Do I wish I’d had a camera, back in fifty three?
Do I wish I’d taken photographs, so now my friends could see?
Copper coins and ice cream cones and leaving brought on tears
The magic then of Jacque’s Arcade to a child of seven years.
“Please spare some pennies for me Dad
But you’ll have to lift me up”
And within the sound of crashing waves
I’d try the “Lucky Cup”
First penny in, a ball drops out, I spin it round and round
Will it win or will it lose, it makes a whooshing sound?
And then it misses “Lucky Cup”, “You’ve lost that one my son”.
A small face drops, Dad puts me down, and my first penny’s gone.
Another in, three wooden balls, I roll them up the track
I’m only small, not yet strong, they just keep rolling back.
Dad shows me how, and with one flick the ball shoots up the slope
There’s sixty on the score board now, but my score? – not a hope.
One penny left, I reach tip toe and suddenly it’s gone
Lights start to flash, a motor whirrs and father watches son.
An open door, a man is hanged, his final retribution
It’s stayed with me across the years, that fairground execution.
No, that camera wasn’t needed, way back in fifty three
And I didn’t need those photographs so others now could see
Where Jacque’s once stood, they still bowl balls, but of a different kind
The memory stays, I don’t need snaps, they’re safer in my mind.
But fun costs more than pennies now
There’s death and grown-up fears,
And magic’s now in Life’s Arcade
To this child of fifty years.
This poem is not as sinister as it’s title suggests. It was inspired by my own childhood memories of a penny-in-the-slot automaton at a seaside arcade in the 1950’s which depicted the execution of a tiny wooden figure by hanging. The arcade is now long gone and a new bowling alley stands on the site but that old ‘fairground attraction’ is a deeply embedded memory which stays with me to this day: