Magazine article The Spectator

Passport Control

Magazine article The Spectator

Passport Control

Article excerpt

On the basis that nothing is simple any more, I knew that renewing my passport was going to be a feat of mental and emotional endurance. However, I had not expected it to turn into an image consultation with the world's most insulting women.

One of them, I hasten to point out, was a machine. A passport photo machine. Have you been in one of these recently? It is a breathtakingly rude piece of equipment. I remember sitting in a photo booth the last time I got a passport and having no more interaction with the strong arm of the state other than being told to adjust the stool up or down and press the button when I was ready. The photo popped out five minutes later, slightly sticky but apart from that - and the fact that I was wearing the startled rabbit expression traditional for passport pictures at that time - there was really nothing to complain about.

From the moment I entered the uberphotobooth at the Identity and Passport Service (they don't call it the Passport and Identity Service because that would make its acronym too accurate) I knew I was in trouble. The seat was not a swirly stool but a complicated-looking bench which I nearly dismantled in an attempt to bring it up to where a person of 5ft 3 might get her face in the frame.

This was when the second rudest woman in the world came in. She was dressed in a frightening grey uniform covered in epaulets and badges. 'No, no, you don't need to do that, ' she said, pulling back the curtain without so much as a by-your-leave. (Well, I might have been using the booth surreptitiously to tighten a bra strap for all she knew. ) 'The bench doesn't move, the camera moves.'

'Fine, thanks very much, ' I said, motioning at her to get out. I stared at the instructions, which referred to a control panel filled with different coloured buttons that looked so complex I half expected pushing one might launch me into outer space or set off a nuclear warning system.

It was so weird I didn't get beyond putting the £5 coins in before the woman pulled the curtain back again. 'Know what you're doing?'

'Not really, ' I said.

'Right, select your photo type here. . . ' and she pressed a lot of buttons, 'and then adjust the camera like so. . . ' and she whizzed the lens up and down by manipulating various arrows, 'and then. …

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