Oh, do we like to be beside the seaside?
It’s half term and the kids have been glued to the television all weekend. It is grey and cold and we can’t face the shopping centre or the zoo. I know, let’s take a trip to the seaside…
February may not seem like the best time to go to the beach but there are crowds on Brighton pier. Families sit in rows, chip wrappers flapping in the wind silently looking out at a foggy sea. The doughnut concessions are doing brisk business and a few hardy souls have their fishing rods out on the beach.
We make our way to the arcade at the end of the pier. My son races to the two kiddie rides outside. He gets into the Falgas train and I try to put a coin in. It is soon clear that it is out of service. The Jeep across the way has one headlight flashing, so I figure at least there is electricity. But as I try to push my 50p in the slot, I notice a screen had been pulled out and bare wires are visible in the hole. Not the best of first impressions…
Just inside the front doors, the arcade is buzzing with life. This is where the 2p pushers are. It’s A Cracker from Harry Levy seems to be living up to its name. There is also the 12-player Noble Knights and Hot Dog, also Harry Levy classics. Families are milling around with paper cups of coins and the area is well served with change machines.
Around the sides of the arcade are Elaut cranes full of the kind of Toy Story plush that has my three-year-old very over-excited. They are on 30p play and I have sunk all my spare change before we leave the area somewhat downhearted and empty handed. I would have liked to have seen some prize vending to cheer him up and make up for his mother’s evident lack of skill.
Having dispatched my son and my friend to the beach, I venture further into the cavernous depths of the arcade. There are hundreds of people inside of all ages. Centre stage sits the impressive Vulcan from Electrocoin in all its glory. Just a shame it is switched off. There is also a lovely old-fashioned change booth nearby but that is unmanned.
Other video around the area is not really being played. H2Overdrive sits empty, Sega’s Rambo lies unplayed in a corner and Time Crisis 4 also fails to attract any players. Need 4 Speed from Global VR has more luck and there is a small gang of youths by Terminator Salvation. Fast and Furious Superbikes is proving to be a draw – an entire family are playing together. A couple of floppy-haired teenagers are getting to grips with Guitar Hero.
There’s not much action around the fruit machines. Electrocoin’s Bar X is being played by a woman but product from Astra – including Party Games is not. There is one member of staff in the over 18s area keeping an eye on things which I think is good and some clear signage. It also looks as though coffee is being offered in these areas.
As I move further back into the arcade, I reach the redemption area. This is almost as busy as the 2p pushers at the front. Again, there is some nice signage here but the area could have been separated a bit more from the rest of the arcade. The redemption machines are clustered around but it is easy to miss one or two in the melee. There is a small but popular and well-stocked redemption prize centre in the corner.
Popular games include Pull My Finger, Corvette Dragster and Slam A Winner. Hollywood Reels from Jennison and Big Bass Wheel are not being played but look impressive. A couple clearly on a date are hammering away enthusiastically on Dog Pounder. I am not sure if this means that things are going well romantically or not!
Moving even further away into the arcade and there are more AWPs, once again clearly kept away from under 18s and clearly signed. They are not being played. I wonder at the decision to put kiddie rides right next to the adult gaming area but suspect that it allows mums to have a little gamble while their child rocks back and forth in Iggle Piggle’s boat.
There are a lot of families in the arcade and a lot of money being spent. Small groups of rather middle-class teenagers (well this is Brighton) are clustered around the dance machines, flicking their long hair and working their skinny jeans (boys and girls). Harassed parents of toddlers are lifting them up to post tuppennies haphazardly into the pushers.
My attention is caught by a group of older lads cheering and jeering. I take a closer look. Deal or No Deal from Play Mechanix/ICE with two player stations and big screens are the cause of the hilarity. It was the most voluble fun I hear in the arcade.
Despite wandering around alone with a notebook and a camera (I am careful not to photograph people head-on or anyone gambling) I half expect to be thrown out or approached by a member of staff. But I pass through unremarked and unnoticed. I walk back down the pier and see a small amusement arcade on the actual beach.
Graham Strudwick is stood in the doorway, greeting friends and customers. He isn’t busy – the weather is bad and nobody is on the beach. His tide barriers sit propped against one doorway. Weekends are what keeps him going, he tells me. And his 2p pushers. He doesn’t do redemption, it is too time consuming and would need a dedicated member of staff. He prefers to load his pushers with interesting gifts and is always around to make sure people can get what they have won.
I complain about the broken kiddie rides on the pier and he tells me that increasingly bulbs are left blown out and not replaced on the signs and around the buildings. He went to EAG, he says and took a shine to some Polish hockey tables.
It is hard not to take a shine to Graham and his unpretentious arcade full of not-so-new equipment. He is the last of the beach amusement arcades (apart from a vintage arcade a few doors down). I go and get my son and he makes a beeline for the Thomas the Tank Engine kiddie ride. Of course it works perfectly. Graham gives him a free go on a big bus ride and Joe’s happiness is complete. By the time he gets to ride the cowboy horse, he is brimming with joy.
I spend 10p on teasing my friend with a “what kind of lover are you” machine. She is a man-eater apparently and we all had a snigger. If this isn’t what the seaside is about then shoot me. Graham then cemented his place in our affections by presenting Joe with a small football. I had told him of my failure to win anything on the cranes. And I do realize that my notebook and camera may have swayed things in my favour, as well as my apple-cheeked child.
But we left happy – even if there were no toilets in the neighbourhood and Joe had to pee behind a bin. And even though the chips were tough and cold and served by a surly Polish lady. Because this is the seaside after all!
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