Late posting this week, sorry - although looking at the (very early) time, it might still be Monday somewhere. This could be a bit of a rant. However, in an effort to steer myself onto safer ground, I have done a little research, don't panic.
Last week, I tried to renew a passport via the Post Office. It started badly. I had to go to the city - no local post offices do 'check and send'. I stood in a queue labelled 'Travel Services' only to be told that a) I needed an appointment and b) travel services was only money and insurance anyway. Finally at the correct window, I handed over my - if I may say so - immaculate application and photos. I have had trouble with these in the past, I had thought, triple checking before attempting 'check and send'. And lo and behold, my application was returned to me. 'Can't send that, it'll come back,' said the assistant. 'Has to be in biro.'
The form had nothing wrong with it other than this. I had not used a fountain pen. I had used a black pen of some kind. But not a biro. And this was enough to reject my application. The Post Office maintained they'd had forms returned for nothing more than this and they would not take the risk of me blaming their 'service'.
I'm afraid I did protest rather loudly at this point. I insisted on a second opinion. I think quite a lot of the queue behind me were well informed about the issue. But really, did you ever hear the like?
In trying to rationalise this, I can find no decent reason why a non-biro black pen should be a problem. Someone I told about it wondered if biro ink was less likely to smudge if wet. But what are they doing to the forms in that case? Leaving them stacked up in the toilets? Letting people put their coffee down on them? The mind boggles.
Anyway, given how many times I have posted about the refugee crisis, I thought I'd use my passport travails to look at why we have these increasingly sophisticated pieces of ID in the first place. Unsurprisingly, the history of the passport has been driven by war and conflict. 'Safe conduct' documents issued by monarchs to their diplomats. The first formal records of travellers during the French Revolution. Eventually, an Act of Parliament introducing mandatory passports. The British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914. Date looking familiar?
My own first passport was as shown above. Standard from 1920 until the late 1980s, when the red EU passports appeared. I do remember, though, having a paper 'visitor passport' which you could collect from the Post Office (!) and lasted for the duration of a holiday. I was also on a 'family passport' of my dad's. In true 1970s style, he could travel alone on it but none of the rest of us, including my mother, could use it without him in tow.
Last year, we went to Florida. It was my first time in in the US in nearly twenty years. I am so used to travelling within Europe (or to places like Thailand where they look you up and down and then put a lovely stamp in your passport), the US entry procedures were quite a shock. I won't go into it now other than to say it added hours to our journey. But apparently, a return trip to the States should be easier because they are allowed to keep all my data on record!
Unless I next visit when Trump is President. Then they may have introduced at least four more stages. And I may have a completely different passport too, if we 'Brexit' from Europe after the referendum. Maybe what we go through to enter the US will become standard for Brits entering the EU and for any 'aliens' entering the UK. Prime Minister Johnson (worrying but Gove would be worse) may start using the term 'aliens' again in everyday language to refer to refugees and others wishing to enter the UK.
Why would we want this? Surely freedom of movement is one of the main benefits of the EU. Yes, it does make it easier for non-EU nationals as well but think what we will lose in return for trying to restrict refugees. If the Passport Office is lairy of non-biro completed applications pre-Brexit, think what they will put us through if we leave. And what other countries will be entitled to put us through upon arrival. We will be aliens.
As a final thought, I wonder if anyone has planned for immigration when we finally get teleporting systems up and running. Maybe they will make you carry a biro, just in case.