One is not amused.

"Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hinderance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary."

So reads the inside cover of the British Passport. Nestled under the Royal Coat of Arms, and written in some suitably cursive font, it is impressive stuff. It would be great to think these words actually meant what they say; that someone, somewhere, might actually offer assistance should it be required.

Not for the first time we've come to realise that the phrase 'afford the bearer such assistance' could more accurately be read 'if the bearer can afford such assistance.' Today my wife phoned some office in Germany with a question about a UK passport renewal. (Yes, that does say Germany.) This was the fourth number she called in one of those 'oh, the person you need to call is...' scenarios.

The phone was answered by someone who told her that the website had all the answers on it. Don't they always? No, of course, they don't. That's why you just need to ask a quick, simple question to an intelligent human being. Not so fast. First hand over your credit card details to pay for the call before they will listen to the question! 'But what if you don't know the answer to my question?' Quizzed my wife. Unbelievable. At a minimum of £3.50 this call cost well in excess of a pound a minute.

Now I know this post is going off like a Daily Mail leader but sometimes it is given for every man to rant for Middle England. I would have littered this with choice expletives for effect but that's not my style. My wife was similarly self-controlled on the phone while being completely disbelieving of the bureaucratic nightmare she was encountering. Her question was answered, but you'll be reassured to know that the renewal process remains a complicated and expensive process for someone living outside the UK. Still, at least she didn't have to call the number that said it charged $14 a minute to learn that!


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