Dad parked the car at the top of the hill above the harbour where parking was abundant, and more importantly, free. We climbed out of the Cortina. Witheringly hot with sticky plastic seat coverings. It was reliable but typical of the utilitarian style of car so beloved by the British middle class of the early eighties. Dad tried to maintain it best he could, but at this point it resembled an armoured car of sorts, with its camouflage patterning of rust filler and lurid green paint.
We headed towards town and to the tea rooms for a breakfast of coffee and hot buttered toast. The cafe was small and claustrophobic. Musty smells from the craft shop below mixed with bacon fat and boiled eggs to provide an unwelcoming and stifling atmosphere. The meal passed in near silence, each of the diners concentrating for the most part on the task in front of them. Occasionally Mum would try to start conversation, “how long will you be?”, “so what time should I meet you?” as she and Dad negotiated our mornings through a series of increasingly passive aggressive micro conversations.
It was the first day of our holidays and we had risen and dressed early to make our way to the seaside town nearest to our holiday accommodation. It was less than 100 miles from home yet felt as exotic as pretty much anywhere I could imagine. For daytime activities I could fish or run about the rocks finding small creatures to terrify in the pools. My memory paints them as searing hot days, with cracked mud on the rough tracks around the home, and with the constant buzz of half-naked children shrieking with either delight of terror, depending on the size of lobster Uncle Dick had caught.
In reality most of the time was spent coming up with distractions while it was raining, with us held as prisoners of the beach-hut and each other’s gloom. After a week we would have had more than enough, with our books and Beano summer specials which would be read and reread till they became as dog eared and tattered as their readers.
Trips to Paradise Island were so exciting in contrast, two hours in a world of colour and noise where I was the hero, the villain, the pilot, the cop, the winner of a packet of twenty Rothmans and a bic lighter (“just don’t tell mum”). A world where the day to day greyness became a psychedelic fantasy where I could destroy the Death Star, chase down criminals, and adventure in dungeons. I was in control, here I could fight back. Here I could always get back up, the price being just ten pence, rather than a fat lip.
Finally with the last of the coffee drunk and plans made it was time for us to go. Mum recounted the plan once again, taking pains to ensure Dad had heard and repeated, just to ensure that when inevitably we arrived late, she would achieve the high ground automatically in the argument that followed. She then made for the local M&S (the quality of which was the most important criteria to her when later asked for her opinion of any given town) whilst dad and I headed to Paradise Island.
You could hear it before you could see it. The horse racing game was the king of the island when it came to its ability to advertise its existence, the blare of its fanfare sitting above the monotone drone of the banks of space invader machines. The sounds combined and pulsed through the tall privet hedge that marked out the arcades boundary. Turning the corner the sound and light hit me in waves, like a glam rock pulsar, causing my heart to race (in a time before old age and statins) and the surge of endorphins making me quicken my step, past the kiddies bumper cars, towards its intoxicating embrace.
Once under the cover of the gaudy canopy at the entrance, which announced in coloured bulbs (many of which had yet to burn out) that this was Paradise Islands amusement arcade, Dad would ask me to wait as he took his allotted ten pounds to the change counter. He would hand me my share, the coins held in a clear plastic pot (always buying a couple of lollipops to assuage his guilt at only giving me twenty percent of his precious fruit machine money) ensuring I knew to a: not talk to any strangers, and b: make sure I was back out here by the allocated time or mum would almost certainly actually kill us this time. He then left into the adult only corridor of one armed bandits, dark, smoky and forbidding, whilst I went into the arcade.