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Wednesday 30 March 2011

The Census

Just in case you are having a little trouble with your census form, here are a few tips to help.

1.First and most important, your census form will be scanned by a machine. Of course, the machine will only be able to handle your form if it is in good physical condition. If the sheets (which will be automatically cut apart from their binding) are sullied in any way which might gum up the machine, the job will have to be done by an actual person, which will cost more and be very slow although it will have the benefit of providing temporary employment for someone. So be very careful with your form, and do not, repeat NOT, spill coffee over it or smear some of the sheets with marmalade.

2.The machine will know which page it's on, and whose form it is reading, by scanning the little barcodes in the bottom right hand corner of each page. So don't, whatever you do, sit idly there filling in the spaces in the barcode with a black pen. You know how it is when your attention wanders and you start doodling. Don't do it.

3.Likewise, the machine will only look for information in the little boxes provided for you to write in. If you make a mistake, and have to cross it out and then put the correct answer outside the box, the machine will be stumped. Nevertheless, we all make mistakes, and if this is what you have to do in order to comply with your legal responsibility, you have little choice. Remember, anything written outside the box will have to be read by a human.

4.Something else that will confuse the scanner is if you absent-mindedly turn the page and write in the boxes upside down, or if you use any peculiar symbols of your own that it can't recognise. So don't do it – unless, of course, your religion requires you to. In this case you probably ought to answer the voluntary question about religion, and add a detailed account of the responsibilities attaching to that particular belief. The census is all about collecting information, after all, so I’m sure they'll be pleased if you give them plenty of it!

5.No doubt when all your personal information is entered into the computer, it will be cross-matched against other information already held by the Stasi thought police kindly and helpful authorities who have only your best interests at heart. If you have made any small errors in the information you have given, this won't work. You know how easy it is to leave a letter out of your name, or get one figure of your telephone number wrong, that sort of thing. To err is human, of course, but I urge you to be very careful and not make any mistakes. And if you do, see previous paragraph.

6.There are one or two questions that cannot be answered honestly and accurately. None of us know with certainty what our ethnic group is, unless we are fanatical family historians and have researched our genealogy for generations past. Even then, if we went far enough back most Europeans would probably have to conclude that their original ethnic group was Aryan, and I believe the Aryans originally came from Northern India, so can they accurately be described as “white” on the form? Really the only honest answer to this question has to be “Don't know”.

7.The form has a big barcode on the front page, and is arranged so that when you put it in the pre-paid envelope, the barcode can be read through the transparent window. If for any reason the barcode can't be read, the package will have to be sorted by hand which will take more time and cost more money, so do make sure the barcode is visible and that you haven't doodled on it. One disastrous scenario which you must avoid is that if the front page of the form became detached (say, by the dog getting it, or your infant child) and you put that in the envelope provided and posted it, the system would log you as having completed the whole questionnaire. But then you would realise your mistake, collect together the remaining sheets, put them in another envelope and send them off. Do make sure you put the right address, and that you don't send a lot of envelopes each with one sheet in, and that you remember to put a stamp on each one. You can imagine the mess it would cause if you made any of these silly mistakes!

I hope you have found these notes helpful, and that we can all play our part in making a mess success of this ridiculously expensive intrusive worthwhile exercise which will be vital to this and future governments in deciding which services we can do without and how much space there is for poor deserving immigrants who need a place to live. I'd like to stress that the reason the form asks how many bedrooms you have and whether you have central heating is NOT because they're planning to billet a couple of Somali families with you.
That would be ridiculous, of course.