Brenda’s Unfortunate Record #19
Being born in another country can be a pain in the arse. I recently got accepted for a pretty cool volunteering role with a big, national charity. I’m quite excited about it and need to get all my vetting done. I thought I was familiar with the process but I guess cause these are the big guns, when they found out I was from Canada they asked for a criminal records check from there too. It doesn’t seem to matter that I left when I was a teenager.
So I follow the link they emailed to the Canadian Embassy and discover I have to get my fingerprints done. They provide a number for Scotland Yard, which I call. It’s funny, these days you always expect to have to wade through some automated system before actually speaking to another human being, but after a few rings a guy picks up. His name is Stan and he books me in for an appointment. It’s gonna cost £75. Cash only. If I have any questions or plans change, could I please ring him back on this number.
Over the next few days I mull over our brief exchange. It all seemed so colloquial and I’m hoping this isn’t a sign of what’s to come. Mr Google’s informed me that since 2014, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) will only accept digital prints. If you can’t provide them, there’s only a handful of registered Canuckle-land companies who are authorised to produce official scans, which involves some more irritating bureaucracy and costs upwards of $100. Surely such a world-renowned institution as the Metropolitan Police will be firmly entrenched in the 21st century, right?
Fast forward to this afternoon. I arrive at the austere concrete block of 109 Lambeth Road a few minutes early. At reception, I tell the security man my name & say I have an appointment to get my prints done. He fingers through a pile of cards & eyes me up suspiciously. At least I think he does. He’s a bit cross-eyed which makes it hard to tell. ‘What time was your appointment? What did you say your name was?’. I repeat myself, giving him a big smile. He shoves a lanyard through the window and instructs me to take a seat.
A few minutes later Patricia arrives at the window and beckons me over to the automated, double door. She has an inaudible giggle with the security-guy before he pushes the button to let me through. ‘Oh he’s a nice man’ she says, as though she’s never met him before. Patricia is small and moves quickly in that overly-efficient, institutionalised way. She leads me to a door, punches the code and in we go. It’s a tiny space, barely enough room for the desk, two chairs and work station and feels more like a neon, strip-lit broom closet than an office. Total despair.
‘Do you have your passport?’
‘I have my french ID card’ I say, removing it from my wallet.
‘Oh no we don’t accept those. We need a passport or driver’s license. Stan would’ve told you’
‘Really? I don’t think so. He said valid photo ID’
‘Yes but we don’t accept those. You’re going to have to reschedule’
‘What? Really? But this is valid national ID.’
‘I’ve never seen that card. We don’t take those. Would you like to reschedule?’
‘Eurgh … I guess. But I mean I came all this way…’
Patricia goes over to the phone, ‘Hi Stan, I’m here with Miss Chloe. She doesn’t have her passport, says you didn’t tell her about it. Yes that’s what I said …’ and then the conversation weaves into something else, and for a minute or so I have no idea what they’re talking about.
Finally, ’.. she has some ID card. Would you like to speak to her to reschedule?’. Patricia hands me the receiver.
‘Hi Stan … yes I have my French ID card. But I mean, I use it to travel all the time.’
‘Oh well that should be fine then. She should accept that.’
I pass the phone back to Patricia.
‘So it’s okay? You say you can travel with that? Alright Stan. I didn’t know. Never seen one of those.’
She hangs up and hands me a form. ‘Fill this in please. Pens are in the box’. I wheel my chair nearer the desk to grab one. ‘Watch out for the hole!!!!’ She exclaims. Sure enough, there’s a hole in the floor, or more an open networking compartment – one of those old-school IT hubs filled with wires connecting LAN, fax machine and dial-up modem. I remember them from my first office jobs. Always a indecipherable tangle of routing that only a designated IT Tech could navigate should anything go wrong, which it often did.
‘Oh, I’m sorry!’ I say, swivelling myself back into the clear.
‘So it’s £74.80 please. Cash only’
‘Of course, do you have change?’ I count £80 out of my wallet, ‘I have the 80p’, and hand her the notes and coins.
‘Yes’ only she looks a bit confused. She has a dig in her petty cash box and pulls out a £5 note. ‘Here you go’
‘Cool thank you, and as I’ve given you the 80p it’s one pound more, right?’. Flustered, she pulls out the calculator. I watch her fingers punch out the equation. She stares blankly down at the result. ‘It’s fine’, I say. ‘Just give me back the 80p and we’ll call it. Not gonna worry about 20p’.
‘Yes, yes that’s better. You see we don’t have coins here’. I wonder where all those 20ps go … does she pocket them? Maybe they go into the biscuit fund.
Patricia is increasingly suspicious. She brings up the ID card again. ‘Never seen them in my life. You mean, you can go to the airport and actually travel to another country with those?’ I nod my head. And then for some reason I blurt out a lie. I dunno if it’s down to the blank environment or busy-body vibes, but I tell her I keep my passport in a safety deposit box. As soon as I say it, I start wondering if those even exist anymore. ‘You keep your passport in a safety deposit box?!’. I go on to spin ridiculously how my house got broken into and I got paranoid, all the while thinking what are you doing?….
By this time she’s lead me over to the printing station. Definitely no sign of anything remotely digital, (besides the 10 of my own). The blue latex gloves are on, the card’s clamped in place and she’s rolling ink onto the slab. ‘Relax your hands’, she says, proceeding to guide both right and left over the boxes with machine-like precision. It’s all very quick. She hands me a wipe and hurries back to her desk. ‘Okay then, all done. Are you okay with these?’ she asks, holding up the completed form.
‘I dunno, I’ve never had my prints taken before. Do they look okay to you?’
‘Yes of course, they’re fine’. She’s opening the door. ‘There’s a bin just outside, I’ll show you to the exit’. I’m hustled back through, this time towards the revolving employee doors. ‘Step in, please’. I do as I’m told. Patricia waves her card over the security panel and I’m back in the fresh air of Vauxhall.
Walking away with my stamped sheet I can’t help but think this all kinda feels like a bit of a racket. I say stamped, but like not even with some fancy letterhead, just bog-standard dated like you can buy off the shelf at your local stationer. And then there’s the cash only thing coupled the whole arcane, down at the local precinct experience. I mean on one hand, I guess I’m a bit relieved that Big Brother isn’t the least bit interested in having my prints, but then again, you kind of expect more for your £75. It does just go to show though, we all get our knickers in a high-tech twist but at the end of the day, down at the Met the modem’s still plugged in and Patricia’s still manning the machine in her blank little room (track ref: google Ganzfeld effect).