Return to Coral Island

We recently spent a couple of days in Blackpool.  Our main port of call was the Pleasure Beach, but we also stopped off at what we have come to call “the machines” – otherwise known as an amusement arcade.

Coral Island is the biggest of Blackpool’s many such venues, and was the site of an exciting discovery for me back in the summer of 2004.

I grew up in a seaside town, and spent many happy hours on the pier indulging in some low-level gambling.  My favourite type of machine was always what I call the Tuppenny Falls – the one where you drop your coins in to join a pile of others and hope that some get pushed off the edge and into your winnings tray.   I always knew that this was a game of diminishing returns;  slowly but surely the number of coins going in exceeds the number of coins coming out, until you are left with nothing but an aching shoulder and dirty fingers.

At least, that used to be the case when I was a child.  But what I discovered in that dark and noisy arcade in 2004 is that some places now put small prize items on top of the pile of coins.  These items get pushed to the edge along with the coins, and you can actually end up with something to show for all the time and money you put in.   Even though (as my husband points out every time) the value of the prize is almost certainly less than the amount of money spent winning it.

And so it was that after a week in Blackpool and many hours spent at Coral Island, I returned home with about fifteen or twenty assorted keyrings and other pointless knick-knacks.  Which I was very happy with.

But that was then.  These days I can bag that many prizes in the course of one afternoon, never mind a week.  It’s not just that I have got faster at putting the money in, and it’s certainly not that arcade owners have become more generous.  Our return trip to Coral Island last week made me realise just how much I have learnt about Coin Pushers (to give them their “official” title) in the last seven years.

And now I am going to share some of that knowledge.

The first thing to know is that really dedicated prizewinning requires an assistant.  When one of those coveted keyrings is just on the edge of the shelf and the very next coin could be the one to topple it over, you don’t want to have to leave your machine to get more change.  So try to ensure you have a friend or family member in earshot at all times.

Next, choose your machine.  (I only ever play the 2p versions;  I’ve never been that much of a gambler.)  What you want is a machine with a narrow shelf and a fast moving pusher.

This is the sort you want...
...but don't bother with this one

For the perfect machine, as well as the width of the shelf, you should look at the little perspex vertical wall which you can see just at the back of the moving part of the shelf.  This is adjustable, and generous arcade owners will set it at a level that allows only one layer of coins in the back row.  This means that whatever stage of the cycle you drop your coin, it will never be wasted by falling on top of another coin.  This is particularly useful when children are playing, since they don’t normally have the skill to time their coin drop for maximum pushing efficiency.

It’s not often that all three components – narrow shelf, fast pushing, and low wall – come together in one machine, but if you find one like that, don’t leave it until there are no prizes left.  It shouldn’t take long.

Personally I prefer machines where the coin slot is at waist level rather than eye level.  But that is mostly because I normally have a heavy handbag over my shoulder, and a couple of hours spent with that arm raised to coin-slot height gives me neckache.  And a lower slot also means that small children can be recruited to help if necessary.

When it comes to the prizes themselves, keyrings are quite common and can also be quite easy to win.  This is because they spread themselves out, so you only need to get the ring end or the toy end over the edge of the shelf and the rest will soon follow.  Bracelets are similarly a good thing, especially if they are heavy ones.

Small rubber balls can be almost impossible to win, because they tend to roll backwards once they reach the lip of the shelf edge.  Items still in their plastic packets normally get stuck against the glass on the way down, requiring a visit from the man with the keys –  another reason to make sure you have a helper to hand.  And cuddly toys can throroughly clog up the system.

It is nearly always easier to win prizes of any kind when they are closer to the middle, especially if you can make use of more than one coin slot so the pile of coins is getting pushed from two directions.  On the other hand, prizes that are too close to the side of the shelf tend to disappear into the land of lost prizes, those vast coin boxes that are the reason arcade owners make a living from these machines.

And that’s about it.  Now you know how to choose the best machines and the easiest prizes, all you need to make yourself a winner is a tub full of coins and a bit of patience.  Plus a stubborn refusal to leave the arcade without that one last prize, even when the rest of your family are complaining about empty stomachs and over-running parking meters.

So next time you are at the seaside, grab yourself some two pence pieces, and before long you too could be the proud owner of a box full of amusement arcade prizes.

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Making Notes: Bath Bombs

I had seen instructions for making bath bombs before.  But I was always put off by the danger of premature fizzing – the part in the instructions where you have to spray on just enough water to make it all stick together but not enough to set off the reaction that should only happen in the privacy of your own bathroom.  So I was delighted to come across this variation.

Ingredients:
– 180g Bicarbonate of Soda
– 60g Citric Acid
– 3-5ml Essential oils
– (optional) flower petals
– (optional) a few drops of food colouring

Equipment:
– Ice Cube Tray – the bendy sort
– Mixing bowl (one you won’t want to use for food afterwards)
– Spoon (ditto)
– (optional) Plastic Dropper/Pipette

This makes enough to fill a normal sized square ice tray, with a little left over.  I mostly use one from IKEA which has 16 holes that are a flowery shape.   I’ve also done star shaped ones, although they were a bit trickier – it’s best to choose a shape without thin parts which could break off.

The ratio of bicarbonate to citric acid is a straightforward 3:1 so you can increase or decrease quantities to fit different size moulds so long as you retain that ratio.

And all you do is mix the two powders together before adding the essential oil and the food colouring, if desired, a little at a time (which is where the pipette comes in handy), stirring it in well.   You can also add dried flower petals such as lavender or rose, if that is appropriate for the oil you have chosen.

Then just press the mixture into the moulds, very firmly.  You will be surprised at how much you can fit into those tiny holes when you press it down really hard.

Leave it for a good few hours – I normally wait overnight – then carefully turn them out.   They will have taken on enough moisture from the air to make them stick together without starting to fizz.

I made loads of these for Christmas and can’t believe I don’t have a photo of any.  I made them in the shape of stars, with some cosmetic-grade glitter sprinkled into the moulds first so they came out sparkly.  Then I put them into a (clean) coffee jar, decorated it with gold glass painted stars, and added a ribbon and a label.    I used a ready made christmassy oil blend of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, orange and pine, which saved me having to work out the right mixture myself.

I’m not sure if this no-added-water method would work for big bath balls, but it’s certainly simple and effective for these smaller ones.  My four-year-old can even make his own, with just a little supervision and plenty of blue food colouring!

Who? What? Where? When?

Living with a four-year-old is fun and frustrating in equal measure.  My particular model never stops fidgeting, touching things and talking.  In particular, the questions never seem to end.

Today I made a note of all the questions that he asked over a six-hour period.  Bear in mind that this represents barely half of our normal day.  Plus I actually got about an hour’s peace while he was sitting in the shopping trolley and playing with his ipod.

This is how my day went (from about 9am to about 3pm)

Can I play Gator Golf?
Can I play Hungry Hippos?
When can we go to Cadbury World?
Who’s that man?
Can we do penguin dancing when we get home?
What is that lady doing out there?
Where’s my food?
What’s that?
Why does it have a picture of a house on it?
Did you see Tracey?
When can we watch Rio again?
Why do they have cheese potatoes?
Why is there a table for the workers?
Who’s that man?
What are we doing at the weekend?
Can I have my food first?
When can we go to Chessington again?
When can we go to Alton Towers again?
All houses are white aren’t they?
Why not?
What colour is our house?
What colour is brick colour?
Why did they choose that colour?
Why didn’t you live together in a flat?
Why?
Why is there a picture of that?
Why is there a picture of a kitkat?
What happened?
How old will I be when you’re dead?
How old do you think I’ll be?
Will you be sad when you’re dead?
Will you be sad when I’m dead?
Why will you be very sad?
How old can you stay alive for?
Do some people live to be a thousand?
How else can you stay alive for?
Has Betty got Snow White yet?
How do you know?
When did you see it?
What does psychic mean?
Is the flower shop next door?
Did you know penguins can hold their breath for twenty minutes?
What does my breath smell of?
And what else?
And what else?
What will Poppy’s first word be?
Will it be cheese?
Will it be chocolate?
Why is it difficult to say?
There’s twelve tables isn’t there?
Can we sing baa baa black sheep on the way?
Can I have a big bit of drink?
When is it the weekend?
When can we go on a seaside holiday again?
Please may I have pudding?
Can we go home?
Can we buy some flowers?
If someone steals our flowers can we get some?
Why aren’t we selling the house any more?
When’s all the paperwork going to be done?
Why are we stuck together?
Why are you walking slowly?
Can I play with my phone?
What did he say?
Why did he say that?
Why is he a Pirate?
When can we go on the 322?
Are we going straight to the supermarket?
How do you know?
Why don’t we have a gate anymore?
How are we going to get a fence again?
How do you know?
Have you been there before?
How do you like that?
Why are we going to the supermarket?
What are we having for lunch?
Is it Monday next week?
Can you do this for me?
Can I put this down now?
Is police cars faster than normal cars?
Why?
What’s criminals?
Why are they called criminals?
What kind of things?
And what else?
People who crash?
Why sometimes the police comes?
Why doesn’t it work in that one?
Can I have my phone now?
When can we go to Legoland?
Why is it called Legoland?
But why does it have Lego anyway?
Can we go to Morrisons?
Are we going there?
Can I have my phone in the supermarket?
Can I sit in the trolley?
Why did you choose one with two seats?
Why is that all they’ve got?
Can I have chocolate yoghurt?
Can I have a magazine?
Can I have chocolate?
How much shopping did we get?
What comes after 39?
What comes after 49?
Is it dark in here?
Can you see my Paulton’s Park map?
When I am Ruby’s age she will be 9 won’t she?
Why will she be 12?
Who are you sending a message to?
Can you turn the lights on?
Can I have the Jake music?
Can I have your wedding music?
Why did you let Sarah look after me instead of taking me yourself?
How much times have I had this?
When are we going to Sarah’s?
Did you ask Kate and Betty as well?
Can you ask Kate and Betty next time?
I’ll be five the next time we go to Alton towers won’t I?
Because it’s my birthday soon isn’t it?
Nor really soon but quite soon?
Can we go to that park this afternoon?
What did he call to say?
Post what things?
Who is our solicitor?
What’s her other name?
Where’s the post office?
Can I sit in the car while you go to the post office?
Can we park here?
Please can I have sweets?
Why did you say four?
When are we going home?
Can I have sweets?
What are we having for lunch?
Where is the map from Alice in Wonderland?
Why are we driving this way?
When can we go to that park?
Are you watching?
Shall I go and tell them it’s not a bench it’s a roundabout?
Can you push me really high?
Can you make it stop?
Can you reach me?
Can you get my foot out?
I went all the way round didn’t I?
Who can I hear shouting?
Is that learning?
Why have they got yellow?
Is there no such thing as superheroes in this world?
Can I call Nanny to tell her we’ve got 14 Disney cards?
When will lunch be ready?
Can we make a chocolate lolly?
What’s a mould?
Can we watch TV please?
Is lunch ready?
Where are my sausages?
Why have you given me four – I said five?
Didn’t you hear me?
What can we have for pudding?
Can you open it?
Did you have that when you were little?
Am I too big for it now?
Please can I have another pudding?
Can I have yoghurt?
Why do they put it in a strawberry?
Can I play on the computer?
How does this game work?
Can I have another pudding?
Can you get me a spoon?
Can we make these now?
This glue?
Why isn’t it coming out?
Why is it still not coming out?
How do you know?
Where’s the red one?
Is it finished?
Now what can we do?
Was that a police car on this programme?
What is this?
Can I have a go?
How does it work?
Please can I have a go?
How did you cut this off?
Can I rip it?
What begins with a c?

In case you weren’t counting, that is around 180 questions, which works out to be one every two minutes.  And of course every single one of these questions required an answer.

So I think it’s hardly surprising that by the end of the day I can barely string a sentence together, never mind write a blog post.