The year is 1991, and I am sitting in the manager’s office of Ramsgate’s old Pleasurama arcade, accused of trying to steal cars in the car park. My best friend, Russ, is sitting beside me: he’s accused, too. We have been in the office, waiting for the police to arrive, for around twenty minutes….but it feels like we’ve been there for hours.
We’re thirteen years old old, and we’ve never so much as stolen a pen, let alone a car. Unfortunately, the staff at Pleasureama are absolutely convinced that we’re responsible for the attempted theft because they’ve seen us trying to get into at least three vehicles.
Only, they haven’t….because nobody can find the woman who actually saw us trying to steal the cars. The staff are currently looking for her and, while they’re running all around the building between the arcade machines, we’re trapped in the manager’s office.
We went to Pleasurama every Saturday morning, mostly going through a routine of Pacland, Golden Axe, Rolling Thunder, Operation Wolf and Wrestler War. What we didn’t tend to do, being a couple of juvenile geeks in training, was to hotwire a few cars and go joyriding around Ramsgate in them.
Fortunately, I’m not that worried: despite their insane refusal to call either of our parents (we were young, and didn’t know this was totally against the law) my nan’s oldest friend works at Pleasurama and I’ve just told the manager to go and find her in order to confirm that I’m not the sort of kid who gets involved in stuff like car theft.
She arrives after what feels like an age, and then does something completely – COMPLETELY – unexpected.
She looks at me, this woman who has known me since I was born, and she says: “Well, I wouldn’t have thought – but – well, actually: you never know these days, do you? You just don’t know with these bloody kids.”
I stare at her.
To see if she’s joking.
She just stares back at me, smiles sympathetically, puts her head on one side and says: “You just can’t tell.”
Then she leaves.
We sit there, in complete shock and silence, for another fifteen minutes.
Finally, someone finds the woman who is serving as an eye-witness to these attempted thefts. She walks into the room, barely glances at us and says: “Oh, no – they were much older than that.”
Then she leaves.
The manager doesn’t say sorry. He just takes us back to the arcade and puts twenty credits on Golden Axe for us.
We play for about two credits, and then we turn very quickly and walked out. My mate went straight home, and we didn’t really start talking about it until the following week at school. We were both scared, shocked and shaken up: I learned a horrible lesson about the unpredictability of human nature, and about how little people consider others when they’re on some sort of minor witch hunt.
Little things seem like big things when you’re young. To me, being accused of theft was horrific.
I assumed that they never actually called the police, but that threat – the threat of real trouble – hung over us every second we sat in that office.
We never went back to Pleasurama after that.
Personally, the experience and the unprofessional nature of the people who worked there was burned into my memory for years afterwards.
I was bloody glad when the place came crashing to the ground.