Sounds like the name of a Seventies Pop combo, doesn’t it? Oh, if only it were…
Britain used to be known as “Rip-off Britain” – but these days, it has a new monicker; BROKEN Britain.
This is because nothing WORKS there anymore. The Police, the Post Office, the Passport Office (HMPO) – and that is just the “P”s.
As one who ESCAPED the cold, wet, miserable place for the sunny climes of Thailand more than a decade ago, I only learned how BAD things have now become – when I applied for a renewed passport.
Even though these days I am half-way around the planet, Britain still finds ways to SCREW with me. And over the past four months, it has driven me to DISTRACTION.
You see, ten years ago if you needed a renewed passport, you simply went down to the local Brutish Embassy, filled in a single form and presented it – along with two pictures, your old passport and some money – and two weeks later, picked up the new one. The End.
But no longer. While the Brutish Embassies have long been pretty useless, the one thing they COULD handle was processing passports.
And so some empty suit in Whitehall decided to CHANGE all that.
Passports are now processed by HMPO (which stands for Her Majesty’s Passport Office – although I am sure if she knew what a monumental BOLLOCKS they have made of everything, Liz Windsor would DISOWN the whole rotten outfit).
Under the titular (or just TIT) Paul Pugh, in a mere three months, the backlog of passport applications had DOUBLED. The last I heard, the figure backed up stood at HALF A MILLION – with over fifty thousand family holidays RUINED.
On top of this, the beleaguered STAFF at HMPO are now reportedly LITERALLY SUICIDAL. Working twenty-seven hours a day, nine days a week, they gaze with dismay upon the ever-growing PILE of work lining the walls.
Paul Pugh volunteered to resign – but is still there. Then incredibly, a bunch of tosspots with a SICK sense of humour called “Investors In People” nominated him as “Leader Of The Year” – I kid you not.
Pugh (who MUST have been called “Stinker” at school) announced he would not attend (maybe the death-threats put him off).
Of course, there IS a precedent for this kind of lunacy; after President Woody Wilson signed off on sending a million troops infected with American Plague to all four corners of the World – and in doing so, signed the death-warrants of around FIFTY-FIVE MILLION PEOPLE (thus accounting for FAR more victims than Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Torquemada, Matthew Hopkins, Maggie Thatcher and Attila The Hun PUT TOGETHER) – they awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize.
Anyway, so far this towering arsehole Pugh has not actually KILLED anyone (that I know of – but remember his suicidal staff; sooner or later, one of them will SNAP) but the abject MISERY he has caused is IMMEASURABLE.
Although in my case, it eventually WILL be – at least, in CASH terms – since, aside from giving me four months of MAJOR STRESS, he’ll end up COSTING ME THOUSANDS OF POUNDS (at least TEN, depending on how long I live).
This is because of the TIME of the year I have to make a large cash-transfer, in order to satisfy the annual visa-extension requirements (four hundred thousand Baht in a Thai bank, for a minimum of sixty days) which has now – thanks to HMPO taking FOUR MONTHS to renew my passport (which only had NINE MONTHS left on it) – been resultantly moved BACK from late June (when the Baht-Pound rate is historically at its BEST) to late MARCH (ditto – WORST).
I had foolishly assumed that applying for my renewed passport a full THREE MONTHS before my visa-extension fell due would be long ENOUGH – but NO.
So how, you may wonder, did the HMPO manage to take SO LONG, to do something SO SIMPLE?
Well, buckle up…
It all began when I hit their webshite (gov.uk) and downloaded all the relevent forms. The first thing I discovered was I needed the answers to four questions their forms failed to cover.
Not having a grand to spare to ring their helpline from a mobile in a foreign country, I sent them an e-mail – SEVERAL times. Eventually I received a reply which answered NONE of my questions, just giving me the URLs to the forms I already HAD – which had obviously GENERATED those questions in the first place.
The dickheads had equally obviously not even READ my e-mail.
So I sent them a NEW one, this time attaching the questions to the SUBJECT. Eventually, they answered TWO of the four questions. More e-mails and I FINALLY got the answers to the remainder. All of this had taken TWO WEEKS.
Then, since you have to pay by INTERNATIONAL BANK CARD (I no longer HAVE one, thanks to Broken RBS – but that is ANOTHER sad story) I got my son (who LIVES in England, poor sod) to pay the fee.
I sent him the money – these days, well over A HUNDRED QUID – in cash, by International Registered post. And since the UK Post Office was also Broken, it took more than ANOTHER week to receive his completed payment form.
But now I was finally set. I still had nearly TEN WEEKS to secure the ESSENTIAL renewed passport.
So, as required, I booked my appointment by e-mail for three days hence, at the “solutions agency” that now “handles” UK passports in Bangkok, who gave me the first appointment they had available – in three WEEKS.
Thus I turned up there with all the paperwork – now more than SIX weeks into the thirteen I had originally allowed for the task.
The agency turned out to be a bird in a box who just checks that you match your picture, fills in a form detailing your paperwork – then despatches the lot to Britain.
A week later, they debited my son’s bank card – the only thing they have EVER DONE QUICKLY.
ANOTHER six weeks on – with just a few DAYS to spare – I FINALLY received an e-mail which I ASSUMED would be the one telling me to pick up the passport from Bangkok. You can therefore imagine the language I used when I read that they had REJECTED MY PICTURES (meaning they had only just BEGUN to PROCESS the application) on the grounds that my glasses had caused “glare” (THEIR word).
Their e-mail stated “there is glare present from your glasses in your eyes” – and demanded NEW ones, before they would even PROCEED with my application.
At this point, a few words about passport pictures. Now traditionally, if you “normally” wear specs, you are supposed to wear them on your passport pictures, provided they are not tinted – or have those silly little frames that were “fashionable” some years back – or have light reflecting off the lenses – or anything else that hides your eyes.
Just for the record, here IS the picture I had sent them…
Now, if this is GENUINELY not good enough for facial recognition software – then said technology is obviously not as clever as they would have us BELIEVE – for as can clearly be seen, the picture was PERFECT.
LARGE frames, with NO tints, reflected light, shadows or ANY damn thing. My baby-blues POPPED right through them. But despite my e-mailed protestations, the HMPO still INSISTED the pictures had “glare” – which brings me to their latest form specifying passport picture requirements.
It clearly states the ORIGINAL rules, concerning glasses – detailing everything that might obscure the eyes.
BUT… it then shows some sample pictures, with dos and don’ts. And they include an old lady with no specs, but SMILING (“WRONG”) – then WEARING glasses, but with huge slabs of LIGHT reflecting off both lenses (“WRONG”) – and then with a vacant expression (like mine, in the above picture) and again, NO glasses (“RIGHT”). All of the other pictures feature specs-less faces.
But NOWHERE does it actually SAY “NO GLASSES” – the instructions merely state what they have ALWAYS stated – that glasses should not OBSCURE THE EYES.
Naturally, if they had SAID no glasses, I would have left them OFF.
One can always remove them if asked, when one presents oneself – as one would with a hat – or shades – or a GAS-MASK.
The HMPO blamed this massive cock-up on the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (a UN agency that sets the standards for all things aviational). But the latest version of THEIR guidelines I can find – states the following…
Even if applicants normally wear glasses, they do NOT need to wear them for a passport photograph. If they do:
(1) the photograph must show the eyes clearly
(2) there must be NO flash reflection off the glasses
(3) tinted lenses are NOT permitted
(4) the frames must NOT cover any part of the eyes
(5) heavy framed glasses are NOT permitted
…which is pretty-much what the HMPO’s form says. The word “glare” appears nowhere – nor does any instruction to REMOVE glasses.
So I sent them yet ANOTHER e-mail. This particular office was the THIRD my passport application appeared to have been through – in three different countries; England (Liverpool) Wales (Newport) and Northern Ireland (Belfast).
I agreed to send them NEW pictures. And added that THIS time, despite their forms not requiring it, ones WITHOUT specs – since IMPROVING on the previous pictures would be IMPOSSIBLE.
I never received a reply to it.
I tried leaving a “comment” on their passport pictures form, but their link did not WORK. So I tried an alternate link – but that did not work EITHER. I was not surprised; just another two entries in their LONG catalogue of FAILS (plus I suspected they had DISABLED the features – to SPARE themselves from a never-ending barrage of ABUSE).
And so, having sent off this second set of pictures – I waited.
The last possible date to apply for my visa-extension arrived. And I had no option but to use my OLD passport – which gave me TWO problems. As stated above, with only nine months left on it, my future visa-extending dates would SHIFT to ones that will likely result in my losing THOUSANDS in annual money-transfers.
But the second was potentially even WORSE – I COULD have ended up in JAIL (and Thai jails are NOT like the ones in NORWAY).
You see, once you APPLY for a new passport, your OLD one becomes VOID. HMPO says you can continue to use it for “ID purposes” – but not for travelling. But what about visa-extension applications? If the Thai bureaucraps REJECTED mine, I could not even use the passport to temporarily LEAVE the country.
Remember that bloke who ended up LIVING in a transit lounge for years?
In the event, the Thai bureacraps gave me a BREAK. They initially ACCEPTED my old, semi-void passport – but said they would only gave me the NINE months left on it. Meaning I would be “legal” for the MOMENT (even though when I croaked, my widow would likely be TEN GRAND – Sterling, not Baht – worse off).
And on top of everything else, I had to delay paying my quarterly RENT for TWO MONTHS, having decided to RETAIN my 400k Baht minimum bank-balance – just in case. My landlady ALSO gave me a break (Thais have HEARTS) and waited.
But this turned out to have been a SHREWD MOVE on my part, since when Paul Pugh and his Passport Pukes DID finally cough up the new passport (the form asking me to go and pick it up included a demand not to abuse their staff – clearly demonstrating this had HAPPENED) I had to return to the Thai bureaucraps to transfer the old passport’s stamps to it.
And shortly afterwards, they asked me to provide a new bank letter, showing my balance was STILL over 400k. This essentially meant I was making a “semi-new” application (the UK passport ID computer presumably having reported the old passport was now VOID). It had occurred to me earlier that this might happen – and SHOULD get me that all-important YEAR’S extension.
Indeed, the Thai consulate said it would be so – but then some prat in Bangkok goofed up and I eventually STILL only got those goddamned nine months. After several days of will-they/won’t-they, this was yet ANOTHER blow.
But then the FINAL insult came when I discovered that in addition to everything else, Pugh and his cronies had RIPPED ME OFF!!
After four months of giving me enough grief to make an archbishop kick in a stained-glass window, the new passport only had THIRTY-TWO pages, when I had specified – AND BEEN CHARGED FOR – FORTY-EIGHT pages.
As it happens, unless the Thai bureaucraps’ systems change radically, the thirty-two pages should be more than adequate for the next ten years. But given the already extortionate price of the document (a hundred quid plus, remember) I’d figured I might as well spend the extra THIRTEEN QUID for the “jumbo” version – again, just in case.
Which is what the bastards now OWE me. But after ALL they have put me through, I am NOT about to endure yet MORE of their CRAP.
No, they can KEEP my thirteen quid, spindle it up – and RAM it where the sun don’t shine.
So what have we learned from this farrago of f**kup? Well, YOU might want to do FOUR things…
(1) if you live in Britain – get OUT as soon as possible
(2) if you need a passport of ANY kind – give the HMPO at least SIX MONTHS
(3) if you wear glasses and have a passport picture, or ANY picture needed for ID purposes, taken – REMOVE your glasses
(4) if you encounter Paul Pugh – kick him up the arse as HARD as you can and tell him, “That’s with the compliments of Damien.”
Yesterday afternoon, as I lay on a sunlounger watching a dragonfly dipping lazily over an azure pool, a gentle breeze stirred the overhead palm-trees and it occurred to me that right about that moment, half-way around the World, having struggled through the October rain, the excrescent Paul Pugh and his desperate minions would just about now be filing into their offices to begin another day’s slog.
The thought gave me SOLACE…
The following was issued as “Guidance for photographers” on the NINTH OF APRIL 2014 – which was BEFORE I began my passport application – and was NOT added to the guidelines for APPLICANTS.
And as of January 2016, it STILL has not been.
Here it is, verbatim…
“Customers who wear glasses should remove them to ensure that an accurate biometric can be obtained. Glasses can often show reflection or glare from flash, and the frames can obscure facial features. While this may mean that their passport photo does not show them as they usually appear, their photo will still be a good likeness.
“Customers with a visual impairment should also follow this guidance. Dark, tinted or mirrored glasses must be removed – otherwise a biometric cannot be captured.”
In other words – NO GLASSES!
Stinker Pugh needs beating up.