At Alton Towers they have a ride called "Duel" which is basically a ghost train, but with the added feature that you have little laser guns in every car, so that you can shoot at the ghosts and ghouls, and a little onboard computer keeps track of your score.
We were a bit unsure beforehand as to whether or not our children were old enough not to be terrified by this. We thought that Jemima was borderline, and we really were not sure about Jamie at all. He has Down's Syndrome, and would not really know what a fake ghost or demon was supposed to be - would not knowing make them more or less scary? In the end, I decided I would sit with my arm round Jamie, laughing at the creatures that popped out, in an attempt to defuse any tension.
So we got in the car and the ride started. A few vampires and werewolves jumped out, and I pointed at them and laughed, and gave Jamie a reassuring cuddle. He did not seem worried at all - the plan was working.
After the ride had been going on for a couple of minutes, I became aware that Meg was making a lot of noise behind me, laughing and cheering. I soon realized that she was having a great time shooting at the monsters. I felt a pang of jealousy. Then I felt a nudge in my back as she shoved me. She then shouted in my ear, above the noise of screaming spooks, pointing out that her score was so much higher than mine.
Well, at that point, the ride was nearly over. I glanced down at Jamie, who seemed fine. I decided it would not do any harm at all if I focused on racking up a few points for a short while. So I took my arm from around Jamie, picked up my gun, and laid into the monsters that were attacking my family. I was doing pretty well, hitting a lot of targets, but I had a long way to go to catch up, I needed to concentrate, I needed to ... suddenly there was a flash of light and the whole car was lit up.
I should have been ready for it really. There was, after all, a sign at the entrance telling us that our picture would be taken near the end of the ride, and that we could buy a copy on the way out. I never do buy these sort of pictures of course - they are always just a little bit too expensive.
So, when the ride ended, and Meg was gloating as we were walking towards the exit, we passed the photo stand and I decided to take a quick look at the photo, even though I was not going to buy it. The photos came up on television screens, and I had to wait a few seconds before ours appeared, but eventually it did, and my jaw dropped when I saw it.
What I saw on that photo, dear reader, was evidence of some of the worst parenting imaginable. There was I, ruthlessly gunning down a plastic skeleton, completely oblivious to the fact that my poor disabled son was really not happy at all! He had his eyes tight shut and his hands over his ears. Furthermore, in the back seat, my young daughter was cowering with her hands over her face, while her mother was manically waving a plastic gun around and clocking up a high score.
Oh, the shame.
I kind of wish I had bought the picture now. Years later, now that the shame has subsided a little, and there does not seem to have been any permanent psychological damage done to the two little ones, I would not mind seeing it again. All I have is my memory though. In my memory, it looks like this:
If probably wasn't as bad as that really.