I hate Bingo. I’ve never really understood the popularity of a game that’s a bit like Noughts and Crosses but aimed principally at working class people with short attention spans.
My mother used to go to Bingo Nights at the Mecca and once when I was younger she dragged me along with her to ‘keep her company’. I never really understood why I had to accompany her that night because she never spoke to me or allowed me to speak whilst a game was in play. I couldn’t talk even when a game was over because the din was so all-encompassing I could barely hear myself think.
A deathly hush suddenly descended on the hall when the caller started each new game. Once he uttered the dreaded words, “Eyes down – look in!” I wasn’t allowed to even breathe – if I coughed or whispered I got a dirty look from everyone in the hall, especially from the old woman sat opposite, who would screw her face up, making herself look like an old Kleenex tissue that had been found up someone’s sleeve after a week of heavy use and I suspect that if she ever heard a pin drop she would demand that the pin and the person who dropped it be immediately removed from the premises and publicly flogged.
At the end of what seemed like an endless night everyone made their miserable way homeward, bitching about the fact that they had less money in their purses than when they started and I got the impression that none of them had actually enjoyed themselves. My mother moaned and complained all the way home, mainly about the jackpot winner, calling her a “fat cow” and a “jammy bitch”. “I’ll bet she shits diamonds when she goes t’ toilet,” was one of the more colourful descriptions she accorded to her. The fat cow or jammy bitch who had just won the jackpot, however, behaved like she had just been plugged into the national grid whilst downing a bottle of whisky.
The only other person who seemed to have any fun was the caller, who was allowed to shout, “Two fat ladies – Eight-Eight!” Bingo callers today are not allowed to say that any more in case it upsets any ladies in the hall who happen to be overweight
To be honest, I’ve always fancied being a Bingo caller, but instead of using the established nominations for the numbers called out I would use ones of my own making. Here are some that I made up earlier:
· An otter’s nose – Number 12!
· My uncle’s artificial leg – 73!
· Two thin ladies – Number 7!
· A peregrine falcon’s talon – 38!
· The number of Big Brother housemates I’d like to kill – 90!
Generally my mother went to Bingo with my grandma and aunty Sylvia, who had a beehive hair-do and wore clothes that were ten years too young for her. I’d always assumed Sylvia was a member of the family but she was just my mother’s best friend from her school days who I’d always been told to refer to as aunty.
I remember one night when the three of them were out at Bingo and I was left at home with granddad and we spent the night watching television, drinking fizzy pop and scoffing liquorice allsorts.
Actually we didn’t have any fizzy pop – we just had orange squash but after searching through the kitchen cupboards granddad found a tin of Andrews Liver Salts.
“This’ll do lad,” he said, “a couple of teaspoons of this mixed with some orange squash will do the trick.”
“Are you sure, granddad? It looks like medicine to me.”
“No, it’ll be grand; you’ll see.”
After we’d shared a box of Basset’s liquorice allsorts between us, which we then washed down with five or six glasses of granddad’s home-made fizzy pop, my stomach began to gurgle and rumble, and this was quickly followed by the first of several hundred bowel-trembling farts that exploded out through the seat of my grey polyester trousers.
Granddad burst out laughing and then let out the longest, loudest fart I had ever heard in my life. At the time it was the funniest thing we had ever heard and we spent the rest of the evening farting and laughing until we lost all feeling in our cheekbones and our sides ached. We had competitions to see who could fart the longest and who could fart the loudest. I discovered that if I lay on my back on the sofa and held my legs up in the air I could fart at will, and I used this newly-found skill to challenge granddad to a game of Name That Tune, using farts instead of musical notes.
My mother and I were living at her parent’s house in Blackpool at the time – she’d been divorced from my father for a few years by then – and whenever any of us went to the toilet to perform an act of personal hygiene we always announced it to the rest of the household with the words, “I’m just off upstairs to do me numbers.” Looking back, I find it hard to imagine why we did this, but at the time it seemed a perfectly natural thing to do.
I suppose it’s probably the reason why I’ve always been a fan of toilet humour – there’s something about its baseness that is just inherently funny to the male members of our species. Even today, I still snigger when someone farts or uses the words number two in a sentence. I suppose, like most men, it’s a way of proving that I have no intention of ever growing up. In fact, at a party only the other week, a (female) friend of mine compared my sense of humour to that of a thirteen year-old boy, which I immediately took to be a compliment and wore it as a badge of honour for the rest of the evening.
When mum and grandma returned home after their night at the Bingo they ran into a wall so thick with foul smelling odours they almost had to hack their way into the lounge with machetes.
"You dirty buggers!" grandma screamed. "Get outside and shake yourselves."
We waited in the hallway, giggling and farting while grandma fumigated the living room with air freshener and my mother complained about the fat bitch that had won the jackpot that night.
These days, if I ever have the misfortune to step into a bingo hall while a game is in play, all I can see are rows of automatons whose simple programming only allows them to robotically dab out the numbers on the cards. Actually, it’s more like watching an alternative version of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, where the zombies, instead of wandering aimlessly around the local shopping mall, all congregate at the local village hall to play Bingo with the stupid fat stubby marker pens they all use now.
And that’s another thing that makes me angry – back in the 80s all the cinemas where I lived at the time started to close down only to be replaced by Bingo Halls. Nothing, not even Bingo, could ever replace that feeling of excitement and expectation when the lights went down after the Pearl & Dean adverts had finished and the film whirred into life in front of you. It didn’t matter if it was good film or a bad film or even just a mediocre film, it was an escape from the real world, unless, of course, you had wandered into the wrong cinema and ended up watching two interminable hours of navel gazing courtesy of the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman instead of the John Wayne western you had originally planned to see.
The Australian cinema seems to have made an abundance of successful films about all kinds of quirky subjects that, on the surface, don’t appear to have any redeeming features, but turn out to be original, highly inventive and extremely funny. There’s Strictly Ballroom (ballroom dancing), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (a gay road trip), Spotswood (slot-car racing), Proof (a blind photographer), Shine (a mad concert pianist), The Castle (house repossession) and, the best of the bunch, Chopper (a black comedy about a real-life murderer). Strangely, the Aussies have never made a film about Bingo and I suspect the reason is that all the activities included in the films described above require various degrees of thought, skill and coordination. Bingo merely requires the player to listen, read numbers and hold a stupid fat stubby marker pen.
And besides, you wouldn’t have been able to see any of those films at the cinema when they were released because all the cinemas had been converted into Bingo Halls.
And that’s why I hate Bingo!