In my last post, I talked about how we finally landed on names for our daughters. It was not straightforward. However the worst was yet to come…
I then had to register those names.
So, look. When you have a baby – let alone two – life changes. Priorities switch, routines are up-ended and nothing is the same as it used to be. When we brought our girls home, we assumed everything would be a nightmare. Stressful, tiring, always playing catch up. In actual fact, things were a lot smoother than we could have imagined.
Sure, we were tired. Eyes-burning-in-their-very-sockets tired. But despite having two little, breathing things in our possession, it somehow galvanised us into being a pretty organised pair, which itself was unusual.
The set routine helped. We’d get up, change the babies, feed the babies, rock the babies, lay the babies down to sleep, clean everything up, nap ourselves and repeat. This, every three hours, day-in, day-out. We were pros. We’d wash the bottles constantly, sterilise them and tidy up dirty nappies, all while finding the time to cook meals for ourselves and keep the house at a relatively respectable level of cleanliness for the onslaught of unwelcome guests.
So, the day of the birth registering came and, I won’t lie, I was feeling pretty smug. Everything was going well, it was to be the first official time I’d left Lucy alone with the girls, but I knew she could cope. Not only did I promise to pop out, stamp an official ™ on the girls’ names and get back again, but I upped the ante by promising to bring in McDonald’s. Our first since the girls were born. Well, my auntie tried to sneak us one while we were still in hospital, but by the time the nurses had left us in peace, they were stone cold. Few things break my heart like a Big Mac with early on-set rigor mortis.
Anyway, back to the names.
So, Cocky Carl that I was, I set of. I still remember the feeling of contentment I had, driving along that day, Mike and Mechanics blaring out of the MP3. All was well with the world, I had an amazing wife and two incredible daughters, and here I was doing the fatherly thing and making it official, all while stockpiling Quarter Pounders with Cheese.
I was, admittedly, a little apprehensive about visiting the Registry Office. I’d only had one experience there before and it was not an enjoyable one.
It should have been. Lucy, my then wife-to-be, and I were going to register for our marriage. Feeling exciting and giddy, we burst into the office full of life. What followed was the slow, steady sapping of that joy from the very marrow of our bones. We knew we would be interrogated about our families, our history and our personal arrangement, what we didn’t expect was the staff to have been trained in the Guantanamo approach to Customer Service. We tried our best to joke away the overtly formal nature of the interviews, firing off zingers about how we couldn’t remember what our father-in-laws-to-be did for a living, or how to spell our mothers’ maiden names, but they were having none of it. We left that day, closer to becoming husband and wife, but also deeply ashamed of deriving pleasure from it.
So, as I entered the Registry Office for a second time I was a little unsure. I knew what they could be like, and their reassuring manner had already come across in email, when I was sternly warned not to be late for the appointment, as I would lose my slot, and potentially any chance to register the births. Nevertheless, I entered the office with my held my head high. This time, I was invincible. I was riding Cloud 9, so their stern looks and muted responses would bounce of me like peas on a trampoline.
Then I realised… I’d forgotten my wallet.
In all my arrogance at how well we had been doing, I’d left the house not only without a wallet but also very little phone battery. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so organised. I felt deeply unprepared. What’s more, the appointments were so sacred, it’s not like I could just pop off, pick up the wallet and pop back again. No, I was in this for the long haul.
First, I had to figure out if you had to pay to register a birth.
Well, think about it. It’s not like it’s an optional thing. You can’t get away with not registering a child. It’s basically human admin. So why would you have to pay for it? Paying just for the privilege of having a child – it’s daylight robbery. And I’ve got two of the bastards. Births, deaths and marriages: I tell you; registrars are running the most lucrative shakedown of the human race. They might as well tax blinking, breathing and shitting.
Thankfully, there was a couple in front of me. They looked pretty happy, no doubt at the start of their journey with these joy-suckers. This mini-queue gave me time to quickly Google ‘do you have to pay to register a birth’. Turns out, you do. And what’s more, there’s no 2-4-1 offer. It was then that I remembered how sacred these appointments were. I knew I couldn’t just head home, get my wallet and return. Suddenly, I realised I was going to have to barter the existence of my daughters with the receptionist. I panic-texted Lucy and asked for my card number and sort code. If I was going down, I was going down trying…
I reached the front of the queue. No reply from Lucy – the one time two babies felt more of a hindrance than a benefit. I tried to explain everything. It fell out a garbled mess. I’m pretty sure she thought I was trying to buy a child off of her. I steadied myself and explained the situation. “But…” I said, “I have a plan. If I can get my card details, can you just input them on your system, like you would if I was paying over the phone?” The poor woman looked concerned. She grasped the handset in case I tried to steal it, and called over her superior. Between them, they looked me up and down, and told me we’d figure something out.
I sat in the waiting area, my mind stewing over my predicament. Then I realised no card also meant no McDonald’s. And for that one brief moment, that seemed to be the bigger issue. Then, a text popped up. It was Lucy with my long card number. Suddenly inspired, I remembered about the contactless payment option on my phone. I’d been reluctant to download the feature previously, as it seemed too intrusive and too open to being manipulated by hackers. Now, desperate and unable to secure the existence of his daughter or buy Chicken McNuggets, I hit ‘download’ and input my details faster than Usain Bolt at a poorly lit cash machine in a terrible neighbourhood.
I was also rushing, because I’d noticed my phone battery was now flashing 11%. Still enough, I thought. But as each step of the app progressed, more updates were being downloaded, more information churned through. 9%. 8%. I looked up at the staff. They were huddled together, whispering and alternating glances in my direction. 6%. The other people waiting (registrees?) began to back away from my clump of chairs. 5%. I was still waiting on my CVV number. Then they popped up – 633*! Oh, sweet, reliable Lucy.
I went to enter the digits and I heard my name being called. It was time for the appointment.
I was ushered into a stale little room. The very same one I’d had my marriage appointment in. A stern older woman sat opposite me. I forced some small talk, but her pleasure force field was up. I tried to suggest my clever payment plan of reciting my card numbers without showing her my card, and she suggested that this would constitute fraud. See what I mean? What a joyless bunch.
Then, will all the charm and grace of an S.S Officer, she proceeded to quiz me on my daughters names. I always thought these milestones would be full of real gravitas, but they rarely ever feel that way. I guess it’s because one person’s life-changing moment is another’s nine-hour shift. And so, these names we’d lovingly created, infused with personality and warmth, that we were incredibly proud of, we reduced to answers in a not particularly fun quiz. The woman barked relatively easy questions at me and yet I couldn’t help but panic about every one. The weight of all expectation was now on me remembering how to spell a middle name.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of registering a birth, I assume it works on the same principle as getting a tattoo. All that planning and deciding and saving up, now comes down to you getting basic spellings right for fear of living with the mistakes forever. While a tattoo can be easily hidden with long sleeves or amputation, once a name is down, it’s stuck forever. And any mistakes will look up and taunt you from that name badge, bank statement or passport.
The registrar drafted up the first certificate and laid it out in front of me (no fanfare) and asked me to check it over for incorrect details or spelling mistakes. I trawled through it, simultaneously scrutinising every detail and yet taking none of it in. I must have stared at that sheet for a solid five minutes, but it felt like hours. Everything was perfect, not a single mistake. I sat back, breathed a sigh of relief and was just about to signal my approval when I saw it. Right there, in the middle of the certificate. I’d said the wrong middle name. Somehow, in all my panic, I’d swapped my daughters proposed middle names. Such is the fear that registrars bring out in me, I genuinely considered letting it slide. So what if we have to live with it being wrong, at least she won’t shoot me a look so withering that my reproductive organs would decide to pack up through fear of having to endure this experience ever again.
In the end, sanity prevailed and I told her. Not happy. She made the changes and all was OK. Then for child number two. Sorted even quicker and not a mistake in sight. Then it came down to the payment. While she was still pretty firm on the whole ‘fraud’ thing, she agreed to let me phone Lucy and get her to pay over the phone. So she rang Lucy. She didn’t answer. That’s the thing about my wife, if a number calls and she doesn’t recognise it, she won’t bother answering. It could be a doctor calling because I’ve had an accident, or the National Lottery telling us that ticket we never bought finally came in, but no. If it doesn’t come up ‘Mum’ or ‘Rob’, it’s a no from her.
I’d quickly tried to text Lucy to explain what was about to happen, but it was too late. The registrar had put the phone down and was burning the word ‘twat’ into my head with her eyes. I offered to call, in case it made a difference, so I did. Lucy didn’t answer. So much for ‘Rob’. I tried again and she picked up, a little hurried because the girls had been getting restless. I tried to relax her but it’s difficult when you’re sharing a back office with a black hole.
Finally, I put Lucy on speakerphone and between the three of us we managed to pay the full £8.
So that was that. What should have been a joyous and ceremonial moment was reduced to nothing more that terrifying admin. Now, when I look at my daughters, I don’t see their names, or the care and thought that went into each, I see a constant reminder of the dangers of forgetting your wallet and not charging your phone. I don’t feel love; I feel a blood-curdling fear of disorganisation. I don’t feel pride; I feel that somewhere, at any given moment, is a registrar with nothing but contempt for me.
Yet, throughout all the worry and panic, I did it. I registered the births. And now, I can officially welcome Willow May and Ruby Ann into the world.
As for my attempt to use contactless pay at McDonald’s with 2% battery, well, that’s a whole other story…
*These numbers have been changed to protect my bank balance.