I’m returning to the UK tomorrow for my cousin’s wedding in North Wales. It’s the first time for a while that I’ve had a passport that doesn’t look like a handful of rags. After nearly two years of travelling to and from France, I’ve finally got it replaced.
But my new one doesn’t look real. It’s too new. As austere as a sheet of silver. And just as precious. I can’t even take it out of the envelope I received it in. Stored safely at the bottom of my cupboard in a Walker’s Shortbread tin along with my gold bars and an old Van Gogh.
I’m so protective about it that I’m not sure what to do tomorrow when I have to wander down to Perrache at 5.30 in the morning to take the train. Perhaps, I’ll wrap it up in cellophane and tie it to my chest. When they ask me what it is, I’ll say it’s a bomb disguised as a passport and hope they don’t tamper with it.
I could have saved myself the seventy-two quid it cost me to replace it and simply continued to use it. Why not? Nobody has refused me entry so far and if I really was an illegal immigrant, I’d have at least got myself a half-decent looking passport. Not one that looked like the charred remains of a hymn book tied together with string.
It’s made me wonder whether I should rough it up a bit. Splatter it with lemon juice, spill wine over it, bake it in the oven, make it look authentic. Any guard worth his salt would regard it with suspicion, especially as the photo has absolutely no resemblance to the owner. We’re taught as children to smile in front of the camera. So when someone explicitly asks you not to, we freak out. That’s why we always look unhinged, dangerous and nasty in our passports. Not someone you’d want to let into your country.
The thing that’s bothering me though is the bright yellow sticker I saw on the inside cover when I first received it. It advised me to ‘remove it before use.’ And it’s had me worried ever since. What does it do? Does it activate the chip. Alert the authorities that old Oggers is on the move again.
If you live abroad and want a new passport you have to go through your embassy. In my case the British one in Paris. Why? I don’t know. All I do know is that it costs upwards of 200 quid. You get the same passport, but you feel lighter. Financially that is. But you don’t need to do this. You just get someone you know to send you the forms from the UK. You fill them in, send them back to your friends/family who then send them to the passport office. When they receive it back, they pop it in the post to you in France and hey presto. Cheap passport. It’s a bit of a fag. But it works. I think.
Tomorrow is the final test. That’s why the yellow sticker is worrying me a touch. If the chip is activated in France, it might confuse the authorities when I cross back into the UK. Because according to them I haven’t left the UK. So my little scheme might not work…
…But it doesn’t matter. I’ve just noticed on the internet that SNCF are on strike tomorrow. I’ll be lucky to make it to Paris nevermind North Wales. Then again. Paris versus North Wales. Mmm…there’s a thought. Gay Paris in spring. I might not need my passport after all.