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6:04pm on Tuesday, 3rd April, 2007:

Two Little Ducks


When I was at school, I had a part-time job: I was a bingo-caller at Pastimes Amusements on the sea front.

Yes, I used to sit at a microphone waiting for balls to come out of a tube (the "blower") whereupon I would read the numbers out and put them in a grid. If someone shouted "Bingo", I'd switch off the blower, wait for one of the other members of staff to check the numbers, then if all passed muster I'd drop the balls back in the blower and start a new game. Oh, I was also one of the people who walked around checking the numbers, too. Not everyone who was a caller did that, but some of the people who did it were callers. We also had to hand out tickets to winners and exchange them for goods (we were a prize bingo, rather than a money bingo, because back then there were big laws pointing against the latter).

Our boards were 5x5 with a free middle square. The balls were numbered 1-75, 15 in each colour of red, yellow, blue, white and green in that order. One of the other arcades, Two Jacks, had the same range but the colours in a different order; the other main arcade, David's, went to 90, which meant they got "two fat ladies, 88" and a certain degree of smugness. None of us had the B I N G O format that appears to be the norm in the USA.

We needed 6 people to sit down before we could start. If you've ever attempted to get 6 people to sit down when it's raining outside and there aren't 6 people mad enough to go to the sea front, let alone play bingo, you can imagine how thankless the job sometimes was.

Still, as a result of this experience I am able to speak in front of large crowds without exhibiting a single shred of nerves. Also, my East Yorkshire accent isn't as strong as it would have been if I hadn't had to tone it down (primarily for the benefit of people from West Yorkshire).

In common with all the other arcades, Pastimes had slot machines as well as a bingo. Some of the slots were "gamblers", which paid out money every once in a while (these were generally "bandits" or "pushers", but there were a few others too); others didn't have a general classification, but they included things like "pins" (ie. pinball machines) and bar football (at which I am excellent, by the way, or at least I was until I did my shoulder in). They also had some early electronic games, some of which I excelled at (eg. Exidy Star Fire) and others of which I couldn't get along with at all (eg. Space Invaders). Pastimes was the biggest arcade, and its machines were the best; I still had to pay to play on them, though.

I have a ton of anecdotes from my days at Pastimes, which I'll bore you with on other occasions. I have several for the drinks machine alone...

Today, though, just one.

Did you know there are different cultures for playing Bingo? I don't just mean the numbers, I mean audience behaviour. In some parts of the country, the audience is much more participatory than in others. For example, if the caller were to say, "Two little ducks, 22" then the players might shout, as one, "quack quack!". Such are the ways of community bonding.

We weren't one of those kinds of bingos, because most of our players were visitors rather than regulars. However, occasionally we would get people from places where that was how bingo players behaved, and they thought all bingos were like that. I imagine that in such environments, it's quite amusing when the caller says, "Two little ducks, 22" and fifty people shout, "quack quack!"; however, I can guarantee that it's nowhere near as amusing as when the caller says, "Two little ducks, 22" and one person shouts, "quack quack!" while the other 49 remain silent.

Ah, happy days.

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Copyright © 2007 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).