This is about the time of year when we've had enough of drizzle, VAT, Tesco adverts featuring cheerful B-list celebs, the M4, and Gordon Bloody Brown, and we think wistfully of foreign climes. Unfortunately all the Family Grump passports expire in January so it's renewal time. Ha. For ample evidence that the government has well and truly lost the plot, and is making a thorough nuisance of itself every moment of your CCTV-recorded life, I recommend you try renewing yours.
Not a valid photo. Glasses!
Not a valid photo. Glasses!
Starting point is the photo. Easy, you may think. But you may think wrong. (I tried digging out left-over snaps from my previous passport application, but I look like a Mexican bandito with poor taste in shirts.) The rules for passport photos have got a lot stricter. Bloody government.
You can't smile, but on the other hand you mustn't snarl like a terrorist, unless you want a finger up the bottom every time you go to Calais for a booze cruise. Both ears must be on prominent display. You must wear neither your natty al-Qaeda headband, nor your sexy Che Guevara neckscarf. Your Vladimir Putin shades are right out.
So, new photo then. Bloody government.
Photo-Me machines used to be fun little booths you could squeeze into on the way home from the pub, to take some truly hilarious pics with you and your equally legless buddies, provided an earlier, more drunken reveller hadn't mistaken the booth for a public toilet.
Alas, technology has caught up, and so has the bloody government. The booths are now like little Whitehall departments in miniature. They know all about passports. Put your money in and they actually talk to you, to make sure everything is just right. Don't smile. Adjust your height. Lose the specs. Get your hair out of your eyes. Are you chewing gum? Are you sober? Did you brush your teeth this morning? I said, don't smile. Lean forward a bit. FLASH! You blinked. That'll be another four pounds please. Join the back of the queue, citizen.
After three or four attempts you're done. Now simply get the photo countersigned by a magistrate, bishop and/or or pop star, and you can progress to the application form. This hasn't got any easier either. You must fill in each little box exactly right or the weasel at the Post Office, which is 30 miles from your house because the bloody government has closed most of them, will give your form back and tell you to start again. Join the back of the queue, citizen.
The bloody government is obsessed with data, so obviously we've gone all biometric. Every detail gathered about you since records began is stuffed onto a little chip on the back page. So don't be surprised if border guards start asking you if you're a communist. Oh how you regret mistaking that copy of 'Socialist Worker' for 'TV Guide'.
The first foreign trip I ever took was to Germany (I was young and foolish). To allow me to travel I got a British Visitor's Passport. It cost about as much as two Curly-Wurlies, lasted a year, and the nice lady at the village Post Office and General Stores did it for me on the spot. Fast-forward to today. The price for the new family passports? Over three hundred quid. Three hundred quid! Is foreign travel worth the effort at all? Of course it is. We need a break from the bloody government.