and posters.  Foodwise, there’s a pizza cart, and a stall selling Dismalafel, which was tempting because of the name (and because I love falafel), but I was saving my appetite for potato scallops from a local chippy (I’ve only just discovered them, and why are they not a thing everywhere?  Slice of potato dipped in batter and fried, hells yes!  Perfect vegetarian alternative (if you’re not averse to a bit of fish grease)) so I could not tell you how they are.

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The last tent we went into had a bunch more artwork that was more highly politicised than the other stuff, and it was right next to a bunch of stalls run by various anarcho-type organisations.  I don’t know, I kind of outgrew the whole “anarchism” thing when my teenage punk rocker days were over, and I’m not really into having politics shoved down my throat (even politics I agree with, it’s the principle of the thing), so this was my least favourite part, but with Banksy’s reputation, it’s to be expected.

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Lastly, there was a Punch and Judy show which was rumoured to be Jimmy Savile themed, and perhaps some of the shows are, but the one I saw had to do with wife and child beating (also cheery, and I guess what Punch does anyway), and turned out to be really really boring and hard to hear, so I didn’t watch it for long enough to see where they were going with it.  I mean, it went on for like fifteen minutes, who’s got time for that shit?

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I don’t know, obviously the place is called Dismaland, but I was kind of hoping it would be more fun, or gothic or something (I think I want everything to be a haunted house, or otherwise spooky, and most things aren’t).  As I said to my boyfriend when we went in, I was hoping for/half-expecting something like the Valkenheiser salvage yard in Nothing but Trouble (you probably haven’t seen it because it’s the worst movie ever, so I won’t recommend it even though I love it (but there is a random cameo by Tupac, and the most disturbing hot dog eating scene ever), but basically the JP had this sprawling estate filled with junk heaps, abandoned giant mascots from various businesses, creepy music blaring from loudspeakers, and a roller coaster called “Mister Bonestripper” that literally stripped your bones at the end of it.  Well, maybe not that part, but I definitely was hoping it would be more creepy, rather than just intensely political), and it wasn’t that at all.  Just a lotta art and crap to buy, and not very much to actually do, other than queue.  So yes, in that sense, it did live up to its name, and I am very glad that my tickets were a gift (and that the person who gave them to me did get them for retail price, rather than having to pay something crazy on Ebay), because while it was definitely an experience to go, I don’t think it was worth more than a fiver (I mean, I went for free, but yeah, don’t spend more than a fiver if you’re the one buying them).  I can’t help but feel that the point of Dismaland was somewhat lost on someone like me. Perhaps people who really enjoy Banksy and underground art, or who are more politically active/less cynical/more participatory than I am will get more out of it, but I wasn’t super impressed by any of it.  It was something to see once, and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to go, but I’m still not sure it was worth the seven hour round-trip drive from London to Weston. 3/5.

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  1. I had heard of this place and was quite bemused, so I’m happy to read a first-hand account and find out more. I went on holiday to Weston with my sister when we were teenagers – we spent the whole week getting the train or bus to somewhere else so I guess it hasn’t changed much!

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