A word about Disneyland, Paris....
It isn't as it seems, you know.
I realised that as I stood at my ice cream cart just outside Fantasyland. I had been working at Disneyland four months and already the dream was dead and buried.
I had believed it to be immortal.
It had been quite alive in me once, in fact, when I went to Disneyworld, Florida with my family at nine years old I think I may have actually exploded from excitement in the park. My happiness is perhaps still sprinkled around Florida today.
It didn't come home with me though.
I cried for most of the following week when we got back - not because I was disappointed, quite the opposite. It was a mixture of things - the holiday was over, the little voices from the 'It's a small world' ride were torturing me, I was coming down from two weeks of drinking bucket size portions of cola, England was chilly and school was about to start. But it wasn't only that - there was something else.
The dream was over.
I had lived it and now it was free to slip away. And with it went a tiny glimmering piece of childhood magic. I knew I'd reached the end of a chapter, that never again would I go back to Disneyworld and if I did, I wouldn't be seeing it with the same eyes again.
If I had only listened to my childhood instincts I might have let things lie with Disney but any scraps of wisdom abondon us in our twenties. By this time all the glimmering pieces of childhood magic had flown away, perhaps to form some shining castle in the sky. I may have had a vague idea of reaching that castle and for that reason signed up for Disneyland, Paris. Of course there were other reasons as well - I desperately wanted to live in France, eat baguettes and buttery croissants all day and perhaps even meet the croissant of my dreams! And talking of dreams - I was going to resurrect my old Disney dream.
It wasn't going to rest in peace.
At this point I should warn any small children, old ladies, people of a delicate disposition or any person within whom the Disney dream is still very much alive to stop reading.
What you are about to read will make your blood run cold.
Right, have they gone? Good. Then I'll get on with it.
It wasn't that bad of course - in fact it was fun. But not a 'Disney' kind of fun. In fact, Disney really didn't have a lot to do with Disneyland.
First of all I should point out that this was Disneyland, Paris.
France is a beautiful country for many reasons but Disney's just not in its DNA - Disney as it was originally intended to be, that is.
Perhaps if I had seen Disneyland Paris when I was nine I would have cried for much longer than one week when I got home.
Or perhaps I wouldn't have cried at all.
What I saw at Disneyland Paris wasn't a dream. But it wasn't a nightmare either.
It was real life.
I can't really pinpoint when I realised there wasn't any magic. Perhaps it was seeing Minnie Mouse smoking a fag backstage, perhaps it was realising Mickey was a girl (the costume was too tiny for most boys) but possibly the real moment came with Mary Poppins.
She was the first person to snap her fingers and take away the sugar.
I was on the ice cream cart in the Main Street that day - it was the most sort after spot amongst my workmates as the Disney Parade went through at three o'clock and while all the customers stood transfixed, you got to daydream without anyone interrupting you for ice cream.
I wasn't partaking in daydreaming this particular day because Martina, my workmate, was on her break and had come over to chat and watch the parade. As we watched Mary Poppins' float go by we both smiled wistfully - me, because it was my absolute favourite film when I was little and Martina, because (I found out afterwards) she was thinking what slender ankles Mary Poppins had.
It was the slender ankles that made us gasp in disbelief when we found out the truth - this was no jolly holiday with Mary. Oh, no. Jolly holiday with Malcolm, more like.
"Martina!" I tugged her arm. "Mary Poppins is a man!"
"No! It can't be!"
The slender ankles were a great point of vexation I have to say. Martina was very upset that Malcolm Poppins had better ankles than she did and I had to take some time to comfort her. But I was still a little bewildered by what I had just seen and called over a road sweeper colleague.
My darkest suspicions were confirmed.
"Oh, yeah!" he said cheerfully. "They use men all the time."
I watched as the Mary Poppins' dream slipped out of sight, not sailing up into the sky as I might have imagined, but mincing off down the Main Street on a flowery float.
Not that it was blatantly obvious or anything, in fact Malcolm had a lot less facial hair than a lot of the staff working in the park - uniform rules said that no one should have facial hair or piercings but in reality there were quite a few people with goatie beards and eyebrow piercings (and that was just the women). No, Malcolm Poppins was safe - onlookers were all blissfully unaware of his dark secret although Martina and I would have the burden of knowledge on our shoulders.
And all the time knowing that he had better ankles than we did.
Stories of poo
I sighed as I stood at my cart that day by Fantasyworld.
I had been working in the park four months and by this time I knew the reality; that I had to stand here all day, my head steaming from hours of chirpy music, manning twenty enquiries every minute to where the toilet was.
I knew that Minnie Mouse smoked backstage, that Mary was a boy and Mickey was a girl and Pluto was perhaps neither, that I had been standing at this cart for five hours and would be here for another three, that at least once a day a customer would approach my cart who spoke neither French nor English nor any language in the world and place his order by prodding the photo of the Cornetto and signalling to his gaping mouth.
In short, I knew that the magic had well and truly died.
"Can't you speak?" I grunted as the man prodded the Cornetto photo. Not very inkeeping with the Disney spirit, I know but that had been buried along with everything else. I could have been more sympathetic though - this gentleman might have taken a vow of silence and been having a hard enough time as it was. He must have been a monk - strange that he had chosen to come to Disney for enlightenment.
The monk went away and two large arab gentlemen shambled over to my cart, grunting insistently at me. I rolled my eyes - they were the worst culprits for the non-speaking and the prodding of the photo ploy. They did usually manage to shout a 'how much?' at me though.
I gazed at them expressionless as they peered at me - ok, I knew already. Toilets.
"We need to poo!" they bellowed.
I looked at them with icy disdain. Was it really necessary to come up and announce their bodily functions? I gave them a hard stare, letting them know that I wasn't impressed and I certainly wasn't going to reply. But they didn't give in.
"We need to poo!" they insisted.
I continued staring with vague disgust but they looked back with urgent eyes. Well, they obviously hadn't learnt the fineries of the English language yet and anyway, they weren't going to leave me alone.
"Over there," I said in exasperation, indicating the toilets. Now perhaps they'd leave me in peace.
Still they didn't go, they shook their heads and carried on looking at me in a mixture of desperation and bewilderment.
"We need to poo! Now! Tree o'clock!"
They even had a timetable to follow? The park map was flapped in my face. So they wanted me to point out the pooing quarters on the map as well now? Did they have no shame? They poked urgently at the map, "Winnie to Pooh! Winnie to Pooh!"
The penny dropped.
I pointed them in the right direction and sighed.
Not even Winnie the Pooh would be the same in my eyes anymore.