We were the last to arrive. All the others were sat, pens poised, minds blank, ready for the onslaught of numbers that was to come. There were visible sighs of irritation as we were ushered towards a free table with our number books.
The caller was definitely Herefordshire born – straight off the back of a tractor, I’d wager – but with a voice firm and clear. We had little time to chat, assess our surroundings before he began reading out the numbers. They came quickly, insistently. The loud silence among the players defied anyone to make a noise. The only sound was the cacophony of scribbles. Before we knew it someone had called ‘Line’. She’d won a bag of groceries. Her expression, lined and poker faced did not betray her obvious delight.
I took the opportunity to scan the glittering prizes on display. Many of which had clearly been unwanted gifts donated to the cause. Cheap toiletry sets, plastic kitchen implements, a fruit basket, a basket of assorted meats, no doubt donated by the local butcher, one hopes. Bottles of cheap alcohol and cleaning products were among them. Please oh please let me not win the cleaning products!
The numbers continued. “Two little ducks, number 22” He called. Certain numbers released a gaggle of excitement among the younger of the competitors, swiftly followed by loud tuts from the older fraternity, then more sniggers from the younger ones.
Somewhere in the back someone shouted a loud ‘House’. The hosts were quick to the prize table and walked by with a bottle of brandy – the label tatty with age. Another round followed this then we joined the regulars in a refreshing brew. Shame we didn’t bring along our own Custard crèmes in a plastic Tupperware dish, as some of the other more seasoned players had.
Some of the older ones had brought their own clipboards too – clearly they took this Bingo lark very seriously. Their arthritic hands looked uncomfortable holding the fat dabber pens but these oldies were tough. One of the older ladies caught me looking in her direction and gave me evils – I looked away timidly – they were a scary bunch when it came to Bingo.
The caller continued to bombard us. Book after book of numbers we crossed off. I began to lose hope, and feeling in my right hand. I was getting bored now. The bag of meat, the cooking utensils and the cleaning equipment had gone (thankfully). All that was left was a couple of bottles of cider and a dodgy looking jewellery set with perfume.
Finally the last book was called. The numbers came slow at first. I was used to the speed in which I needed to cross them off now. My brain had adjusted and I now crossed off those numbers like an old pro. Some faceless voice in the back had won the cider. This was it now, we were in for the big prize.
My mind had started wandering and I imagined telling Ben that I’d failed, that I’d won nothing at all. But suddenly, one of my blocks was filling, fast. “Oh my god, oh my god” I whispered, “Please let it be me”. As though some brand new Mercedes convertible was at stake here. I braced myself expecting any moment for someone to call house, as I crossed off more numbers. And they kept coming. All I needed was a 14.
Time slowed down as he called yet more numbers. Then suddenly he said it. “Valentine’s Day, it’s number 14”.
I jumped up, book in the air and called out in wild abandon, “Yes, Yes, Yes”, forgetting where I was for just that moment. A few sniggers came my way. I didn’t care, I’d won. I’d won the last book. The tacky jewellery and perfume were mine.