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Bureaucracy will brake your heart
Hello Everyone. I can only apologise for my absence over these past two months. Those of you that have read my previous entries will probably know that I hadn’t been feeling on top of the world. Well, a lot has happened since then, and I will go over it all, but first I want to tell you that I’ve spent some time in Ireland and I have only yesterday got back to England. Most people that live or have ever been to the Emerald isle will tell you that it is among the most beautiful countries in the world and contains the nicest people. I was in New Ross; the birth place of my grandmother, and without exception every single person I met there went out of their way to make sure I had a great time; which I did. Despite this though I am glad to be back in Blighty with all the congestion and people that don’t say hello to you in the street.
My time in Ireland helped me clear my head and let me realise what was important in life, And most importantly not to worry about the little stuff in life, which is handy.
The other two major things that has happened in my life since my last entry are: I have gotten a new girlfriend; Nathalie her name is (the ‘h’ is silent.) She is brilliant, she is everything I need; she’s clever witty and very patient with my bumbling stupidity. She never seems to get angry no matter how many times I mess things up (which believe me is plentiful.) And she has one key factor over my last girlfriend, and that is she doesn’t suffer form multiple personality disorder. Quite an obvious prerequisite for a future mate you may think but you would be surprised how for people check to make sure their partner isn’t clinically insane before asking them out.
Yes Nathalie is normal, staggeringly normal* in fact, and normality is what I’m after. The other thing that has happened is that I’ve got a car: a 1994 Volvo 440 no less. It is amazing machine; testament to Swedish engineering, or at least it was, until I got hold of the car keys.
The first three weeks of owning the car were fantastic. I drove everywhere with my friends I suddenly realised I had to Brighton, Thorpe Park and South End. Then one day Nat and I decided to go for a road trip to the Hell Fire Caves in west Wycombe: An old chalk mine used in the eighteenth century and is supposedly (like every other tourist attraction in Great Britain) haunted by ghosts of people that died there. On the way out of the car park I reversed up a large kerb and knocked the bumper off the car. Which wasn’t good, what was even less good was that my number plate was of course connected to said bumper, and while you still can technically drive without a bumper, it is illegal to drive ‘numberplateless,’ so as soon as I could I managed to rip the number plate off and using sticky back plastic (which I didn’t know up until then actually existed) and very clumsily stuck it to the grill. So apart from the crappy look of my car it was still road worthy.
In the same week as this it was time to sort out accommodation for the following academic year. Andrew, Iain, Vijay and I had all decided to stay in the same house we were in for the first year, Matt being the spotty little turncoat that he is had made plans to move out, and so Nathalie was to take his place in the group. I remember the day clearly: it was a bright sunny day, uni had finished for summer and everyone was in high spirits. We had all arranged to meet outside the accommodation office to declare our intentions, we all turned up on time and everything seemed to be going smoothly.
Being the diplomat of the group it was down to me to do the talking. The accommodation office has a large hatch that opens onto the corridor so people can talk to the accommodation group without having to go into the room. By the time we got there there was quite a queue of students lining up by the hatch, all with the same idea as us (This day was the deadline to declare your accommodation you see) and after a fifteen minute wait or so it was our turn; a small, bald man in a striped shirt and tie greeted us.
“Hello there” he said.
“Hi, we’ve come to secure our property for next year.”
“Ok, what’s the address?” I told him, and he disappeared for a minute or so, he eventually returned with all the paperwork of our house.
“Umm, I think there’s been a bit of a mix up.”
“Oh, what’s wrong?”
“Well another group have shown interest in your property and have placed a reserve on it.” This, as you might imagine came as a bit of a shock to us.
“Yes, about three weeks ago.”
“But I don’t understand, we were told we had until today to form a group and declare the house ours.”
“No, you had until today to come up with a group, you had to put a reserve on the property you wanted two weeks ago.”
“What, how can we put a reserve down on a house if we haven’t got a group to go in it?” The man in the suit scratched the hair he didn’t have on his head. He was in an awkward situation; clearly somebody had fucked up with the paperwork and sent us out the wrong documentations, but he couldn’t admit to a mistake, not to students.
At this point Andrew piped up:
“It clearly said on our papers that we had until today to get our house.”
“Do any of you have that sheet of paper on you?” we looked around each other, of course we didn’t, why would we have needed it?
“No groups have been round to see the house, have they Iain?” I turned round to Iain who had been at the house for the whole term.
“No, no one” he said shaking his head.
“So?” said the bald man.
Keep calm Kristian, I thought. “How can somebody put a reserve on a house they haven’t seen?” The man shrugged.
“Look I’m just telling you the facts Ok, someone got in first on your house, so unless they withdraw their reserve you lot are going to have to find another place to live next year” the tone of his voice was outstanding;; it was as if he was blaming us for the massive cock up. Now our problems were twofold: firstly, we had lost our house and so would have to split up for next year, secondly of course as this day was the deadline to find a property, we couldn’t secure anywhere to stay, unless we could each find our own accommodation in the next four hours, which any university student would tell you is an act of futility.
So, it seemed that I would have to commute to uni next year; a prospect I was not looking forward to. As it turned out the group that had made the reserve on our house had found a better place they liked almost the day after and had in fact withdrew their reserve. So our house was ours all along, only the bald bastard didn’t know that because the documents for reserves and the documents for withdrawal of reserves were kept in separate files in separate drawers.
“Fucking bureaucracy” I remember thinking at the time. All it ever does is hinder, it never helps, still at least the problems with the house had been solved, so it looked like I would be able to enjoy my summer after all.
About a week or so later I was driving back to Milton Keynes for a few days rest at home. When I parked up outside the house my mum saw the damage to the front of the car.
“Ouch, that looks nasty” she said.
“You know you can’t drive around without a number plate.”
“It’s Ok I stuck it to…” as I looked round at the front of my car I saw that my number plate wasn’t there, it must have fallen off somewhere between High Wycombe and Milton Keynes. I very, very seldom swear in front of my mum.
“Bollocks!” I cried out loud.
“Relax, get a new one tomorrow at Halfords. Do you have all the documents with you?”
“Yeah its all in the glove box.”
So early the next day I drove to Halfords, careful not to cross the path of any police cars. Once there I approached the number plate department. A tall, bearded man in no suit greeted me.
“Hello sir, how can I help.”
“I was wondering if it would be possible to have a number plate made.”
“Certainly sir, do you have any proof of ownership on you?”
“Yes” I said and passed him the thick, grey ring binder stuffed full of documentations (the previous owner of the car was very anal and kept every bit of paperwork to do with it.)
After flicking through it he looked up at me. “I’m sorry, you don’t have the necessary papers here.” He couldn’t be serious, I had about thirty pieces of official documents with my name and the registration of the car on. I looked at him blankly.
“I’m afraid you need your D5 document, once you have it bring it along and I’ll make it all up for you.” And with that he disappeared out the back, leaving me standing in a motor shop ready to scream.
Driving back to High Wycombe with my cardboard makeshift number plate I had all but lost my faith in human intelligence. Filing, litigation and paperwork have all been instigated to prevent human error, but bureaucracy has slowed everything down and made everything worse, now everything is governed by forms, questionnaires and ‘tick here boxes,’ all forms of human intervention is being weeded out. Bureaucracy is the antithesis to common sense; whereas a human can use their judgement to get things done, bureaucrats seem determined to reduce anything and everything to numbers and statistics, to de-humanise the whole process of living. In all aspects of life we have to fill in paperwork that no one ever reads: getting a bank account, applying for a job, getting insurance, buying a car, selling a car, even getting an e-mail address requires an e-form to fill out. Just make sure you don’t pick the same username as someone else.
The tragic thing is that the whole system is flawed. Karl Marx once said that capitalism holds within it the seeds of its own destruction, the same is true of bureaucracy. The whole thing exists to eliminate corruption and forgery, but the more paperwork there is the more open to mistakes and illegality there is; for a piece of paper is much easier to forge than a human is to fool.
As you can imagine, I was feeling pretty disillusioned with everything ‘official’ at this time. So you could probably guess at the panic I felt when, four days before my trip to Ireland I discovered that my passport was out of date. This couldn’t be happening, this couldn’t be happening, but it was, it was written down in bold black letters; my passport expired three whole weeks ago. What was I going to do, it was far too late to get a new one. I made the decision not to tell my dad and Wax as I knew they would over react. Instead I kept my mouth shut and prayed that the airline would have an attack of common sense and let me through.
As we arrived at Luton airport I felt strangely happy that I’d kept my out of date passport secret from my brother as for the whole day he was nervous and tetchy and knowing that my passport wasn’t valid would have sent him into a blind panic.
Queuing up at the check in desk I kept telling myself that the lady at the front probably wouldn’t even notice the passport: no, she would just check to make sure the names matched up and give them back to us. Well of course she didn’t. In fact it was the first thing she noticed when checking our luggage.
“Excuse me sir, your passport is out of date.”
“Is it?” I said feigning surprise rather well I thought. Wax turned to me with a daggers.
“Do you have any other form of identification on you sir?”
“Yeah, I’ve got my drivers license.” I quickly pulled it out of my wallet. She checked it and gave it back to me.
“Thank you sir.” That was it, she let us through. I couldn’t help but smiling as we entered the departure lounge.
“I can’t believe you” my dad said shaking his head. “How long did you know that it was out of date?”
“A few days.”
“I cant believe you.”
Ever since I heard about the trip to Ireland I couldn’t wait for it. Being half Irish it was always a place I’d wanted to go, and when I got there it was every bit as good as I thought it would be. What I wasn’t expecting were the differences in attitudes. The first night I was there we were in a pub called The Rag with a load of our Irish relatives. At eleven o’clock I asked one of them what time the pubs close, he said:
“Whenever everyone goes home.”
“Really, are they allowed to stay open all night?”
“Officially closing time is at eleven, but the police are pretty lax about enforcing it. They sometimes come in and say to the barman ‘come on, time to close’ but they never fine anyone.” This was fantastic, it was like music to my ears; finally people were making a stand for common sense. On the same night I learnt that officially children under eighteen were only allowed in if they kept quite and didn’t attract attention to themselves. I fell in love with Ireland there and then.
On the way back from the pub, our cab driver pointed out a building at the bottom of the street we were staying at. He pointed out that power cables were going straight into the house and out the other side because the builders couldn’t get planning permission to move them. Never in a million years would you get away with that in Britain. I took a picture of it, you can view it here: http://www.deviantart.com/view/20749058/. That house became a sort of shrine to me for the time I was there.
So, in conclusion: if you ever feel that we live in a soulless world where everything you do just makes up statistics; don’t worry, it isn’t like this everywhere, there are other ways of living; you just have to find it.
And five points for the first person to point out that this journal entry about bureaucracy is the longest one I’ve ever done.
*Now that’s good hyperbole.
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