Jenessa Williams braves Freshers’ Week to check out the sell-out party event

Freshers’ was a while ago for me. The days of getting ‘on it’ midweek are well behind me, and I can’t remember the last time I bought a new outfit specifically for a night out. Approaching Canal Mills, I suddenly feel very old – coming straight from work, my friend and I are dressed more like maths teachers than we are party revellers, and it swiftly returns to my consciousness that my first (and only) prior experience of bingo playing was on a caravan holiday with my mother-in-law. Lots of fun, but not exactly the sort of thing that requires a denim miniskirt and pre-drink skinful of Blossom Hill. 

Prizes range from life-size cardboard cutouts of Phillip Schofield and Ainsley Harriott to Henry Hoovers and a double-ended, erm...

Stepping inside Bongo’s Bingo, it becomes quickly apparent that none of that matters. 90’s and 00’s anthems bounce off the cavernous walls, newly ID’ed patrons are dancing on the benches and it’s already so busy that we have to round the room twice in order to find space to sit down. 

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The girls next to us are finessing an array of squad selfies, and the group on the other side are precariously balancing a tray of pints on the dance-wobbled table. If you can't beat em, join em- we split a bottle of wine between two coffee cups and get down with the kids. Eyes down!

To explain everything that happens over the course of the evening is to slightly ruin the experience for anyone who hasn’t yet been but, whether it’s the wine or the intoxication of a crowd so clearly invested in the light-heartedness of it all, Bongo’s Bingo is easily the most fun you can have without taking your clothes off. Not that that stops our hype team of callers – not for the fainthearted, there is cheeky innuendo and dodgy costumes aplenty, torn down to boxers in the name of the classic ‘Legs 11’. Anybody who shouts ‘bingo’ with a false claim is subjected to a ripping normally reserved for Comedy Central. 

With prizes ranging from life-size cardboard cutouts of Phillip Schofield and Ainsley Harriott to Henry Hoovers and a double-ended, erm, ‘personal-use appendage’, the pace is fast and very very funny - accompanied by a near-encyclopedic romp through club staples that sometimes go over the heads of the younger ones but mostly cause a raucous singalong. At one point, coco pops rain through the sky; at another, an impromptu date is set up for two of the audience’s singletons, as they are forced to awkwardly dance together during an Ed Sheeran interlude.

Beginner’s luck is also very much on my side – I bag a bottle of Glenn’s with two lines in game one and, by the end of the evening, I somehow find myself ushered onto the stage, arms outstretched as a giant fluffy unicorn is launched at me, alongside the evening’s grand prize of £400 (pretty good freelance rate though I say so myself). 

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Jenessa’s winnings

For a girl who has never won so much as a school tombola, it’s an outrageous shock, but boy am I into it - I think I might have even done a small victory dance. I pass my vodka around our newfound tablemates for a swig like old pals, and everyone is visibly chuffed for me at my win. What’s not to love? 

With a new season of near-weekly events just around the corner, there really has never been a better time to get your dobber out for some bingo. Ideal for big groups, this is a guaranteed win for hen or stag parties, work socials or just a bit of a giggle with your best pals. I’ve already invited my brother, my boyfriend, my colleagues and all my best friends to the next one. Now, where did I leave my giant unicorn…

Slideshow photos: Justin Gardner/Canal Mills