Sunday, 8 November 2015


You go in for a driving licence and the next thing you know...

Living in the West of Ireland, I find myself wearing a smile on the most unlikely of occasions.

Recently I dealt with bureaucracy, in the shape of both the National Driver Licence Service and the car insurance industry. Chuckling after each encounter, I felt very aware that this is the only country 
 I’ve lived in where you end up happy, even when things go wrong.

Needing a new driver’s licence I went online and booked an appointment for 10:30 on a Friday morning, at the NDLS office in Ballybane.

‘Aha!’ I thought to myself smugly. ‘I’ve booked it late enough to be on the safe side of the traffic, but I’ve lived here long enough now to know how it works. Galway doesn’t like early mornings, so I’ll go down there at 9:30 and it’ll be empty.’

But no, this Englishman got it wrong again. When asked, I describe myself as a Jewish Atheist-Pantheist mutant, yet I was raised and socialised in the predominantly Protestant society of 60s and 70s England.

When we English gather in Ireland we have been known to joke about Irish punctuality and efficiency, yet still we choose to live here, because your way is better for the soul.

Arriving at the NDLS at 9:30 I climb the stairs to find a surprising amount of people already sitting in the waiting room. There are two types: walk-ins and those who have made online bookings. 

The walk-ins are moving through fast, while online bookers have to wait until the appointed time.

Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!

Got it wrong again. There I was thinking I’d been all thinking like a local type of thing, when in fact I’d been completely entrenched in my English upbringing. Mister Free’n’Easy thought he was pretty bloomin’ Irish arriving earlier than his online booking, taking a chance like, ‘cos that’s what they do, isn’t it, like?

No. What Galwegians do is drop in and get seen an hour before this über-efficient maker of online bookings.

An hour to kill is not the worst challenge in life. Right on time I’m called to a booth and spend a delightful ten minutes sitting the other side of thick glass to friendly woman who has to deal one-to-one with the public all day, every day.

Somehow she manages to chat easily, smiles and when I ask if I still have my bike license she teases me:

“Yes, up to 125cc.”

After much spluttering and grumbling from my side of the glass (I felt a little like Billy Hayes in Midnight Express), she laughs again:

“No, it’s a full bike licence, so you can go and buy yourself a Harley Davidson, and while you’re at it, use your spare change to buy me a red Hog for myself.”

Walking out of the office I realised I was feeling happy. There had been not an ounce of flirtation in our communication; simply good old-fashioned gentle craic.

In another land not far away that person might well have been exhausted, sarcastic and haggard as they tried to meet unrealistic targets.

Here we’re still human, more often than not.

While still in the warm fallout of this realisation, I also needed to insure a car for a couple of weeks. It never occurred to me that might present a problem. I was just going through a rare and financially inconvenient time, as I’d bought a new (well, second hand) car before I’d managed to sell my old one.

After calling Aviva to transfer my insurance to the new car, I explained my situation and asked for a quote for the other car, for 2 weeks, just Fire and Theft, as I didn’t need to drive it.

“We don’t do short term insurance. Sorry.”

Really? Oh, well okay, I’ll just Google it and get sorted.

20 minutes later, I’m at a loss. No big insurance brands offer an option for anything less than a year. One company actually claims to specialise in short term car insurance in Ireland, so off I go to its website and yes, hooray, everything I’m looking for.

Well, no, Not quite. All the words say the right thing, but to get a quote the site tells me to click on the button on the right of the page.

There is no button upon which to click.

Sod this for a game of soldiers. I’ve got to trust these people, but if their website’s dodgy, I’m not going to hand over any of my hard-earned green folding.

Pressing on regardless, I call a firm of insurance brokers I’ve dealt with for years. If anyone can find two week’s cover for my motor, it’ll be that crew.

Five minutes later, I’m listening to Gerry explain how no such product exists.

“Come on Gerry. I’m not the first person to be in this situation. There must be countless people out there who haven’t sold their cars before they’ve bought another, but you’re telling me all those people have to leave their cars outside, uninsured. It’s madness!”

“There’s no logic in insurance, Charlie!” offers Gerry, at which point I laugh out loud at the irony of it all.

Laughing himself, he then offers: “You can quote me on that!”

to which I immediately caution: “Oh I don’t think so! I’m a newspaper columnist.”

“Ah sure, you don’t know my last name!”

“But really Gerry, I can’t believe I have to leave this car uninsured until I sell it.”

“Is it parked off the road, Charlie?”

“Yeh, it’s inside the fence. I know nothing’s going to happen to it, but if it did get nicked or burst into flames, I’d feel pretty stupid. I’m just trying to be sensible here.”

“Ah well, stop trying to be sensible!” advises the man who works for an insurance broker. 

“Is that it Gerry? Am I just being too sensible?” 

“You are Charlie!” he agreed, and we both roar with laughter.

It’s absurd, confounding and hilarious: that’s why I love life here.

©Charlie Adley

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