Tuesday, October 18, 2011

1979: He must be happy in his work

My brother was sport mad. He was good at it too. It wasn't just confined to school teams though. He had to join a local kiddies football team as well.

Me? Not interested. It didn't help that I was no good at it, and was made to feel useless for being so. So while I resented having to sit on the sidelines (or more often than not, in the car with the radio on) there was one good thing that came out of it: The bingo nights.

In order to raise money for the team and cover its (I'm sure minimal) costs, bingo nights were held in the local village hall. I say village hall - it was a bit more sophisticated than that. I grew up in a small town rather than a village as such, and this hall was just one of a few dotted about. But it was the one I knew best.

It was the one where I watched rehearsals of local am-dram society's produciton of Semi-Detached in 1970, in which mum appeared wearing knee-high white boots and begged Nigel to forgive her, as dad put his arm around my shoulder and told me not worry as it wasn't real. He needn't have worried. I already knew as I'd seen her reading the script in bed. She was rather convincing though. No wonder the local rag thought she was the standout in 1963's The Rape Of The Lock.

It was the place where one woman's job was to walk onto the stage and say 'ready when you are, Eddie' to the lighting man. Later, I knew her better as the mother of the scariest boy in school. It was the place where I got caught trying to melt a plastic tulip on the footlights, and where a nice lady called Frances opened a fresh tin of variety biscuits during breaks. She later fell off a cliff and died after beckoning her husband to come and see something down below.

It was also the place where I went with our neighbours to see a Victorian musical hall night and saw the woman from the chemist sing My Old Man. We had a high old time, that was for sure. So I had a fondness for that hall and that's where the bingo was held.

Every Tuesday me, my brother and my dad would find a good table, buy a book of tickets and hope for the best. It was the first time I'd heard bingo lingo: Doctor's orders: number nine. Five and nine: the Brighton Line. Top of the shop: nine-0. Jim's (then Maggie's) Den: Number 10, and fo course, two little ducks: 22, at which the whole room, led by the bingo caller/team manager's infant daughter would chorus: 'Quack! Quack!', and then collapse with laughter.

I'm not sure we ever won much, but we did win, and we couldn't wait for the next week. We weren't the only ones. Word of mouth saw these evenings mushroom into something much bigger, and by the end of the autumn even my schoolfriends, (including Nigel, hence the song choice which he loved and hated at the same time), were coming along. In 1979 the lure of the bingo was too much for everyone. The room was hushed and tense as the prizes grew more desirable. And then a bombshell: the hall was needed for something else from now on, so bingo would be held at a hall on the other side of town.

We went a few times, but it wasn't the same. Not even the garishly iced homemade cakes, which had once been such a draw, held their allure anymore. The hall was half-empty. The fun had been had.

Was she worth it?*

*76 (7/6, the price of a marriage licence I'm told)


  1. 'She later fell off a cliff and died after beckoning her husband to come and see something down below.' Brillant - not for her though obvs!

  2. You couldn't make it up, could you? I was shocked for years after I'd heard that.

  3. "I got caught trying to melt a plastic tulip on the footlights"...I'm still laughing at that...