Loto – bingo or lotto to you – is the astonishingly popular pastime of seemingly half the local population. Last weekend we could have gone on Friday to a session at the next door village of Aigues-Vives, stayed in Laroque for more of the same on Saturday, and then gone to Lavelanet on Sunday afternoon for yet another action-packed few hours.
Somehow, we’d so far managed to avoid being roped in. Until last Saturday. Well, the Loto in Laroque was to fundraise for the Ecole de Musique, and the organ teacher Vanessa’s Organ fund.
So what’s an evening at the Loto actually like?
You’ll arrive to find ranks and ranks of tables set out. You’ll need to buy your Loto cards – and spend hours choosing your lucky set. First mistake: we just took the top few. If you know what you’re doing – we didn’t – you’ll have brought a bag of counters with you to cover the called-out numbers. Settle down with your friends and family, buy some crêpes or a slice or two of home-made cake to pass the time, and wait for the action.
And at 9 o’clock, it all begins. Nearly four hours of heads-down, as the loto numbers are called out. What you’re aiming for at different points in the evening is a full line (‘quine’) or a full card (‘carton plein’). And if you achieve one of these feats, the winnings are worth having. A microwave. An i-pad. A SatNav. A flat-screen TV. A food processor. Half a pig. Several ducks (To cook. Not to take home and rear in your back yard). A weekly-shop’s worth of vouchers to spend in a local shop. A free meal in a local restaurant. A hairdo. Local businesses are incredibly generous with their donations – more so when you consider how very often they must be asked. Yet our Asso. also invested about 800 euros in the judicious purchase over many months, of high-end prizes. Only decent makes need apply. No dubious bits of equipment from some unknown factory in China. To make good money on these evenings, the organisers have to spend, spend, spend.
Naturally, Malcolm and I won nothing, so time hung a bit heavy: we had to concentrate to be sure of filling our cards correctly (‘soixante quatorze: quatre vingt dix: soixante dix-neuf’. No ‘Clickety-click, 66, Two fat ladies 88’ to help us out here). Chatting the night away not an option – this is serious stuff. The friends we were with were no more enthusiastic than we were. We’d all come to support the cause.
At about 12.45, the very last numbers were called. Nobody, not elderly inhabitants, not young parents, nor their – often tiny – children, had pushed off early. But one lucky group of women trundled home with some difficulty: they’d won four major prizes. But they wouldn’t have got lost on the way home. One of their prizes was a SatNav.