I Was A Heavy Smoker & Gambler At The Age of Ten

I must be getting old because when I played slots as a child they were called one-armed bandits. I was a 70s child. It was a time parents encouraged their children to gamble. I’d change a couple of quid into two pences and try my luck. Penny shove, one-armed bandits and God knows what else.

I had the time of my life.

My brother and I budding gamblers who loved the smell of copper on our hands. We must have been 10 years old. I say that, if you’re thinking, because we are twins.

Mum and Dad smoked, but they wouldn’t allow us to do that or drink alcohol. However, gambling wasn’t barred and it was an important part of our early life. I’m not sure if we were addicted but we enjoyed a good bet.

In those days the fruit machines, one-armed bandits, whatever you called them, didn’t pay out a big big prizes. However, you shouldn’t underestimate their appeal. At the Caister-on-sea holiday camp, run by Ladbrokes, they had a fruit machine which paid either £50 or £100. It may have been £75. Pretty sure it was 10p a go. Four reels. Not sure the theme but remember this one had four black cats.

The holiday camps had a bit of a captive audience. The club was heaving. Our September holiday coincided with Great Yarmouth’s Eastern Festival (three days of top-class horse racing) there were plenty of gamblers in town. Cash on the hip and Lady Luck was everywhere. Lots of belly bearing and easy flares. In the evening, catsuits and the classic bob. I’ve never seen so many people queuing up to go on a fruit machine.

There must have been a line of 20 people.

You’d wait a couple of hours or so to get even a look in. It was literally wait as long as someone’s money lasted or until their willpower cracked. As a child, waiting with my Dad, I was willing each and every person to lose as fast as they could so we would get our turn. Perhaps the adults were thinking the same thing. When our time finally come round, Dad would put the money in and I would press the buttons. It was all good fun. I really loved those fruit machines. It was a special time, father and sons.

I wonder in Las Vegas if people line up to play these progressive slots which pay out millions? If they had one of those at Caister-on-sea the line would have stretched to Great Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier.

We loved our holidays at Caister. Dad went to the horse racing and we’d be about the camp site with mum, eating candyfloss and playing the fruit machines.

I remember we used to go to our local social club in our home town. It was a Buffalo club. It was pretty small and very crowded. We started going there from a similar age with mum and dad. I guess it was cheaper to buy us a couple of cokes than pay for a babysitter. That was back in the day when smoking in pubs and clubs was allowed. The fumes from cigarette and cigar smoke was so thick you couldn’t see across the room. The place had a yellow look about it. I think there was some form of ventilation but it wasn’t up to the job. Smokers revelled in the smog-llike conditions. I’m sure many smoked more to bring it down to zero visibility just to grope the barmaids ample breasts. My eyes stung. It must have been the equivalent to smoking a packet of 20 John Player Special. My clothes literally stunk of nicotine. Stale smoke lingered on your clothes for weeks. People must have thought I was both a heavy smoker and gambler at the age of 10.

Uncle Roy used to go to the club too. He was Dad’s youngest brother and truly a lovely man. Sadly he passed away in his early 40s from a heart attack. I remember he loved a gamble. When he got a win he used to love to press the gamble button to double his payout. We must have had some element of conservation (of money) as I used to keep pressing the collect button. Much to his annoyance.

Uncle Roy would say: ‘Don’t do that!’

It stopped me for a one or two goes but as quick as a flash, I’d press the collect button. I just couldn’t help myself. I’m sure in the end I was made to sit down.

It’s a funny thing that in my older age I don’t enjoy playing fruit machines or slots (an American term). I must have got it out of my system along with smoking and drinking to excess.

Good times.

Photo: Coote 2022