My husband turned 70 in January. His driving licence was therefore up for renewal. The deadline: 31 August. I had done mine online in 5 or 10 minutes. His hit a snag. He came to this country from Morocco over 30 years ago. When he arrived his passport and identity card stated he was born in 1949, but no day or month was specified. His mother thought it might have been during the grape harvest. It might also have been when the present king's grandfather died. Spring or autumn, no-one really knew. One of his sisters even had the idea he was born two years later. Morocco is like that. When he was legally allowed to remain in the UK he was given the standard birthdate of 1 January of the year in which he was presumed to have been born.
I tried to renew it for him online in June. It appeared he didn't exist. I tried again. No joy. I had to phone. We discovered that his birthdate had been conflated with the renewal date of his licence and we hadn't noticed. I have no idea why. Our marriage certificate simply records the year of his birth and his naturalisation certificate the same. How should we rectify this? I was told to fill in an application form and write a covering letter explaining the problem, including his British passport number, to authorise the DVLA to check with the Home Office. This I did. After three weeks or so I phoned again. Yes, they had received the application and would be dealing with it.
The clock ticked. Last Wednesday I phoned again. The news wasn't good. The application had been rejected. No reason given. But why hadn't we been told? Our interlocutor would check. If we hadn't heard by 3.30pm, I should phone again. I was given a reference number to quote. No-one phoned. The next person I spoke to knew nothing of it, and didn't want to know the reference number. Instead, I had to go through the whole rigmarole of his name, how it was spelled, his address and postcode, his date of birth – which was the crux of it all – all over again and then had to hand the phone to him to confirm everything. His application had apparently been deleted. How come? We had sent a letter. My husband had to be able to drive.
I got a bit heated at this point and received a warning. My husband told the lady this time that I was 'a really nice woman, just a bit upset about all this'. That mollified her. She recognised, with the deadline looming, that something had to be done. Then we were cut off.
I had to phone again, go through the whole rigmarole of identification and confirmation all over again. I felt like a hamster on a wheel and not in a joyous way. This time the third interlocutor of the day said the application had been sent to a senior manager and later there was a phone call to confirm the date of birth had been amended and the licence would be with us in a couple of days. It arrived on Saturday morning, the date his previous licence was due to expire.
In the current Brexit climate I had been concerned that this small glitch might trigger more of a crisis than in the end it did. There is such a feeling of criminality about immigration. We experienced a bit of this when we decided to get married over 30 years ago. We were grilled separately at Glasgow Airport, a deeply unpleasant experience. We live in a global world. People travel, fall in love, intermarry, want to live together. That's how it is.
Luckily my husband went through the full process of naturalisation in 1993. He didn't have to sit a test and we didn't have to pay thousands of pounds, which we couldn't have afforded at the time. I can't remember whether we had to pay anything other than the standard fee for a new passport. Now foreign spouses settled in the UK for far longer than my husband are being taken to the cleaners in order to be allowed to stay, and aren't sure that even pre-settled status, whatever that may mean, will eventually be made permanent. Even a former Danish prime minister, Neil Kinnock's daughter-in-law, is in this invidious position.
As for the residence test: a friend has been helping a German resident prepare for that ordeal with a group of lifelong British citizens, all with professional backgrounds. One question was the date the Scottish Parliament was established. But what did that mean? The date of the Scotland Act or the day it opened for business? My friend, a well-informed former civil servant, got the answer wrong.
A news channel clip the other day showed another question: What were the Corn Laws? The Corn Laws! How is that relevant for someone coming to work in hospitality or a care home, let alone medicine or social work? Both of us could have answered that when we did our higher history back in the 1960s. The details are pretty hazy now. Who devises this stuff? Is it deliberately designed to deter? Or composed by some terribly clever people in a Whitehall bubble over coffee or Sudoku or a cryptic crossword?