The unexpected trauma of playing bingo
If, like me, turning twenty means you've found yourself facing a post-teenage-years crisis, you may be desperately looking for ways to prove to yourself you've actually done some growing up. And what's more grown up (/middle aged) than spending a night at the bingo? Right?
Well be warned. It's not all big pink dobbers and Peter Kay callers. The people in Mecca at half eight on a Monday are there for a damn good reason- they want to win. They don't want to giggle at all the lame jokes made from numbers (legs eleven, anyone?). They don't want to waste any time smoking- even the outside areas have speakers in so you can dab while you fag. And they certainly don't want to be distracted by clueless twenty year olds.
Walking into a bingo hall is pretty bizarre for the uninitiated. Great big screens everywhere, tables with inbuilt bingo games for those who want to keep playing while everyone else nips off for a wee, hundreds of women cheerfully organising their bingo cards while simultaneously sipping their half a lager.
Take your seat quietly and try and discern the differences between your seven different types of bingo card. They're played in a certain order, and you don't want to be that idiot who calls "house" out incorrectly. That's like the sacrilege in there- you've not only wasted everyone's time, but you've shown yourself up too.
Make sure you've got a pen. Sounds simple enough to remember, but god forbid you actually don't have one on you. You're already flustered at the surprising speed the caller is shouting out numbers, and trying to mark down which numbers have already been exclaimed is only going to stress you out further. Thankfully for me, a kind old lady took pity on me and lent me one she'd stolen earlier from Argos, so it worked out okay in the end.
There's a revered hush during matches (is "matches" the right word?). People are concentrating and trying to win money. Bingo is serious business, and socialising is only permitted during the breaks between games. Do not get the giggles- there's only so many dirty looks you can ignore.
That said, once the game is over because someone lucky achieved a full house before you (so close yet so far!), bingo halls erupt into a lovely chatty bustle. People pop to the bar, food can be ordered, everyone natters about how the whole thing is a bloody fix anyway. This is your prime opportunity to get a bottle of wine in to help you recover from the stress of the National Game.
Many bingo halls (including our local Mecca) take part in a National Game. This is real deal, big money stuff. You're basically guaranteed not to win, but it's worth a shot. You'll be in touch with bingo halls from around the country, and the tutting is twice as loud when Sue from Maidenhead makes off with the jackpot and you only had a 43 left to be called.
If you come close to winning, then the stress levels peak. No number has ever seemed more obscure than 87 when it's the number standing between you and winning £10. I can't even imagine the trauma of coming close to winning one of the impressive jackpots- I needed smelling salts to revive me after I (almost) came close to getting Two Lines.
The atmosphere is fabulous, and it's a really cool way of meeting people. Take some friends (and a dobber), settle down with a bottle of wine, and enjoy the tension. You might even win some money, though there's no such thing as beginner's luck in my own experience.