Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: Passports? Don’t care. I’ve seen the world. I can take it or leave it
PUBLISHED: 12:42 01 January 2018 | UPDATED: 12:42 01 January 2018
By now you will have heard that from October, 2019, the old dark blue British passports will be replacing the burgundy-coloured Euro passports of the past three decades.
Strangely enough, I was able to locate seven of my eight passports. The one missing carries the most interesting tale, illustrating vividly how much things have changed in the wonderful world of travel.
April 21, 1990, was a Saturday. I’d been staying at the punk star Captain Sensible’s house in Brighton, working on songs, when he mooted the prospect of a French trip. His new record label was putting on a promotional showcase in Paris. He planned to depart that Monday. Also on board would be our colleague TV Smith, formerly of The Adverts.
Reminding me that since I too had a forthcoming release on the Deltic label, the Captain asked me if I fancied going along.
There’d be a week’s residency in a club on the Pigalle, some press and radio interviews and much fun, he warranted.
This sudden invitation appealed to me. I’d recently had a massive row, culminating in a short scuffle, by being bitten by a dog and much use of the forthright language often heard in my native county.
In short, there was currently nothing to go home for. Yet, I had no current passport.
“That’s all right,” said Sensible, brightly. “Get a 12-month British Visitor’s Passport from the Post Office.”
This document, which existed from the 1960s to the mid-90s, was a buff-coloured glorified photocard.
It was valid for a year in Western Europe, Tunisia, Turkey and Bermuda. To acquire one in a hurry, I’d need two sources of ID, one with a picture, along with two photo-booth pictures.
On a Saturday morning I managed to scrape in with a building society passbook, a Network Railway card and an album cover with my photo on.
“That’s me,” I told the post office clerk. “I live in Essex, usually, and it was all that came immediately to hand.” After some deliberation she issued the passport. We sailed from Newhaven, bound for Dieppe, first thing on Monday.
The subsequent tales of derring-do will have to wait for another time. The salient fact here is that in April, 1990, I acquired a temporary passport using only an Alliance & Leicester passbook, a railcard and an album cover. It could never happen now.
My first full passport, however, was issued by The British High Commission in Singapore, February, 1966. Look at it. I am 12 years old. I have a headache. My mum has plastered my attempted Beatle fringe firmly down with half a pot of Brilliantine. I am sporting an itchy cardigan and feeling mightily hacked off.
My second passport was issued in February, 1975. My hairstyle in this second snap ensured that for the next decade British Customs – sometimes Special Branch – turned me over nearly every time I returned from abroad. I was regularly taken aside, searched and questioned. Probably because I “looked the type”.
I became so fed up that eventually I took the battle to them, my defiant behaviour stopping just short of making me arrestable. Finally, after 12 years, they stopped picking on me and I ceased using their customs halls as cabaret venues.
In 1987 my band flew to Hamburg for a concert. I used a Visitor’s Passport. It was the last time I was ever turned over.
Worth noting is that I’ve never had problems with any customs authority other than the British.
I’m now on my third 10-year Euro-passport. I may not renew it. Call me eccentric but I don’t particularly care if I leave England again.
Travel, passports, tickets, permits, visas and everything pertinent to the acquiring of them has blighted my life.
I am pig-sick of sitting in airports, on docks, on stations or hanging around in customs halls, answering stupid questions. I’d rather just not go anywhere.
My last skirmish ensued in 1995, after a long airport hold-up, when an official barked “Sign your passport”. I looked at him and said, “I’ll tell you something, Mister. I didn’t want this passport. I resented paying for it. I don’t even want to be on this trip. I’ve had enough. You want it signed?” He nodded crossly. “You sign it, then,” I said. He stared at me in disbelief. I shrugged and walked off. I waited for the heavy hand on my shoulder. It never came. He’d been rude to me. I was insolent back, that’s all. It’s how I go on. I don’t care whether the passports are burgundy or blue. I’ve seen the world now. I can take it or leave it.