Thursday, March 15, 2007

Passport hell

Dennis Shasha, academic, author and the series editor for my first book, has very kindly invited me over to Paris for a week to do some work. Of course, my wife and daughter were also invited, and we thought it would be a chance to introduce Alice to the city where her parents enjoyed their honeymoon (during the heatwave of 2003 - even less romantically, we thought it might also be a chance to get some rather messy but necessary work done on the house in our absence).

As is common in our household, various arrangements had been left until the last minute, the most significant one being passports for my wife and daughter. Luckily, one of the regional centres that deals with fast-track (ie. within two weeks) applications is just down the road in Liverpool, so I made an appointment to go over there today. Which is where the fun started.

The regulations concerning the acceptability of photographs for use on passports are fairly relaxed for children under five, but they still specify things like "no other person visible in the background". If you've ever tried to get a 12-month old to sit still, in a photo booth, looking in the vague direction of the camera, whilst remaining invisible yourself, then you'll know what we're up against. A couple of days ago, my wife had the following taken:

Which we thought would be fine. How little we knew. We dropped into our local Post Office on the way to Liverpool, just to double-check that the photo would be acceptable. "No", was the quick response, since Justine's arm is clearly visible in the background. Cue quick dash to Morrisons and frantic changing of notes into pound coins.

Our first effort wasn't too bad, in a moody, My Bloody Valentine album cover sort of way. But nowhere near good enough to satisfy the sticklers at the passport agency. So we tried again.

Away with the fairies. So we tried again.

Too blurred, face in the wrong part of the shot, looking down. By this point, we'd burned through 12 quid, I'd lost all feeling in my legs from kneeling on the floor of the photo booth, and we were in severe danger of missing our pre-booked appointment. So we decided to just get there and then worry about it.

Sure enough, the lovely (and I don't mean that sarcastically, they really were lovely, accomodating and helpful) people in Liverpool told us that none of the photos would be acceptable, but they had their own photo booth for just such an eventuality. They also passed on some wisdom on how to control toddlers whilst remaining invisible, thus sticking to the rules. Which is how we came to get this (acceptable!) shot:

If you look closely, you can see that Alice is actually sitting on my lap. That's me, in the background. Wearing a white T-shirt over my head.

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