Yesterday, my partner and I went to the local town hall to register our intent to have a civil partnership next year. We’d like to have a wedding, but we’ve decided to go ahead with our celebration as planned and not wait around for the government to finally catch up with the public wish for marriage equality. They’re not the most speedy bunch. And neither, as we found out, are the people at the council. Here’s roughly how our experience went…
Ring Ring. Ring Ring. Ring Ring.
“Hello, your friendly local council here.”
“Hello, I’d like to register a civil partnership please.”
“It’ll cost you money.”
“Doesn’t it always?”
“£78 for two.”
“Bargain. Can we come in next week to do it?”
“No, there’s a waiting list. It’s popular you know. How does two month’s Tuesday sound?”
“So I’m not going to see you next Tuesday?”
“No, I already said, two months’ Tuesday. July 9th. Sound OK?”
“And please don’t forget your ID and passports.”
“We wouldn’t dream of it.”
We put the date on our calendar and dutifully crossed off every day that went by, getting giddy with excitement at the thought of July 9th. Would there be sparklers, banners, a congaline of council officials ready to celebrate our coming nuptials? Er, no.
The town hall itself was grand – sweeping staircase, historic busts, polished brass. However, we were swiftly ushered out of there and into the waiting room with its chewed biros, mish-mash of chairs, shit-coloured carpet and sticky desk.
“Sit there, we open at nine,” instructed the waiting room woman, let’s call her Patience. That’s a joke by the way. She busied herself with ignoring the other people waiting, instead collecting up yesterday’s dirty coffee mugs, a paper clip, a pen.
“Excuse me…” said a man coming in. We all held our breath.
“Sit down, my colleague will deal with you in a minute,” said the woman. She opens at 9, not 8.59. Sheesh. We all looked around for a colleague. None was present. At 9am, clearly some buzzer went off in her brain and she began registering the list of waiting people.
“Here for?” she barked at a couple, one Eastern European, one American. They both looked too scared to speak. When they did, it turned out there appointment was yesterday, not today. We all looked at our shoes. The woman rolled her eyes and sucked through her teeth.
“Difficult. Your appointment was yesterday. Today is the 9th. The registrars are fully booked.” The couple muttered about making a mistake.
“Happens to all of us at times,” the woman hissed, clearly stating ‘but never to me’.
Now it was our turn.
“Here to register a civil partnership.”
We told her. She grunted. On to the next person.
“Here to register a death.” We all look sympathetic. All apart from the woman.
The lady tells her.
“Sorry for your loss,” she automates, head already stuck in her drawer looking for a two-fingered Kit-Kat. Her face tells us she hasn’t found one.
A man walks in with slicked back hair, tight trousers, a man bag. The woman sweeps him, frowns.
“Sit down, my colleague will deal with you in a minute.”
We’re all beginning to think she has an imaginary friend now. Two minutes pass.
“How can I help?” she asks the man, now clearly confused. He stands.
“Come to collect my daughter’s birth certificate.”
“To register the birth?”
“I did that two weeks ago.”
“Do you have a certificate?”
“No, I’m picking it up.”
She yawns. “You’re registering. Sit down, someone will be with you soon. And congratulations.”
You could chop up her sincerity with a knife and use it in a crunchy salad.
Eventually, we leave Patience, taken by her registrar colleague (she does have friends) to the grand hallway, then into a small wooden room covered in notices telling you what to do and what not to do. ‘Wedding guests, wait here’. ‘Bride and Groom, sit here’. The romance.
She says something we don’t understand. We ask her to repeat. She mumbles.
“Sorry, could you repeat that?”
She does. We give up, look confused, agree. She seems pleased. We hope it wasn’t anything important like “have you ever wanted to become Queen of England, have a baby and make her Queen some day?” We take our chances. She asks us some basic questions.
“What is your name?” I tell her.
Then to my partner. “What is your partner’s name?” We manage not to giggle.
“What is your address?” I tell her.
“What is your address?” she asks my partner. She seems unfazed when she repeats my answer. She then asks us our postcode four times in two minutes. Perhaps she has a bad memory.
We’re then interviewed separately. My partner has to confirm with me the wedding date, time and venue. But she does remember my birthday and phone number, which is way more than she normally does. I’m secretly impressed. And then it’s done.
We leave the town hall, walk down the steps, our intention to marry out there. It feels… A relief to get out of the town hall. We wonder how long the other couple will have to wait. We wonder how many more deaths, births, unions will be registered today. And then we both decide a career in the local council is not our destiny.