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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Penny Falls

This week, as part of her bumper summer of adventures (spreadsheet created by Mrs Davies!), my daughter was scheduled to spend five days with my parents, at their house in the North East of Scotland. She has been very much looking forward to it and as I had no work travel planned and everything I needed to do could be done from anywhere with the internet, I decided to join her and spend the week with them! Grandma and Papa had cleared their diaries for the week but unfortunately they found themselves with a funeral to attend, meaning they were going to be tied up for most of Tuesday, so I decided that it'd be a great opportunity to retrace some footsteps from my childhood and take Harper to somewhere she'd never been before!

We headed north to Aberdeen and a place very familiar to generations of people who have lived or holidayed in the granite city - Codona's Amusement Park at the seafront! Opened in 1970 by the Codoni family, Codona's is a combination of small theme park rides, fruit machines, adventure golf, go karting, a digital arcade and all of the usual games designed to extract the money of adults through the conduit of their children. Needless to say, Harper was in her element!

We made the most of the various entertainment on offer, but there was one machine in particular which captured Harper's attention, very much in the way it had captured my own, on childhood visits to Codonas or Pleasureland in Arbroath, or on holidays to Blackpool, Haggerston Castle, Flamingo Land and other such British hotspots - the penny falls! These machines, sometimes called coin pushers involve the player putting coins into a slot, with careful timing and watching them slide down onto a platform which is moving back and forward. If you get your timing right, the movement causes your coin to knock some of the existing coins off the upper platform and onto the lower platform where they subsequently knock further coins from the lower platform and down a chute into a tray as your winnings! If you've ever watched British TV programme The Tipping Point, it's basically a gameshow styled around a Penny Falls machine. To add to the excitement(!) the arcade owners will typically place small prizes on top of the coins inside the machine so that as you knock the coins off, the prizes move closer to the edge and are eventually knocked off the edge and appear in the tray alongside your winnings - and that was what sucked us in!

You see, the particular bank of machines we were playing on, had a series of small plastic toys on top of the coins which resembled fruits, and which Harper hoped contained slime. If you're seven years old in 2023, slime is basically like Bitcoin. A currency almost unimaginable in its value. Of course, the ACTUAL value of the slime is precisely fuck all, but that's not the point here, especially for Harper! So we went to the change machine, put a little plastic pot underneath the chute, tapped my card for £5 worth of 2 pence coins and got to work!

Progress towards the potential slime pot was slow initially but Harper really enjoyed the process and seeing coins fall over the edge and emerge out of the bottom of the machine with a clatter. She thought we were loaded as she scooped up our winnings, oblivious to the fact that the plastic pot of coins was slowly dwindling away, until we were down to our last pound or so. At this point I had a decision to make - the decision every gambler is faced with. You're in the hole for the thick end of a fiver, with nothing to show for it, but the possible slime pot is closer to the edge than ever. Do you walk away empty handed or double down, go back to the change machine for another pot of coins and risk another £5 in pursuit of slime? I'm sure you can guess the answer! I left Harper manning the machine (which she did a terrible job of and let another dad and daughter step in and make progress towards our goal, risking all our hard work!) while I gathered more coins and thankfully I was able to convince the other exasperated father to let us pick up where we'd left off.

This time I attacked the game with reckless abandon. Double fisting two pence pieces, I was using both slots simultaneously and pouring Harper's inheritance money into the machine like a man possessed, while she manned the winnings tray and kept her eyes glued on the prize. With about £2 left in the tub we finally got over the line - a bunch of coins fell, taking the little plastic piece of fruit with them (Harper advised me it was a Dragon Fruit - because she's painfully middle class) and the prize was ours! She quickly peeled off the cellophane and was delighted to find that it was, indeed, slime within! We took our remaining 2p pieces to the change booth and exchanged them, along with some paper money, for a tub of 20 pence pieces, to take on the grabber machines and I had a happy daughter (for about five minutes until we failed to grab a cuddly octopus!)

Our day out was fun and the Penny Falls experience got me thinking on the drive home about times when we find ourselves so far down a road that we feel compelled to continue despite evidence telling us that it's a terrible idea. It left me wondering how many more 2 pence pieces I'd have poured into that machine, to win a pot of slime, six of which can be bought on eBay for £5.15! They call this the Sunk Cost Fallacy, the phenomenon whereby a person is reluctant to abandon a strategy or course of action because they have invested heavily in it, even when it is clear that abandonment would be more beneficial. It happens to us all more often than you'd think too.

  • Holding onto a car that's long overdue for replacement, and continuing to pour money into it, which will never be recouped, purely because we've already poured a lot of money into it.

  • Staying in a relationship that's clearly not healthy or not going in the direction we want it to, just because we've already invested years in it

  • Projects at work where a company has invested a lot of money in something which there is now no longer a legitimate business case for, but they keep plowing on, because too many people are invested in its success

Money is something most people hate to waste or lose, but we can generate more money. When it's time we're sinking into a lost cause, that's not the case. We're blessed with a finite amount of time and it's something that'd benefit many of us to be more conscious of and careful with.

My Penny Falls example was a trivial one and what I was really doing was exchanging those few pounds in 2 pence pieces for some fun time with my daughter and nice memories along the way. But what about times when I've poured my time into projects or courses of action long past the point when it's become clear that they will never bear the fruits I had hoped. through stubbornness, a desire not to lose face or from a belief that 'I've started so I might as well finish'. It certainly bears thinking about.

What are you sticking with or holding onto which is costing you time and no longer serving you well? Give it some thought and I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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