When you go to register your baby’s birth, there’s a little sign on the desk at the registry office that specifies, quite politely, that any information you omit to supply, or any false information you do supply, is FRAUD and a CRIME and GOING TO CONDEMN YOU TO THE SLAMMER. It says this at fairly great length, and as we sat opposite the registrar to get The Bird her official identity I found myself unable to tear my gaze from this sign. How often does identity fraud start at birth, I wondered? Are there lots of babies getting elaborate secret identities from the very moment they enter the world? I pictured a moustache-twirling baby, a baby Napoleon of crime, pulling the wool over the eyes of all officialdom. But really, they already cross-reference all birth registrations with hospital records, so I imagine it’s harder to pull a total fast one than you might think. They have the mother’s NHS number, so that kind of fixes her identity, and the hospital-recorded date of the baby’s birth has to match up with the one you supply. Faking stuff regarding the father must be easier, of course: you could pretty much come up with any old cobblers there. I expect it’s mostly done as part of an immigration or citizenship con. They hadn’t asked us for any documentary proof of anything we’d told them, so — I realized quite abruptly that everything in the room had gone quiet. I looked up. The registrar was frowning at me. It dawned on me slowly that she had obviously asked a question. It dawned on me also that my eyes were blinking out of sync with one another.
The Bird was about a month old, waking at least five times each night, and I was just entering a new tier of sleeplessness. I’d been through the ‘wired’ stage, where you’ve not slept but you’re so jittery and adrenaline-pumped that you don’t need to, and in fact feel more energetic than ever. That’s the stage where you manically bake cakes, and rashly initiate ambitious blogging projects, and whatnot. I’d been through the ‘snappish’ stage, where you are your normal self but grumpier and shorter-fused — the kind of tired I’d sometimes been before having kids, after a week of late nights and early starts. Now I was forging ahead into the ‘disassociative’ phase, where the bits of your brain that observe and the bits of your brain that act begin to route all of their communications between each other via a 1930s telephone exchange. All of which meant that, sitting here in front of this sign about how very legally liable I was for everything I said in this room, I was acting as suspiciously as it is possible to act.
We hadn’t got off to a great start with the registrar, who quite clearly didn’t think much of the name we’d chosen for The Bird. I expect that at Registrar School they discourage you from judging the names (at least openly), but there are limits to everyone’s endurance, and we were pushing our luck by bestowing on The Bird three given names, all of them a bit… I don’t know… Cath Kidston. The third one, which is incriminatingly foreign-sounding, we had to spell out, and as we did so the registrar pitched the volume of her sigh just perfectly, loud enough that we couldn’t miss it but quiet enough to preserve absolutely plausible deniability that it had happened at all. And now I was quite clearly away with the fairies, and staring fairly obviously at this sign in a rather suspect manner.
“I’m sorry?” I asked.
She pointed to my hand, where I realized I was holding a print-out of all the information we’d just supplied. I don’t remember how this print-out got there. “Are you happy for all of the information here to be entered on your daughter’s birth certificate?” She paused significantly. “After we print the certificate, there’s a charge to change it.”
A charge, repeated my treacle-infused brain, which was drifting back from another quick read through the sign. Rhinos charge. And prosecutors.
I forced my eyes to focus on the form. The names were spelled correctly; The Bird’s new la-di-dah ones and The Bloke’s even more outré one. So were the places of birth. The dates were right. Our occupations. Then, my gaze caught on my own name. It was right, but — I glanced back at the sign. The sign stared back at me.
I looked up, and met the registrar’s expertly-calibrated patient-but-not-really-patient expression. “I’m really sorry,” I told her. “But I’ve given you my name wrong.”
See, I’ve got this middle name (in fact, I have two — who does that, right?) that I sort of deliberately forget about in the course of general life because it’s sort of embarrassing, but it also is very much on my birth certificate, and there was the sign. Looking at me. With just as much contempt as the registrar now was.
Telling her my full name didn’t thaw her mood much, since this embarrassing middle name is sufficiently embarrassing as to be kind of implausible. She looked now as though she wondered if she were on some kind of candid camera show, with a gurning host about to jump out and laugh at the fool she’d made of herself for recording this nonsense on a birth certificate. I guess she concluded in the end that the joke, if there were one, would be on me, and she wrote it down and reprinted The Bird’s first official identity document. I could feel her stare on me as we shuffled out of the registry office, and my brain suggested that right at that moment she might be pushing some kind of identity-fraud panic button on the desk, and that hordes of SOCA officers would be swarming in the car park in seconds.
They weren’t. But now that The Bird was official, we took her up on top of a nearby earthwork overlooking our city and held her up to the sky like at the beginning of the Lion King. Because that day still clearly had room to fit in one last Ridiculous Thing to do.