My slot machine summer

When I was 15 a friend helped me to obtain a summer job in an amusement arcade at Cleethorpes. Along the promenade were a series of rides and amusement, starting with the carousel that featured painted wooden horses on which one rode in a circle while a steam organ played music. Then came Wonderland, a temple of rides such as the Ghost Train, and the floating ducks with hooks on top and numbers underneath that one fished out three of to win a prize based on the total count achieved. Much farther along was the arcade that hired me. It featured mostly slot machines in which one paid a penny to flick a ball to see if it could land in a prize-winning hole. There was a crane which for a small coin one could manipulate to try to grab a prize, but whose claws were so loose that it usually dropped off before it could be delivered to the exit slot.

My job was to give change and to fix machines. I had a huge bag of copper coins over my shoulder, and punters would come up to me to change their sixpence, shillings, and sometimes half-crowns into copper pennies that worked the machines. Repair was easy. The huge string of keys over my other shoulder opened the front of the machines so I could dislodge the jammed coin that had usually caused the problem.

Sometimes I was put on as a bingo caller while the official one took a break. The players sat on stools in a circle, while I would call the numbers as the balls emerged. I had to learn the lingo that accompanied it so the numbers could not be misheard. Thus "Doctor's orders number nine" could not be mistaken for five. Some of the little phrases around each number were there to give the game its familiar feel. "Two little ducks, twenty-two" and "legs eleven" described the appearance of the numbers, and "clickety-click, all the sixes, sixty-six" and similar intonations were part of the tradition that accompanied the game.

I did this for two summers in a row, and discovered how dirty copper coinage can be. I had to wash my hands several times a day to clean off the black from the coins that collected on them. It was great fun, though, and was the first real paying job I had.