My son serves his I-told-you-sos silent – which is very lucky for me | Kent

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My stepmother, P, lives in Ramsgate, but has caring responsibilities up the wazoo elsewhere, so she hasn’t been in her house for a year. I’m here to check the plants haven’t died, but she knows that isn’t really why I’m here. It’s because I love it. The regular reader will recall that I’ve been barred from the Wetherspoon’s, the most magnificent pub in Europe, but I still love the town. The intensity of the skies, the smell of whelks, the harbour that thinks it’s so fancy (because it is), the neighbourliness – so colourful, so cheerful; every morning is like the establishing shot of a Disney musical – and, most of all, the arcades.

There’s been an awful role reversal in the family over lockdown – worse than TJ, the boy child, getting taller than me. He’s become the manager of my expectations. He spent the entire journey down here explaining why the arcades wouldn’t be open. “They’re not essential by anyone’s terms. Even if you were addicted to gambling, and the 2p machines were like your methadone, that still wouldn’t be essential.”

“How do you know about methadone?”

“Telly.”

“Inessential shops are open,” H, female, interjected. She is much more of my mind. Everything you want to be open shall be open, because that’s how the universe works.

“Yes: a) she’s right, they are essential, they are the vendors of dreams, and what could be more important? And b) non-essential shops are also open, which is how we spent last week in H&M and everyone shouted at me for calling it Hennes.”

“I’m just saying, don’t get your hopes up,” TJ said mildly, but that ship had totally sailed. Our hopes were through the roof.

We arrived and I disarmed the burglar alarm – the only pin I’ve never forgotten, thanks to the most intense argument I’ve had or witnessed about a passcode. My dad, who died in 2004, explained to all of us once: “You can remember it because it’s my date of birth, only with two different digits,” and my sister said: “I have no idea what year you were born,” and my maths brother said: “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard – you might as well say: ‘You can remember it because it has four numbers in it and two of them aren’t the same.”

We went round like that for, honestly, hours, spinning off into other territories – did he remember any of our birth years? Who in the gene pool was the best at maths? – until it was two in the morning, with the result being that I have never forgotten it, while my brother would doubtless forget it on purpose. Who cares about their eardrums when they could be right?

We checked the houseplants, which by some witchcraft were all still alive. We marvelled at the state of the place. Some people are born so tidy that they can infuse a place with order even from 60 miles away. Or maybe one of her neighbours has been coming in and dusting, while singing a song, assisted by starlings and squirrels. We’d better get moving, I said, or we’d miss the arcades. It was 5.32pm. A neighbour was on the doorstep saying hello and her eyes took on an evasive shadow. What did she know that I didn’t?

“Annie,” I said, point blank. “Are the arcades … not open?”

“I don’t know – I’ve never been in an arcade. I’m 71 years old.”

This seemed reasonable. But why did she look so shifty?

“We’ve already missed the arcades!” TJ was calling from within. “We should have got here in 2019.”

“Right,” said H. “Where is all my money? I’m going to need a load of money.”

“You haven’t got any money, you doughnut, you spent it all on lip gloss in Hennes.”

“OK, you’re going to need a load of money.”

Once, we spent 25 quid trying to win a treasure chest made of plastic, with gold plastic coins inside it, retail value £1.99, tops. Eventually, the manager just unlocked the case and gave it to us. He couldn’t bear to watch any more waste.

We sailed down the broad, majestic boulevard to the beach, sea on one side, on the other some artificial caves where generations of teenagers have scratched in the names of all the people who have performed obscene acts over the years. (Really, if you tried to double-source whether Ross had shagged an eel, you would realise he probably didn’t.) We approached the street of delight, noting who was open. Ice-cream parlour? Check. Bars named after maritime events? Check. The whelk stall, the seal-watching boat expedition, the seaside-accessory-monger, selling sunscreen for a joke? Check, check, check. The signs were good at this point. I monitored my first-born carefully for signs that he might be thinking: “Maybe I’m wrong.” Ha. Not a chance.

We got to the arcade. It wasn’t merely closed. It was desolate: dust everywhere, Pikachus dangling lifeless from the ceiling like a warning. There wasn’t even a sign saying they’d closed down. It looked like Poundland Pompeii. I looked over at my son, but he serves his I-told-you-sos silent. I like that in him.

Tomorrow, we try Margate.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: My son serves his I-told-you-sos silent – which is very lucky for me | Kent

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