The time had come for me to introduce the boy to Scalextric, the first rung on the step ladder of manhood. For this milestone I found a Mini Cooper set on eBay for twenty five quid plus postage and it arrives in just a couple of days, great transaction, five stars.
Expectation is etched on the boy’s face as I set about construction. The troublesome overlapped plastic fixings don’t seem to fit quite right and make my soft, work-in-an-office and never-done-a-hard-day’s-real-graft hands a bit sore, but who cares though. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, is what I say and Scalextric rocks. We all know that the fiddly track is the price you pay for hours of fun, right?
The figure of eight takes shape, little sturdy grey risers to keep the track elevated where they cross at the centre, crash barriers on the corners, a few flags peppered hither and yon and the classic chequered tarmac starting grid. You can almost smell the atmosphere: the high octane fuel, pert hot-panted pit girls, Bernie Ecclestone strutting around looking cross, the sheer throbbing testosterone of it all. I find myself rubbing my hands together which I generally don’t do because it makes me look like Fagin.
So the Scalextric is plugged in and I flick on the wall switch, signifying that the preparations are over and extreme mirth is imminent. Now the test. I turn over the Mini Cooper revealing the underside and take the familiar little woven wire wool connectors in my fingertips and squeeze and plump them out, raising them a few millimetres from the bottom of the car to ensure maximum energy transference from the electric rail. I last did this thirty years ago but I know it instinctively.
I turn the car back over and make connection with the track, gunning the engine with a quick burst on the trigger. The little Cooper, held firmly in my hand with rear wheels just above the track, bursts into life with the small electric motor screaming to be set free and the small boy’s eyes nearly pop out of his head at the thrill of it all. Forty-year-old man and five-year-old boy are united, functioning briefly for a snapshot in time on the same plane. We’re racing drivers.
The red and yellow cars are lined up side by side now. The boy counts down: three, two, one, GO. A surging arc of power launches the small cars forwards where they simultaneously reach top speed in an instant before meeting the first bend and leaving the track, both spiralling dramatically into the skirting. We do this six times, neither of us completing an unaided lap.
“This is rubbish, Daddy, can we play Mario Karts?”
And the sentence brings me to a halt with the realisation of a blinding singular truth. The boy is right: Scalextric is crap. It doesn’t work unless you go round really slowly. That’s how you play. The winner is the most careful, the one who keeps his forefinger light, the one who represses every desire to rip the track to pieces in an orgy of speed. The maverick living for the second, hanging his ass over the raggedy edge flips out every time. What kind of fucked up message is this to give a little boy? Life needs seizing by the bollocks. Driving slowly with caution and care is what Grandma does.
What cunning mind repressing tricks do those folk at Scalextric possess that makes me forget such a fundamental shortcoming, that the cars only stay on the track if you go slowly? How had I forgotten that you spend more time putting it together than playing on it because the fucking cars come off every time.
We leave the Scalextric on the floor, not even bothering to pack it away, instead choosing to play on the Wii. Mario Carts: Mario and Luigi teaming up together to nail that bitch Peach.
I’ve said it and there’s no taking it back. It’s out. I’m Sparticus. The confrontation of the Scalextric truth has now led to the scrutiny of everything from my past that I thought was great, an analysis of my own rose-tinted nostalgia. And you know what? A lot of it really isn’t what I thought it was.