The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Aug 11, 2009

At The Passport Office

After the less than riotous UK Citizenship ceremony a few months ago, I've had to visit the Identity and Passport Service office at Elephant and Castle to verify my identity to get my passport. Elephant and Castle is not exactly the prettiest part of London. All concrete and rundown and quite the place to score a hit or two. I braved it all in the afternoon to present myself on the ninth floor of Hannibal House for my interview.

Saner minds than mine have questioned the need for this newfangled procedure. IPS claim that they have done away with cases of identity theft in passport applications, but close questioning of said claim reveals that there haven't really been any stolen identities before. Just as I thunk: freakin' Labour's penchant for blowing our hard-earned money on nonsensical bureaucracy.

At any rate, I was greeted by four people before I managed to get at the IPS desk to register my arrival. How's that for full employment for the masses? The woman at the desk was a friendly sort.

'Anything interesting?' she said.

I stared at her blankly.

'You've got three books. Anything interesting?' she said.

We desis are used to the idea of waiting prodigious amounts of time at sundry offices. I was therefore toting - as the woman cunningly noted - three books.

'They are all right,' I said.

'What are they?' she said.

'One's on the proof of a mathematical theorem, another's a Mexican crime novel, and the third is a history of the Roman Republic,' I said.

Her eyes lit up.

'Ooh, ooh, can I see the Mexican one?' she panted, and grabbed it from me, and read the blurb at the back.

'Here,' she added, thrusting a piece of paper and a pencil to me. 'Could you please write down the title and author while I register you?'

Dutifully, I obeyed.

'Why the maths book?' she asked me presently. 'History, I can understand. Why maths?'

I shrugged.

'Why not?' I said.

Although I had an appointment, I had to wait for over half an hour to be seen by one of the IPS types. This worthy promised me that any information I supplied would be destroyed after my passport was issued. She added that I wasn't allowed to refer to any documents whilst the interview was in progress. She stressed that this would be a friendly interview. She would ask me various questions that supposedly only I knew the answer to. (Thankfully, many of these questions have already been published in the press; an engineering geek such as I knows all about cheat sheets.)

She wanted to know where I was born. When I said 'Burma', she reeled. Failed the identity check at the very first question! Woohoo! Finally, the millions spent on catching identity thieves bear fruit!

'Is that what you filled in the form?'

'I wrote "Myanmar",' I said.

'Then what's this Burma?' she said.

'When I was born, the country was called Burma,' I said. 'They renamed it a few years later.'

(Interestingly, the citizenship application accepts 'Burma', but the online passport form only allows 'Myanmar'.)

She looked simultaneously relieved and disappointed.

Over the next seven minutes, we went over my name, address, previous address, telephone number, email address, whether my brother ever lived at the same address as I do, my parents' names and birthplaces, what credit cards I had, which mortgages I was repaying, when I got naturalised, and who countersigned my passport application. Had I heard of Equifax or Experian? Did I need a leaflet explaining identity theft?

Now I have to wait another ten days before the biometric red passport arrives. It will be yet another bittersweet moment in Feanor's existence, I'm afraid, for soon thereafter I'll have to surrender my beloved blue sixty-page Indian passport. Ah, the vagaries of a vagabond's life.


km said...

Any memories of growing up in Burma?

Fëanor said...

Sadly, no. My folks decamped when I was a few months old.

??! said...

soon thereafter I'll have to surrender my beloved blue sixty-page Indian passport
Ah, but soon thereafter you'll be able to apply for a piddly little 4-page OCI booklet. Now, isn't that wunnerful?

Vicki said...

Neo Indian recently wrote a whole diatribe on Indian passports and Indian residency that I thought was pretty good:

Oh bureaucracy. She is everywhere.

Fëanor said...

??!, Vicki: OCI, eh? Yup, I'll have to head down that route. Do you guys have this thingie? Was it rather easy to obtain?

Maddy said...

So - you did it!! i don't know what else to say..Only an NRI understands the problems or advantages of one passport over other...

but it all seemed interesting with the POB they have gone after Aung Sung Su Kyi, well...that reminds me have you read 'Londonstani'?

am off to kerala next week for a fortnight..

??! said...

Not me, but I know three folks (all in the US, though) who do. And they didn't have much trouble, except for the regular inane questions from the staff.

Seems the government's really keen to get all that remittance money, so they're going all out for this one.

Fëanor said...

Maddy: I didn't get your reference to POB and Suu Kyi. What's that, then?

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