The centre of my world May 3, 2007Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
[Disclaimer: you are forewarned that the subject of this blog-post could not possibly be less interesting. Reading it may bring about acute suicidal tendencies. Please feel free to switch off your computers immediately or to go to another more interesting site. Anyway, it’s your own bloody fault for existing. If you didn’t exist, I wouldn’t write the stinking blog in the first place.]
Düsseldorf. That utterly – to me – unpicturable, unimaginable, perhaps even non-existent settlement, has oddly become the hotspot of all this household’s activities.
Red tape, you understand.
Has anyone ever had the misfortune to pass through Düsseldorf? If so, can they let me know what the life expectancy would be for a visiting pair of homos who normally find it a mammoth effort to get out of bed, ever, were we to render ourselves thereto? Of course I haven’t got a clue where it is, even. My German geography is utterly hopeless. I know it’s not up here in the north-eastern lump of Germany. And I know it’s not in that bottom bit holding the rest of the country up which is, conveniently, nicely evenly split between Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. So I suppose it’s probably in amongst that cluster of towns over in the west somewhere. I’m imagining disused mineshafts, low-budget airports and 50s architecture. TOYS’Я’US, banking headquarters and suits.
And the odd British diplomat.
But I mustn’t moan. I suppose bureaucracy is one thing the British aren’t too bad at. Firstly because, in comparison to our continental cousins, at least, there’s less of it. I mean, I know there’s the electoral register and having to tell some department or other where you live so that they can work out how much council tax you need to pay. But you can probably biff that off with no major urgency on a nice bit of Basildon Bond and hopefully it’ll take them two years to get round to answering you (and then backdate the lot and charge you a gazillion pounds), but there isn’t the heart-deadening procedure of going and taking a number, sitting in the waiting-room with other deadened types and then handing over a wad of standardised documents to a silent hag at the town hall (in Germany) who will only open her mouth to tell you something is wrong, to a policeman (in France), who will be mystified that you’re going through with the procedure at all, or to a… don’t know (in Russia) (always got someone else to do it as was too petrified of dealing with Russian bureaucracy myself, worried I might disappear down a paper-clogged black hole and never resurface).
And whatever interaction I have had with official Britain has never been too agonising. Firstly, because it mostly hasn’t been for anything compulsory so when it gets too dispiriting, like with trying to be able to vote from abroad, for example, you can just nicely give up and justify it to yourself by thinking it isn’t your direct business any more who runs the UK. (And if a translation agency with ideas above its station thinks I’m going to start filling out application forms, they’ve got another thing coming. Or, rather, nothing coming.) Yes, getting Brent Council to cough up my student grant was often a pain, but at least the application forms were in 965 languages so I could have fun thinking, “Gosh, Tamil looks nice,” while starving gently to near-death. And getting a replacement passport has been a relative piece of cake.
But the Brits have gone and efficiently centralised everything in Germany. If you want a new passport, or a tourist visa, should you happen to be from an undesirable nation, or anything else that’s got to do with Her Majesty’s government’s bureaucratic wheels, Düsseldorf’s the place for you.
It was not ever so. At least not in other foreign parts. Whenever I had truck with official Britain in St. Petersburg, for example, I could just trot up to Proletarian Dictatorship Square (yes, really) and Vanya was your uncle. (They’d imported EVERYTHING in the building from the UK. There were UK electric sockets. An Armitage Shanks loo. A real British lady refusing everyone’s visa applications – “Sorry, computer says no. Next!” – though not the Russian’s, as I was there hollering in a ludicrous posh accent and calling people ‘ma’am’. Even the men. It worked a treat. She went all deferential on us.)
But the Düsseldorfers could make a bit of an effort. My passport, for example. The photograph I sent them made me look – honestly enough – like a big, pink potato who’d been on a 36-year bender. But I didn’t worry. I thought a good chunk of the staff’s activities would be photoshopping applicants’ photos to make us all look lovely and put the Great back in Britain. But they didn’t bother their arses. They just used the photo I sent them. How unambitious! So now I’ve got to look like a fat potato until 2018. (10-and-a-bit-year validity, it seems.) (Mind you, the passport is written in Welsh and Gaelic as well now, in addition to all the Eurotongues and happily displays the word ‘quim’ at the top of the coat-of-arms, so that’s a bit of a thrill.)
But UK bureaucracy is putting on a less friendly face to those from undesirable foreign parts. I’ve already complained that a UK tourist visa now costs 300 euros (and a passport 200). We became aware of that intelligence a day after the new tariffs had been introduced, on April 1st, and that took the wind out of our sails until yesterday, when we decided we’d be brave and go the whole hog and apply for a visa for the Russian so that he could join me on some of my next few trips. We have an Anglo-Kraut wedding in the summer which neither of us could possibly miss. I’ve got a new nephew we need to go and gawp at. And my old lady will need visiting ere long.
All very posh and hi-tech, the visa application. You do the whole god-damned thing online. Well, until you get to the ‘sign here’ bit, where you have to save it and print it out. But what’s this? No demand for payment? And why can we only apply for a six-month visa? And why is the only option for payment/collection, “In person”. Hmm, OK, we’ll ignore all that nonsense and do as they say and then I’ll get onto them, not on the 2-euros-a-minute special phone number but a different, meant-to-be-for-something-else one… Frazzled, we got to the end of the process. Ceremoniously pressed the final button. Only to be asked to make an appointment.
Darlings, to get a visa to visit the UK, you now need, if you live anywhere in Germany, to go to fucking Düsseldorf. Oh yes, the site says, sneeringly. New system. Introduced on May 1st. Yep, a day before we got the ball rerolling. I presume this is something to do with security, but I can’t help thinking having a visa system which even staff at the Russian Embassy in London would find exhaustive is going to put folk off bothering to turn up and spend their foreign pounds in the UK in the first place.
All rather a pain. But tell me, is a trip to the UK worth risking life and limb with a trip to Düsseldorf for?
[My apologies to anyone who’s read this far. I did warn you.]