Packing up the past
So we have sold up and are about to move around the corner, from bay to beach. But meanwhile, we must pack, and I have cobwebs in my hair and am up to my neck in rubbish bags. Time to be ruthless and throw out 15 years of accumulated junk, especially the mysterious and mouldy piles in storage below the cottage. Who among the family could have recalled we own four leaf-blowers, a set of bongo drums, about 20 boxes of museum-worthy video cassettes and (true) a set of samurai armour?
The process is taking weeks because whenever I open a box or bag I sift through everything, reading old letters and birthday cards, fanning out airline boarding passes and theatre ticket stubs on my desk, and remembering good times with forever friends and those sadly gone.
And then there are the passports. I have mine going back 40 years and while surely none of us has ever borne any resemblance to passport photographs, these little blue folders neatly document the changing nature of hairstyles. There I am with a boyish crop, later with serious back-combing (hair so big it hardly fits the frame), later still with the naturally unruly curls I had earlier tried to tame, and more recently with a shorter bob. The older passports are colourful affairs with full-page visas that bristle with many rubber stampings and official seals. Some, for African nations, have revenue stamps and decals attached. The one for Egypt has a picture of the sphinx; for the Sudan, a fellow on a racing camel.
Some countries still issue full-page visas and in my present passport are those for India, Indonesia, China, Vietnam and Myanmar. I have Landing Permissions for Japan and Zambia. None of these is especially decorative but the India one, at least, is a merry shade of pink. So many countries issue e-visas and these are undeniably quicker and easier but we are in peril of being saddled with very boring passports if everything is held on a cloud, and that doesn’t mean one of those lovely plump cumulus arrangements you see from aircraft window seats but an unfathomable space station of a thing where all our personal information is to be held for eternity.
Immigration officers in EU countries don’t stamp “alien” passports but just take a cursory look and wave you through. Australian passports don’t get marked for re-entry; in fact most of us sail through the Smart Gate channels, staring at the camera and trying valiantly to resemble our official photos. That 10-year validity is a long time and chaps with hipster beards may have been cleanshaven when snapped for passport pics; we all get older and mostly fatter. You can’t keep the same passport number, either, although who knows why not when driver’s licences are renewed without change. It’s sod’s law that you finally master your passport details after nine years and 364 days and then have to remember a new number.
I am discouraged to discover that if you are 75 years or over you have the option of a five-year passport. It reminds me of the great Maggie Smith line in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel about being so old that it’s a financial risk to buy a green banana. Of which, I am sure I have an entry stamp with an inky image of a plantain for one of the Caribbean islands. Bear with me and I’ll waste another half-day pottering, not packing.