"I don't drive," I replied, feeling I was getting nowhere. "But look," I attempted, I'm in these books with my picture too." I delved into my bag and produced CJ Stone's Fierce Dancing and Lionel Fanthorpe's The World's Most Mysterious People.
"And Lionel Fanthorpe's a well-known Cardiff author, who presents Fortean TV and writes for The Echo," I added. Perhaps celebrity status would do the trick?
The girl wouldn't budge though. Rules were rules. "We'd accept an envelope or letter with your name and adress on," is all she could say. A fat lot of good, I thought. I get loads of mail but I don't usually carry it around with me.
"Perhaps you'd like to go on through and select the items you want and I can put them by so you can go home, get the ID and have them ready when you return?"
"No thanks," I replied. I couldn't see any point and so, annoyed and defeated, I left. It can be very difficult dealing with official rules and regulations and what gets me is how you are supposed to know in advance all the things you are required to provide.
The incident brought to mind a major bureaucratic problem I'd encountered many years ago when trying to help a friend. Mind you, the friend I'm thinking of tended to generate problems because of his behaviour. In fact his weird ways resulted in him being nicknamed Piss-off Pete.
Pete was a unique individual and a talented musician, but to all intents and purposes his life was a mess. I write in the past tense because I lost touch with him long ago after he was committed to a mental hospital and transferred to an institution in the Midlands.
Pete was a schizophrenic, 'acid casualty,' a demented David Bowie clone, who became increasingly strange and out of sync with everyone else. He used to say he was a "fragile ladytron from Sirius." He used to dress in drag and say he was Cleopatra.
That was when he was talking. Much of the time he would stay silent and only attempt to communicate with bizarre tapping motions on his head while making "tsssk, tsssk" noises. "Oohh," he might squeal. Or, in a camp and robotic way, occasionally he might make a statement like "meditate upon the sources of corruption," followed by more signals and sounds.
The Social Security had stopped his money and sent him a letter saying an appointment had been made and he came to ask me to help sort it out. So, off we trekked to "the Social," and after an incredibly long wait his name was called and we went to the counter.
Pete sat down and stared at the clerk. Pete was wearing a head scarf, make-up, glitzy but grubby top, and tight leggings tucked in his platform boots. The clerk looked surprised but attempted to get on with his official job in the best bureaucratic manner.
"You are Peter Alexander Pierce of Llandough Street, Cardiff?" he asked.
"Ooohh, tssch, tssch, tsssk, tsssk - neural damage," Peter replied, squirming, tapping his head and continuing to stare.
The counter assistant seemed baffled but tried: "I´ll repeat the question." And he did so.
Peter pointed to his head and with more short-circuiting noises thrown in for dramatic effect: "Stellar Intelligence," he answered.
The clerk looked lost. He obviously hadn't been trained in policies to cover dealing with "Sirian Ladytrons."
Thinking I could maybe help the situation, I entered the conversation (if you could call it that) and explained that my friend hadn't been eating properly because he hadn't had his money. The Social Security officer was glad to be speaking to someone he could understand even if I looked pretty outlandish myself in my tartan flares.
"What it is," he said. "Is we need to see proof of Peter's rent payments before we can continue his claim. So, perhaps you could bring his rent book in or post it in to us?" I foolishly agreed.
When we finally got back to Pete's place, after a long delay he he produced the rent-book but it hadn't been filled in for years.
"This is no bloody good," I said. "What does this mean?"
Peter then scrawled in capital letters across the blank pages: "PSYCHOPATHS STOLE MY RENT SAVINGS."
There was no answer to that and I gave up and left.
Footote: First published in Big Issue Cymru, No. 144, March 1999.
Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.