My son grabbed me by the arm, propelling me across Lloyd Park to the loud, blaring attractions of the smallest funfair I have ever seen. ‘It seems a bit packed,’ I said to my wife – from a distance which only increased as it became clear she was not joining us – only to discover a truly Where’s Wally? level of congestion on closer view.
She was wearing the baby in a sling, and craftily used this as an excuse to hang back in the serene sunshine of the outer park, leaving me and the boy to enter the groaning flesh pile by ourselves. We were immediately in the queue for the front kiosk since strolling through the throng was invariably a process of altering your position in the eight queues which looped and swirled through its every dimension.
They say if you stretched out all the veins and arteries in your body end to end, they’d reach the moon. By that same token, if you’d lined up every single person who was queueing in the enclosure in Walthamstow, at least some of them could probably have reached a better, larger funfair a few boroughs over.
Speaking of tokens, my first quest was to discover how many I’d need to buy from the entry kiosk. Most of the rides seemed to be about three tokens, and taking in him and myself, I decided 30 would be sufficient. I should have realised this was foolhardy when the woman doling them out hesitated for a moment, before relieving me of £30 and sending me three steps left into what I took to be freedom, but turned out to be the queue for a bouncy house.
It soon became clear that adults weren’t allowed on any of the rides, even in a supervisory capacity, and that there were many fewer attractions than I’d surmised. Furthermore, neither the Hook-a-Duck stand nor any of the food vendors accepted tokens at all, meaning I had essentially made myself the Elon Musk of the Lloyd Park funfair for no reason whatsoever.
Things took a further dip into humiliation when it became clear my son was only willing to commit to entering a ride once we’d reached the top of its queue, which meant on several occasions a 15-minute shuffle through an unbroken chain of human frustration ended with him cheerfully declaring, ‘I don’t want to,’ so we could abruptly leave the queue and attempt somewhere else.
Nine queues, one successful go on the little horses and a full hour later, we emerged, sweaty and exhausted to find Mum and baby relaxing on a nearby grass bank.
‘Have fun?’ she asked, as I trundled toward her in a miserable dumbshow of haggard resentment. I slumped to the ground. As she regarded me in my full pathetic splendour, 27 small, red discs spewed from my pocket to complete the sorry tableau.
Not for the first time, I wonder if she only married me for my tokens.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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