Tuesday, 21 January 2014

21st January 2014 - No substitute for people...

When someone dies, there are many things that that follow. The emotional attachment. The memories. The clearing of personal items and the histories that flow for that. Even long expected deaths still have a finality when they are at last reached. Shorter illnesses bring a level of unexpectedness. Long lives allow a level of acceptance, and reflection upon a rich existence.

In all cases there is a point when the "admin" kicks in. It is little satisfaction that I have in fact gone through the process on two previous occasions, for my father and for my grandmother. These however were many years ago, and time heals many things, and covers less wanted memories. I recall little from the previous times, other than being sure to ask for several copies of the death certificate to ease the correspondence with financial institutions - I remember that - but little else...

So, facing the task of Executor for what feels to be the first time seemed a daunting task. Today was my first day to actually start. Though the death occurred last week, it was in hospital and that made things both simpler and more complicated at the same time. Simpler, because my father-in-law was under medical supervision at the time of death so no requirement for autopsy, and more complicated because the issue of certificate is tied into the general administration of a hospital - meaning delays!

But this is balanced by the role of our funeral director - Malcolm & Mary Silcox (and Paul). Apart from being friends, the funeral director "machine" rolled seamlessly into place, and instead of starting to try and think of everything that should be done, the weight is lifted almost from the start. The checking of personal property; ensuring that jewellery such as wedding rings remain and do not need to be collected separately; the collection of the death certificate; the arrangements for the Registrar; the appointment with the Registrar; delivering the certificate to the Registrar office... These were but some of the things done ....  And all done in a caring way. I know it is their daily business, but the human touch is so very important.

So today was really the first day that I could "get the ball rolling". One thirty at the Registrar's Office.

Llanelli has been my home for almost the last forty years so nothing should really surprise me. But the Registrar's office in Coleshill Terrace is not a building that I had really noticed in the past. The Chapel next door which doubles as the polling station for many years rather overshadows it. The four parking spaces outside were all taken as I swung into the one way street. The rain was incessant - I would normally have walked as it is not far from the house - but today I decided on the car to keep me from the elements. Passing the front door, peering through the windscreen wipers, I see that the next five parking spaces are disabled only...   then resident permit holders only...  as far as the eye can see... There are only a few cars parked, I later am informed that most of these houses are flats now and few residents actually have cars, but the length of the road is restricted parking. The exit roads that would bring me around the block are all "No Entry", so there is no recourse but to drive the full length of the road, come into town again and try again.

Now it seemed inconvenient for me, I was trying to park up for my appointment to register a death. It was later that I realised that this registry office is also where people get married. How on earth could you park here for a wedding - with a few guests - unless it was a special needs or local residential wedding? Good old Llanelli Council seem to be short sighted once more, transforming a rather picturesque road with excesses of white paint for parking places restricted to those without cars at the expense of those wanting to visit for statutory office needs...  The cynical part of me thinks it may be that residential permits cost an annual fee and provides a crumb of income...  But back to the parking problem..

The rain continued as I decided to stop in the wide expanse of disabled parking area. Well, mainly in the proper parking area into which my small car could not quite squeeze and two wheels in the disabled spaces. Engine running, yes I know that is an offence - quitting a vehicle with the engine running!, but I nipped out of the car and up the ramp to try the door.. Locked!!!  A check of my watch and it was only one twenty five - but the sign outside clearly stated "Open 9.30am to 12.30  and 2 till 4.30" . I checked my appointment for 1.30....  and went back to the car where with the engine running at least it was warm..... Hoping that the 2 o'clock sign was wrong.

I have issues with people who park badly; who misuse disabled spaces; who misuse Parent Child parking spaces; who park on pavements preventing wheelchair or prams passing; park on the approaches to pedestrian crossings; and who leave their headlights on when stationary - I am a reasonable man - but all these provide the only form of minor road rage in my quiet soul...  I remember mentioning my foibles to some staff while acting as Superintendent of Police in Llanelli many years ago. It was only a passing aside, but I might have said "who will rid me of this troublesome priest?". Next morning, it turned out that the night shift had obviously had a quiet time, and some aspiring sergeant had sent his team out to find some people offending against the "super's"  foibles...  It seems that the only place they could find cars parked on pavements were in a stretch of town that had 15ft hard standing in front of their houses, which had allowed safe off road parking for years....   and all twenty cars had fixed penalties...  That was an interesting morning as I received a succession of irate residents and a series of excusals...Couldn't even really complain about the enterprise of the officers, well not until they came on for night shift again..."But, Boss!! You said..."

No, I have issues with parking violations. But I was about to hand in the Blue Badge...  So I left the front wheels in the disabled area - there was still room for another 5 cars so I was not really taking up a place for someone more needy than myself.... Yes, I know!! This is the form of self justification that slowly leads to major crime and serial killers...!!   But is was still raining very hard!! And the office may not open until 2pm!!

But open it did - at 1.30pm, and a matronly and quietly jovial lady let me sit in the warm. As she bustled about the office checking that the forms had arrived, with the efficiency of a Moneypenny secretary, I quietly dripped onto the worn carpet. "There we are" says the lady, "better come on in". At that moment, her clone arrived at the secretarial desk, while my host bustled me into the Registrar office...  This was my Registrar.

With Arnold's trusty briefcase full of all the documentation that I thought may be useful, we started filling in the details.

Of course, though I can remember little of my past registrations - the key change now is that everything is done on the computer. The details are dutifully added onto the machine and printed out to check the entries. Simpler than applying for a credit card on line, while my Registrar chats away in a quiet and friendly, but more importantly, sympathetic manner. Like my Funeral Director friends, this is a daily task, yet again the human touch is predominant in dealing with the issues at hand...  After checking the details, and remembering to get the extra certificates now (cost £4 each - if you come back later there may be a delay and it will cost £7) the touch of the old world Registrar suddenly returns to the fore. When I was told to get the extra certificates, I was told that most places would only take "originals" - that they would look for "the Registrar's Ink!"  This meant little to me at the time of being told..  And then I saw the box of "official" paper being brought out - pre-printed with hologram style watermark in light Green!! Placed carefully into the printer, and the few details were printed back and front and formed a small pile in the tray....

Having checked the details I reached for my trusty ballpoint - but was quietly asked to use the Registrar's pen - a fountain pen, with real ink!!! in Blue!!  I haven't used a fountain pen in more years than I care to recall. I never was good with them - even back to the days in primary school with the dip pens and the ink well and blotting paper. So with meticulous care, I think my tongue might even have been sticking out the side of my mouth!! I scrawled my moniker onto the sheet. Then watched as the the Registrar dutifully appended her immaculate script to each of the copies / originals while she reflected on the days when the whole form had to be filled individually and by hand...

And in her reflections I noted another throw back to the past. The addresses on the certificate contained no post codes. I know that the post codes had been entered upon the machine - so it is by choice that they are not contained upon the form itself - that will annoy the archivists and ancestry chasers in the future when they try to map and google cross-check their records.

So, armed with my copies of the certificates, and the Green Copy for the funeral director to release the body, safely ensconced in the briefcase - we returned from Bob Cratchetland back to the machine - for the "Tell us Once" process. Once again I was impressed, as we listed pensions, driving licences, the blue badge on the car outside, housing benefit, electoral services, social services, war pensions, Work and Pensions ...   All automatically notified by the press of a button .... My carefully researched list of potential notifications speedily reduced with a mouse click.

Forty five minutes and outside the rain had stopped. Computers have changed the tasks required at this time.. but I had to reflect that the manner and attitude of the lady - for she can best be described as a real lady - had made the whole task unexpectedly easy and pressure-less...   Yes, she was unassuming, but I fully believed her passing anecdote that in her work as registrar she also has the task of officiating at weddings. It seems her favourite place for weddings is not in the parking-starved Llanelli Registry Office, but rather at Dan yr Ogof Caves, where, at the end of the caves, floating candles on lily pads can be lit in the pool. Where the voices echo in the candlelight....   and where, though her boss does not approve, she dressed as a witch for a Halloween wedding.  Her long and pointed nose prevented her speaking clearly so had to be lifted on the elastic to her forehead to pronounce "Man and Wife" like an oversize wart.... but I could see the scene in my mind's eye.

Yes - I like the Registrar in Llanelli - Computers and Systems make life far easier - but there is no substitute for the Person....

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