How the renewal of my child’s passport turned into a comical farce
Crammed into the instant photo booth in Tesco with our 10-year-old daughter, Phoebe, we ensured that her face was within the marked oval shape. We ordered her not to raise her eyebrows or smile. We swept her hair off her face and ears and instructed her to look straight at the camera, pulling a neutral face. We exited and stood on the other side of the curtain, waiting nervously.
The first pictures we took were rejected by the Passport Office because Phoebe “showed a tooth”. The multimillion pound biometric facial recognition software has problems recognising teeth – a fairly integral component of the human face, I would have thought.
The next batch we sent the Passport Office was invalidated by my arm showing fractionally in the bottom left-hand corner. I’d reached into the booth to wind her chair up at the last minute – so her face would be centred on that oval.
The machine asked if my daughter was ready. She replied that she was. My eight-year-old son, Charlie, called out: “Remember the oval shape, Phoebe!”
“Charlie!” she seethed. “You only know about the oval shape because you heard Mummy and Daddy talk about the oval shape and you don’t even know what an oval shape is, so can you just…”
She was interrupted by a flash of bulb and a whirring sound. The machine advised Phoebe to press the green button if she was satisfied with the picture.
My wife asked if she was satisfied. There was a pause. “Phoebe?” I asked.
“I pressed it.”
“But were you satisfied, Phoebe?”
There was another, longer pause before the photos whirred out, as Phoebe muttered: “It doesn’t have to be perfectly within the oval shape.”
After her fourth go in the booth, we were in possession of what we thought was an acceptable photo, and we headed home.
That night, I learnt from a hitherto undiscovered corner of the Government’s passport web page that the photo must be 45mm by 35mm, and that the distance between the crown of the head and the chin must be at least 29mm but no more than 34mm.
“The image of you – from the crown of your head to your chin – must be between 29mm and 34mm high,” it says.
My wife produced a Hello Kitty ruler, her anger rising.
“The crown to the chin,” I repeated. “The crown’s the top.”
“I know what a crown is,” snapped my wife. “Where on the chin, though? The start of the chin, the end of the chin, the middle of the chin? What if you have a double chin?”
“Measure from the sticky out bit,” I said.
Unsatisfied with my response, Dinah asked Google. According to Google, the chin begins at the apex of the lower jaw. “The apex?”
“The top,” I told her.
“Can you stop teaching me English?” she barked. “I’ve been a journalist for 20 years.”
A few minutes later, Dinah screamed and flung the Hello Kitty ruler across the room. There was a silence.
“All I want to do is go on holiday,” she said. “You need a degree in anatomy to complete the bloody form. And why can’t you smile in a passport photo? I’ll tell you why. Because those passport cretins are so miserable that they wouldn’t recognise a smile if it bit them with the very teeth they don’t acknowledge exist.”
“It’s probably not the best moment to mention it,” I interjected. “But because Phoebe’s under 11, we also need the photo countersigned by someone with an OBE or an MBE. But they can also be a solicitor, a teacher, an airline pilot, a minister of a recognised religion, an MP, a dentist, or a chiropodist.”
A week later, after forking out £46 for the passport renewal, £8 for the check-and-send service at the Post Office, £3 to ensure that our documents were delivered safely, and £25 to get the photo countersigned as a likeness of our daughter by a GP – never mind the four rounds in the photo booth – we received a brown envelope back from the Government. Our passport application had been declined due to “insufficiencies”.
The cream background in the photo booth – a booth designed solely for the purpose of taking passport photos, that offered no other background to choose from – was apparently not distinct enough from the cream-coloured face of our daughter.