Today, at 1100 hours, I made contact with the Stasi. I took the usual route by subway – it didn’t matter any more if I was followed – and made my way to the huge Lubyanka building in the city centre.
I used my Harry Palmer disguise with the glasses, kept my eyes hooded and my rebellious mien barely supressed. I approached the unsmiling security guard behind the reception desk and delivered the agreed lines. ‘Application for parking permit…Western section.’
She glanced at the screen and sidled her eyes to the left. ‘Desk 33.’
She handed me a ticket. I was number 500 – nice round sum, I noted, and too obvious.
I was aware of eyes following me as I passed uniformed security and a line of glum peasants with the look of those whose life was dedicated to waiting…
Behind Desk 33 was a woman of agricultural disposition. ‘Papers’, she snapped.
I pulled the file marked IPCRESS from my case – it stands for Induction of Psychoneuroses by Council Refusal Staffs.
I removed them one by one – the application form completed in my wife’s name and the car lease agreement, followed by an energy bill and a letter from the brutal state collection department – Revenue and Customs. She looked them over and shook her head.
‘The application is in your wife’s name but energy bill has your name, not hers. The tax letter is in her maiden name, not the one on the form either.’
‘But the address on them all is the same. And you know we live there because we’ve been paying you council tax every month for 14 years.’
‘I have to check your file’. The light from the screen reflected on her glasses as lists of names flashed up. Then… ‘I have found you – both at the same address just as you say.’
‘But wait’. Damn the triumphant sound in her voice. ‘Her name on the council tax form is different from the one on her permit application.’
‘Of course it is…we weren’t married when we started paying the tax…’ My cool Harry Palmer front was in danger of collapsing. ‘Now we’re married she uses my surname. It’s what people do.’
Fixing me with her stare, she picked up the phone and mumbled into the handset. ‘Now we go to adjudication. Follow me. Desk 10.’
There sat the praesidium executive in her black military suit and crisp white shirt. Farm woman from Desk 33 moved in behind her and both looked me over.
‘Sorry, but the applicant’s names must match with the council tax records.’
I was threatening to blow my cover in anger and the Walther PPK suddenly felt heavy against my ribs.
‘Then tell me what I must do to beat the bureaucracy.’
‘We need to see a marriage certificate to prove identity. The original. No copies.’
I adjusted my glasses. ‘Do you mean to tell me that in 21st century Glasgow I have to produce a marriage certificate to GET A LOUSY PARKING PERMIT…!! So I can put my wife’s car outside my own home where you’ve been taking £2400 a year from me for a decade and now say you don’t believe she lives there…? Do you know the Wall’s come down?’
They were unmoved. Their eyes said this is how it is. We are cogs in the great machine and you are grit.
I gave them my I’ll Be Back look and left wondering how it is that in a westernized country the mentality and practices of the Soviet Regime still operate. Petty officials relentlessly enforcing obstructive rules they know make no sense and merely lead to disaffected citizens. Next time I will demand a meeting with the Stalinist who runs the failed state, the dictator Matheson.by