Saturday, 7 June 2008

Without let or hindrance

I've been spending a little time over the last few days gazing wistfully at a photograph of a young man. He's a good ten years or so younger than me, slim and youthful, with lustrous dark hair and sideburns.

Don't worry. This isn't that sort of post.

The young man in question is me; my passport is up for renewal and I'd been getting all maudlin about my younger self, looking at my picture circa 1998. Although the illusion was shattered when Katie remarked that I looked quite a bit like Screech from 'Saved by the Bell' in the picture. That was the year we were married, though, which I think says more about her than me.

In just under a month's time, my passport will expire. This would make me nervous if I was one of those exciting successful types who regularly gets calls saying things like, "You're needed in Bogota" or, "There's a situation brewing in our Des Moines field office. Get your arse over there." Brother no. 2 gets this all the time. I keep track of him via his Facebook status updates. Right now he's in Moscow, last month he was in Lisbon, next week - who knows? (He was the one who left school with no A-levels, as he keeps reminding us.)

If I'm very lucky I might get to travel to Wolverhampton. Quite frankly (and with no disrespect to my Black Country brethren) it's not the same thing. However, it means that my passport only gets an airing for leisure purposes.

I was looking through it this morning and, I have to say, it's a poor showing. When I first got this burgundy booklet, I imagined filling its pages with exotic stamps from border guards across the globe. Disappointingly, most of my foreign travel has been to places where they just give it a cursory glance before waving me through, saying, "There you go, Mr Powers." As a result, there were four sets of in-and-out stamps from my visits to the US and one from Malta. Of all the trips to Spain, Greece, France, etc, nary a sign.

Damn you, integration of European immigration standards.

So lunchtime saw us queuing up at the Post Office. Old passports, renewal forms and new photos in hand. And I'm sorry, but that last bit's just cruel. The old giffer in my latest photo looks like he's trying out for Cocoon: This Time It's Personal. I appear to have been visited by the eyebag fairy. There are more chins than the Beijing telephone directory. I did a quick comparison between Screech and FBF 2008 and could have wept.

After a lot of checking, stamping, humming and hah-ing, the clerk told us everything was fine with our applications, the new ones would be about a fortnight and asked us to pay £79 each.

I beg your pardon?

One-hundred-and-sixty notes (near enough) for the privilege of having the following:

Her Britannic Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.

Quite frankly I'm not impressed. Especially as our current Foreign Minister looks like someone you'd ask, "Is mummy in?" if he answered the door to your knock. For £160 I'd want Bravo Two-Zero accompanying me on my foreign travails.

The trouble is, there's no choice, is there? If I want to maintain my international jet-setting lifestyle I need to be able to pass through borders. For some reason, my Blockbuster video membership card doesn't seem to do the trick. And it's not as if there's market competition, either. I can't exactly go to Stelios for my easyPassport - everything done online for pence whilst branded an unfortunate shade of orange. Nope. My loss is the Identity & Passport Office's considerable gain.

It's enough to age you overnight.


Le laquet said...

How bloody much??? Mynyfyrny!!

fatboyfat said...

I know! Flippin' biometrics...


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