Like millions of other UK residents, embattled by years of recession, poverty, crime, degradation of values and morals, and floods, I have turned my back on the daily grind of the work-a-day world and placed my fate in the hands of the pro-bingo circuit. The circuit, over the last five years, has evolved into a mobile cadre travelling from town-to-town and every minor metropolis nourishing the British public’s insatiable desire to be entertained by the mesmerising thrill of competitive number circling.
The trudging pilgrimage between encampments is punctuated by brief and ferocious bouts of competition. Friends who have conversed and broken bread with each other during the luminous hours of the day are pitted against each other during the night. Painstakingly we strive to scratch one more number, to gain a meagre advantage over our adversaries. For two hours the silence of the crowd is lacerated by the caller’s precise voice, the tenacious scribble of markers, the thud of customised stamps, and the slow, steady drip of sweat from steely brows. Finally, and inevitably, a mutant shout emerges from a lone competitor. This ejaculation of tension bursts into a hundred sighs and grunts from mournful cohorts. The crowd waits with baited breath as the card is checked by the meticulous overseer (this show of rigour is largely for the fans, as the players know that a false call would result in such a crushing loss of professional integrity that retirement from the circuit would be the only option). A whooping cheer arises from the gallery as a hand is waved validating and verifying the call. Soon this dissipates and the pros sit upright in anticipation of the next card; the next redemptive quest for glory
Emerging from this arena, staggering from the intensity of our battle, we pros retreat to the nearest pub to suckle upon that delicate nectar promised by the union of hops and yeast and starch. Far from the hedonistic image portrayed by some sections of media, a cocktail of excess and debauchery, the post-competition soirée is a poignant necessity of life on the circuit. The pro leaves the arena drained by the competition, yet, simultaneously, wired by the excitement. How many pints of golden refreshment will they need before their body has calmed to a point that they can actually sleep? Three? Seven? Ten? Often a bleary-eyed competitor is seen weeping into their glass well into the early hours of the morning, unable to escape the competitive high.
We trudge, we battle, we drink. We repeat the cycle every day, but in a different town. Pausing only to construct or collapse our tawdry encampments, and eat what little food we can buy with our winnings (if any). This is the reality of life for the growing multitude on the pro-bingo circuit. Today Saint George speaks to us with benevolence and majesty: finally we are all in this together.