I was the man with the plan. Firstly to travel across land and sea for thirteen hours, like Vasco da Gama, to reach the mythical country of Ireland; Secondly to pick up a strange girl in Dublin; And finally to trek all the way across Ireland, with said girl, like something out of JRR Tolkien, to find the Atlantic Ocean and attend the wedding of someone I’ve never, ever, met. Now WHAT could possibly go wrong?
To cut a longer story shorter I bought a very expensive pair of shoes which I could stand up in and not much else and as I counted down the days until a passport was needed I instead got a summons from the Home Office to haul me over the coals to prove I wasn’t not a Moldovan identity fraudster… Or a Somali pirate… Or banker from Burkina Faso… They were going to shine the light in my eyes go through the whole world list. It was going to be like the parade of countries at the Olympic opening ceremony. All. Over. Again.
As I painfully wore in my shoes in I inadvertently also started wearing straight through what became apparent as leather souls. What are these rich people paying for?
I was kindo-of banking on an interview not being necessary but instead they wanted to “confirm my identity” and said that they’d ask me “information that someone trying to steal your identity may not know” so I got busy rehearsing my life story but was left wondering that, even if the fraudsters didn’t know this stuff, how did the government?
That was bad enough, but my biggest problem was that when I arrived for the interview they were going to check that I resembled the photograph which I’d sent them. And if they couldn’t identify me from that photo then they wouldn’t even allow me into the interview… And they would withdraw my application… And they would retain the hundred pound fee.
When I turned up at the northern branch of the Home Office I was busy trying to make myself look like a forties’ fascist dictator although the Miss Moneypenny receptionist didn’t comment on this but instead took one look at me and exclaimed: “You’ve never had a passport?!?” in much the same tone as Lee & Herring’s driving instructor comedy sketches where he mocked all his pupils with: “You can’t even drive… I can”. I was disappointed, after all the worry, when there seemed to be no ceremonial photo comparison and so I asked her when she was going to do it. She smiled and told me that she already had, with some secret screen obviously concealed beneath her desk. She was good.
I was then escorted to a space-age booth where the interviewer arrived from her own personal glass corridor behind the desk which fitted the pod. She asked me lots of stuff about life and it soon became obvious that with every twist and turn you make from childhood onwards that the government are there making notes. I can honestly say that it was an enjoyable chat and when my interviewer asked me why I wanted a passport there was only one answer I could give: Because of a girl.
I honestly can’t remember much of what went on in that interview but some of the things I said must have prompted the killer line halfway through: “I’ve gathered that happiness isn’t your thing.” My government file must be so accurate.
Just before I left she said to me that the interviews are normally only short and they only need the full half-hour if they don’t believe the person that they’re interrogating. The length of my interview: thirty-two minutes.
I told her, jokingly, that my friends had suggested that they were going to deport me somewhere. She said that they wouldn’t do that: she’d just pass me on to the Fraud Department for the full one-hour interview. Second round, here I come!
They don’t tell you on the day whether you’ve passed the identity test, and actually are who you say you are, so you have to wait in hope by the door that you’ll be visited by the postman and not two vanloads of police in body amour. In the mean time I had to employ the services of a cobbler. Which was a first. I’ll be looking for a candlestick maker next.
I needed to get my one-hundred-and-thirty-five pound wedding shoes – the most expensive footwear I have ever owned – re-soled after I wore straight through the posh slate leather souls. That cost twenty-five pounds, it did. I wouldn’t mind, but I only actually paid forty quid for the shoes and so it was kind-of like putting money into a Cypriot bank or a homeless man building an extension on his cardboard box.
Then, after having invested sixty-five pounds in some forty pound shoes, it arrived in the post: I was handed my first proper passport. I guess I passed the test. I suddenly felt like James Bond at the start of one of his films except it has my real name in it and that I probably wasn’t expected to kill anyone. Nothing could stop me now, I thought: Not even if the great god Poseidon were to let slip the chains of the mighty Kraken just off the coast in the Irish sea… Actually, they’d have probably cancelled the ferry crossings for that.
It doesn’t do to mock the Gods and, perhaps inevitably, I was brought down by far less when the crazy, sexy, girl I was planning to visit let me know that she couldn’t make the wedding after all. It was probably for the best, but it was nice to dream for a while. In the end our story was just like Romeo and Juliet, except that it wasn’t so much a tale of star-crossed lovers, and nobody died at the end.
The worst part about it was that I spent ages on the phone trying to cancel the travel tickets and after a long time talking to two different people, from different wings of the travel company, at unknown cost-per-minute, they eventually told me that there were no refunds. Since then I’ve been receiving a barrage of e-mails from them asking me how my trip was. How they mock me so.
What did continue was the problems with the shoes and walking in them became so painful that I ended up having to buy padded inserts at an extra cost of another five pounds. Although even with all this money invested in an item of footwear they’re probably still worth a lot less than forty pounds now. So not only have I moved into negative equity, but with all the layers added I’m now practically orthopaedic.
That’ll teach me for getting idea above my station and saying Yes to a girl!