I have always wanted to go and play bingo, to be among the purple rinse brigade. I envisaged being shushed due to my exuberance of being in a bingo hall. My dabber would be green I had decided, big fat jumbo dobber. We would be in a theater style room all facing forward listening intently to the bingo caller, waiting for a line to be filled and then two and then full house.
Oh, the excitement I imagined. I had come up with this for years, deciding what bingo would be like and then I went a few weeks ago. Boy oh, boy what a serious business going to the bingo is. Here is what happened.
(names and descriptions have been changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent)
My friend Delilah met me off my train and 5pm one cold Saturday evening. The temperature read minus figures on my app. We were wrapped up warm and sauntered off to get our bingo bus to the venue. The journey took around half an hour and I spent that time quizzing Delilah for her knowledge of what to expect. I’m fairly sure I heard her sigh before answering each question with ‘I don’t know’. See, she’d only been a few times and her other friend Kiera had set everything up for her while she learned what to do.
It’s not just paper and dabbers anymore.
Delilah was pretty sure she knew what she needed to do, until I produced a voucher and then we were stuffed. She frantically sent a message to her friend who was finishing up at a children’s party and was on her way. Kiera and Nicholas come to bingo every Saturday and are supreme experts. Lucky as hell too, I’m not jealous. Delilah has won decent money too and she’d only been a handful of times. I had high hopes of going home a millionaire or a few quid richer anyway.
I filled in my newbie form and got my pack full of paper and I got a plastic wallet to put my new credit card sized bingo card in. It smelt new and was pristine and safely tucked away.
“You’ll need that in a minute,” Delilah said after watching me put it away, zip up the inside pocket and fasten my handbag top.
“You couldn’t have told me that before I zipped it away?”
“No, if I did, I wouldn’t have the reward of seeing you dig your way through to get it again. You are hilarious when you’re annoyed.”
Fishing out my card again we stand by the electronic boards, they look like ipads but chunkier. Delilah is searching through all the columns of boards.
“What are you looking for?” I tentatively ask.
“My number, 1978.”
The boards are individually numbered, I thought randomly.
“You’ve your own board?”
“No, it’s the year of my birth, I want that board for luck,” she says, muffled words because she is on her hands and knees on the floor, trying to see the numbers of the boards on the bottom row. “Ah, here she is.”
Delilah holds the revered board and hugs it to her chest so no one else can wrestle it out of her hands.
“Mine” she mouths.
Ook then, serious business this bingo lark. She goes to the cash point, retrieves the notes and then feeds them into the machine next to it, to charge up her card. She is set for the night, me, on the other hand, is floundering around not knowing what the hell to do.
“Where the bloody hell are you? She’s got a sodding voucher, you didn’t tell me how to deal with vouchers.” Delilah hisses down the phone to Kiera.
“I’m thirty seconds away, keep your pants on,” Kiera says laughing down the phone line and hanging up without a goodbye.
And then by magic Kiera appears with Nicholas, beaming smiles and ready for business. She barks orders at Delilah, who nods at every question and then scurries off with me in tow to find our seats. Kiera and her friend Nicolas sit in the same seats every week for luck. I don’t have anything for luck, damn, I’m doomed.
Once seated, Kiera escorts me to the mile long queue at the main desk, takes the money and vouchers out of my hands and speaks to the cashier. They talk bingo lingo and I am lost and entirely happy to nod at every question. Kiera knows what she is doing, there are six minutes until the first game and we are in a hurry.
Armed with my board (which is my year of birth, that’s fate for you, I’m so going to win), a new card, unused vouchers not applicable for tonight. I land back in my seat all smiles. Delilah was left on her own to load up her own card for the first time. When we sat down, she confesses to Lady Kiera that she stuffed up, a rolling of the eyes and a quick check and she hadn’t stuffed up at all. So all set, bingo time.
The electronic board does everything for you, there are 33 cards in this game for me but I can only see nine. It sorts the cards after every number is called so that the most likely to win cards are always on top. Then there is this fab tube at the right, if you have one number to go, it slides into the tube and you are waiting with baited breath to see if yours gets called.
Now, the boards maybe electronic but the bingo caller is real. After each game, we compare screens and commiserate when we all had a ball in the tube and didn’t win. There are runners all over the floor, so when someone calls, we all mutter expletives at them and they run over to check they are a winner. If you call a bad bingo (false bingo), you get heckled and booed (not really but it feels like it).
After a couple of games, it’s break time, half hour break to get something to eat and maybe slot machines too.
I needed to ask a question about one of my vouchers so I stood in the mile long queue. This woman behind me, her head came to my elbow kept nudging my handbag. Nothing drives me more insane than a fellow queuee nudging me. If I could move forward, I would, every five seconds she pokes my handbag which is over my shoulder. I daren’t look, eye contact would be a sign of weakness so I stand firm. There are three people in front of me in a single line and two tellers at the counter.
“Which teller are you going to?” pipsqueak asks.
“Who knows,” I reply, no eye contact.
“You need to make a decision which teller you want to go to.”
“No,” I say.
So she pushes so that she is side by side with me, I can see her entire head she is that much shorter than I.
“Would you like to go before me,” I ask sarcastically.
“It’s about bloody time,” She huffs and stands completely in front of me.
Bingo is a serious business here, there are three women shouting at the girl behind the counter because she has given out the wrong voucher. There is an air of mob mentality, time is ticking, the new game is about to start and these women don’t have their bingo cards.
I back out and head back to the safety of my friends and retell the story. They don’t believe me that ‘Rachel’ who I called pipsqueak was so awful. Said Rachel comes over and hugs my friends hello, completely ignores me and I am opened mouthed. ‘That’s her,’ I mine to Delilah, scowling at her laughter.
Back to the games, home stretch, I haven’t won a bean, none of us have and it’s the last game, three opportunities to win £500. Game one, nothing, game two, nothing, and game three, well.
We are rattling through the numbers, some man over the other side wins a line. Each winner has their own way of attracting a runner. From yeeeeeeeeeeeep to yay and waving hands frantically.
So what do you think Nicholas’ winning chime is because he won the last game? He shouts out at the top of his voice.
“Over here baby!”
I was outraged I didn’t win, I was sooooo sure I was going to get beginners luck and thrilled at his winning catcall.
I’m going tonight again and I have my lucky charm, the dragon is coming with me.
Thanks for reading
Harper’s Motto: You will not be everybody’s favourite flavour, but that’s ok, because they will not always be your favourite flavour. Be who you want to be and you will attract the people who will support you no matter what.