I’m writing this from my sickbed, a stack of magazine, books and Lemsip Max at my side as I ache my way through a third day of the symptoms that haven’t completely wiped me out but reduce me to something less than. I am not very good at being ill. For the last two years I’ve been declaring myself immune from COVID. I’m double vaxxed so there’s nothing in such a comment that suggests anything anti, merely the idea that I have been very lucky given some of the chances and open-mouthed kisses I’ve indulged in since all this foot-tapping began at the start of 2020.
If there was anywhere that I was struck down by the virus that has plagued our existences then it was the trendy Shoreditch bingo residence I visited on Monday night in the first of a run of Christmas meet-ups I had planned ahead of the anticlimactic big day.
With a beer, a jagerbomb and an Old Fashioned inside me, things were looking up. I was three dabs away from a full house and the promise of a cash prize. They say that you don’t get nothing in this life for free, and of course, they’re right. I didn’t win the cash prize. In fact, the person who did win the cash prize didn’t even win the cash prize. That was to come.
A robotic voice. A dazzling light display like when it all gets very serious in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Graphics of Mariah Carey in that red outfit haunt my vision.
42. The answer to life, the universe and everything. I dab. Two more to go. We all know I’m not going to win already. I’ve told you that but hold onto the hope of it for now. Down the table of fourteen of us, all suitably tanked up, eager to pretend that this is us returning to normal, that I haven’t been routinely dipping a swab down my throat and around the confines of my nose to make sure I’m not about to remove a boomer from the face of the earth by talking to them.
Christmas parties are supposed to be a time of celebration but when there’s death in the air, it can be difficult to relax.
7. Lucky Number Seven. I’m down to my last. I just need McCartney’s Number and I’m set.
A Full House.
Daddy needs a new pair of fur-lined moccasins.
The next number isn’t mine. It’s someone else’s. Lights and dry ice vomit everywhere. The audience boo, audibly, like racist football fans on seeing players take the knee. They don’t even know what it is they’re mad at. The lucky winner makes an awkward attempt to floss onstage with the two robot women, worryingly dressed like they’re in Squid Game as sound pulses at the exact rate of a migraine.
Their card verified, they’re given the chance to chance their ton for a grand. We all shout at them to gamble. It’s one in ten. Pick a box. Every other prize is a trucker cap. They get the hat and have to walk away to more blaring music, pretending this is what they came for.
You know, you come from nothing – you’re going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!
Always Look On the Bright Side of Life – Monty Python
With the end of the bingo, my card a disappointing 64 away from completion, it’s time to pay the tab and leave. The lights come on. It’s the reality of the situation. The fun-time guy who has been chucking drinks at us all evening becomes a little more business-like. We split the tab and get lost in the harsh London night. Somewhere, somehow, I’ve picked up a virus as a prize. There’ll be no opportunity to gamble this way.
Whatever you’re doing this festive season, be fucking careful.