Esther O’Moore Donohoe enters the exceptionally glamorous world of bingo calling, residents’ association Whatsapp groups and prize-giving controversy…
As I stood in my bathroom last Saturday evening, applying a suggestion of mascara and a whisper of liquid eyeliner, adrenalin pumped around my body. I tapped the contents of a 6-year-old bottle of Benetint onto the apples of my cheeks and prepared myself mentally and physically for an evening of low level, volunteer showbiz, bewitchment and bedazzlement. Because for one night only, I was going to be an Amateur Bingo Caller.
Being an Amateur Bingo Caller was not on my To-Do list for the year. But if I am to realise my dream of getting to the middle of the bottom of the entertainment totem pole, I have to take every opportunity that comes knocking. So when a neighbour and fellow member of the Residents Association Whatsapp Group asked me to step up to the bingo plate, what could I say, only ‘Eh. Okay?”
But one simply doesn’t go from chatting to random neighbours on an app to entry level showbiz overnight. The origins of my bingo-ing started three and half years ago when I first joined the group. I hadn’t lived in the area for long but was inspired to throw myself into the community after hearing tales from a friend of a friend’s R.A. He sold them as happy places, full of sightings of potentially murderous silver Nissan Micras driving slowly and pictures of foxes and rogue seagulls eating from wheelie bins on Bin Night. I knew then I had to explore the Residents Association Cinematic Universe for myself.
The main thrust of the Whatsapp group I’m in is fundraising and planning laws so yes, it can get pretty sexy and I accept that that type of content is not for everyone. Months ago, the committee decided that a night of Bingo was just the thing to raise money for the coffers. They planned to get a local well-known minor celebrity as the guest caller for the evening and when everyone of them said no, they asked me – a person with zero public profile or name recognition.
The venue for the evening of community fun was the back room of the local. Committee members had set up a grand display of prizes (hello Seiko watch and six Newbridge wine glasses) and the resident quiz master was in charge of the tech (laptop). We made our introductions and I was quickly ushered to the stage (small table underneath a speaker) where everything I’d need for my performance (BIC biro and sheet of paper) were laid out. I turned to hang my coat on the back of the chair and when I looked up, an intense R.A volunteer a.k.a Bingo Master had appeared. I was unprepared. They told me their mother had been a bingo caller and asked if I had all the sheets of Bingo Lingo (‘22 – Two Little Ducks’) and did I know how Bingo worked and where my mic was?
I silently unzipped my purse and produced a folded up A4 sheet of bingo callouts I had been emailed. This was met with a gentle frenzy ‘WHERE ARE THE REST OF THEM?!!” I was missing three additional pages of Bingo jargon apparently and so another committee member was dispatched to the printer ar luas lasrach. I already felt out of my depth. I was then told I was expected to roam around the pub with a radio mic, calling numbers at random locations, like a cut price Eurovision presenter. But before I could say anything, she was off.
As the 8 o’clock kick off time approached, I gave myself a pep talk. Years of Speech and Drama training had led me to this moment. I had done Feiseanna. I had played Captain Von Trapp in the Transition Year musical. I was ready. ‘Eyes down!’ I tell a roomful of strangers and three and half hours of mild, volunteer showbiz began.
Things start off well. I tell them I have no idea what I’m doing, setting the bar nice and low. After about ten minutes, we have our first call of ‘Bingo!’ Prizes from the display are dispatched. A few minutes later ‘Bingo!’ is called again. Game 1 is already over. By this stage, people are onto their second drink and the room is loosening up. We’re all feeling pleased with ourselves and things proceed as normal until disaster strikes during Game 3.
As I call ‘87 – the Queen’s in heaven’ a lone voice from a table in the back calls ‘Line!’. Seconds later, another call of ‘Line!’ comes from the opposite side of the pub and then yet another ‘Line!’ from a third table beside me. Time stands still and the room breaths as one. Surely, there must be a mistake? A three line call from one game? Unprecedented. It’s the event no one from the Residents Association Bingo Planning Committee could have foreseen. The committee members talk amongst themselves. The tables are anxious – after all, a Seiko watch someone found in the back of a press and two bottles of Dada are up for grabs this round. Bingo Master takes the second roving mic and starts wondering out loud what to do. ‘Give them all prizes’ suggests a fellow committee member and is immediately vaporised into thin air by the Prize Committee whose eyes all turn red.
They clearly never organised a table quiz or raffle. I think the matter is being dealt with so I start to call the next number, after all the game is not yet over. I go to speak but Bingo Master, drunk on the power of a roving mic, starts to speak again. Now, we’re talking over each other and the three potential winners are all standing, looking for their vino. Meanwhile, the rest of the room, who planned on a quiet night down the local are now caught up in a panic at the Bingo. Lest, the energy and dynamism of the evening be slowed down, it is quickly decided that all three tables will get an additional prize of…something. Bingo waits for no one.
A mere six rounds later, in which one table is branded The Table of Shame for calling ‘Bingo!’ incorrectly three times having had too much wine, the rest of the night goes off without a hitch. And as the final bottle of whiskey is dispatched from the table of prizes, my work is done. I say my goodbyes, which no one hears and exit stage left into the evening, treating myself to ye olde chipper as I imagine Elton John does whenever he comes off stage. Will I bingo call again? If I am lucky enough to be asked, I will gladly serve my community. It’s all about getting involved mate. Ask not what your Residents Association can do for you, but what you can do for your Residents Association. Eyes Down and amen.