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DVLA: Licensed to drive me round the bend?

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-14-39-57OF LATE, this Herald reporter has been suffering from assorted driving licence complaints, very nasty at my time of life. In the English of England, by the way, licence with a ‘c’ is a noun and license with an ‘s’ is a verb. So, before learning to drive, you apply for a provisional driving licence, but the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) must license you to drive. I would have made a great English teacher, I think. But what about in the US, you ask? Don’t go there. My geography is not great. 

Now, I was very fond of my old pink driving licence, folded into its crumbling, brittle with age plastic wallet. Occasionally, I’d take it out and look at the signature of that young man, just a couple of weeks past his seventeenth birthday, who’d passed his test first time and signed on the dotted line with a shaking hand. In those days in Llandrindod there was only one roundabout and during the test we had to pretend we were approaching a set of traffic lights because there weren’t any. You did, though, have to watch out for horse drawn drays bearing loose hay. Passing my test was aided in that, for my rigorously scientific eye-test, the examiner asked me to read the registration number of my own Ford Anglia, one of only two cars parked in the street. The other, a Hillman Imp, belonged to a cousin of mine.

Anyway, move with the times, isn’t it. So at the designated moment, I relinquished Lily, the pink driving licence, and got my new modern plastic photo card. And a scrappy old piece of green paper that I had to carry around as well, the law stated.

Oh well, ours not to reason why. So I folded that scrap of green paper and carried it around in my wallet for years, though I never grew at all fond of it.

Then, a few months back, I was in the process of hiring a minibus for a trip to London to protest against Trident and I proudly produced my plastic driving licence card and unfolded the requisite piece of green paper, tattered and much the worse for wear having shared a wallet compartment with a toothpick, a self-tapping screw and a Murray Mint (‘too good to hurry’, it’d been there for years). “Oh, we don’t need that anymore,” the woman hiring out the minibus told me. Here I must avoid naming the hiring company in the interests of commercial fair play: No free advertising in the Herald! Suffice to say, it was Talybont’s largest minibus hiring venture.

“What do you mean you don’t need it?” I demanded, brandishing the tatty green shred of paper. Did this woman have any idea how difficult it had been over the years for a simple soul like me not only not to lose one thing, not only not to lose two, but to keep two things together in close proximity for times such as this?! What if the police stopped me, would I still need the green parchment then? “No,” the woman reassured me. “But your licence is almost out of date and you’ll have to get it renewed or they’ll fine you a £1000” Well, when you put it like that.

THE NEW NEW LICENSE

A couple of months after the minibus trip to London, where we had a lovely time and met some nice people but failed to stop the Westminster parliament eventually voting to renew Britain’s abominable nuclear weapons system, I remembered to check into renewing my driving licence. The main reason the DVLA stated for renewal was so that my license would bear a ‘recent and true likeness’ of me, ‘in sharp focus and clear’. When I came to fill in the form, though, I was pleased to find I could also renew my license online – without having a new photograph taken or posting anything off at all. As that saved me a trip into Aberystwyth to find one of those photo booths (do they still exist?) or someone who would snap my unsmiling visage in the back of a shop somewhere, a process that always seemed to involve an umbrella and an arc lamp, I was quite pleased.

Online, though, I was slightly mystified to find that the image on my new driving licence would be the same one as on my passport – apparently the DVLA has access to that data. All well and good, except that my passport photograph was much older, much less a true likeness and much less sharp and clear than the photo on the driving licence I already had! In fact, the photo in my passport bears a striking resemblance to a latter day Little Richard wearing a nylon stocking over his head and seen through what used to be called a peas-souper fog on a dark night. Still, if it saved me a trip into town and the price of a new photo and a postage stamp, and it kept the DVLA happy, so be it: press ‘Continue’. Pay £14 and Bob’s your uncle! (And Little Richard’s your twin brother).

INSULT TO INJURY 

In time, my new licence arrived in the post, all pink and plastic and very little different except for the murky grey Little Richard photograph on the front. But hang on, what was this across the way from the image of the aged rock and roller? A Union Jack!

But wasn’t I from Wales and living in Wales? Hadn’t we had devolution for longer even than I’d held on to the green half of my old driving licence? Wasn’t the DVLA in Swansea? This didn’t seem right at all. But what was to be done?

ENTER THE DRAGON! 

Unbeknownst to me, the UK Government had decided back in 2014 that the Union Jack would appear on all new drivers licences in England, Wales and Scotland (good luck with that up there, by the way!). So, this wasn’t some post-Brexit triumphalism on behalf of the DVLA then, as I’d initially suspected. In January this year, a well-known publishing company in Wales decided to physically challenge the Government’s decision by producing Red Dragon stickers to cover up the Union Jack. This news had completely passed me by until my mate Ben tuned me. He’s very good with IT and confused senior citizens. Coincidentally, the publishing company in question is to be found just a few yard down the road from Talybont’s largest minibus hiring venture. This little town is clearly a big player. Fflur Arwel, Y Lolfa’s head of marketing, told me: “We decided to produce these stickers with the aim of giving people the choice. We believe it is completely unfair that Britishness is being imposed upon us in this way. People are not given the choice to declare their nationality nor show that they are proud to be Welsh.”

One of Y Lolfa’s customers, Meurig Parri, wrote to the DVLA after he received his licence, complaining that: “My new licence arrived with the Union Jack on it. I am Welsh, and the flag of my nation is the Red Dragon, not the Union Jack. This is a purely political move, by using a document that should be completely apolitical.” The DVLA responded, explaining that the decision taken by the Westminster government to include the Union Jack on driving licences was ‘to strengthen national unity’.

Meurig Parri was not happy with the explanation, however: “My nation is Wales. If I have any feeling of ‘national unity’, it will be towards Wales – not Great Britain!”

Well, I’m with Meurig on this one; if I have any feelings of national unity… But what happens if I cover the Union Jack with Y Ddraig Goch and the police stop me?

Speaking about the legality of using the stickers, Y Lolfa told me: “The stickers do not change, damage or impact any information presented on the licence – they only cover the Union Jack. The licence remains valid even with the stickers.” However, the DVLA does warn drivers not to change their licences as this could lead to difficulties with ‘the authorities’. Back in January, though, a spokesman for the DVLA declined to comment on whether sticking Y Ddraig Goch over the Union Jack would invalidate the licence.

FLYING OFF THE SHELVES

Now, I’m widely known as an obedient citizen who is respectful of authority, so what was I to do? I’m no hero, no Gwynfor Evans, I don’t want any trouble. But the matter was taken out my hands – literally – when some unknown entity spirited my licence away from me and just did the dreaded deed. I expect MI5, MI6 or the Household Cavalry to break down my door at any moment. It’s the tower for me, sure as eggs, and throw away the key! Luckily, I probably won’t be alone. A photograph on this page shows Haverfordwest-born actor and Super Furry Animal Rhys Ifans obviously celebrating that he now only needs to carry one driving licence. And look, the phantom dragon sticker has got to his licence too!

Since their release, Y Lolfa publishers and printers have sold more than 5,000 packs of stickers. So, are they flying off the shelves? Fflur Arwel again: “We received a very positive response to our campaign since its launch and the stickers have been in great demand. People clearly feel very strongly about this and do not feel represented by the Union Flag – nor that their Welsh nationality is being respected. The people of Wales have chosen their own flag over the Union flag.” Sticeri Draig Goch can be purchased direct from Y Lolfa (www.ylolfa.com) or ‘from all good bookshops’, although actually in Aberystwyth I could only find them in Siop y Pethe.

A pack of six red dragon stickers costs just £2.

Anyone who buys a pack of red dragon stickers only for one to ghost its way onto their driving licence will be left with five stickers (I would have made a great Maths teacher too). Can Herald readers perhaps suggest creative ways of using these spare stickers? Finally, as I look at my newly beautified driving licence, which I am already very fond of, I feel a chill pass over me as I spot trouble ahead. No, not the Household Cavalry this time. Hovering above Little Richard’s fuzzy head is another flag. It is the flag of Europe, ‘a circle of 12 golden stars on an azure background’.

Right in the middle of the circle of golden stars, starkly printed in middle- England Brexit white, is ‘UK’. When the UK follows through on its vote to leave the EU, I’m guessing our driving licences will have to change again. Best to hold onto one or two of those red dragon stickers, then, fellow rock and rollers.

About the author

Dayne Stone

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