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Rutland columnist Allan Grey on his wait for a new passport

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Rutland columnist Allan Grey asks: Have you been living in dread, knowing that before long you will need to renew your driving licence, your bus pass, or more critically your passport, having let things slide during the damnpenic?

Have you been losing sleep following all the horror stories of families arriving at Gatwick Airport, only to find their passports are not valid, and having their longed for holiday in fun loving Torremolinos cancelled, seemingly at the whim of post-Brexit EU bureaucracy.

“Sorry, I know it says the expiry date is four months hence, but it’s more than 10 years from the issue date, and as you are now considered Johnny Foreigner, the Spanish computer says ‘No Way José’, but we hear it’s a nice fresh 15 degrees in Skeggy today. Adios!”

Allan Grey is holiday ready with his new blue passport
Allan Grey is holiday ready with his new blue passport

So what to believe, the vast array of anxiety activating anecdotes, or the sterile state statistics, difficult to know. The fact is that five million people delayed renewing their passport during covid, and there is now a massive backlog to clear, with long delays being experienced, especially for children's passports.

Well the lovely lady and I have travels away from the UK planned over the coming year, and have spent hours Googling for all we’re worth, trying to work out when would be the best time to apply for new passports. We know that we need three months validity at the end of a trip, we know that the accepted expiry date of 10 years from the issue dates of our passports will be April next year, and we know from statements on the gov.uk passport website that we need to allow at least 10 weeks for the application to be processed before receiving our new passports.

So the $64,000 question, when shall we apply? Answer: Well it was back at the beginning of May, at which point we had 16 weeks before our next trip, the biggest gap between trips over the next 12 months.

Allan Grey at Everest
Allan Grey at Everest

Next decision, apply online, or via the Post Office ‘check and send’ service, and then a further decision, take our own photos, or visit a photobooth and get the famous code, our stress levels rising on a daily basis.

Well, having seen the photograph of a friend taken in a local photo booth, turning an average looking bloke into a demonic looking psychopath, we decided we’d risk it and take our photos at home and apply online. First of all find a light, plain background somewhere at home, somewhere that will illuminate you, but without casting even a millimetre of shadow; remove your glasses, your jewellery, wear minimal make-up, OK, if I must, and wipe that silly smirk off your face.

After numerous iterations standing in front of our plain grey refrigerator, two photos taken via my mobile phone are uploaded as part of the online application process. Now here’s the clever part of a pretty smart government website - when the photo is uploaded a digital dial is displayed, one third red, one third yellow, and one third green, and if the needle swings round to anywhere in the green, you get a message to say that your mugshot hasn’t scared anyone witless, doesn’t match anyone on Interpol’s database and will most likely be acceptable, job done.

At the end of each application, we receive an acknowledgement and a message telling us where to send our old passports. Down to the Post Office the next morning, and two old passports are sent to two separate addresses in Liverpool by recorded delivery; a days later, Royal Mail tracking confirms both passports have been delivered successfully.

And then comes the wait, the anxiety mounting, but just two days later a message from the Passport Office confirms my old passport has been received, but it’s another seven nail-biting days before the lovely lady receives a similar message, but still, reasonable progress and impressive communication.

Then the ordure hits the fan, computer says we both need to submit another photo, as ours have greatly offended the International Civil Aviation Authority. Once again we try to find the right location, but this time we use a proper camera with exposure controls, but under no circumstances do we use the shadow producing flash. After 15 attempts, each one uploaded, and rejected by the digital dial, plus an explanation: ‘Sorry your photo is in black and white’ - well no it isn’t; ‘Sorry your face has got no eyes’ - well yes it has; ‘Sorry you are seriously ugly’ - well OK, fair cop, but that would preclude half the population from travelling abroad. Eventually the computer grudgingly accepts a photo of each of us, and a day later a message says our applications have been approved and our passports will be on their way shortly.

Next we receive a message from TNT, the company with the contract to deliver our brand new blue passports, telling us they will be arriving in a day or two, and then next day another message to tell us they will be arriving securely between 10am and 10pm, and before you know it, there they are, totally insecure, not signed for, laying on the doormat in our porch, for both of us inside three weeks.

Whether or not we made the right decisions along the way, I cannot fault the service provided. The online process was very smooth and simple to use, the dodgy digital dial on balance quite effective, and the communication first class. As so often these days with many issues, the media make great press from a few anecdotes of angst, whilst the statistics might tell a different story. Then, of course, this story is just another anecdote, fortunately not of angst, but of approval, and at long last satisfaction from a government agency.

Wait! It’ll soon be time to renew our bus passes... with Rutland County Council, and, I expect the council website will say: “Bus passes are taking longer than usual to arrive due to monkeypox.”

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