As addictions go, my problem on a scale of nought to rock’n’roll is hovering dangerously close to Barry Manilow. Of late I’ve developed a rather damning social affliction: A taboo so frowned upon that I’d probably have an easier time revealing I had a penchant for snorting Class A drugs off prostitute’s midriffs. I’ve recently taken to spending evenings seeking the company of elderly ladies; I, Harry Tattersall Smith, have become addicted to Bingo.
It’s a miserable Glasgow October night, as we make our way to the bingo hall in Partick. The alcove outside is packed with tiny old ladies huddled together, furiously chain smoking whilst chatting simultaneously at such break neck speed that words merge together to form a sort of high-pitched buzz. Battling our way through the smoke and clamour, a noticeable hush descends amongst the clientele; bemused faces eyeing up the new opposition . Once inside we are almost apologetically asked to show I.D, with the puzzled worker joking, ‘I can’t really remember the last time I had to do this,’
Being one of but a handful of players not currently collecting a pension and with a finely tuned academic mind at the peak of its intellectual prowess I arrived with the romantic notion of patronising a few ‘old dears’ before ruthlessly hustling them out of their cash. Yet sadly this probably couldn’t have been further from the truth. They may carry with them the demeanour of sweet old ladies but scratch beneath the Werther’s-Original-giving façade and you’ll find that the Blue Rinse Brigade truly are the Bingo-ing force to be reckoned with. A recent study by the British Psychological Society claimed that playing markedly improves the memory and speeds up the brain in the elderly. Now you may be a sceptic who views the ‘brain training’ fad as merely a gimmick invented by Nintendo, but even if this study was commissioned by some Bingo overlords, I cannot help but feel slightly ashamed for so fecklessly underestimating the sharpness of the bingo sorority.
Seating it becomes fast apparent is fiercely territorial; so much so that you get the sense that if it was a Mafia run operation sitting in an ‘taken’ chair could probably get you shot and here at any rate, make that sort of faux-pas and you’re on the right path for some very dirty looks.
Suddenly three burly security guards surge past but barely anyone takes the any notice. The great bingo heist? Hardly. Rather the slightly over the top security operatives who charge to and surround any potential winner. Perhaps a tad unnecessary, especially when you consider that the majority of would-be assailants are impaired by a lack of ones own hips and by a lifetime of chain smoking.
Being there I feel like I’ve stumbled upon a sort of cult. The caller at the front holds a strangely hypnotic power over her room of disciples. Crying out the numbers in a sort of perverse never-ending lullaby; a giant numerical sing song interrupted only by the throaty squawks of winners and subsequent groans of losers. Numbers rain down on the room like something out of the Matrix, and it’s almost impossible to keep up. I struggle to strike a few numbers off my grid-which frankly for all my failings might as well be in Chinese, whilst all around me the vast hall is eerily silent but for the sound of pens furiously scrawling. Any time I think I’m even remotely close to getting anywhere a call echoes up from some far corner and I to join the grumbling masses. Then somehow amongst the numerical carnage I have a moment of Zen; My bingo epiphany. Four correct numbers in a row. Chance. The fifth? Surely some sort of blessing…”Line?!”
My cry sounds almost apologetic, with the confidence of a man expecting to be exposed as a fraud. The caller looks around shocked and stunned, as if the shriek came from a player whose heart simply could no longer handle the drama and tension. Almost instantly I’m surrounded by security guards, who after an agonising few seconds confirm I haven’t been cheating. Heart-pounding and exhilarated I’ve done it. I’ve won a tenner but it probably feels just about as good as winning the lottery.
The rest of the night is simply a blur. My winnings are reinvested and squandered on yet more bingo but it seems an irrelevance: the seeds of a lasting love have been sown.
Trudging out I get chatting to Kathleen, a Bingo devotee who once won £29,000 on the Nationals, but is still as regular as ever. “Good things come to those who wait, love, but all my friends are here and so am I”
Whilst Bingo might lack the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, there is an amazing sense of community spirit and camaraderie that is so lacking in the vacuous and soulless world of casinos.
And if you are someone of a gambling persuasion, it’s a far more satisfying way to fritter away your cash than to watch it instantly vanquished in one cruel spin of the roulette wheel.