Monday 1 October 2007

Extortion and bumper cars

Off to Nanny and Gumps in Brighton for a long overdue visit. We didn't pick the best weekend in terms of the weather (the cloud cover sat there, brooding spitefully, waiting for the second we got out of the car) but decided a trip to the Palace Pier was in order anyway.
It's been along time since I spent any time in Brighton: I moved out of Sussex when I got my first job, and although I always had a hankering to move back, we've never actually won the lottery or pulled any bank jobs and so have sadly been unable to afford it. It's changed a lot - when I left, nearly 20 years ago, Brighton was becoming a ghost town, full of closed up shops, houses for sale and no tourists. Not any more: now it's a Boomtown, and an expensive one...
If you can't get to Brighton in the near future, and want to get a feel for what it's like now (at least, the weekend tourist experience) just print off a picture of Brighton Pavillion, prop it on your mantelpiece, then invite 50 strangers round to jostle you in your own front room while you burn a tenner every fifteen minutes...
Anyway the pier trip. Amelie was insistent that Nanny come in the car with us, which meant that my mother 'helped' me with the driving all the way, as follows:

  1. Sighing heavily at the traffic, and saying at no less than 3 minute intervals: "I told you we would have been better off on the bus"
  2. Pointing out the turnings we should have taken in the rear view mirror
  3. Reading out each posted speed limit to me, presumably as a safety precaution in case I had temporarily forgotten how to read, or the concept of roadsigns hadn't caught on in my part of the UK
  4. Huffing noisily and saying "Is it me, or is hot in here?"
  5. Carefully selecting for us the single most expensive car park in the world, which sported the laughable rate of 80 pence for every 15 minutes, or part thereof.
I am still suffering 'walletshock' at the car park prices: £3.20 an hour! I am reasonably sure I could rent carpetted office floorspace to park the car on for that kind of money. What galled me the most were the policies the car park had of (a) not informing you of the costs until you are at the ticket machine and thus completely unable to leave because of all the cars in the queue behind you and (b) letting you enter the car park while it was full, so that you waste 20 minutes (yes, that's £1.60) just driving around the sodding place looking for a space. Anyone who thinks crime doesn't pay should take a good look at the NCP...

But once we had gotten on to the pier, ah, then it was all worthwhile - due primarily to one incident: Amelies first ever go on the dodgems. At the end of the pier there is a funfair, and there is a dedicated section just for children under 5, and they have a set of kiddie bumper cars. Amelie had never been in one, has no clue that cars have pedals, and has never made the mental connection that turning the steering wheel makes the car change direction - but it's a bumper car, right? They are designed to hit things, so what harm could possibly come of it? What damage could she do?
Well, as it turns out, what she could do was try her very best to hospitalise the ride attendant. When the ride started she sat there, grinning ear-to-ear and spinning the wheel, but the car was completely immobile. So the ride operator came over to help her. He pushed the car forward a little, and told her that she had to press the pedal. She duly did so, but as she had been spinning the steering wheel the car lurched in a tight right-hand circle and crunched noisily into his right knee. My mother and Nini starting giggling.
He rubbed his knee ruefully while Amelie beamed up at him expectantly, waiting for instructions. "The other way", he said, "turn the wheel the other way." Amelie spun the wheel, pressing the pedal just gently enough that the car spun anticlockwise on the spot and neatly ran over his left foot. Nini and my mother began howling with laughter and clutching at the railings for support.
He looked visibly upset now, and pushed the car firmly forward and well away from him. "Push the pedal down, and steer" he called. Amelie obediently jammed her foot hard down into the footwell at random, hit the wrong pedal by accident, and reversed the car at high speed directly into his crotch. I could hear the air escape from his lungs in a sudden strangled gasp, even over the noise of the ride and the shrieking seagulls. I couldn't hear Mum and Nini though, because they had lost the power of speech and were now shaking, crying silent tears of mirth. Amelie also started laughing, thinking it was all part of the game. From the operators face it was clear this wasn't appreciated...
He stood well back, and tried once last time: "Push the other pedal..." She did, and the car made a lazy arc to the right, promptly got clipped by another car, and was directed at high speed back into his right leg. Amelie smiled happily up at him, and Mum and Nini became so insensible that I started to worry that they'd lose bladder control. At this point the attendant decided to cut his losses and left her to it, hobbling all the way,
When the ride was over, I met Amelie at the gate, smiling politely at the attendants sour glare as I did so. "Was that fun?" I asked her.
"Yes. Did Mummy and Nanny see me driving the car?" she asked, hopefully.
"Yes. Oh yes..."
"Why are they crying?"
I glanced over at the the two figures still howling and gasping for breath on the railings.
"Oh, no reason..."