Britain’s been bingo-ing mad for a while now, so with that in mind I ventured to Mecca Catford one Saturday with my other half to suss out just how crazy things have got in bingo halls. I’d never played bingo but the advertisements on television had persuaded me that the industry had been transformed into something hip and glamorous – maybe.
Walking into Mecca, we were confronted by hordes of grannies slamming pound coins into wall-to-wall slot machines. After shelling out about 15 quid for our bingo books we made a beeline for the main hall, which looked like some kind of gigantic greasy spoon, with trays of scampi and pies being dished out at a furious pace. There were a few younger people scattered throughout the hall, but for the most part it was like an episode of Phoenix Nights.
…I was already planning what to do with my imminent winnings.
It was easy enough to figure out what to do with our bingo books and giant marker pens, so we got our eyes down and set about winning a fortune while drinking heavily. The bingo caller was a master of his trade, turning each number into a kind of nasal crimp. With prizes of about £100 for each full house, I was already planning what to do with my imminent winnings.
Of course neither of us actually won anything, although we did come close only to be pipped by one of the many veterans of the game. Just as we thought the night was over, the bingo caller announced that “bingo afterdark” was starting in the lounge area in 10 minutes .
…gave us glowsticks…
Bingo after dark was extreme. The lights had been turned down and a DJ was rattling through a playlist of generic dance music while a spritely chap was owning the stage as some kind of bingo MC. I ordered an orange WKD – purely to fit in – and as we sat down a woman came round and gave us glowsticks and new bingo sheets.
The new bingo caller, a pretty young woman who looked slightly bored, injected a little spice into the game as she rhymed each number with a rude limerick and bantered with the MC. Everyone who claimed a prize went up on stage where the MC covered the “winner” with glow-in-the-dark marker pen. My girlfriend won a digital camera but sternly warned the MC to “stay away from the face”.
At this point everything stopped and a cigarette break was called, so we made a swift exit and headed home. Bingo was certainly an experience and I’m embarrassed to admit I’d do it all again, if only for the company.