When I got back to the centre, a report was waiting for me. It was worse than I thought. When I double-checked, I discovered the HMRC document was indeed in my wife’s name and did have the correct address but was rejected by the Stasi ‘because it isn’t a utility bill.’
In all my years of working behind enemy lines from China to Afghanistan to Russia, I had never come across a political system so backward that it preferred a domestic gas bill to a letter from a state agency responsible for collecting the most detailed data on every citizen.
What happened if, as in this case, only the male was named as account holder? It discriminated against women who may not be account holders and who are entitled to use both maiden and married names to suit circumstance – only not in the hard-faced Stalinist world of the Greater Glasgow Gulag.
I was putting the paper in the typewriter for my report to London when she walked in. She was the agent who had become my wife and yet our marriage was seen as a sham by the Stasi who seemed to think we were undercover international agents posing as a couple. And our mission? Nothing less than acquiring by stealth a year-long residents parking permit worth £50 in the top secret Western Section – codename Kelvinbridge.
She placed the heavy Walther on the desk, shook out her hair and perched on the table edge. ‘I’ve never known anything like it’, she breathed. ‘I offered them my brand new driving licence complete with name, address and photograph as proof of identity and they turned it down. I even offered them the old licence with the maiden name to compare the two. They said No. It must be a utility bill or nothing. Is it a Trotskyite plot to cause terror?’
We had offered them an electricity bill, an HMRC letter, a property management account covering our building, a driving licence and our council tax details with both married and maiden names at the same address. Yet still they obstructed us.
We sat in silence until I asked: ‘Anyway how many people actually get a paper utility bill nowadays? Isn’t it normal to use internet?’
‘Not in the Gulag. Remember, General Matheson and the politburo wage a desperate war against the forces of democracy and call them Nazis and a virus and will do anything to stop the cybernats from winning the city. Allowing citizens full use of the internet to access services would undermine his campaign.’
I adjusted my specs. She smoothed her skirt and said: ‘There is one thing.’
‘They said I could change my name on the council tax from my maiden name to my married name as it appears on the parking application form.’
I leapt from the seat, grabbed the gun and made for the door. She grabbed hold of me.
‘Stop! It isn’t worth it’.
‘But we must fight a sexist and primitive system so undemocratic that it demands a woman changes her name to get a…a parking permit!’
‘Look. It took 40 years for the Wall to fall and glasnost still hasn’t arrived in Labour-run Glasgow. It may take a generation but change and democracy will surely come. If we take a stand on the parking issue, the people will follow.’
She opened her purse. ‘Have you got £1 for the meter?’