Maeve Higgins on...getting a national insurance number
Life & Style

Maeve Higgins on...getting a national insurance number

CLAP your hands three times if you have a hard time remembering numbers!

I just clapped twice, so you know I’m one of you.

We’re an unlucky bunch, us numerically challenged bozos, because these days there’s an awful lot of numbers to remember. It’s a crazy world of swirling digits, but I’m not without hope — some numbers are burned into my brain.

My birthday is the 24th, my parents are three times more likely to worry if I call them too often as opposed to too rarely and my physical dimensions are 22-55-22.

In order to work here in good old Britain, I had to get the Big Daddy of all numbers: a National Insurance number. I do need to work, because I am still unmarried and I need money to buy bonnets and lipstick enough to remedy that, by enticing someone into marriage with my fancy femininity.


So I phoned the National Insurance number number and got an appointment for an interview on Camden High Street. I asked what the interview would be about and was told it would be about ‘my circumstances’.

Doesn’t that sound scary?

I showed up at the Camden Town Job Centre with my paperwork and a carefully rehearsed version of ‘my circumstances’ including the fail proof line: “I’ve got an auntie in Lewisham who can lend me money.”

maeve higgins-n Maeve Higgins

Hordes of people stood outside, looking confused and speaking a dozen different languages. The fire alarm was going off. Such a thrill, to live in a country where people take fire alarms seriously!

I joined what I thought was a queue but turned out to be a Spanish family having a picnic. Just as they finished the tortilla, the alarm stopped and everyone filed in. I showed my passport and appointment letter to a security man and he sent me upstairs.


After a long wait, mainly spent avoiding eye contact with an intense Armenian baby glaring at me from her pram, my name was called. A smiley, softly-spoken woman asked me what I planned on doing while I was here.

When you want to work in Britain, an EU passport makes pretty much everything much easier, as does speaking English. These two things, which I take for granted every day, struck me as a privilege that morning. I told her I was a comedy writer and I hoped to get work writing comedy.

She asked me if I liked Blackadder and I said I did, though in truth I can’t really remember it. Then she said: “One day we may see your name in the credits of Blackadder!” and I didn’t explain to her that they stopped writing Blackadder in the 1980s.

I just said brightly, “I hope so!” and skipped out of the building.

My brand new, impossible to remember, National Insurance number arrived in the post today. I don’t yet know how to celebrate it. Get a cake? A tattoo? A job? What I do know is, I’m lucky to have it.