I’m a firm believer that birthdays should make you feel like a child. If you don’t get the same excitement as on the day you turned 10, it’s not really a proper birthday.

Birthdays should be amazing.

Today is Mom’s birthday and we’re all going to the seaside. The Welsh seaside.

The Welsh inland seaside.

The family has all come together at my brother’s house and is squeezing into Dad’s Rover like luggage in a packed boot, ready for some drizzly Welsh delights. Rovers are fine machines. After all, we’ve had loads in the last year or so.

Dad is married to Mom. He has been for a while, and he seems to be getting sympathy 10-year-old birthday excitement. He’s driving the Rover like a Star Wars Episode 1 pod racer and the engine is making noises. Wonderful noises! Noises of appreciation! An old man is in the lane ahead. He is a tortoise, about to be overtaken in a hare-raising roadshow. We rocket past an inn. The Tattoo Inn.

We get boost power, and Dad pushes the red button.

Max speed!

———————————————————————————————————————————

“I’m sorry. It was this Rover’s time” pronounces The AA man. The same AA man as last time. We know him as ‘Alan’. He knows us as ‘that Rover family’. We are in the lovely town of Much Wenlock.

And we can’t get out.

The dream of soggy fish and chips is being slowly knifed.

Statistically speaking, surely a lot of people must get stuck here. Maybe that’s why it’s called Much Wenlock. As in ‘Much To Do Wen You’re Locked Here’. It’s a public notice! Offering encouragement to all the frustrated souls who will soon be initiated into ‘The Stranded’ – the wandering band of lost souls forever abandoned to the village. It might be alright!

It’s not alright. The town offers sweet nothing except for either breakfast or blechfest.

We drive off two hours later in my brother’s Rover. A concerning thought has started to concern me. Mom’s noticed that I look concerned but I can’t tell her why. The thing is; I’ve realised that I wasn’t actually around when Mom was 10, so I don’t quite know how I want her to react.

She could end up doing anything.

Wales is beautiful. An ancient secret guarded by monks and sheep who communicate in an ancient tongue transcribed by terriers. I think it was probably the original inspiration for Mordor in Lord of the Rings. Or the Shire.

We arrive in Barmouth and eat our delightfully drizzled fish and chips.

Seminal.

We are a family of 10 year olds, but this day is not about us. It’s all about Mom.

“What do you want to do now Mom?”

Her eyes glaze over as she processes the glee welling up within her. We all know what she’s thinking. – Cash machine… Whip up a cheeky tenner! Crack open the note on a chocolate bar, Reminisce about dairy milks being 30p in 1995. – 2p machines, prepare for the thrashing of your lives!

Within seconds a copper river flows furiously. The noises are a symphony. 15 year old equipment beeps and buzzes everywhere, eclipsing the clinking of a 10 year old child’s handful of 2ps landing as Mom, the seasoned professional, pays no attention to such small winnings. Suddenly something shatters the retro cacophonous cavalcade.

Someone’s got a gun.

Mummy!

Mummy’s got a gun!

Mom… wouldn’t…. shoot someone…? Would she? She’s being a 10 yr old!

Oh… no!

I didn’t know what to expect, but… this?!?!?! Could this have been what Mom was like as a 10 yr old?! They do have those child terrorists in Africa! Could she have been a sleeper in the UK terrorist consulate? She does sleep… in fact, most nights! This is crazy, but I can’t rule it out; after all, Andy the Tank threw a knife at me when we were that age.

I look at the gun. It’s small.

Too small.

Hang on.

It’s on a keyring. Mom’s won a prize!

I breathe.

Nobody knew you could win the toys in 2p machines. I always thought they were just for show; to mock you and your pathetic attempts to win a cheap piece of rubbish you only want because you can’t have it. Mom is staring at the 2p machine. A cute little frog teeters on the canyon edge of a panoramic copper scene. I can see wheels turning in Mom’s head. If she can win a gun…

Mom may have momentarily misplaced her marbles. The gun’s gone now. It is all about that frog. And all of her 2ps are fangoriously risking their lives for it.

The rest of the family join in (not risking their lives) and the 2p rapids move into meltdown. There are 5 streams of coiny goodness launching an amphibious assault on this pittance machine. It’s like a stoned-N64-Beatles version of Donkey Kong where Mario is a horde of harbinger 2ps trying to rescue the Princess Froggy. DK himself has metamorphosed into a weird set of revolving platforms that seem to endlessly infuriate all the little Marios.

Time goes by.

Time is running out. It’s getting dark, and Wales hasn’t developed street lighting. The 2ps are beginning to get demoralised and question the relevance of their quest. One of them says something about a curry, and for a second I’m off with the tandoori fairies.

Which is precisely when it happened. They’ve given up. There are… no more 2ps.

Pained at seeing the look on the face of my 10 yr old mother, I awake from my peshwari party and charge to the other machines putting all my years of having no money in arcades into action. I scour each machine’s winnings tray. They’re all empty. The dream is about to die. When a shiny bronze circle spins into sight.

Yes! It’s one last 2p! The game’s not over!

I proudly present the Lieutenant-Dan-2p to Mom. She puts it back into my hand and closes it.

“I’m worn out Dan. I can’t go on. Just leave me here. You’ve gotta fight on without me.”

The gravity of the situation strikes me like three 20kg boxes of TV brackets. My fingers fondle the final 2p. I slowly move into dropping-in position.

This is the most significant moment of my life. The purpose for my existence.

If only The Stranded could see me now.

“This is the reason I was born.”

We all share a poignant nod.

I drop the coin.

Time creases. My brain is about to have a power cut.

I hear a noise. A wonderful noise. A noise of appreciation.

I close my eyes, and look.

I’ve done it!!! The Dear Frog is ours!!! I hug Mom. She has a tear in her other eye.

I turn to celebrate with Dad who is standing, smiling like Elliott Gould at the fountain at the end of Ocean’s Eleven but with better glasses.

How can he be so calm? It’s like he doesn’t see the incredibly unlikely jamminess of what just happened! This is confusion! He is confusing me. Dad calmly explains his surprisingly subtle (by Mohr standards) nonchalance.

“I cheated”.

I feel like fainting. “What do you mean?”

“I was praying.”

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