Spectator on the terrors of admin

The washing machine, tumbledrier, dishwasher and shower are all broken. I don’t have time to worry about the meltdown in appliances because I’m too busy doing ‘admin’, a word that sends collective shivers down the household spine.I’m not fond of opening the post, preferring to glean information from the return address on the back or shaking the contents a little so that enough is revealed in the cellophane window to confirm that the whole thing can rejoin the post pile from which it briefly came. But it’s time to grow up, so I tackle the letters, one of which, regarding the school ski trip at Easter, sends me running for the filing cabinet, where I discover that Alfie’s passport has, indeed, expired.

I collect a form from the post office, plus a spare, just in case. Taking Alf to have his passport photograph taken after school, I don’t risk the photo booth knowing that there are crucial rules about fringes and smiles and how wide your eyes are. I’m on top of this. I can’t afford to take risks-we’ve booked a trip to Copenhagen at half-term. I have my black pen and I begin to fill out the form with our address. I put the number of our house on the same line as the street name, but wonder, because of the way the information is requested, if this will cause the application to be rejected. I return to the post office, where they confirm that I’ve done it wrong. I start again.

I take the form to school, where I need to collar a teacher to verify that he or she knows my son. This may take a day or so, but I can’t say ‘And please hurry up’ because you don’t add bossy instructions to an already enormous favour. The form returns and I realise that the teacher has, entirely logically, declared his knowledge of Alfie when he needs to say that he knows me. I start again. I collect another form. I can’t ask the teacher again and now it’s the weekend, so I drop in on our old friend and former neighbour, whose job in the surgery probably holds appropriate civic gravitas. Unfortunately, her passport has expired, so we turn to her husband, who’s happy to sign the form with the sort of flourish that takes the top of his ‘t’ outside the signature box, which I know means an automatic fail. I very nearly call him an idiot because this form is beginning to play havoc with my manners. Amazingly, his wife has a form upstairs (she keeps meaning to renew her passport). I start again.

I step up to the Check and Send counter. ‘Hmm,’ says the man, who knows me quite well by now. ‘Not sure about the job of your counter signatory.’ Robert has entered Security Consultant. ‘But it says it can be counter signed by a friend,’ I reply. ‘They are funny about jobs,’ he explains. ‘Is he a bodyguard?’ Well, not really, no. ‘It might be okay. But it might not.’ He calls his superior, who agrees: ‘You could take the risk. Or you could not.’

I stand, frozen with indecision. If the application fails, Copenhagen is off. If I start again, I have to get more photos done and it will be at least two crucial days before I’m back at the Check and Send counter. The clock is ticking. I never want to see the form again. I take the risk.

On the way home, I’m rung by a friend who says she can’t join me for a walk round the water meadows. Her new fridge has been delivered, but they refused to take the old one away because it still has 16 ice cubes in the drawer. She says she can’t get out of her kitchen. Life, I think to myself, is very time-consuming. I get home and open the two letters in today’s post because I’m no longer an admin slouch. One is from the bank saying that the cheque I’d sent them was missing from the envelope and therefore my account cannot be credited. The other says I’m going to be prosecuted for doing 36mph in a 30mph zone. I hate the post. I haven’t got time to fill out the form. I need to get to the laundrette.

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