I found Basil Brush the other day. Press his hand and he lets out his manic laugh, followed, of course, by: “Boom! Boom!” He looks like a plastic toy given free with a McMeal, but actually he cost a lot.
When my sons were six and eight, I took them to Scarborough with my parents, who’d gone there on day trips when courting and later stayed in cheap B&Bs. Now I, local-girl-made-good – principally to treat them, but in part showing off – booked seafront rooms at the Royal Hotel.
A few days by the seaside, but no simple trip. My father’s breadwinner pride sat uneasily with my largesse. A complicated man: loving yet critical, jovial but prone to blunt speaking, regardless of niceties or others’ feelings, even if it would ruin a whole afternoon. And I think, at 81, although robust – he would live eight more years – he’d already glimpsed the dying of the light.
On Scarborough’s hard, yellow sands at low tide I broached a game of cricket. I’d brought a bat and stumps from London, thinking my dad, a lifelong member of Yorkshire CCC, might teach his grandsons. But he couldn’t run up to bowl as he once did: his vigorous past self taunted him, and his future decrepid self scared him. He took me aside, grim-faced. “Next time,” he said, “don’t bring a ball.”
But we played on joylessly. If someone whacked the ball to the shore, the young refused to fetch it, and the old folk couldn’t. It was just me pelting off to save it from the sea.
My easygoing mother was thrilled by the sights of her youth – the little ships on Peasholm Park lake, the drama of North Bay – but my father was fretful, often displeased.
Struggling to keep him and my small boys happy, I fumed at Scarborough’s grudging welcome: the slovenly service, the diabolical food, our grand hotel with boarding-house habits, which let only those guests who had booked dinner eat breakfast by a window. I would complain in my bolshy London way and move everyone from a gloomy corner to enjoy the clifftop view.
On the last evening we wandered into an amusement arcade, and in a shove-penny machine – where you pile in coins until a prize tips over the edge – my six-year-old spotted Basil Brush. I’d watched the puppet fox with the bad jokes with my dad as a child and recently the show had been revived on TV.
My son wanted Basil; my father resolved to win him. He dropped in pennies, more pennies. Basil lurched forward.
Another fiver was changed into coins. My dad, a man who was careful with money, fed them in recklessly. Basil teetered on the edge. My son cheered Grandpa on. So many pennies. Until, at long last, Basil fell down the chute. And my dad handed him over, laughing and jubilant. My son is 18 now, but Basil still lives on a shelf in his room. “Boom! Boom!”
This article appears in the 02 Mar 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Germany's migrant crisis