A joyous task I had to accomplish this week, before travelling back to Dubai from London, was renewing my passport – and this time, I was determined to get it right. The story about when I totally messed up, and attempted to fly from the US to the UK, with a three-month-old baby, on an expired passport, I’ll save for another time. Suffice to say, after securing a brand-new passport for my newborn, the instant wipe out of 40 per cent of my brain cells meant the demise of my own got overlooked, and, yes, I can still picture the way the colour drained from DH’s face at the check-in counter when he realised my error.
I always tell DH that I’ve learnt from this mistake, so he did snigger when, having spent the past six months warning me that my British passport was running out of space, I discovered you can’t just waltz up and ask for more pages. I needed a whole new passport. The nice lady at her Majesty’s office told me I could pay the princely sum of £137 to obtain a jumbo document, using their fast-track appointment service. Didn’t sound too difficult, and it didn’t even need to be countersigned by a police superintendent / magistrate / local Mayor.
Even so, I laboured over filling out the form, which had to be done beforehand. I got my mother to check it, and as I signed my name in that boxy thingy where you absolutely cannot go over the line, I’m quite sure I stopped breathing and nearly chewed my lip off.
All was going remarkably smoothly – by that I mean getting to London in icy weather with a broken rail en route and finding the office on time – when an unexpected hitch occurred. My passport officer, let’s just call him J, wasn’t convinced I was the same person as the smilier younger version pictured in my existing passport.
J looked at me sagely, his eyes boring into mine. He squinted at my new photo, held it against the old picture. Tutted. Compared them again in a different light. And several seconds later, called his supervisor over. “It’s me,” I wanted to tell them. “So the hair’s a totally different colour, there’s a few more fine lines, my eyes look different (less red-rimmed this time due to not crying over thwarted travel plans). But both photos are ME!” How much older and saggier do I really look, was what I really wanted to know.
The supervisor eyeballed me carefully, and I started nervously shifting my weight from one foot to the other.
“Smile,” she barked. “Don’t smile.”
“Now smile again – mouth open.”
I must have looked like an absolute loon, standing there alternating between toothy, open mouthed grin, closed lip grin, and menacing grimace.
Thankfully, she was satisfied.
Turns out it was the cheesy smile in my old photo that was making me unrecognisable. Since getting that done, travellers have been ordered
to look like criminals not to look too happy in their passport photographs to avoid confusing facial recognition scanners.
So, all together now: 1-2-3 SEETHE!