Terrified I stand beside Keith, in the centre of the Bingo Hall. Seven hundred are in this afternoon, and the prizes are BIG. Keith is the Caller, so they hang on his every word. Me, I hang on his every action, as it's nearly my turn - in a couple of minutes, when he's finished calling this page. Floodlights pour down on him, the centre of everyone's acquisitive attention.
Will I cope? The speaking doesn't bother me - it's part of the game. Like writing to you here. Some hide away - others walk the walk. But will I operate the control panel OK? Will I hear the players' shouts? Will I make out the claim-checkers' words? Converting any mistakes into comedy, however easy, will just not be an option.
A player shouts!! Keith has a claim! He does a real time demo on the keypad for me. Looks simple. A cinch. Valid check, card number, enter. "Card correct. Any more claims?" Keith asks. A halfwit could do it. I relax. But just a bit. Only seconds to go now before I realise the ambition of three years - ever since the first time I saw it.
Arlene my pal guesses what's about to happen. In this aircraft hangar of a hall she looks a hundred miles away. Too far to detect her expression. But I grin at her, in rictus. I mime eating my paws, mopping my brow. Keith picks up on it and winks. How's my hair? Is my shirt tucked in to minimise my belly? Omygod - I never HAD to do this.
It's now. Oh fuck.
"And now I'll hand you over to magnificat for the final page of your book. It's his first time, so be easy on him."
There's a blank for a few seconds - I just don't remember physically taking the mike from him. The microphone is Shure. Top quality. State of the art amplification. More than two dozen 3-driver Tannoys to reproduce my every nuance. Nothing - nothing - must impede the members' hearing the numbers. From the moment I speak, I am in legal control of the gamble - overriding the manager, the director, and the very shareholders themselves.
"Hi!" I say, casually. But it's not casual. I got the mike too close to my gob, and the word comes out like a bomb. Great start.
"And now on to your final page, a yellow page, your first number...." Instant hush. I press the green button - the button that starts the random number generator - the button which dictates who goes home rich, and who has to wait till another day.
"Four and six, forty six." Not too bad.
"Three and five, thirty five." I got the volume right now.
"On it's own, number nine." The effortless clarity of my voice. It's like having a mouth the size of a cinema.
"One and one, legs eleven." Slight laughter. I've fucked up. Don't know why, but got to press on.
"Five and six, fifty six." Back on track.
FUCK ME!! DON'T KNOW HOW TO SAY IT!!! I must have heard that number called one zillion times. Is it nothing, is it zero, is it "oh" - as in dear? Gotta guess!!
"Two and nothing, blind twenty." Guessed wrong. More laughter - louder, but still not unkind. Keith hisses urgently - "it's two oh blind twenty." "Sorry about that," I confess to them. Hand shaking now, but not unruly.
Thank God. Another chance. "Four - oh, blind forty." Relief is mine.
"House!" someone calls. "Where's the claim?" I demand, in charge, you see. There's a bingo card waving at least fifty miles away, in the upper circle. "In the balcony - thank you Arlene!"
Arlene runs to check the claim, and I operate the control pad just fine. "Card correct. Any more claims?" I ask, and my career as caller is secure. The boy done good.