Posted by Tania Kindersley.
This is really rather too long. For which I apologise. But I was very, very cross, and fury appears to make me prolix.
The day starts off very well. I am up early, my mind is sharp, I am taking in The Today Programme with forensic concentration.
The sun comes out, the hills look pretty, I have some delicious bacon for breakfast. Then I must face the big task of the day: to prove that I am who I say I am. Which, at the moment, appears to be in doubt.
Sometimes, for various reasons too dull to explicate, people ask me for proof of identity. This is happening at the moment. In a curious and inexplicable way, the identity thing throws me into an existential rage. I have no idea what ancient wound this is opening, but it must be an ancient wound, because the fury is entirely disproportionate. The practical side of me understands that officialdom needs to know that you are who you are. I quite see that. The emotional side wants to scream: I am who I am; I am a human being; someone please believe me.
It is also maddening because it involves tracking down vital documents, doing photocopying and scanning, and other logistical things at which I am no good. It interrupts my work and uses annoying amounts of mental energy.
Today, I finally got all the papery ducks in a row, felt quite pleased with myself, and the dear Stepfather drove me down to the doctor to get the documents franked. (My car is in the garage.) I cannot, apparently, get the things counter-signed by, say, The Landlord, who despite being a very important man, and a company director, does not count. It must be a doc. This sets up a low-level mutter of complaint in my head, but there, it is something I must and can do.
I smile at the lady in reception, ask if a doctor is available to sign, and explain politely what it is I need. There is an instant resistance. It is really interesting. She looks at me suspiciously, as if I am asking for pharmaceutical heroin. She does not like me, is not taken in by my spurious good manners, which are clearly an evil con trick taught to me by my grifter mother, and is not going to say yes to anything, if she can help it.
She starts with a hedge.
‘Well, it should probably be your regular doctor,’ she says, reluctance jutting through her every word.
I explain that I do not have a regular doctor. I am very lucky in having decent health; I have only visited the practice twice in the last five years. ‘The last one I saw was Dr G,’ I said.
‘Oh,’ she says, triumphantly, delighted to thwart me. ‘Well, he’s in surgery.’
‘Never mind,’ I say, trying to stay calm. ‘Any doc will do. They don’t need to know me. They just need to see that I am standing here with my driving licence. It’s the profession that is needed, not personal knowledge.’
She looks mulish. It is clear that she will have to call in reinforcements. She goes to talk to her manager. This takes five minutes. She comes back in delighted validation; no, it is not possible. If I want a signature, I must make an official appointment, and I must pay ten pounds.
I am generally an even-tempered person. I very much appreciate the fact that I have an excellent surgery, clean and efficient and modern, on my doorstep. I am grateful that it is free, as they say, at the point of use. This means: I do pay for it, through my taxes, but I do not have to shell out actual cash when I am ill. I am keenly aware of this miraculous side of our national health service. I always remember an American friend, years ago, in St Stephen’s Hospital with a cut hand, who kept trying to get out his credit card. ‘What do you mean, I don’t have to pay?’ he asked everybody. He talked about it for years afterwards.
My particular surgery once saved my index finger, without which I would find it hard to type or write books. I bless them for that each time I sit down to work. But there was something about today’s utter refusal to help, about the jumping through hoops, about the woman’s mulish determination to thwart me, about the ten pounds for a mere signature, that sent me demented.
I am afraid I snapped. ‘No,’ I said, slightly too loudly. ‘We shall have to forget it.’
And out I swept.
‘Absolute failure,’ I shouted at the Stepfather, as I got back in the car. ‘I’m not bloody paying to be told that I exist. It is wrong on eight different levels. I am who I am. They can all bloody bugger off.’
This leaves me with a slight problem. I shall work out a way round it. But the day, which started out so fine, is now clouded with frustration. I wish I could work out why I mind so much. It is a sort of elemental thing. It feels like an obliteration of the self. Here I am, I exist, but that is not enough, and stupid bureaucracy means that I cannot even get a signature without shelling out cash for it. I feel like Liam Neeson in one of those films where he goes to Berlin and says I am Dr Jones and everyone says, oh no, Dr Jones checked out two hours ago, and poor Liam can only stare at them like a maddened bull.
I pause, think, drink some coffee, try to calm down. I refuse to be denied.
I ring up the person who needs me to prove myself. I ask what other professionals count, for a counter-signature. Here is the list: accountant, architect, surveyor, doctor, solicitor. That is all. Do you not think it a most curious and random selection?
I long to know who sat down in a room and said, I know, that’s the definitive list of people whose word we can trust. Why not policeman or postmistress? Why could my honest farmer friend, over whose sheep I watch, who works all hours in all weathers and knows more about the land than anyone I ever met, not count? Why is an accountant more important than a butcher?
Anyway, the miracle is that it turns out The Landlord happens to have a surveyor in his office, which is just over the road. The charming gentleman signs the thing with a flourish. ‘The doctor wanted to charge me a tenner,’ I say, still enraged. The surveyor smiles. ‘I shall do it for a penny,’ he says.
So I give him a penny, and a mighty deal is struck. For one penny, I, at last, have definitive proof that I am an extant human. This feels like a giddy, glorious step forward, a gaudy ontological flourish. See, see? I want to shout. Here I am, and this is my real name.
And now for some quick pictures:
Rather stately hill, today:
Oh, I meant to say, as if you had not had enough of me by now, that I have a guest post up at Lou, Boos and Shoes. This is one of my favourite blogs ever, and I was incredibly flattered to be asked to write for it.
I am not certain the post is a raving success. It is oddly shy-making to write for someone else's Dear Readers, and I fear I was a little stilted. There was a faint sense of best behaviour and pulling of punches. It made me think again of the interesting psychological nature of blogging. Here, amongst the regulars, I feel free to say anything. (I am afraid you sometimes suffer from this liberation.) Out in the wider blogosphere, in front of an unknown audience, I have an odd sense of sitting up straight and putting on my Sunday hat. No idea what that is all about.
Anyway, it's a really beautiful blog, and I feel a great kinship with Lou, even though we have never met in life. You should go and have a look at it anyway, just for the beauty of the thing.
You can find it here.