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Passport application

Our story begins here:
Somebody called but didn't leave a message

Three weeks ago, more or less, my mother and I sent our passports to the British Embassy in Paris for renewal. It is an interesting situation as, for the moment, we have no official identification. But anyway, this is a periodic thing and it was time to get going. Fine.

Yesterday at 11:15, somebody called. Left no message. Note that the message was not received until 05:15 the following morning. I generally leave my phone off, especially as I am now working night hours. I had my phone on to check emails during break, and I snuck away to call mom to check she was awake at 04:22. Yet, notification of this call didn't arrive until I was nearly home.

I Googled the number given as it was not one I recognised.

It was the British Embassy.


The first call was to a woman at the embassy. It was a bizarre call, for she asked if I had an alternative contact number, then told me she couldn't pass on the information without knowing who it was that called me. She said if somebody was trying to get in touch, they'd call back.

I should point out that the embassy had some lovely "on hold" music. It faded in and out (which was the music as the rest of the call was clear). I like to think that it's a 78 record spinning around, has been for fifty years, and the fade-out was where the grooves were worn away...

So then we try to call the Passport Information Helpline. This is a British number, the passport people having outsourced to a company that seems to go by the name of "Careline". Such a call will cost 72p plus VAT per minute to be billed to a credit card in addition to international phone charges. Lovely. It isn't as if the passports themselves weren't already hideously expensive.
Aside: Isn't it the law that prices should be quoted with VAT included? It's about 85-86p/min which is quite a bit over the quoted 72p.

The first call, a Scottish woman with a not terribly clear accent. I give my name, I give my expiry date, and then I am passed to an electronic system to enter my card details. Which it rejects.
Three times. Apparently it is because I am using a VoIP phone. This is rubbish, for NatWest ActionLine works fine.

Thinking perhaps it is my card, mom tries with her British card. Same thing.

We try with mom's mobile. After a depressingly long wait we get to speak to somebody. And guess what, card rejected. Again. I would like to point out that ActionLine works from a mobile so long as the signal is good.

So with the advice to try a "regular" landline, we head off to a friend. And call from his phone.
To have my card number rejected.
The man who answered asked me what sort of phone I was using. I said: "It doesn't bloody matter, I've called from a mobile, I've called from a VoIP phone, now I'm calling from a real landline.".
Without missing a beat, he requests that I enter my card number again. Magically it works.

Come on. Is Semafone so crap that it can't handle DTMF tones from non POTS devices (yet the NatWest can)? Or would I be justified in thinking that I smell a rat? I know I tapped in my number correctly - it shows on the phone's display.

At the end of that, they couldn't help but the person claims to have sent a message to the embassy in Paris to get back in touch, this time on the house phone and to leave a message. Just in case they don't, I have left a rather pointed message on my mobile's voicemail, it goes like this:

"This is Richard Murray. I'm sorry I'm not available to take your call,
so please leave a message after the beep.
It you are from the British Embassy, leave your name and a contact number.
That's how I 'do' subtle.

Who knows.

Interview in Paris? [yeah, like I can afford that] Some other bit of paper required? Your photo does not resemble a human?
Who knows what this is about. I have a funny feeling this isn't over, that getting a passport sorted out will not be a simple matter. I just wish the caller had the decency to leave some sort of message. Still, at least CallerID passed on their number, so I had something to work with...


Your comments:

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Rob, 7th June 2011, 18:46
Not sure your voicemail greeting will work. People who don't leave a message generally hang up as soon as they realise they are listening to a recording, without listening to it. My system at home has a menu that, if I don't answer, launches straight into "Press 1 to be forwarded, free, to Rob's Mobile" (along with further options) and still the vast majority of people who it it just hang straight on up.
Rick, 7th June 2011, 19:06
Given that pretty much nobody calls my phone, I could for the time being alter the announcement to say "If you're the British Embassy, leave a god-damn message this time! [1] <beeeep!>". 
I bet they'd still hang up. Some people are just like that. 
1 - me, ultrasubtle mode engaged ☺
Anon, 13th June 2011, 16:41
Given that the (extortionate) passport costs are allegedly to cover the costs of issuing the passport and the infrastructure to do so and provide consular assistance, rather than having the taxpayer fund it, it seems a bit of a swizz. 
Especially since if you're resident in the UK and submitting to the UK offices, you can fill in an online form and they will get back to you with the status of your application. 
You'd have thought they'd show more consideration for the people who might genuinely need their passports for something more than just buying alcohol at the off licence (which is really all you do with it while in the UK, unless you have a photocard driving licence). 
I'm waiting for the government to lower the passport prices. They were hiked up by the Labour government after the ID card plan came into full swing; now that's cancelled they should go down. I am not holding my breath.

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