Sunday evening in York, we make our way to the Mecca bingo complex just off Fishergate. Not that Jacqui and I had planned to go but as we walked back to our car, one of us needed to go to the loo. Mecca seemed the best bet.
We were tired from a busy day – a morning visit to St Michael-le-Belfry (the HTB of the 1980’s), yet another visit to the National Railway Museum (I managed just three visits this time) and a walk around the walls. We would have visited the Minster but we could not afford the £18 entrance fee. I noted that there was no clergy discount.
So just a short detour across the road to take advantage of the facilities offered by this modern bingo complex.
The first problem was getting in. A receptionist presided over the entrance – you would have to walk right passed her direct to the escalator. Was she simply welcoming people or was she a gatekeeper? I suppose we simply should have asked but given the nature of our predicament, we could not have taken NO for an answer.
I watched for a few moments and then decided to walk with purpose and head straight for the escalator, as if I did this every Sunday. Jacqui followed. No one called us back.
Upstairs, we found ourselves in a large empty lobby adjoining the main bingo hall, brightly lit and pleasantly decorated. Several uniformed assistants stood behind a long counter, thankfully preoccupied. There were no greeters on duty (we would call them welcomers).
The evening meeting was just beginning. Lots of people sitting around small tables in groups of four. Maybe 180 players, nearly all women. A good atmosphere – everyone was relaxed but focused. The young callers were welcoming everyone to their evening gathering. They even singled out someone on her birthday, rather insensitively I thought.
The problem was that had I wanted to join them, what would I do? I have never played bingo and there seemed no way of finding out. No clear instructions on the wall, no helpful guide book. I guess you would go to the desk behind me and ask.
But which questions? For someone new like me, there would be the risk of looking stupid, something I manage effortlessly. Do tickets come in books? Is there minimum purchase? What do I shout should I win? What is a win?
I am quite sure what would have been totally obvious, altogether self evident to them would have been completely novel to me. I do not come from a bingo family. I do not read the Bingo Times.
Should I have had the confidence to buy the books, that would have been the easy bit. There was then the dilemma of where to sit.
Sadly you could only walk in to the bingo auditorium from the side, in full public gaze. And where would I sit? Clearly everyone knew everyone else and the risk of sitting in someone’s special place was high. “Would you please move to another table, sir” is everyone’s dread.
On balance it would have been even more difficult walking in alone. Do you sit on an empty table (I didn’t see any) and so look bereft of friends? Or do you join an already existing group and risk rejection. “That’s Pat’s place – she is always late on Sunday’s.” And do you play as a team?
I was simply an outsider looking in. I did not belong and I did not understand. Thankfully no one headed over to help us – I’m not sure anyone even noticed us – and so we were able to beat a safe retreat. As we retired into the cold evening air I smiled at the receptionist in the entrance foyer. “Not this evening, thank you. Maybe next time.”
Maybe never again.