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Kerry McLean: My holiday plans used to include thrills and spills... now the roller coaster of life has left me happy to have a more relaxing time

Roller coasters are thrilling, but not as fast as a Top Gun jet
Roller coasters are thrilling, but not as fast as a Top Gun jet

By Kerry McLean

I had that rarest of rare things this week - a trip away camping when the heavens didn't open and we managed to stay dry and cosy instead of soaked and smelling of damp. Possibly that was because we travelled a little further south than we've ventured in a good while, or should that be south west, to Westport in Co Mayo.

It's somewhere we went at this time every year when I was a child. We'd finish school on the last Friday in June and, by the next morning, we'd be packed into my parents' battered old purple estate alongside the tent, bikes, table, chairs, beanbags, rugs and anything else my mum could get squeezed in - she was a proponent of glamping before the term was even coined.

My sister and I would make the four-hour journey sprawled out in the boot, feet pointing into the car and our heads jammed up against the rear door, watching the clouds as we sailed down the road.

It was the Eighties, a time when health and safety issues weren't something that crossed our minds much.

It wasn't a concern that we were travelling about in the boot of our car unbuckled or that, in the days before air conditioning, our favourite way to cool off was to wind down the window and stick our feet out. No one even batted an eye.

The reason for our annual trip down to Westport was because my dad had worked there as a teenager and was left with a love of the place.

It's where, just a few years later, as a newly married young man, he took my mum for their honeymoon.

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For them, going back was an annual trip down memory lane and a return to a spot filled with romance.

For my sister and I, it held an equally powerful attraction, although admittedly less heart-warming.

In Westport they had one of the biggest fun parks we'd ever been to, with what seemed to us a mind-blowing mix of rides - everything from a waltzer to a mini-roller coaster that we convinced ourselves went so fast that we could feel G-force similar to levels experienced by fighter pilots.

We would go up and down gentle bumps, slowly turning this way and that, while stretching our faces like we were in a junior gurning competition, imagining the sheer speed was distorting our features.

In our defence, we had watched Top Gun a few too many times, as had half the population, and like many kids up and down the country spent a good bit of the 1980s shouting "I feel the need, the need for speed" anytime we travelled at a pace faster than a slow walk.

Those early trips to the mini-roller coaster left me with what I thought would be a lifelong love of the rides, and it was certainly a passion for many decades.

For my 30th, my husband took me to Disneyland Paris for a long weekend. Each day I was up at the crack of dawn and queued to get into the park before the staff had even arrived.

I was the first person on the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster each morning and last one off each evening.

My poor husband, who was never a fan, sat beside me for each and every ride and, even when he took on a greenish hue reminiscent of Kermit the Frog, joined me in the queue for another chance to be thrown at speed through a series of darkened tunnels. If ever I needed evidence that he was the man for me, that was it.

I'm not quite sure what's happened in the intervening years, but I think it's fair to say I've lost my bottle when it comes to speed and, particularly, roller coasters. I'm not sure if becoming a parent has made me more cautious or if that thrill-seeking impulse dulls in us all as we grow older.

But it would take a lot to entice me back on to do a loop the loop, like an embarrassingly large amount of money waiting to be collected at the bottom of the ride. In that scenario, I'd be back impersonating Tom Cruise and sporting my aviator sunglasses faster than a fighter jet.

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