‘The first number is 16.’ Through bingo, mayor Bruls offers support to students in these trying times
Yesterday, Hubert Bruls had a quiet evening for a change: He spinned the bingo wheel in a deserted theatrehall C, while about two hundred students were watching. The mayor sees bingo as the ideal game for hearing what is going on amongst the people between the rolling of the balls. ‘Watch out for each other,’ was his advice to students.
On Monday evening, he had still managed to show his face in an inner city dominated by police on the street. An emergency ordinance was in effect due to the threat of corona-related riots. A day later in an empty theatrehall C at the University, he spins a bingo wheel.
Mayor Hubert Bruls loves bingo. Even before the corona crisis, he was already often present in community centres and care homes to treat the elderly to a cosy evening of gaming. His underlying goal was to hear what was going on amongst the people and provide the citizens with answers. You could call it ‘bingo diplomacy.’
The coronavirus changed the way in which the people of Nijmegen gather, but not their need to be heard by their mayor. Thus, when the student organisations of Nijmegen came to speak with Bruls in autumn and sought to organise something fun for the students, bingo quickly became an option. And so, it happened.
‘Let’s start,’ said Bruls to the two hundred students who had tuned in. The evening of Bingo was held in English, so that the international students, who are often lonelier than their Dutch counterparts, could also participate. ‘The first number is 16.’ Bruls quickly shows off why he is known as a trained tamer of the bingo wheel: he spins the wheel in an almost machine-like manner, lists the numbers and hands out jibes. ‘Is there still no bingo?!’ After about five minutes of bingo, the stream suddenly cuts out. This wouldn’t have happened in a community centre. Thankfully, the technology would quickly start up again and Bruls picks up where he left off.
Then there was the diplomacy, because, after all, the evening was not just about the game. After each round of bingo, Bruls answers questions. These questions were sent in by students and selected by the organisation. Presenter Julian van Haeren begins with a question about the favourite colour of the CDA party member (blue). After some time has past, the questions become more substantial, such as questions about Bruls’ different roles as both mayor and chair of the Safety Advisory board
Bruls talks about the toll these functions take. He is regularly confronted with emails in which he is thoroughly insulted. ‘I will always have my delete button for those. But many messages are a cri de coeur, which I try to answer to the best of my abilities.’
The towering pressure on the housing market of Nijmegen, a huge problem for recent graduates, is also brought up. The mayor promises to handle this as well as he can, even though he also does not have an easy solution immediately at hand.
Several questions are about wellness. Many students are having a tough time during the coronavirus crisis, feeling lonely and stressed. Bruls allows his softer side to shine through. ‘I know that many students are going through hard times during corona. Watch out for each other and listen to each other. And seek professional help if you need it, because it is available.’ Rector Magnificus Han van Krieken, who showed up halfway through as a surprise act, also tries to encourage the listening students.
Questions about the corona riots of the previous days are missing. This was because the topics of inquiry had to be picked ahead of time. Behind the bingo table, no word is spoken about protestors and vandals, nor about the way Nijmegen braced itself on Monday against possible disturbances. Due to the setup of the evening – asking a question before moving on – there is no room to delve deeper into the presented topics. The bingo stream is ultimately more Breakfast Time than Question Time.
Just before eight, about an hour and a half after the start, presentor Van Haeren thanks the organisation. He must put an end to it, otherwise the staff will get in trouble due to the curfew. For Bruls, it is no problem to get inside on time, living as he does in the nearby neighbourhood of Brakkenstein. He is already almost home. ‘Keep your head up. There will be better days,’ are the mayor’s final remarks before the screen goes dark.