They say the camera doesn't lie but does the truth have to be so stark? Passport photographs don't do anybody any favours at the best of times but when you get to our age it seems a cruel system to have a permanent reminder that you look like death warmed up.
We had the photographs taken by a very nice lady at the Max Spielmann shop. Swift and painless: you stood in front of a canvas screen, she took the portrait, showed you the result and, if you weren't happy, she would take it again. But what's the point? I wasn't going to get an enlargement to hang on the wall. It was for a passport.
This meant that I couldn't wear sunglasses that might hide part of my face, any headgear or scarves or have a turned up collar, and I couldn't smile. All that was allowed were the bare necessities of a face that, from the picture, looked as if it had survived a lifetime of living rough. Put a number across the bottom and it would serve as an ID for a late night arrest and a spell in police cells to sober up.
“Why do we need new photos?” Maria said. “We've had passports for decades, you'd think they would know us by now.”
Such is female logic. Maria continued to brood over the pictures at home while I filled in the forms.
“The terrible thing is that I know this is how I look,” she said.
“No you don't,” I said. “It's a passport photograph. Everybody looks terrible in a passport photograph.”
“Everything sags because you can't smile. And at this age, everything sags anyway. It doesn't need any encouragement.”
“If you're not happy with it, have it done again. It can't be any worse.”
So she did and it was.
She eventually took the forms and pictures and old passports to the Post Office to undergo the check and send service. This means that an expert makes sure you've filled everything in properly. The expert compared Maria's old passport photograph with the new one.
“Two different people,” Maria said.
“No, you can tell it's you.”
Which didn't help.
Then came the payment: £72 50 for the renewal and £8.75 for the check and send. A total for two passports of £162.50.
Flipping heck. For that, we could have a weekend in Ibiza. If we had passports.
Of course, Looking this ugly, they might not let us in.