I had to laugh at this - it reminded me of the famous ‘death of Doc Daneeka’ bit in Heller’s novel Catch-22. In order to claim his flight pay, the Doc logs onto flights but doesn’t actually go up in them. He is among a group of airmen who see a flight in trouble - somebody checks the log and…
“Who’s in the plane?”
“McWatt” said Serjeant Knight, “He’s got 2 new pilots up there on a training flight. Doc Daneeka’s up there too.”
“I’m right here”, contended Doc Daneeka.
[They see 2 parachutes come from the plane.]
“Two more to go,” said Sergeant Knight. “McWatt and Doc Daneeka.”
“I am right here, Sergeant Knight,” Doc Daneeka told him plaintively. “I am not in the plane.”
“Why don’t they jump?” Sergeant Knight asked, pleading aloud to himself. “Why don’t they jump?”
“It does not make sense,” grieved Doc Daneeka biting his lip. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
But in the terms of the novel it does make sense - for this is a world in which paperwork matters more than real lives. Recorded as killed, Daneeka’s insurance and USAF pension is paid to his wife, who subsequently refuses to acknowledge him. Like the woman in the newspaper story, he finally realises that, without papers “I’m nothing” - and indeed he gradually just fades into the novel’s background.
Catch-22 is a double-layered satire: first on the American conduct of the war and it’s accompanying profiteering, but via this on the way American society itself was developing - remarkably prescient for a book written in the late 1950s.
My old flying instructor (sadly now deceased) inherited his parents fruit farm where he grew up as a child. It was quite a sprawling landscape.
Right at the back of the farm was a mass of tangled undergrowth which hadn’t been touched since before WWII and underneath it all was an old cottage which had formerly been occupied (before the war) by a farmworker and all but forgotten.
Wishing to leave the farmhouse to his sons, the family rediscovered the cottage and set about hacking away the years of undergrowth and restoring it so that it would provide a useful retirement home for the old man.
In the process of doing all this work, it was decided to inform the LA about it to regularise it as his new address - particularly as there was an old country road which ran down the back of the farm which would serve as the access to the cottage - it just needed clearing as no-one had used it since, thy believed, the war.
What a palaver!
In the local planning office, they had no record of the cottage so asked them when they got planning permission for it. No-one in the family knew, indeed, it probably never had a permission of the sort which exists in modern times but by the look of the cottage, it had been there probably hundreds of years and was truly gorgeous inside it, lovely flag stone floors, a massive fireplace with big heavy oak bressummer and various other significant old-world features.
I left the area before finding out the final chapter in this fascinating story but I do so hope that the LA didn’t require it demolished just because bureaucracy got in the way of bringing back to life something truly magnificent like this old forgotten cottage.
My experience is that if nobody has complained about something within 10 years of its appearance/existance, Planning grants it permission by default.
I complained to Planning that the farmer upstream from my boatyard had created a shore storage facility without planning permission. He had been hauling his own boat out for years and propping it up in a yard but now he had created a fenced compound, access road - all sort.
He managed to persuade Planning that this facility had existed for more than 10 years. Nobody had ever checked. Nobody said him ‘nay’. He was one of the local big-shots - they gave him permission by default of no objections within 10 years
Yossarian - the novel’s central character - spends some time naked in a tree - a sight which the squadron Chaplain believes is a mystical revelation. (It’s a very, very funny book - and full of optimism even while dealing with the darkest of themes.)
On technology, by the way, I’d be interested in your (and @graham’) thoughts on something I find worrying…
The everyday issue with bureaucracy is the rigid application of rules or a formal system without regard to lived reality (as in Graham’s planning permission example). In the case of the French ‘dead’ woman and Catch-22 (and Kafka, etc) this becomes so extreme that the system of rules effectively replaces reality - and this is exactly what happened in the UK Windrush scandal: the state lost the paperwork proving legal residence, then demanded that the immigrants prove legal residence - and would accept no proof (such as dozens of witnesses confirming decades of residence) without the paperwork! Immigration policy by Franz Kafka.
But this is where technology is scary, isn’t it? With services moving entirely online - and maybe processed entirely automatically, and possibly in future using AI - I foresee circumstances in which a quirky personal situation, or some entry error you can’t correct, will leave people with no recourse to a real person who can cut through the coded red tape…
I had an experience with vague similarities to that. At the airport, Nairobi, checking in to our flight back to London after a photo shoot. We had the usual pile of aluminium flight cases. We didn’t expect to pay no overweight at all - some jocular banter and negotiations usually brought the figure down from the one the airline first thought of.
But this was not overweight. This was export duty.
We were going to be charged for every gram, as if we were exporting bananas. The figure was going cosmic. I happened to mutter something along the lines of, “We come here to work with Dr Woods and get hammered taking our equipment home.”
The man on the scales said, “Did you say you have been working with Dr. Woods? Dr Michael Woods?” “Yes”
“Oh! In that case, never mind the export charges - no charges. Come with me. I will arrange for you and your equipment to have priority boarding - no further formalities.”
Dr Woods had created the East African Flying Doctor Service.