Zombie tries to enter UK

It was to prove a painful experience. My passport is due to expire in June I needed a new photograph.

To be fair, the booklet that accompanies renewal applications says a new picture may not be necessary if you haven’t changed.

I studied my 1990 incarnation carefully… maybe I hadn’t changed. Same perm, same hair dye colour, same specs.

My husband was lolling happily in an armchair, reading the newspaper. What did he think?

“Do you think I need to get a new photo, darling? Have I aged or am I the same now as I was 10 years ago?”

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He jolted into an upright position. He knew he was on the edge of a precipice and that, in front of him, yawned the bottomless black abyss of his wife’s opprobrium. He knew the wrong choice of verb could tip him over the edge. He chose his words carefully; very carefully.

“No, you haven’t changed,” he said slowly, “but it might be as well to have a new photograph done because you’re smiling a bit on this one and you’re not supposed to smile.”

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It was a masterful response, offering the right amount of both reassurance and encouragement.

“Yes, you’re right. I don’t want to be turned back at passport control for looking too happy.”

Is it just the UK or do all countries insist that their citizens look glum?

Having determined that I needed a new picture but definitely not because I look any older, I had to decide, from the tempting alternatives, where to get the pictures taken.

I decided not to go into a photo booth. The last time I went into one – could it have been 10 years ago? – it was an enterprise fraught with difficulty. You wind the seat up or down to get yourself centred and then you try to arrange your face in anticipation of the camera flash, knowing you must not blink. But it seemed to be taking a bit longer than you’d been expecting and you start to wonder if it is working. So you lean forward to check the money hasn’t been returned and that is the moment it decides to snap you.

There is no need to panic. There are another three to go; it will be all right – except that the seat seems to have slipped down a little and the next flash takes a picture of the top of your head. With no time to adjust the height you squat at the correct level, lose your balance and picture three shows you leaving the frame in half profile.

But was the last one three or four? You decide it was four and get up to leave, whereupon the final shot shows your spare tyre and handbag.

Though you want to simply walk away, you have to wait for the pictures to be delivered down the chute outside the booth. There is usually at least one interested passer-by who wants to have a look too.

When they appear, you snatch them up and scrunch them into a ball. No one is ever going to see them.

I understand photo booths are different and digital these days but I decided not to risk it and went to Snappy Snaps or is it Hotty Shots? It’s a shop in the town centre where they take passport photos exactly as required by UK Passport Office (formerly HM Customs and Excise) for a very reasonable price.

I slunk up to the counter and whispered my request.

“You’ll need to take your hat, scarf and jacket off,” said the woman, brandishing her digital camera.

Yes, it was typical British weather for May; perishing cold, windy and looking like rain.

I discarded my outer wear and sat, as directed on a little stool nicely placed by the shop window.

I arranged my face into some sort of order. “Don’t smile,” she directed.

“But it’s the only thing keeping my face up,” I grumbled and set my features into “miserable” mode.

No, I don’t suppose David Bailey has this trouble.

“You’d better take your glasses off.”

With a sense of defeat, I took my glasses off. Thank goodness my teeth are my own.

“Oh, and can you take your fringe off your face, please?”

Unable to see far without my glasses, I peered into the mirror from a distance of three inches and pushed back the wisps of hair covering my worry lines.

By now there were another three people waiting to have their mug shots done – two good-looking young men and a stunningly attractive young woman. It was like walking naked into a room without the aid of a Gok Wan to tell me I am fabulous.

Moments later I was back outside in the Saturday morning bustle of the town centre clutching four identical pictures of a slightly squinty, grim-faced old woman I’d never seen before in my life. I wouldn’t like her if I met her.

I showed them to my husband. “You know what this means, don’t you?”

“What?” he said, his knuckles whitening as they once again clung desperately to the sides of that precipice.

“It means we shall never be able to travel abroad again.”

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