New Passport and New Books
Recently I needed to renew my passport and for various reasons choose the passport office's Premium service in Victoria, London, ~ a one day, no fuss, in your hand, take it home with you service. Perfect!
A freezing cold Thursday accompanied by drizzle that hangs over central London like a grey overcoat. The sort of rain that's light and fuzzy to let you know it's here, yet not heavy enough in a downpour for me to raise an umbrella. I hate getting wet and couldn't decide what to do and held my closed brolly in my hand ~ just in case. Arriving at the office by the skin of my teeth, thanks to a late running train, I joined an airport style queue. Inside the building they had no fear of paying the heating bill and had turned the thermostat up a couple of notches. I began to feel hot and bothered in this tight, orderly queue, and managed to take my coat and scarf off without elbowing my neighbour, or otherwise making a nuisance of myself to the strangers around me. I just knew my hair was turning into frizz and somehow this bothered more than usual. I felt I needed to make a good impression.
I looked around at the hotchpotch of folk ~ we were an ensemble of patience personified. The queue smells of spices and perfumes that intermingle with old cigarette smoke, clinging to hair and clothes as a reminder of a person's habits. Worse, stale body odour. Ten or so people ahead is a woman wearing big, garish bracelets on both arms that clashed against each other, dropping to her wrists as she moved her arms around, like she's conducting her conversation. Absentmindedly she pushes the bracelets back with a slight push and twist of her hand. She's talking animatedly to the person with her in hushed tones. Her earrings swing out of time with her nodding head. The earrings are heavy as her lobes are pulled down and out of shape. I wonder if they hurt? Her friend with pink and blue braids stayed silent, staring ahead. I wished I was closer. I loved to know what the big deal was.
The queue shuffles forward and we near the security gate. People start to strip off layers of clothing in readiness, perhaps not wanting to be the one found wanting, guilty of holding up the queue. Outer clothing is placed on a plastic tray, left in a rushed heap, along with bags and phone and other bits and bobs. The tray slides through an x-ray machine to be checked for who knows what? Yet we all know. Secrets on screen for all to see and not just the security guards. One by one people are directed to walk through the security arch before scooping up their belongings on the other side of the machine. It's a while since I've been through anything remotely similar. Okay, I got this, easy peasy.
My turn. Coat, cardigan (as it had metal buckles), bag, umbrella, necklace, bracelet rings, my crystal (no idea why it was in my pocket). Security guard waved me to go through the security arch.
Beep! The security alarm sounded to the collective turning to look from the queue behind. I could feel their eyes on my back, wondering what's the hold up? What did she do wrong? I'm an unlikely looking trouble maker, if I say so myself.
"Oops, forgot my phone in my dress pocket."
Unamused security guard put my phone in the tray and waved me through once more.
Beep! The queue cheers, security man remains stern faced.
I shrug my shoulders as I checked my pockets once more. Empty. Unsmiling guard waves me through a third time.
Beep! Uh oh, here comes another security guard with his big security wand. Reminded me of Star Wars minus Darth Vadar. I resist the temptation to laugh ~ my default setting when I get nervous for no reason ~ and just know I looked guilty instead.
"Arms up," as he waves his wand under my arms and up and down the front of my body.
Cursing inwardly for wearing a sleeveless dress, not having 'done my pits.' Don't judge, it's winter.
I do his bidding, still with my arms up and face an amused crowd of people on the other side of the security gate, smiling at me for the entertainment, grateful it's not them.
It dawns on me that I'm wearing an underwire bra and break out in a sweat, having visions of doing a public taking-off-my-bra-without-getting-undressed that women know how to do (taking their bra off that is, not necessarily in public), and flourishing a Marks and Spencer special out the top of my dress all magician like. Voila!
The security wand doesn't bleep. I'm no threat. Could've told them that.
"Well I don't know," the security guard with the wand said. Puzzlement danced across his features, as he stares me in the eye.
I keep very quiet.
"Okay, you can go," the first security guard said.
Gathering up my stuff quickly before they change their minds. I'm told to join another queue at a reception desk to check-in and directed where to go next, complete with receipt in hand with a number ~ two hundred and something. Blimey.
Quite rightly, the Passport Office is the epitome of organisation and efficiency. I didn't have to wait long for the next step of being processed. When it came to handing in my paperwork (which I had checked, double checked and checked again for good measure at home ~ I didn't want any hiccups), and handed over two photos where I looked like a demented axe murderer with the flu (don't we all? No need to be embarrassed I tell myself), I'm surprised when my photos were handed back by the official behind the desk.
I quote, "Your lips are not together properly."
What the....? I stare at the woman behind the counter for a brief minute before offering a snort of derision.
"Why are you laughing?" She said.
" There's a photo booth down the hall, up to you whether you do it today or not. Come back here when you're done."
Plainly indifferent to my plight ~ I hate having my photo taken but then again I didn't want to return another day ~ I did as I was told and off I went. I wasn't the only one at the booths (there were two booths ~ obviously needed). I was tempted to ask others why they had been sent down the hall, and then a middle aged woman turned to me and said,
" This is all so stressful."
I smiled a grin of empathy as she concentrated dialling a number on her phone.
Twenty minutes later new photos capturing my best resting bitch face were accepted.
I now had an afternoon to waste until I could collect my Passport and go home. Hand in pocket I realised I had lost my train ticket ~ my one day travel card that would have allowed me to whirl around London where I pleased. Retracing my steps as far as possible, I couldn't find it and nor had it been handed in. I knew I had it in my pocket when I walked through the door. *&%# is all I could say to myself. Who ever you were, I hope you enjoyed your free day out in London at my expense. Karma is all.
I would worry about getting home later, for now I purchased a tube ticket to Piccadilly Circus and a short walk to Waterstones. I spent an enjoyable afternoon wandering around the different floors, seeking out new books to feast upon. Yes, books are like my favourite meal to devour, strange I know. Nothing like the smell of processed paper hinting at the treasures within. Or stroking the covers to see what they feel like, and don't tell me I'm the only one that does that. I got completely carried away as you can see from the picture. Two or three were recommendations from friends and the rest chosen on spec ~ because the cover caught my eye, and reading a couple of pages at random, pleased me. I'll let you know how I get on with my choices.
Passport collected late afternoon. I smile to myself, I might even have done a little jig on the spot, as I'm a step closer to undertaking a bucket list trip in a few months time. Yay!