When I was little we used to holiday in Cullercoats, near to Whitley Bay on the North East of England coast.  Well, we didn’t have the kind of money that would jet us off to the Med for a fortnight – often we’d dream but settled for humble lodgings, prize bingo, the Spanish City, bit of beach, the outdoor pool at Tynemouth and the old late Friday night Hammer House of Horror film on a black and white portable tv; the last little treat before we’d return home the following day.

In Cullercoats there was a prize bingo along the front, which, for a large part of the week, I’d spend my coppers; sometimes winning – maybe a prize of food stuff, cuddly toy or tickets for free games…

Much of my time in that place, though, was spent simply watching the people in there…  And only two stick with me.  There was a tatty old man who smelled heavily of tobacco and stale sweat, wrapped up in clothes that a tramp might just turn his nose up at…  I sat with him for hours one day as he said he was ‘lucky’.  Maybe lucky at winning more than the odd game, but it appeared certainly not in life – although, he seemed more than content (so who was I to judge), often convincing me of this with a huge gummy smile, only just making it out from behind a grubby and shabby graying beard – his happy attitude was second to none I’d seen of most.  Anyway, he said that his luck would rub off, and so occasionally he’d tap my hand and give it a quick rub (he said as well as winning then, his lucky touch would stay with me) – maybe I agreed after winning a few games here and there, however, whenever I think of the old man, I sort of realise that his gift of good luck to me had no worthwhile longevity.  I still think of the old man more than regularly and, as it happens, that particular part of my life was a reasonably happy one, so I’m still content to reminisce about it.  Maybe I didn’t keep his luck but what I did keep, was his sense of optimism – nothing bothered him and he was full of wonderous pearls of wisdom…and unforced cheeriness…  Bingo aside, when I’m on a losing streak, I think of him…and that smile.

The second person I often think of from that old prize bingo shop, is a little old lady.  Tatty head scarf, worn and wrinkled complexion, grubby, light blue rain coat and a pair of well-worn, flower-patterned slippers – she could have only just lived around the corner…  Out from her face peeped two beady little eyes, supported top and bottom by fleshy folds of dark skin.  Permanently lodged between the thin lips of her zipper-like mouth was a hand-rolled cigarette, and under her nose, the dark brown stain of nicotine where the smoke had risen, no doubt encouraged by the suction of breath through her chubby little nose.  I wasn’t quite so taken with her – often she’d look over at me and my old man with disdain.  And when one of us won, or anyone else for that matter, unfathomable, almost whispered words of discontent wriggled out from between flesh and Rizla! 

I must have been only eight or so years old then, thirty-six years ago.  Obviously long dead, she stays with me so when I do happen to be on a losing streak, although she’s there, niggling me, I still have my tatty old man to cheer me…


I no longer play Bingo!


About Robert

A fifty-something, retired Celestial Travel Agent. Walked many paths; some good, lots bad. Meandering through the past, plodding in the present, crawling toward the future.
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