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Clare Mackintosh: The child smugglers

PUBLISHED: 16:28 22 April 2016 | UPDATED: 16:28 22 April 2016

'I smiled brightly at the sullen youth and handed over our tickets, just as a carton of orange fell audibly out of Evie’s sock'

'I smiled brightly at the sullen youth and handed over our tickets, just as a carton of orange fell audibly out of Evie’s sock'

Archant

I refuse to pay over the odds for less-than-average food, so unless cinemas lower their prices I shall continue to traffic popcorn and orange juice

Disaster fell at the checkout in Sainsbury’s at the weekend; I had forgotten my rucksack. “You can buy a 5p plastic bag or a 10p bag for life,” the till operator offered. I opted for the bag for life out of habit - I’d add it to the three dozen stuffed into the cupboard under the sink at home - but it didn’t solve the problem. You can’t smuggle snacks into the cinema in a bright orange Sainsbury’s bag.

The children groaned, knowing what was coming. “Not the popcorn, Mummy,” Georgie begged. “It’s really scratchy.” “The drinks then,” I bargained. She sighed and lifted up her trouser legs high enough to enable me to insert a carton of orange juice into each sock. “They’ll fall out!” she said, walking like John Wayne in her efforts to keep them secure. “Nonsense,” I said, briskly. “It’s only for a couple of minutes. Take one for the team, Georgie. Right, who’s next?” Manfully, Josh secreted the scratchy popcorn packet down his t-shirt, along with strict instructions not to make it rustle by breathing too deeply. Evie took the remaining drinks carton and three packets of fruit pastilles; one up each sleeve and one tucked into her waistband, like a gun-toting sheriff. “Now,” I instructed, as we approached the cinema. “Act natural.”

When I was a teenager the cinema was the default destination for meeting friends on a Saturday, and the obvious choice for a first date. Watching a film was not only an excellent way to mask the fact that my ballet-dancing, book-reading self had little in common with the football-playing, spot-picking products of the boys’ grammar, but it was warmer than holding hands at the bus stop and a cheaper alternative to the cafe. A couple of cinema tickets and a bag of popcorn would set you back no more than a fiver, leaving plenty of pocket money for a copy of Just 17, and some blue eyeshadow.

Nowadays a new release at the cinema can cost almost a tenner per ticket; not exactly budget friendly for a big family. Add to that a carton of popcorn and a round of soft drinks and you’re looking at around 80 quid. For 90 minutes of entertainment. Is it any wonder Netflix is so popular?

But much as I love curling up on the sofa for a family film, you can’t beat the cinematic experience from time to time, and it is on such occasions I am forced to employ the children as mules. ONLY FOOD PURCHASED IN THE BUILDING MAY BE CONSUMED, command the many signs fixed to the walls. THIS IS DUE TO ALLERGIES. Ah, allergies; the buzz word of the Noughties. We all know that when restaurants and cinemas play the allergy card, they’re really playing the ‘we don’t want to lose any money’ card. Because if the risk was that great, we wouldn’t be allowed to eat in public at all. Park wardens would be issued powers to take down anyone wielding a ham sandwich, and shopping centre security guards would spend their days hunting down illicit Snickers bars, instead of fingering the collars of shoplifters.

I refuse to pay over the odds for less-than-average food, so unless cinemas lower their prices I shall continue to traffic popcorn and orange juice. It has - like many morally dubious activities - become far harder since the children learned to read. “But it’s against the rules,” Evie said piously, poking an errant flash of silver foil back up her sleeve. “So is letting a sevenyear-old watch a Harry Potter film with a 12 certificate,” I replied primly, giving her a knowing glance. She fell obediently back into line as we approached the bored youth taking tickets. I felt my pulse quicken, the way it does when you walk through customs at the airport, despite knowing there’s nothing in your luggage except dirty washing and an ill-advised tie-dye kaftan you bought on a whim.

“Mummy,” Evie said urgently, tugging at my sleeve. “Not now, darling.” I smiled brightly at the sullen youth and handed over our tickets, just as a carton of orange fell audibly out of Evie’s sock. She gasped. The youth eyed it suspiciously, as though it might explode. “You’re not allowed to bring food and drink in,” he said. I bent down to pick up the drink, meeting his gaze full on as I stood up again. “I have to, I’m afraid,” I tell him, in the sort of no nonsense voice I use when it’s bed time. “Allergies.”

At the very mention of the word he took a step back - perhaps in case the allergens in question included excessive hair gel and an over exuberant use of Sure deodorant - and ushered us inside. Two can play that game, it seems.

Follow Clare on Twitter! @claremackint0sh

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