Shit days out for kids #6: Bingo

You can find the rest of the Shit days out for kids series on the old World Of Crap, here. Knock yourself out.

Technically, bingo is more of an evening activity, and doesn’t really count as a day out. But never let it be said that I care about stuff like accuracy, or writing anything good, ever.

On an unrelated note: I’m writing this while I hide from an old man. I really want to go out onto my balcony for a cigarette, but there’s an old man in a flat cap and overcoat loitering on the pavement outside, looking judgemental. If I go outside he’ll definitely tut at me. Last time I looked I thought he’d gone, but then he reappeared and now he’s got a woman one with him, and they’re both loitering. I hope they’re not amassing an army, that’s the last thing I need.

Anyway, bingo. Recently my sister in law and I have decided to go to bingo, because we are cool and good. My 16 year old niece wanted to come with us, but unfortunately you have to be 18 to get into our local bingo, even if you don’t actually play. Why she wanted to come with us but not play I’m not entirely sure, but I guess she had her reasons.

This never used to be the case, because I distinctly remember accompanying my parents to bingo lots of times during the first ten years of my life.


Update: Oh Jesus I thought they’d gone again but they’re just marching up and down the road. They really are getting an army together. I should grow a pair. I live here and they don’t. They’re the ones breaking the law, probably.

My parents were avid bingo players. Most of my childhood was punctuated with trips to bingo halls, seaside tele bingo, and those weird town centre arcades where old ladies sit in the afternoon and drink tea and play bingo (obviously).

Speaking of old ladies – THEY’VE GONE!


Right, back to bingo. For whatever reason, probably because I was an idiot child who couldn’t be left alone, I used to accompany my parents to bingo. I only played occasionally (I’ll get to that later); for the most part I just sat around being bored. Not only did I sit around being bored, I also sat around being quiet. You must be quiet at all times at the bingo, in case your voice causes one of the old ladies to rupture. My parents would actively threaten me with death if I “showed them up”.

Just in case anyone thinks my parents were bastards – they weren’t. But this was in the 80s, when kids occasionally had to do stuff they didn’t want to do, and before people started crying ‘Human Rights!’ if they were asked to do the washing up. It was called ‘being well behaved’.

At any bingo hall you will find the following –

1. Lots and lots of women. I have no idea why bingo is such a woman’s game, it has just always been so. Some brave men, like my dad, do venture into the bingo hall, but they are treated with suspicion and scorn, and sent off on errands to fetch shandy and scampi fries.

2. The two women who live at bingo. They’re either old women with lots of free time, or the ghosts of old women who died there, possibly from the shock of winning ‘The National’. Heaven help you if you accidentally take their table, they will smite you by tutting loudly and loudly being in horrible pain when trying to sit at any of the other 3000 identical tables. Also, because that table is their lucky table, and theirs alone, anyone else who plays bingo at that table will have a curse placed upon their head for all eternity, or at least until one of the women wins at their new table.

3. The woman who has this many tickets per game:

bingo cards

This woman has ten arms, and each one of her tickets contains every number that is called out. I’m not sure how she doesn’t win more. My mother was frequently the ten armed woman at our bingo.

4. The prize section. The main bingo games were strictly cash only affairs, but sometimes they had mini games in between sessions, where you could play for prize tokens to be exchanged for crap. This was the norm at seaside tele bingo (more about that here), which is where I excelled, mostly because I was allowed to play, which helped. It was virtually unheard of at the weird town centre arcades, however, because those ladies are hardcore and do not want your sandwich toaster or your pencil case with ‘Scarborough’ written on it.


The worst part of any night at a proper bingo hall was ‘The National’. Jesus, if you looked up ‘tense’ in a picture dictionary, a picture of The National would be right there.

I only vaguely understood what The National was when I was a kid. I heard my parents talking about it with reverential awe; they’d sit and reminisce about that time they “only needed one number for The National,” or about how someone in Bradford “just won The National”. To me, The National was a matter of life and death. Literally. They way my parents talked about it, I started to think that if you didn’t get enough numbers on The National you died.

Allow me to explain, for those of you not au fait with bingo. The National is the biggest game of the evening in any bingo hall. Thousands of bingo halls across the country link up with each other via satellite or phone or something. I don’t know how they did it back then. Teletext?

For this one game, every club would be taken over by the caller for The National, and every club would have to confirm to their regional overlord that they were linked up. Then the numbers would be called out by the big bollocks fancy caller, and would flash up on a screen the size of Wales.

This was serious bingo.


The prize money wasn’t that different when I was a kid – we’re talking life changing amounts.

If I ever disobeyed my parents’ orders to keep quiet at bingo, I DID NOT disobey this order during The National. One of the worst things I could have done as a child was mess up someone’s chances of winning The National by making them miss a number. Flaming torches would have been involved. You never heard a peep out of me during this game, even if I had to duct tape my own mouth.

I don’t think anyone in our bingo hall ever won The National; it normally went to places I’d never been to, like Aldershot and Redditch. And once it was over, everyone could relax and carry on playing for £5.

Occasionally, if it was a child friendly bingo hall, I’d be given one sixth of a ticket and be allowed to play. Cue great excitement, and then just drawing all over my ticket with the bingo dabber because, let’s face it, I was five. But sometimes I concentrated really hard, and I got a 6, or a 29, and with it a wonderful sense of achievement.

This is usually what we, as a trio, came away with after a night’s hard bingoing:

– £9.50
– Another half pint glass or some cutlery courtesy of my mother (she also once ‘borrowed’ a shopping trolley, although not from bingo)
– A half eaten bag of scampi fries or cheese moments
– Complaints from my parents about “that woman who wouldn’t stop sniffing”

It’s no wonder I still have a mania for bingo, only this time I shall be going as an adult. Maybe I’ll have inherited my mother’s powers and am destined to become the ten armed woman.

5 thoughts on “Shit days out for kids #6: Bingo

  1. You paint a very vivid childhood picture.
    What’s that woman doing in the bingo poster?
    Is that the old-age equivalent of flashing… but fully supported at the same time?


  2. That lady in the first photo on the left looks just like I imagine an old Bingo lady would look like. Ever seen ‘That Peter Kay Thing’ the bingo episode, they play the National in that.



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