In praise of the Passport Office

Nothing in the UK seems to work these days, right? At least that’s been my impression for the past few years. How many of us have tried to talk to a human being to solve some minor business or bureaucratic mess and been told “We are experiencing an extremely high volume of calls today”? Or “we really value your call but . . .” ? Lies, absolute fucking lies. The volume of calls is exactly the same every day. They don’t want to talk to you because it is cheaper not to. Because maybe you will just give up and go away.

It’s incredibly frustrating: something relatively simple that could be sorted in a brief conversation is mired in AI chatbots and inane recorded messages. “Contact us” means “Fill out this form and send it to us by email. Then we will ignore it or get back to you weeks later.” The FAQs offered have nothing to offer. Nothing works as it should in this country. Not since Brexit anyway. And maybe a long time before that.

Except for one heroic department of the Civil Service. The Passport Office. My favourite bureaucrats of them all. A fine body of exemplary men and women. I take my hat off to them all.

A couple of years ago, I think, just after the grace period was over and we had properly left the EU – about early 2020 – the Passport Office was in turmoil. The combination of Covid-19 and new passport controls at all the ports was creating a massive backlog in the department with passport applications taking six months or so to be processed. There was a fuss in the newspapers, questions were asked in Parliament. I must confess, I yawned and paid it little attention, since I still had three years to run on my travel doc. Broken Britain, lazy civil servants, the Blob being obstructive, fresh Brexit chaos, yada yada.

But something happened. I know! Who knew things could change? Somebody kicked ass, maybe someone was fired. Perhaps there was just a mass bollocking. Maybe they just all got their shit together. Who knows? But it all changed for the better. I applied for my new passport a few days ago, and after some initial difficulty with shadows on my face, I got the photo taken by my wife on her iPhone accepted. And the Passport Office emailed me to tell me so. They actually got in touch with me!!! They voluntarily contacted me without being hassled or nagged!!! They even reminded me to send in the old passport (which I had already done). Then they got in touch with me AGAIN to say that my passport application had been accepted and I would be receiving my new passport very soon. They would let me know when to expect this. I was slightly dizzy with joy. BECAUSE ALL THIS HAPPENED INSIDE JUST ONE WEEK!

I mean, I haven’t actually got my new passport yet. It could all go to shit at any time. Perhaps I have jinxed it by writing this paean to the PO. But wow! I mean double fucking WOW! This part of our sad, lumbering bureaucracy actually works. The fact that I am so surprised by this is telling, obviously. The fact that I am moved to write about it is an indictment of the whole sorry mess that is Britain in 2024. But I don’t care. It looks as if, for once, I seem to be winning. And I’m off to Barcelona for a week in April.

My latest full-length novel, King of the North (Fire Born 4) is available now as a paperback, audio file and eBook from Amazon. The first three episodes of my Arthurian series The Broken Kingdom are also available to download as short eBooks from Amazon. Best to begin with Episode One: Arthur’s Bane

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