Darkness can evoke a nostalgia of its own, memories loom from the shadows. Roads in rural Ireland become those from rural England. A favourite memory is a drive on a winding unclassified road through a very rural part of Somerset.
The headlights lit up the steep banks on either side of Turn Hill There were coloured lights on the dashboard of our old Austin Cambridge; the only light that was easy to understand was the blue light that told you whether your headlights were on full beam. The hill has a hairpin bend, we probably drove down at no more than 20 mph.
It was 4.40 and we were going out for our tea before going to the pre-Christmas bingo at Burrowbridge village hall. No memories of the tea remain, but the bingo night remains vivid. There were lines of wooden folding chairs with an aisle up the middle and on the stage one of those machines that blew ping pong balls around in a rectangular glass box. There was an opening in the top through which the caller would push his hand to take out the numbered balls.
The men running the bingo (they were all men) were big countrymen. Solemn as undertakers, they all dressed in suits and conducted the whole evening with a great deal of gravitas, as though levity might in some way call into account their integrity. A book to play the ten bingo games cost twelve and a half pence. Everyone would have bought tickets for the raffle as well. Each game came in two parts – there was a prize for the first person who completed whatever line they might call out – top middle or bottom – and then a bigger prize for the first person to complete the card.
The prizes were brilliant, there were turkeys and hampers and bottles of sherry and boxes of chocolates. It was no wonder that the hall was filled to capacity and the overflow sat in the kitchen where the serving hatch was open so that people could hear the numbers.
The air was electric as each game approached its conclusion. To be able to shout ‘house’ seemed to generate as much delight for a winner as they would have felt if they were lifting the FA Cup. There would have been a huge wave of conversation as the winner’s card was taken to the front to be checked. Once a person had made a false call, a number had been misheard; beetroot would not have described her colour.
We were rustic and unsophisticated and easily pleased, but no night in the West End, no dinner at the Ritz, no dancing to an orchestra, could have matched the excitement of bingo in Burrowbridge village hall. On the night air there comes the voice of the caller, “Downing Street Number Ten.”