I was putting some petrol in the car yesterday (something you have to do quite a lot if you run an old Volvo) when I saw a mildly unusual sight.
As I was looking through the clear plastic window at all the white numerals spinning around (have you noticed how fast they spin round these days?) when I saw a large fly on the inside, trying to get out. As I was wondering how it got inside there, a spider appeared from somewhere within the pump and got hold of the fly, bit it, then carried it off for what might have been the only dinner it would ever have in it's solitary, petrol pumpish life.
I was so transfixed by this little drama, that I spent quite a few minutes staring at it whilst standing about a foot away from the pump, and it occurred to me that the girls inside the garage shop might have thought that I was so horrified at the price of a few litres of petrol, that I simply couldn't believe what I was being asked to pay, and had to triple check it to make sure I was not dreaming.
Thinking about it later, I realised that the spider and fly scenario in the pump reminded me of the summer holidays I spent in the penny arcade on Brighton's Palace Pier as a child. This arcade was crammed with machines about the same size as a modern petrol pump, and they all had glass windows with static displays of badly modeled, sensational events such as 'An English Execution', 'A French Guillotining', 'A Haunted Graveyard', etc. etc.
They were all late Victorian contraptions, and probably were installed at the same time as the pier was built, and - being in the days of pre-decimalisation - they all required a large, copper penny to get them going. Often, the pennies put into them were as old as the machines themselves, but still in circulation after about 120 years.
The 'English Execution' one involved a rickety wooden scaffold with three dolls standing on top of it. You shoved the penny into the slot, and this fired up a primitive electric motor which began noisily cranking up the gearing which animated the figures. A priest began silently intoning the last rights to the condemned man, the executioner eventually pulled a lever, and the felon dropped through the open trapdoor to his death, dangling on the end of a bit of frayed string. The lights would go out and the machine completed it's final cycle by winding up the dead man and closing the trapdoor again, ready for the next time he had to die.
'The Haunted Graveyard' would begin with the church clock-face dimly lighting up, then striking midnight with 12, tinny-sounding clangs of a spring-metal bell. As the chimes rang out, a drunken man who had collapsed in the graveyard (bottle still in hand) would stare in mute horror at various tombstones which would open up to reveal a hideous corpse which raised itself out of the grave to leer and wobble in front of the drunk. At the twelfth stroke, all the lids would be closed and the lights went out.
My little animated tableau cost quite a bit more than a penny yesterday, but at least I got half a tank of petrol out of it as a bonus.
There was also a 1900s 'What the Butler Saw' naughty video machine which I occasionally used to take a peek at if nobody was around, but that's another story - the ending of which you know too well to have told.