14 April, 2009

The Great Bingo Debacle

My family and I live 5 hours' drive apart. I have to say, this has its merits. Much as they know I love them, there's a certain independence which can only gained with either emotional or phyisical distance, and I prefer the latter.

This is a long and drawn out one. Get your cuppa and packed lunch, you've been warned.

For Easter, the family and I each drove a few hours and met halfway, at a club, for lunch.

We approached Reception, and were informed of the areas where my children were permitted to be. In addition, they had to be under adult supervision at all times. No problem. So we settled in, had drinks, and chatted. We ordered and ate lunch. It was very nice food, and we'll be going back there again based on the meals offered.

Now, our preferred "hangout" area was one table outside the designated "eatery" area, in an area that today would be used for Bingo. The only defining difference was the shape of the tables. The bingo ticket seller arrived an hour before the game. The whole bingo area was virtually empty - me and my two children were in clear view of the seller.

I chatted amiably with the bingo seller, telling her that my daughter had claimed the blue marker. I bought the bingo books - several full cards for the adults, plus 2 single cards for the kids. My usual venues all allow children to play, and I hadn't thought to ask if they could play here. In any case, she said nothing about it. Total bingo investment so far: $60, plus markers, plus an hour waiting for it to begin.

We all settled in and the games began. Not long in, a table of diners right behind us commenced a conversation at high volume. Since we couldn't hear bingo, we waited for the break, got up and moved swiftly to the other side of the room. This table was a "dining" table, but just a metre behind the last bingo tables. It was our only option, as all the bingo tables were full.

The next game started, and halfway through, a bingo staffer walked up to us and said, "You can't sit here. And the children can't play. You have to move." Heads all around us swivelled to look. She was talking during a game - this is a massive no-no, in fact I think it's the eleventh commandment of bingo. We apologised about the kids and took their cards away. Hey, we didn't know, that was our mistake. Then we quietly explained that we hadn't been able to hear. She didn't care. She just kept insisting it was "club rules" and we were not allowed to sit in the "dining" tables while playing bingo.

We waited for the break again, to avoid disturbing people, and then quickly moved back to the old table, hoping that the people behind us would be quiet. The same staffer waited till the middle of the next game, then walked over to interrupt, and said, "The children can't sit here."

Another half dozen tables had been disturbed by this woman, and we couldn't believe our ears. Even as we explained the kids weren't playing, she didn't care. It was club rules, blah blah.

"Ok, kids, sorry. You two will need to sit over there (next table, in the dining area)." No, they can't, she said. They aren't allowed. They have to be under supervision. I tried to insist that I would be supervising them. My sister then asked, Ok, can they pull up a dining chair and sit right behind me? No, they can't.

"So you're telling us that we can't play." She insisted she never said that. But her stupid demands meant we didn't have any option. The kids can't be left alone, and she's saying they also can't sit right beside us, because that's not under supervision. Mind you, they're 13 and 12 years old and had behaved perfectly all day!

We adults all looked at each other in annoyance. My sister said she had a bad taste and didn't want to play anymore. Mum was too stressed to concentrate. I stood up and said I was going to get a refund.

WELL. No dice. The bingo seller said it was against policy and she couldn't help us. Even when I explained that I and the kids had sat in her full view for an entire hour and nobody had said a word. She denied having seen us. WTF?

Then she said, Well, you can still play. You can put your children into the child care. And I was thinking... well, wouldn't 12 and 13yos just love that. Not. And did I really want to pay for child care, since by the time I had, I'd have missed half the bingo games? No. And even then, I wouldn't be able to hear. But did they care... No. I pointed out that we might as well sit on the floor at the front to hear. She just stared at me.

Reception was also no help. At least the receptionist was sympathetic. She'd already had one complaint about bingo that hour. But the bingo was run by a non-profit group outside the club, so they couldn't refund. We pointed out that we'd been told the kids were allowed in that area. But since we'd never specifically asked if the kids could play bingo... sigh. Eventually the club supervisor came out and heard what we had to say. We commented we'd already spent some $250 before bingo even came into the occasion. She asked if we'd bought lunch... yes, we had. In that case, she said, you've every right to sit at the dining tables and play bingo. And she considered my children under supervision even if they'd been one table away, since they were behaving just fine.

We didn't once yell or raise voices, but we were very annoyed and upset by this point, and she did agree we should have been given the money back, but again, didn't have authority to demand it since it wasn't the club running it.

My sister, a rather assertive person, had had enough, and said she was marching into the middle of the bingo area and was going to stand there till we got a refund. Mum watched the kids at reception and I went to see the "show".

The bingo staff insisted that the club's rule was, "If you're playing bingo you may not use the dining tables". I pointed out that the supervisor disagreed, and the rule was, "Bingo-only visitors are required to sit in the bingo area", or more simply, "The dining tables are reserved for people who buy lunch". They did not seem to understand the difference. Since we were both, we were permitted to use the dining tables. Not only that, the supervisor considered my children supervised when seated one table away. One bingo staffer said that when our eyes are down playing, we aren't watching our children.

I stood there wondering if my kids had been unsupervised as I looked down at my lunch plate. Or perhaps I should never blink, since I wouldn't be supervising my children when I did.

Eventually the supervisor paid it from petty cash and said she'd argue with the non-profit's office later.

But seriously, we were all stressed out for hours afterwards. It wasn't really even about the amount of money. My sister, who'd gone into bat, hadn't lost a cent. It was the fact we'd paid for something in good faith and hadn't got what we paid for. It just sets off Holy Fire.

We will go back. It's the principle of the thing - the supervisor did the right thing, you see.

I'm not sure that we'll play bingo, though!