|The Blue Room|
'All right,' said Douglas, 'I know you don't like being saddled with me, but it's only for this morning. I wish you'd try not to look quite so miserable about it.'
Douglas was my cousin and he was right, of course. I had planned to spend the morning exploring the back streets of the seaside town, discovering one or two secondhand bookshops, visiting the odd record shop perhaps and then, at breakfast, my dream had been shattered by my Aunt.
'You're not busy this morning, are you Tom?' she said cheerfully. 'Why don't you take Douglas for a walk along the beach? I have some shopping to do.' Since I, like my cousin, was staying at my Aunt's seaside home, it was a request that was impossible to refuse.
Douglas was eleven and I was more than twice that age. There was a serious generation gap. So here we were, strolling along the promenade on a grey, rather windy autumn morning, with little in common apart from vague family ties.
'You don't really want to go for a walk along the beach, do you?' I asked.
'Not particularly,' said Douglas. 'Have you got any money?'
'How much?' I enquired suspiciously.
'A couple of pounds,' he replied.
'Probably,' I said.
'Then let's go to the Blue Room.'
'The Blue Room?' I'd never heard of it.
'At the end of the pier. Come on, I'll show you.'
Apart from one or two elderly couples wandering along arm in arm, the pier was deserted. Empty deckchairs flapped forlornly in the breeze, and the doors of the seaside photographers, the fortune tellers and the souvenir shops were firmly shut and barred. But at the far end a large sign in flashing coloured lights still invited the public to sample the 'Amusements'. 'Thank goodness it's still open,' said Douglas, increasing his pace.
My heart sank and I remembered the strange compulsion of my own youth to feed pennies into slot machines and send little silver balls whizzing round and round. By the time I was sixteen I had grown out of these games. We went in through the double doors, under the illuminated sign.
'Give us a pound, then,' Douglas was saying eagerly.
Mechanically I handed him a pound coin and he dashed off to change it into 10p pieces.
I looked about me and realized at once that this was a world I knew nothing of. Oh, there were one or two fruit machines which seemed familiar, but what was this strange game called 'Frogger'? 'Help the frog across the road', while the electronic vehicles thundered by, or 'The mad planet', where multicoloured spacecraft sped through a starry universe, constantly under attack from small, evil-looking machines, where the air was filled with the roar of gigantic explosions and the spacecraft suddenly disintegrated in huge sheets of flame.
Douglas was back at my side, his eyes shining. 'Good, isn't it?' he said. 'Got another pound?'