Bingo: Benign pastime or affront to society?
Having travelled around Ireland with a fridge and playing the Moldovan football team at tennis, Tony Hawks decided it was time to settle down in the countryside. It was only a matter of time until he was asked to be involved in the local Bingo...
A while ago, I agreed to call the Bingo in our local village hall. It was themed as ‘Meat Bingo’ and I arrived to find a packed house of all ages. It seemed that the prospect of winning some food items that were readily available on supermarket shelves was enough of a draw to lure people away from their television sets. (TV is OK up to a point, but let’s face it, an evening’s viewing will win you very little meat). The prizes – neat little supermarket cartons of packaged meat cuts - were laid out on trestle tables, in an alarming number of rows.
‘How many games are we playing?’ I asked the organiser.
‘Eleven. Ten normal games and one Golden Game at the end for the big prize of the full meal – a complete chicken with all the accompanying veg.
My heart sank at the prospect of eleven games. It did seem an awful lot. Still, perhaps the time flew by once you got started.
I sat at my table and watched as the clock ticked round to 7.30 and I was given the nod to start proceedings. The gentle murmur of conversation died away as I explained the format of the evening, and a feeling of great expectancy filled the room.
‘OK. Eyes down!’ I announced with as much passion as I could muster, ‘If the numerical Gods shine on you tonight, then some of you could walk away with chicken thighs.’
Several titters, and one comment about someone nearby having pig’s thighs already. Good, I thought, we’re off to a very good start.
I cannot think of a better way of enabling you, dear reader, to empathise with the experience of what followed, other than to ask a small favour of you. Could you please read the next paragraph out loud? Thanks.
Two and four, twenty four. Seven and nine, seventy nine. On its own, five. Four and three, forty three. One and six, sixteen. All the fives, fifty five. Eight and five, eighty five. Two and nine, twenty nine. All the fours, forty four. Nine and Zero, ninety. Three and eight, thirty eight. Two fat ladies, eighty eight. On its own, nine. Five and nine, fifty nine. Seven and six, seventy six. Three and one, thirty one. (Are you still doing this?)
OK. Now imagine doing that for two hours.
By my calculations I must have read out around seven hundred numbers in all the eleven games. No excitement. No variation. The only momentary respite from the tedium came in the form of the numbers eleven and twenty two. For the first of these numbers, convention has it that the caller announces “Legs eleven” after which the bingo players, should they so choose, offer up a wolf whistle. For twenty two the caller adds the wildly creative description of “Two little ducks” into his patter, which is enough to cause a voluntary response from some players of “Quack, quack”, such are the levels of euphoria now being reached. I cannot tell you how welcome these sounds are when you have just read out 640 numbers back to back. These are the audio equivalent of visits from loved ones for prisoners with long sentences. They sustain you. They give you hope. Without them, you wither, you suffer, you decay.
‘Two little ducks, twenty two.’
A feeling of hope. I can get through this.
I am now of the opinion that Bingo is evil. The thought that up and down the country theatres and cinemas have been converted into Bingo halls simply appals me. Once there was entertainment that challenged, titillated, amused, inspired, moved or scandalised. Now there’s some poor sap reading out hundreds of numbers one after the other so that a room full of administrators (that’s right – they’re not players, they’re administrators) can stand a reasonable chance of winning some soulless prize. There may be something wrong with me, but I just cannot see the point of it. Why not shorten the whole procedure and reduce the suffering? If the ‘players’ are up for winning prizes based on the random drawing of numbered balls, then why not pare down the misery by having one ball in a sack for each player present, and draw out one ball to provide a winner? OK, I know that makes it just a raffle, but it’s fundamentally the same as Bingo in spirit, but just so much quicker. And better. And more humane. It spares condemning a human being to a life of misery as a bingo caller.
The next time an older Bingo player condemns one of the younger generation for their obsession with computer games and the like, perhaps they should take a long hard look at themselves. I wonder if they’d accept that it was them who began the process of disengagement and that it will be a good thing when Bingo’s number is finally up.
Comedian and bestselling author of Round Ireland with a Fridge, Tony Hawks, is embarking on his greatest adventure yet - moving from city life in London to deepest Devon in the West Country.