Floss was a handyman at Ramsgate’s huge funfair called Wonderland. He worked on the Big Dipper. Early every morning he sent two cars round the track loaded with sand bags, watching the reaction of the wooden structure as the car went round, to gauge any weaknesses. Next it was my turn for a free, if solitary ride, as a third check. Can you imagine what Health & Safety would make of that today?
Evening was the best time to be there, it was vibrant, with a cacophony of sound and a kaleidoscope of coloured lights winking on and off, and I absorbed the hectic atmosphere of the constantly eddying mass of humanity, along with the excitement of it all. When I went on these protracted holidays it was my practice, even duty, to return home with a small present for each of the family. This time I had had so many incursions into the wallet I was almost totally broke. What with the cinema trips, smoking, the funfair at Ramsgate and the even more expansive funfair at Margate, called Dreamland, I had only pence left and was at my wits end – well almost, I still had the slot machines to fall back on. Families descended like locusts on the one-armed-bandits. They were impatient to win and when the pickings were poor they too, like the locusts, moved on. It was then that I moved in, with just the odd penny here and there. I would give a heavily patronised machine, the opportunity to play one or two more games. Most times it worked. On the last evening I could not waste money on bus fares and cycled to the fairground. There I set about making enough from the slot machines to give me a fighting chance to win prizes at the stalls. Buying presents was out of the question, just a matter of playing the odds and knowing when to stop. Having increased my shilling into something like five, I went in search of other games of chance where I had reasonable odds, I won a glass bottomed tea tray, plaster of Paris elephants of all sizes, coated in black mica, a milk jug, toffee, and chocolates for Val. The things were equally disparate and cheap, but I was no connoisseur, merely a boy trying to get himself out of a jam.
That night I cycled back to Pegwell Bay with the tyres birring happily along on the tarmac, a smile on my face which could not be rubbed off by the passage of the wind, no matter about the lonely days and the long hours spent touring for its own sake, the elation of that evening put it all behind and made that holiday one I never forgot.
It was at this time that I bought a packet of Will’s Goldflake cigarettes and sat in the cinema, in the afternoon, in the dark, enjoying a taste I was only once again able to enjoy. There is something about the taste of those first cigarettes one smokes which is indescribably satisfying – like the taste of real Naval rum, never to be experienced again. In fact it was many years later, when I restarted smoking after a longer than usual period of abstinence, that I savoured for a brief period that wonderful sensation and taste once again.