We’re going to France on our first family holiday later this year. We’ve got most things sorted but passports for Dylan and Xander were still on the ‘to do’ list, so we’ve been dutifully knuckling down and filling in all the relevant paperwork with the associated fear of getting things wrong firmly in mind. I think one of the reasons we’d been unconsciously putting it off – apart from the fact that passports for young children are ridiculous and nothing more than a cynical way of making money – was the tricky issue of getting two under fours to sit still and look ahead for ten seconds. Yes, it was time to get their photos done.
As usual, the cause of the woe was entirely our own fault. Sensible parents would have taken their little darlings to a shop that offers passport photography as a service, but that would have been too easy and we thought we’d go for the slightly cheaper option. Big mistake.
We made our first attempt last week in a slightly older photo machine that was randomly tucked away in a newsagent. It only allowed three attempts, but we figured that we could get Dylan to play ball by the time the final shot was taken, so we gave it a go. After much turning of the stool to raise it to its highest level – and having to put it back after completely unscrewing it in the process – we were ready to start. We made him take off his coat and, after laughing rather too much at the coincidental fact that he had a Superman T-shirt on underneath, got him to look forward. He was still too low down. Bollocks. Undeterred, I crouched in the footwell, hid my hands under his T-shirt and lifted him to the correct height. He looked forward, Kate leaned in and pressed the button then quickly shut the curtain and the photo was taken. Just as he looked round to see why Kate had shut the curtain.
Take two. He looked at Kate again. One attempt left; to make sure he stayed in place, Kate concealed her arm behind him to gently keep his face pointing in the correct direction. The photo was taken and, at last, he was perfectly framed. He looked terrified, but that would do. We printed it and then noticed that Kate’s thumb was visible on his shoulder. Fuck it!
Fast forward to this week and we tried again. This time at an all-singing, all-dancing photo machine in Eastbourne Arndale Centre. It had a camera that moved, negating the need to adjust seats as well as the opportunity to take as many photos as you like before settling on one and taking your money. First up was Dylan. We adjusted the camera and he was still too short. Never mind, we had bags and coats he could sit on. One problem solved. Unfortunately, the machine also showed a live video image of the subject which, to young children, is an invitation to pull silly faces. And he did. For about ten minutes. When he had exhausted his repertoire of expressions, he started to get the idea and looked forward with his head in the correct position. Only he looked at the image of himself below the camera rather than at the camera itself.
Once we’d talked him round, he did look at the camera, but kept smiling and saying “cheeeeeeeese!”. My head was starting to hurt. Somehow or other though, we eventually caught him looking both in the correct direction and in between grins. It was the perfect shot. I went to put my debit card in to pay for the photo, only to discover that the chip and pin machine had the smallest of signs – on a see-through sticker, no less – stating that it was out of order and only accepting cash. Shit! We didn’t have any. Kate ran off to the nearest bank while I simultaneously jealously guarded the machine from other people who wanted to use it and tried to appease Xander who was starting to kick off. Thankfully, Kate made it back in time and the pictures were paid for, printed and in our possession. Just Xander to go then.
Even with the camera adjusted and all our bags and coats on the seat, the little man was still too low down. I reprised my role of man on the floor – which, by the way was agony as it had raised metal dots which left marks in my knees that stayed for hours – only to find that I was getting in the shot by holding him in position. We got him to stand on the seat and, with the same body language as the Tottenham players in the tunnel before their recent humiliation at Anfield, he leant back against the wall.
This didn’t bode well, but at least he was lined up properly. We explained what to do and I stayed in the footwell to keep him company. He seemed to get half the idea, but kept leaning forwards and turning his head to one side in the same way that Liam Gallagher does at the microphone. Straightening him up resulted in a tantrum and bribery with sweets before, finally and by complete fluke, we caught him in between expressions and not quite looking in the right direction, but with his eyes open. Hurrah!
This whole sorry episode took an hour. We didn’t bother doing the shopping we’d gone in to Eastbourne to do afterwards. Our children had broken us. Now we just need to hope that the passport office accepts the images…