In the last few years I've been reintroduced to a favourite pastime of my mother's - I've been busy learning the etiquette of bingo.
It's a complex little world, full of rules and regulations and rife with a language and culture all of its own.
Contrary to popular belief, it's not just little old ladies that attend bingo: people of all ages, backgrounds and both sexes attend, but the over-riding common factor in this varied group, is the desire for a quick buck and the little thrill of one-upmanship.
For those especially in the older age bracket, it's a great opportunity to meet regularly with your friends and to whinge about Joyce on table 4 who always seems to win, and with all the money she and her husband Ernie retired on, really hasn't the right to look quite that smug with her winnings.
Then there's Barry at table 9 who's been a widower for some years now, despite Beryl and Jesse trying desperately to get him down the aisle again.
An essential tool at Bingo is the 'dobber', the thick felt-pens especially made for bingo cards. I'd imagine that most bingo addicts are about as obsessed with their dobbers as my mother is. Mum has a good collection of dobbers that she lays out in front of her on the table, so that she can quickly discard an unlucky dobber for a more promising one in between games.
While my mum would probably be the last to admit she uses particular rituals to improve her chances of winning, she does regularly participate in the disgruntled tongue click prevalent at bingo halls. I noticed this phenomenon when I first returned to bingo with my mother. When somebody yells out bingo, an audible wave of tongue clicks sweeps across the room.
Also popular at some bingos are the customary phrases for certain numbers, eg:
- one – "one little duck";
- seven – "half way to heaven";
- nine – "doctor's orders";
- eleven – "legs eleven" and everyone has to whistle;
And while we're on the subject of calling, have you noticed that it's almost a requirement for lady callers to have a strident nasal voice? Can you imagine at the interview they ask potential callers, “Now love, can you call out 'Top of the house, number 90?' And can you say that like you've had your nose broken in two places?”
While I find bingo on par with root canal, I go because it's an opportunity to catch up with my mum. And while it's true that I have to put up with the incessant tongue clicking, the weak cups of tea, and the mind-numbing monotony of the game, I know that my mum enjoys it and appreciates my company. The occasional and rare win is a simply a bonus. ©