On September 27th my wife and I headed along to experience Funderland's 2010 visit to Belfast. It turned out to be a trip tainted by an encounter with security staff but we had a good time regardless.
For those who don't know, Funderland is one of a few fun fairs which travel around Northern Ireland and Ireland filling some of the void for the need for a decent sized static theme park on this island. We went up to it on the bus from the city centre after work and at the entrance got our wristbands. It was rather quiet as it was a Monday evening and things hadn't got going yet so we wandered about the tarmac which had been used to house the fair.
There was one ride which could really be classed as a white knuckle roller-coaster, that being the Crazy Mouse which is a ride you can find in several places around the UK such as The Twister at Lightwater Valley and the identically named Crazy Mouse at Brighton pier. There was a generic log flume type ride with 2 drops that was an identical layout to those at other fairs and smaller amusement parks. The rest of the adult rides were either walk through or spinning. There was a big wheel, a white knuckle spinning ride which held you upside down for a while, a ride called 'Take Off' which I'd actually never come across before which I found quite fun, dodgems, a ghost train, chair swings, a gravity wheel, a ride called the snowjet, a small downward launch free-fall ride, waltzers and my favourite which was called 'Energy' which is a seemingly common ride (we saw another one on Central Pier in Blackpool at the weekend) but a good one! There were plenty of others but those were mainly children's rides we didn't go on. The staff who spoke were friendly and helped us on and off the rides, especially the guy on the Crazy Mouse who was very forgiving of two dizzy people starting to walk off the ride the wrong way.
The fair had a nice bunch of rides for a mobile event and as something of a theme park enthusiast I was pleasantly surprised and having a great time... that was until we were very much unpleasantly surprised!
We had been on several spinning rides and I was starting to feel a little sickly so rather than pushing it I held back going on the Snow Jet ride for a 2nd time but Norngirl wanted to ride it again. So there I was, camera in hand and with a minute or two to pass before the ride started and I could take her picture on it. I was literally parted enough time to take a photo of the lights on the corner of the dodgems with the Ferris wheel in the background, deleted it for being blurry and then tried to alter the settings on my compact camera (not even an SLR with a big lens) to take a photo of Norngirl on the ride.
Then out of the corner of my eye, two guys with a walkie talkies approach me. I looked at them curious as to why they appeared adamant that they were going to come over to chat but knowing I wasn't doing anything wrong (that I knew of) I thought that they were maybe going to ask me if I'd seen someone or something.
Apparently not. It was demanded of me that I tell them what I was talking photos of and for, I said I was about to take a photo of my wife on this ride. They then questioned my honesty by saying "I suppose you were taking a photo of your wife on that ride a second ago too" whilst pointing at the dodgems. I said "no, I was taking a picture of the lights and the wheel". At this point I was still very much confused as to why they were even asking me such questions and why I was being asked in an accusatory fashion and why the 2nd secruity guard had taken up a position 2 ft behind me in my blind spot. A position I'd only ever seen on TV bouncers taking up to make people consciously aware of their presence. I was baffled, after all, other people were taking photos earlier and I didn't see anyone else being approached. The only signs hinting at no photography I had seen were specific to taking no photography inside a ride itself which I had obliged by and the other rides didn't have these.
Feeling rather intimidated I remembered hearing of the scenario I'd found myself in. I went on a half day photography workshop earlier in the year to learn how to use my camera with Belfast Exposed. Thankfully this came to mind and I knew that for these guys to the right to tell me what I can and can't take pictures of (as long as I wasn't breaking any other laws such as harassing someone) they had to be able to show me or direct me to their photography policy, otherwise it is a public space and governed by the general rule or law.
As a gesture of goodwill and since they seemed eager to view my photos I said "I know I don't legally have to but if it helps I'll show you my photos" so I did and showed them a very nice photo (if I do say so myself) of the chair ride as a spinning blur of an orb above the back of peoples heads below. After that, instead of going along with more random questioning, I told them there were no signs displaying their photography policy I had seen and asked if they could show me to it. To which debate began between the guy keeping me stuck on the spot for a minute and the person on the other end of his walkie talky.
The guy couldn't show me to the policy but told me that I was not allowed to take photographs. I was then asked where my children were. I answered honestly "I don't have children", in my head I was thinking what sort of question is that? Are they wanting to evict me or accuse me of being a paedophile or something ridiculous?
I repeated the fact there are no signs saying there is to be no photography and that if there is I wouldn't but that I honestly haven't seen any and that if there isn't one its a public space and I can take a photo if I like. Still nothing but walky talky action and being blanked. Almost now at the point when the ride was about to finish and with Norngirl looking on with what went from a puzzled face to an angry face on each revolution of the pod she was sat in, they seemed to be stuck as to what to do. I just shrugged my shoulders to her and looked as bemused as I was feeling inside.
After much deliberation the (seemingly made up on the spot) policy was changed from NO photos to that I was now OK to take photos as long as they were not for publicity. So it seems that what this was all about was publicity. Security seemingly didn't want people taking photos on the off chance, even if its to promote their venture?
For the rest of our stay at Funderland we kept our eyes peeled. Was there a photography policy the guards knew but just couldn't point me to?
And then there on the booths of some of the rides including each of those I was taking a photograph of...
I assume I'm safe to make this photo public on-line given it asked me to take it and permission to put it in a public space?
Back home, I went online, the Funderland website also has no park photography policy, if indeed it is OK to take photos in the park as any other public space then that's obviously this is as it would be so I must distance Funderland from the security who approached me if they are just hired in for the travelling event.
I can only conclude (since other theme parks do have their policies displayed and photography is generally allowed as long as its not in a show) that unless it was a genuine mistake and the security guards need to go back to security school, it has to be the case that as a person alone with a camera pointing at a ride with people on it I was deemed a risk to be in possession of photos of their event, however if that is the case and they know the law, why didn't they prepare for it and have signs or something they are able to direct me to?
Per the security guard's demands however I'm not going to show my photos even if it is legal. If that is their policy they've made their bed, now they can lay in it.
Incase you are wondering, I never did get a photo of Norngirl riding the Snow Jet but I did walk past the security guards with some nice photos for memories sake (as allowed by said security) and with my head held high for standing up for myself where as several years ago I would have just caved in to demands and regretted not saying something.