Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bish Bash Bosh.....Job Done

I need a new passport. There's been much in the press in recent years regarding turmoil and delays at the passport office. I wasn't expecting an easy ride. Three weeks ago I had my business trip to India confirmed in seven week's time. I would also need a business visa but this would not be issued on a passport with less than six months to run - as was my case. However, in a week I was off to the US for two weeks for which I would need my current passport and on my return that would leave me only four weeks to get a new passport and a business visa as well. Optimistically, these would each take a minimum of two weeks each and could not be worked on concurrently.

It was with some trepidation I logged on to the Passport Office website to establish how to get through the system quickly. The normal method, by post, looked decidedly risky. Apply, and I might get my new passport in about two weeks but the website was keen to point out I shouldn't make any travel plans based on that estimate. The next option was to apply in person at The Passport Office and I should see my new passport in about a week. This looked reasonable.

Historically, a trip to the passport office to fast-track an application meant turning up as early as possible in the morning and waiting all day to be seen. The website said I must 'phone to make an appointment which I might get in a week's time. I 'phoned and talked to a nice chap who rather startled me by offering me an appointment at 7:45 the following morning. Even that was too soon for me, I didn't even have my new photos done. I settled on 11:45 instead and legged it to the Post Office to get an application form. The local photo developing shop did me some decent passport photos straight away (no smiling or showing of teeth permitted) for £5.99 and I took the application form home to peruse the requirements.

The form was a doddle. Name, address, date of birth, barely anything else was needed. As I was applying in person, I didn't even need to find somebody important to sign the back of the photos to say the gloomy, non-smiling baldy in the picture really was me. I also needed to take two other forms of ID with an address on and my current passport.

I arrived at The Passport Office this morning at 11:25, early, as advised, to get through security. A jolly man at the x-ray machine was cracking jokes but despatching people briskly through the process at an un-airport-like rate of knots. I went to the second floor with my numbered ticket. "Oh shit" I thought, this isn't an appointment, it's just a numbered ticket system meaning I'll be there for hours. I got to the second floor and the numbers board suggested I had about fifty people ahead of me in the queue. I congratulated myself on having brought a book to read while I was waiting. Five minutes later the board jumped forty numbers in one go and suddenly I was third in the queue. A few moments later and my number was called and I was off to my designated counter.

The application form had warned me I was to expect a thirty minute interview in which I would be asked testing and difficult questions to prove my identity, provenance and integrity. Identity theft is a big talking point at the moment however I was intrigued and rather looking forward to some testing good cop / bad cop interview process during which I would be grilled under a spotlight and found wanting when I could not name my third cousin's pet rabbit or something.

A spectacularly bored looking lady sat ominously behind the counter. She briefly lifted her eyes to greet me.
"Hi!" I said enthusiastically - having been in the US for the last two weeks I'd got into the habit of being nice to strangers which is not really in the British nature. Bad move I thought, false jollity with government officials is usually treated with the greatest of suspicion. I handed over the application form, passport and photos. I expected her to fix me with a steely glaze and then to get out her jeweller's eyepiece to study my documents closely for the slightest anomaly which would allow my application to be rejected. Still not a single word - except for my embarrassing and rather over-effusive "Hi!" - had been exchanged. I placed my additional forms of ID on the counter half-expecting these to be rejected as unsuitable for no good reason other than the historical determination of government departments to find fault in such things. I think she may have briefly acknowledged their existence but certainly didn't pull them over to her side of the counter to check them. Still not a word. She filled in a couple of forms, stuck on a barcode, put it all in an envelope and mumbled something to me.
"Sorry, I didn't quite catch that" I said.
"Your passport will be with you within a week" she repeated, still staring downwards at her desk.
"Take this form to the cashier" she added, handing over a slip of paper with a sum of money written on it.

I went to the deserted cashier's desk queue, paid up with my debit card and headed for the exit. I was in and out of the place in less than fifteen minutes and blinking like a startled mole in the pre-noonday sunshine. I still can't quite believe it. I'll let you know when my new passport arrives.

1 comment:

sabrina said...

I too find it quite shocking that these buggers are so efficient nowadays! We used to have to wait for ages to get our passports and deal with bastards who looked like they had something very huge stuck up their arses!

Now they chat you up and give you your passport on the same day! The SAME DAY!!!!!