Just a kid

This blogging lark is still very new to me, I’m never quite sure what I’m going to say or how I’m going to say it.

I pick up a pen, open my heart, and let the words and recollections come.

And so we arrive at my earliest memory of gambling:

Rewind back to young Sam, ten or eleven years old and on holiday in Cornwall with my mum, dad, sister, and brother. We loved Cornwall, always staying at the same holiday park, Sun Valley. 

And just like every kid on holiday, we’d go into the arcades and head straight to the two-pence machines. 

Who knew such innocent times would lead to such dark ones later on. I was just a little boy having fun with his family.

But I was drawn to those flashing lights like a moth to a flame, those machines were irresistible.

I loved their sound too, and the delicious yet painful moments holding your breath, wondering if coins or a little toy would tumble down. 

The sheer joy on our faces when we won a toy, we couldn’t have looked more excited! 

Every bit of plastic ‘tat’ as precious as a diamond! We were the happiest kids in the world.


Little did I know that the first win would change my life forever.

Our parents gave us each a couple of pounds to change into two-pence coins, and we would endless hours of fun playing on the machines, our pockets filling up with coins and toys. 

We thought we were rich! Little jackpot winners!

I’d scream with joy at every win, every cheap trinket became the best toy in the world. 

But then there could be a ‘sinking’ feeling if the supply of coins started run out and the losses outweighed the gains.

(And this feeling would be much worse if my siblings and others around me were still on a winning streak.)

All too soon it’d be the turn of the last coin, and even at that tender age, I can remember the tension build as it dropped into the slot. Then hopping from one foot to another as I willed it to lie nice and flat next to the big bunch of coins I’d already lost. 

The metal arm would give it a tantalising push… but nothing would drop down to the second layer.

I’d be gutted, my bottom lip would tremble, and I’d tear myself away to frantically search other machines for loose change just to get that buzz back. 

I’d have done anything to drop just one more coin into the machine. 

Sometimes there was a different outcome.

The metallic block rewarding me with a lucky push. 

Just enough to send a big pile of coins tumbling down to the level below. 

Watching as the arm retracted once again, concentrating with every fibre in my body, willing it to make a return push that would send a cascade of coins towards me, and I’d be the richest kid in the arcade again. 

My heart would race, but time would slow. 

My world was running in slow motion. 

Then CHING, CHING, CHING, CHING, CHING, an avalanche of two-pence coins bouncing on the shiny floor of the machine. 

My little legs propelling me into the air as I’m jumping for joy. My last coin is my luckiest. 

Butterflies fluttering around my tummy as I’m scooping up my winnings. 

I’m on top of the world. 

Nothing can stop me now. 

A smug look at my siblings that says “beat that” without having to utter a single word!

With all my coins safely stored in the little plastic cup provided by the arcade, I’d exit the arcade like I’d just won big at the casino. 

Shoulders back. Head high. The real deal. 

Eyes scanning the arcade like a pro… which machine can I defeat next? 

Need to find the one that has the coins hanging over the edge, or with a toy ripe enough to drop like low-hanging fruit.

Watching others play… waiting for my unknown opponents to lose their money, so I can jump straight in and finish what they couldn’t.

Then the crashing reality of parents calling you back to the real world. Time to return to the caravan park. 

I’d beg for five more minutes, just five more measly minutes because I can feel another payout tingle in my fingertips. 

And always the same response. “We can come back tomorrow.”

When you’re not done winning, tomorrow is never close enough. Even then I was chasing and craving that big win (albeit in the form of a toy.)

And as I go back to childhood Sam, I can feel the adrenaline course through my veins. The butterflies retuning to my tummy.

But there’s something different this time.

Sam Irwin

Recovering gambling addict.  [email protected]