On the farm was a little go-karting track for children and Mary, aged three, decided she wanted to have a bash at being the next Lewis Hamilton.
I saw the price etched on a board – £8 for 20 minutes – and said, in a serious and what I hoped was a very off-putting tone, ‘oh no, you don’t want to do this – it’s dangerous and you could get hurt.’
She replied, ‘it’s okay daddy, I’m not frightened’, which was a slightly surprising response given she’d called me into her room at 3am the previous morning because she thought there was an evil green unicorn under her bed and wouldn’t settle until I switched on the light and completed a thorough search of the area.
I had to up my game, so I said ominously, ‘no Mary, you don’t understand – three children have died in the last month on these go-karts. Do you really want to risk ending up in a coffin?’
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‘Don’t worry daddy,’ she replied, ‘I’ll be fine and I really want to go on’.
Damn it, that wasn’t the response I’d expected.
I briefly contemplated getting my phone out and googling horrific pictures of deceased crash victims in a last gasp effort to change her mind, but realised this may lead to her requiring counselling in later life.
(‘So Mary tell us why you’re here today?’ ‘Because when I was a toddler my dad showed me pictures of dead people.’ ‘Why in god’s name did he do that?’ ‘Because he thought the go karts at a farm were too expensive.’)
So I reluctantly got my bank card out and steeled myself, along with a couple of other fathers, to pay the outrageous fee.
What happened next was worse than spending the actual cash.
A young man, aged about 18 or 19 and with so much facial hair there was a family of sparrows nesting on his chin, bounded over and bellowed, ‘why hello there, ladies and gentle penguins’.
I, nor anyone else present, had the slightest idea what this meant but he looked delighted with himself and even paused, as if he were a comedian who’d delivered one of his best lines and was expecting a big reaction from the audience.
There was silence.
‘Okie dokey chokey, are we all here for karters that go?’, he asked.
Oh my god, this guy was clearly a university drama student doing a summer job, presumably hoping he’d come across a TV producer who would be so bowled over by his theatrics they’d sign him up for a seven-part prime-time BBC drama.
We nodded to let him know that yes, surprisingly, those of us queuing at the go-kart track were indeed there to use the go-karts and not to play volleyball.
‘Greaty,’ he yelled with such force it was as if he’d spotted someone in our group wearing a large hearing aid and was going the extra mile to ensure they heard.
‘Are you ready-o, are you steady-o, then let’s go go go,’ he continued. I quickly came to the conclusion he had a fairly serious condition and his medication had recently run out.
‘How many of you are on the session?’
Myself and two other dads with kids responded.
‘Okey dokey chokey,’ he said, again. Once had been bad enough, this time I had to stop myself physically attacking him.
‘Just need to see your entry tickets comrades,’ he added.
The bloke to my right showed his ticket.
‘Oh deary, deary me,’ said the young lad shaking his head, ‘looks like this could be a forgery’.
The bloke glared at him like he wanted to kill him, slowly and in a gruesome manner. Even the drama student got the hint and moved on to me. ‘And you kind sir?’
I tried not to let my face show my true feelings, so I forced a weak smile and held up my ticket. He looked at it for about seven seconds, pretending to be puzzled, then said, ‘oh go on then I’ll let you in.’
He stood grinning at me, looking very much like the kind of fella you don’t want to end up sitting next to on a bus.
‘Right,’ I said, ‘thanks.’
‘No problemo matey,’ he replied, and gave me a wink.
Now I don’t wish to be cruel – because I’m sure this young man is a thoroughly decent chap – but it was all I could do not to reply: ‘Look, I’m 44, can you please drop the court jester act because I’ll level with you here, it’s pretty annoying. Oh, and can I absolutely assure you we will never EVER be mates, or mateys, or whatever ridiculous word you might choose to use.’
Mercifully he took our children – after pocketing our money – on to the track and placed them in their karts, so he was out of earshot and we didn’t have to endure any more wisecracks.
Then, to cap a marvellous few minutes, he pressed a button to make the karts go. Mary, after travelling approximately three-and-a-half yards, began screaming hysterically, shouting ‘I don’t want to do it, I’m scared’.
The lad had to stop the karts to allow me to sprint on, grab her and calm her down.
I hesitated for a long time, giving him the opportunity to refund me my £8, but he didn’t. ‘Hope she’s okie-cokey,’ he shouted, then jogged off back to his little go-kart hut.
I had just spent £8 to have an encounter with a Timmy Mallett wannabe and to confirm that my daughter isn’t going to be a Formula 1 champion.
Further round the farm was a bouncy castle.
‘I want to go on,’ demanded Mary.
‘Not a chance,’ I replied.
She began crying, it started raining, and then we went home.
All in all a pretty good day.