There’s nothing like a bit of gambling - Alison Goulding finds out if she can dab her way to a full house.
“All the eights, number 88”
The therapeutic voice is poured like cough syrup into my ears
“Three, number threeee” it purs as I focus my mind like a ninja and dab away on my bingo sheet.
Apart from the gentle voice, all is silent.
Then... “Here!” A woman waves her paper in the air and everyone starts grumbling amongst themselves.
Wars, financial disasters, flu epidemics and hurricanes have changed the world we know beyond recognition over the last few years, but the one thing we can always be sure of is bingo.
Certainly in Sunderland, where the Mecca Bingo is busier than most of the city bars.
I chose a Thursday to lose my bingo virginity and rounded up fellow Echoettes Cara, Katy and Georga to share the moment.
After a tutorial from manager Billy Thompson we were poised to win billions - surely we’d have a little beginner’s luck?
Errr, no actually. None of us got a sniff at a single penny and yet the evening was still deemed a success.
I haven’t concentrated so hard since my gcse maths exam - no wonder people say it keeps your brain sharp.
And if I didn’t win, I came close enough a couple of times to feel my palms grow sweaty.
Manager Billy Thompson started working for Mecca 29 years ago and has been head of the Sunderland branch for a decade.
“I’ve worked in a lot of different places and the people here are the nicest, the friendliest and the warmest. The people make a big difference. We usually get moved on after three years but they can’t get me out of here.
“You stay where you’re happy.”
Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest and Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday are the busiest afternoons. On Saturday afternoons the last full house is worth £1000 and 500 people usually turn up.
45 staff work there and the building was refurbished and reopened five weeks ago with some help from mascot Mecca Rebecca and a handful of topless waiters.
“Some people come to gamble but I think most people come because it’s sociable. If you’re working hard all week or you’re home alone then you want a good night out that’s not too expensive.
“If you win it’s a free night and if you don’t, you’ve had a giggle, had a laugh and played a game.
“I could put a young beignner next to a 90-year-old who’s played for years and I know who’ll be able to dab the fastest. They can go like the clappers. You’ve got to be quick to mark all the numbers and shout ‘house’ before the next number is called. It’s all done in seconds so it keeps you mentally on the ball.
“I started out as a chef but my sister was a bingo addict and every time I went to see her she’d drag me along. The second time I went and won a fiver and the thrill was brilliant. I could feel my heart in my chest and the adrenalin rushing around me. The excitement of waiting for that number and it being called got me hooked. My sister was an old hand at it and couldn’t believe I was getting so excited but I thought it was amazing.”
Billy’s biggest win was £1,500 and he still plays once a week.
He said: “I get two days off a week. One is for chores and the other is for a good night out. Over the years I’ve introduced a couple of friends to the bingo and we’ll go before a night out.”
We may not have finished the evening millionaires but we’ll certainly be returning to the bingo hall soon to give it another try.
*Mecca Bingo is on Holmeside in the Old Odeon Building. Players must be members. It is free to join and you can play the same day. To find out more go to www.meccabingo.com