Diary

Poop hatch with a jeweller’s eyeglass

28 October 2009 | Diary

Applying for immigration into another country is the bureaucratic equivalent of surrendering your bum for scrutiny by stormtroopers. Officiously they would examine the wrinkles of your poop hatch with a jeweller’s eyeglass, checking for traces of mortal turpitude with the careful precision of Dr. David Banner putting the finishing touches on a ship in a bottle.

It’s invasive, is basically what I’m saying.

Worryingly, this analogy may not even be an analogy. Once the paperwork part of my application is over, I’ll have to undergo a very real medical examination. I don’t know how intimate this procedure will be, but if it’s anything like the rest of the process it will probably be cellular.

Strewn across my desk today is my life-so-far in paperwork: birth certificate, passport, career history, school reports, travel history, financial details, Pog collection.

My favourite archival document so far is my birth certificate. What is this document actually for? Do I really need paper to demonstrate that I was born? The facts that I can play the saxophone and I’m not a zygote should be enough, no?

To the minimalist, the birth certificate is a vexing problem: get rid of all other Earthly possessions but you’ll still have this piece of paper – your oldest possession – to carry around. Cursed with ownership as soon as we plop out of our mums. It’s like the story of the bloke who almost succeeded in eating an entire airplane only to be stumped eventually by the indestructible – and indigestible – black box recorder.

Each significant stage of life generates admin. I hope I never die: the paperwork would be a nightmare.

Another thing I have to do is call on all of my past bosses to concoct an ‘attestation of employment’. So far, the process of acquiring such documents has gone like this:

Boss: Hello, Tastychickenbucket. How can we meet your poultry needs?
Me: Hi, Boss! It’s Rob!
Boss: Who?
Me: Robert Wringham, Boss! I used to extract the crud from the chickens so that the kitchen boys didn’t get covered in crud. Remember? The crud?
Boss: Well, well. Look who came crawling back. Couldn’t find your way in the crud industry?
Me: No, I’m not in the crud-extraction business any more. I’m a semi-successful writer and comedian. But I want to emigrate, you see, and I need an attestation document to… hello?… Boss? Hello?

The volume of data accrued about our lives is incredible: my school, for example, has recorded every last exam I sat, every forgotten module, every inconsequential PE lesson, merit award, every afterschool activity. It’s all there, documented in cold, hard ink, available at a phonecall.

Savings, outgoings, National Insurance contributions, medical history, allergies, family history, personal skills: every last element of life needs to be handed over to the authorities.

Like divining for clues about the future from the patterns in some tea, I wonder how much about a person’s character the authorities can derive from all this arse-gazing. Does my C in a French exam say much about my character? Will my afterschool badminton club woo them into allowing me over? Will my traces of Jewish DNA be a help or a hindrance? I don’t know what sort of racists they are!

In The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan famously shouts, “I’m not a number! I’m a free man!” The idea of a man being reduced to numbers seems frankly Utopian today, as I’m confronted with my own bodyweight in paperwork. Can’t there be some sort of Orwellian ID card from which they can determine everything? That would be brilliant. The government should look into that.