Thursday, 11 October 2012


Thought I'd go a bit off topic and tell you the one about the stressed-out mum and the passport office....

That's the thing about holidays.  There's paperwork.

We went off on a long-awaited holiday recently.  Long-awaited, because for reasons I'll not bore you with we've not been on one in a while.  And, slightly to my shame, this holiday represented the first time we've ever taken the squids to the great abroad.  And taking squids to the great abroad requires the aforementioned paperwork.

In the best traditions of these things, and again for reasons I'll not bore you with too much, I left the organisation of the paperwork to the last possible minute.  Obtaining their papers (I am saying that 'Allo 'Allo style, feel free to join me) was on my radar, in the same vague sort of a way as helping them pick their GCSE subjects.

Naively, I assumed that when I got round to it I would arrange myself a little appointment at the nearest passport office (Liverpool), waste a bit of time in a local coffee shop, return to pick up the kids passports and be back in time for tea.  I think we can all probably tell by this point that that was not how this shit was going to go down.

Point the first: you cannot get a kids first passport on the same day.  Once you know this, the reasons seem pretty obvious really, but it genuinely hadn't occurred to me that this was the case.  They can guarantee to turn the document around in a week, but no quicker.  Luckily, I had made this discovery 2 weeks before our departure day.

Point the second: I couldn't get an appointment at Liverpool passport office in time.  I made the call, gave the information and was told the first available slot they had at the Liverpool office (about half an hour away) was September the 18th.  That meant they would guarantee the passports back on or before the 26th September.  Our outward flight was 6am on the 25th.  Fuck.

I had the first little wibble at this point.

Point the third: Durham is a lot further away than it looks.  The next nearest passport office is in Durham, and I could get an appointment in plenty of time.  I almost calmed down at this point, until I checked my route on google maps, and gave myself permission for another little wibble.  On the day, I gritted my teeth, tooled myself up with a couple of packets of Haribo, and set off for the 3 hour drive to the far north like an intrepid pioneer in the Amelia Earheart model (actual similarity to Amelia Earhart may vary).

Point the fourth: It pisses down epically in Durham*.  I got the right turning after the third go round the Durham city centre one-way system (yes I have sat nav.  Her name is Sally and she's the definition of frenemy).  I sweaty-palmedly negotiated a multi-storey carpark, and came to a halt not sure if I was more desperate for a coffee or a wee.  We (yes I was packing a three-year old too, who was casting her vote for wee) had over 2 hours to kill til our appointment time at the passport office, and got completely drenched.  Any bits of us that weren't utterly soaked were soon seen to by a passing white van.
* other weather may be available but certainly wasn't in evidence.

The interview at the passport office passed without incident, the drive home was boring, but the sun came out and there was even a little rainbow. This was not, in hindsight, a little sign that everything from this point was going to go well.

The first buggeration factor was the text from the courier company on Monday at 9.05, when I was approximately 100yards from the house and in a full sprint on the way back from the school run, saying they'd tried to deliver my item.  Because what 'We will be with you sometime between 9 and 5' really means is 'We will rock up the second you drop the kids at school/ pop outside to hang out the washing/ nip to the loo - and then vanish like a puff of smoke'.  I rebooked delivery for Wednesday, but got another text Tuesday.  I missed them Wednesday too (school run again).

The delivery came on Thursday.   It was 5 days before we were leaving.  I was feeling quite smug about it all.  But when I opened it, there was Oscar's passport.  No passport for Isabella.  Wibble time.  A call to the courier company, a confirmation that this was the only delivery they had for me.  A full-blown panic.

They give you a receipt at the passport office with a unique 9-digit number barcode that you need to quote when following up with any queries etc.  I had, of course, lost it - probably threw it away.  And so I'm there 10 minutes later with a pair of rubber gloves on pretty much hysterical and going through the bins on the kitchen floor like a mental.  An hour later, still no sign of the one bit of paper I needed, although I'd found quite a lot of old spaghetti.

I rang the passport office and managed to bypass the 9-digit barcode safety protocol by crying.  At this stage the crying wasn't actually deliberate, I'd started properly about half an hour before and couldn't stop.  They had all my details, all Bella's details, and everything was fine.  Then they asked for our address.  After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing it turned out that for some reason they had attributed the wrong postcode to Bella's application and dispatched her passport to an address in Prestwich.

I did the only thing I could at this point - rang the cyclist at work and had a complete heaving mucus-filled meltdown where 2 out of every 3 words were only audible by dogs.

The courier company were able to confirm the delivery in my name to the wrong address hadn't been actioned.  They still had Bella's passport, which was a massive relief - but they couldn't change the address on the delivery until they had an instruction to do so from the passport office, and did I want to call back Monday.  No, I said, I did not want to call back Monday, because at 6am on Tuesday we were flying from Manchester Airport.  A little later I got a voicemail saying the re-delivery had been confirmed and the passport would be with me Friday.  I breathed out and got a drink.

Friday I get a text from the couriers. 'Sorry, we are unable to deliver today. Delivery has been re-booked for tomorrow'.  Yep, you've guessed it, wibble.  I rang them up to ask if I could come and pick it up, to be told that it was at their Northampton depot, probably a 4 hour drive.  I gave up and placed our holiday fate in the hands of the courier gods (Mercury and Yodel if my memory serves me), and got on with the task of taking the house apart to find the cyclist's passport, which we knew had to be here somewhere and eventually turned up behind the bedside table under a Bill Bryson book about 3 hours later.

Bella's passport arrived Saturday morning, about 11am.  I didn't kiss the delivery man out of sheer relief because that sort of thing gets the neighbours talking.

Now we're back from our holiday all our passports are in one place  -  the special compartment in the document folder in the cupboard, where they should have been all along.

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