I'm off on my travels again next week, and I realised my passport is about to expire. Even though it still has long enough to run before I get back, the US don't like people turning up with only a short time left, so I figured I'd better get it renewed. Dave's off to the US as well, and his passport is totally expired, so we decided to go and get fast-tracked through the renewal service.
To my amazement, it was a breeze. This isn't one of those tales of officialdom gone mad. Sorry.
On Friday afternoon, Dave booked us into Peterborough, and we got an appointment for Monday morning. We duly turned up, and got seen half an hour early, after waiting for about two minutes. (We'd have been seen even quicker, except I was waiting for the photo machine which took sixty seconds to print my pictures.) We handed over our documents, waved a credit card at them, and then went and had a late (and rather fine) breakfast in Harriet's Tearooms. Then we wandered round Peterborough Cathedral for an hour or so, went and had some pastries in Le Petit Four, and dashed back through the hail to the Passport Office an hour before our official collection time. Our passports were ready and waiting, and that was it. Then we went home.
Despite all the horror stories we'd been told about how bureaucratic and time-consuming it's become these days, the whole process was easy, quick and straightforward. Even the security on the way in was good-natured and lightweight. In fact, it was all far, far easier and quicker than when I had to do the same thing ten years ago, pre-9/11.
Hmmm, that's not really much of an anecdote, is it? It needs some Kafka-esque drama in it somewhere, or at least Ian Rankin... maybe I should throw in the barbed wire and armed checkpoints all round Peterborough, or the big signs threatening to haul you off to Gitmo if you make jokes about faking your identity, or the Daily Mail-reading Passport Officer who makes you prove your Britishness by reciting the Litany of the Good Works of Saint Diana Princess of Wales and asking you trick questions about whether fish and chips or chicken tikka massala is the True National Dish of Britain. It would have been so much more interesting that way.