Yesterday I had to pay a visit to the local vehicle licensing department. Since I had a lot of time to think, I pondered the origins of the grinding bureaucracy that is this branch of the civil service. I came to the conclusion that the roots of this creaking monolith can be traced back to the early days of the Roman Catholic Church when issues of dogma were being hammered out, because it surely inspired the concept of Purgatory.
Perhaps I’d better explain that according to Catholics, Purgatory is like a giant lobby for the dead waiting to get into Heaven. These are the ones who are not quite bad enough for Hell, but way too sinful to qualify for entry into the Divine Presence – i.e. normal people. You spend an indeterminate length of time there purifying your soul or burning off your Karmic debt or whatever. The duration of your stay generally depends on how bad you were during life, so most people are probably going to be there for a pretty long time. Eventually, when you reach the requisite state of holiness, you are issued with a set of wings and your entrance code to the Pearly Gates.
As I glanced round the licensing department at my fellow sufferers, I realised that we were very much like souls condemned to Purgatory. As we all shuffled slowly forward in the endless lines, every face had a look of numb acceptance. Each time someone reached the front of the queue and was finally allowed to present their petition for release – for a brief, shining moment, you could see a spark of hope. Sadly, despite much paper shuffling and keyboard tapping going on behind the counter, the spark was inevitably and irretrievably quenched by the words, “Sorry, this the wrong form. You need to fill in the yellow* form, okay? Next!”
* essentially, any colour other than the one gripped in the supplicant’s disbelieving hands.