Class conscious

My wife is applying for a photocard driving licence, and therefore must obtain the signature of either "an MP, a minister of religion, a professionally qualified person (eg, doctor, engineer, lawyer or teacher), a local councillor, a bank officer, police officer or someone of similar standing" to confirm that she is who she says she is.

This business of seeking a referee is a perennial annoyance, especially for middle-class people who secretly feel themselves to be of equivalent status to the ones on whom society has conferred the mantle of trustworthiness. The mantle does seem to have been conferred very arbitrarily. Clearly, for example, we hacks (my wife and I are both journalists) are excluded on the grounds that we are the most appalling liars. It seems strange, therefore, that lawyers are on the list, at least until you remember the crucial difference: that they wear nice, smart suits and ties.

I was just moaning to my wife about this, when she suddenly reminded me that I am a lawyer, having qualified as a barrister ten years ago. But the elation of the moment was swiftly displaced by another glum thought: why has no one asked me to give them a reference? I would consider the implied deference of anyone approaching me to do so as reward enough - something I wish I could say for the GPs in our local group practice, who charge £20 if you want them to endorse your bona fides.

They would argue that this charge was to deter people from asking, so that they could get on with curing the sick - in which case they ought not to object if I pin up my own sign in the lobby of their practice offering, for a mere fiver, the imprimatur of a professional to anyone within my wide local acquaintance. I bet vicars never charge for supplying their signatures. They wouldn't dare. I myself am a lifelong friend of a vicar, and he, very graciously, has supplied me with numerous character references, although I feel my calls on him have been so frequent that the transaction is becoming rather sordid. I feel, in fact, like a junkie who knows a chemist, and leans on him repeatedly for hard drugs.

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Meet the people who make Tony Blair sweat