It’s a long time since I’ve been in Barry’s Amusements of Portrush – several decades, if my memory serves me well. And as a septuagenarian, it rarely does.
The big dipper (or small dipper, as was) springs to mind, as do the dodgems. No doubt, Health and Safety have extracted much of the enjoyment out of those exciting pursuits. But what sticks in the fading memory most, is the game where patrons used to roll halfpenny coins into a contraption that had a couple of moving platforms. If you were lucky (and invariably you weren’t) a cascade of halfpennies would be ejected – although you usually lost the lot by shoving them straight back in.
I don’t know the name of the machine. But a sophisticated version has emerged of late in the afternoon television show ‘Tipping Point’ (ITV), which is hypnotic to this mini-gambler. (I have a flutter of the Grand National every year, and that’s it).
I was an addict to the Barry’s machine, and was introduced to it through the Boys’ Brigade (BB) in an obtuse sort of way. I was 17, and a junior officer at summer camp up in The Port.
Usually we went to the Isle of Man. But that year (sometime in the late 1950s) we headed for The North Coast, and the main drawback was that parents could hop aboard a train and visit their little pride-and-joys to see how they were getting on. (My parents didn’t bother, as they were no doubt glad to get shot of their spotty teenager for 10 days).
Anyway, one lad (aged 12, we’ll call him Sammy) was having the time of his life, and boys and officers adored him. He was an only child, and when his doting mother arrived in The Field out the Coleraine Road that Saturday (too handy for the train), she threw her arms around him (much to his and our embarrassment), and wailed – “Oh Sammy, love, are they looking after you?”
Sammy – as happy as a piglet in you-know-what – replied, “Yes mammy”.
He tried to inform her of the joys he was experiencing. But she wasn’t listening and countered – “Come on into Portrush son, and mammy will buy you a big fish supper.”
The BB Captain and the Chaplain did a terrible thing. It was pork pie for tea, and the Captain (as streetwise as they came) bet the Chaplain his pork pie, “that she’ll have him home on the train before the day is out”, as mammy and Sammy made for the chippie. His Reverence accepted the wager.
I was hauled into The Port by a fellow junior officer who had a problem – he was on a holiday romance, but his girlfriend from Portadown had come a-visiting and he wanted my help to keep the lovelorn girls apart.
We headed for Barry’s and it was there that I encountered the money machine - it was pre-decimalisation and you only had to roll halfpennies (24 of them would make up the present 5p, or a shilling, as was).
I spotted my mate’s holiday romance and advised him to spirit the Portadown version to Coleraine in the train, which he did. The Portrush edition asked me where he was, I lied I hadn’t a clue, and she invited me for a walk along the East Stand to the White Rocks. I sussed immediately that she was a habitual holiday romancer and made my excuses and left.
On the way back to camp, I met Sammy and mammy at the station entrance. She told me that her wee son was homesick, and they made for the 3.45pm train south. Sammy looked decidedly cheesed off. When I arrived back in The Field with the news, the Captain consumed both pork pies, and the Chaplain had to make do with bread and jam.
When I re-visited Portrush and Barry’s a few years later with wife and family, 2p was the currency for the machine - inflation of about 500 per cent, with decimalisation having been introduced, but that’s capitalism.
Anyway, I’m addicted to ‘Tipping Point’, introduced by the personable Ben Shephard and where contestants can win a whopping £10,000 (many halfpennies in old money) after answering rather simple questions. Black and white discs thunder down the elaborate machine trying to push out a bigger disc, adorned with a red star, worth a cool £10,000. I love the show.
Does the money machine still exist in Barry’s, dear reader? Please let me know.