It takes nigh on 16 hours to travel by bus from Lima to Cusco. However comfortable the bus, that’s a long time to spend in one place with very little to do. Take a luxury Cruz del Sur coach and you’re promised some entertainment as you while your way through the night across the Andes. To take your mind off the unseen mountain passes and precipices as the bus lurches it’s way in the dark, passengers are treated to Bus Bingo. And oh how tempting are the prizes. If you’re lucky you’ll win a bottle of wine, if not, your prize is a return trip. Another 16 hours on a bus. And the prize is “non transferable”.
I was reminded of this journey and my many and varied experiences of bingo at yesterday’s Poetry Live event at the Southbank Centre to celebrate National Poetry Day. Sally Crabtree treated the audience to poems and songs and Poetry Bingo. As I ticked off the titles on my card I couldn’t help but wonder what the prize might be. I confidently imagined that the prize would not live up to the humiliation of shouting “Bingo” in a room full of strangers before embarking on the “winners walk” to the stage to graciously, and with a mixture of feigned joy and surprise, hold the prize aloft for all to see.
I have a confession. I have won at bingo before. But I have hesitated to shout, hoping that a delay will offer someone else the chance to grab the prize. I don’t especially like Bingo – but Bingo and me, well we have history. Let’s go back to the 1970s. To a small village in Norfolk. To Wendling village hall. Once a week my Uncle Reg was Bingo caller. I would sit on a table with my Nan, a good scattering of cousins, aunts, and uncles, and well everyone and anyone who lived within a 5 mile radious of the village hall. We didn’t have X Factor then, there was little to do of a winter’s evening. But I was always mightily impressed by the fearsome fag-toting ladies who could run between 6 and 10 Bingo cards at any one time. These were women who could attend to many things at a time. If they could watch all those cards, there was little doubt that anything escaped their attention. That’s what kept us kids in order, someone, somewhere would see what we were up to. Any naughtiness and you could expect two clips round the ear. The first by whoever spotted you up to mischief, the second when you got home and any misdemeanour had already been reported to your mum.
As the years went by I became less inclined to tag along on Bingo nights. And my Grandad, as his hearing failed, was forced to sit alongside my Uncle at the caller’s table so he could hear the numbers as they were called – two fat ladies, one little duck, kelly’s eye…