When I have my passport photographs taken in a booth my appearance is that of a man who has just taken the full force of a horse’s hind hoof to his testicles. Surprised, eyes unfocussed and deeply unattractive. Enough is enough. People all over the world will see these images. The unwashed, moustachioed passport control officer; my future employer; the policeman pulling me over as I power across town to a) have sex with my impossibly attractive Swedish girlfriend or b) catch the Glee finale.
These characters will stare at my face and then at my 45mm by 35mm facsimile. However charismatic and charming the former, they will distrust the latter. And with my feathery hair and lithe build I simply can’t afford to be sent to jail.
Now I come to think of it, I can barely find anything positive about using a passport booth. Yes, the disembodied authoritative female voice is oddly titillating, but the waiting while the couple already inside eat each other’s faces? Not having the right change? The adjusting of the stool that makes me feel like a marine, either because the action is like opening a submarine hatch because or I’m bending over?
Thank goodness then that a journalist friend of mine suggested an establishment at 449, Oxford Street, where I could have them done properly by a human, in a place devoid of oddly shaped stools, diet permitting.
Almost opposite Selfridges, 449 is a doorway sandwiched in between two shops. You’d be forgiven for thinking that therein lays a brothel or rundown orthodontic practice. A narrow corridor, an interminable amount of stairs (did I say ‘lithe’ earlier?) and you tumble into a large room divided into a reception area and studio area by rather tired looking curtains. When I visited, a small wiry man greeted my breathless, red-faced personage. He ushered me to a chair to wait and I looked about me. A large board plastered with famous patrons lay to my right: Mirren, Brand and Penry-Jones to name a few. Meanwhile, the man was parrying questions from two other customers and displaying a seemingly sound knowledge of the regulations for Canadian and Chinese travel documents.
Several minutes elapsed before a photographer popped his head out of the curtain bound studio and beckoned to me. The stool was at the correct height. I was given time to compose myself. I was lit flatteringly and was given the opportunity to examine each image to see whether it was to my satisfaction.
You cannot smile for a British passport photograph. Whitehall contacts tell me that this is so members of other countries will think we are all miserable bastards and not wish to visit. There seem to be three options: Soulless, sulky or—if feeling vaguely venereal—smouldering. I ‘worked’ (technical term) one of each and picked one to my taste. Some moments later and the photographs were presented to me in a rather neat envelope.
The result? All because the lady loves Milk Tray.