One of the icons of our travels - the passport - seems to have had a makeover, while I wasn't looking. And what a peculiar beast it is now...
The neat red cover with the royal coat of arms is familiar enough. Underneath that and the word PASSPORT, though, is a small symbol which had me foxed - a gold circle encased in two rectangles. Apparently, according to the notes in the back of the booklet, it denotes that 'British citizens may use their e-passports in automated gates'. Fine...
The inside front cover includes those famous words we have all learned by heart (ahem...):
'Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.'
Where the old version of the passport surrounded this text with a decorative border, the new incarnation includes artwork of leaves and a row of what seem to be rural cottages.
Then there's a double page spread, with the content in landscape format, with the all-important photo and biographical information. The photo used to be on a single page at the back. It probably makes sense to have it at the front instead (although arguably the place at which someone naturally opens a passport is the middle). The second page of the spread features a copy of the photo and a space for 'official observations'. In another piece of artwork, a seagull hovers, possibly unfortunately, over the photo on the opposite (left) page.
Then, after a couple of pages of small print explaining in about 25 languages the intricacies of the holder's signature, expiry date and so on, the passport reaches its crowning glory... 26 blank pages, awaiting their stamps as the holder crosses borders and adds more countries to their list.
Previous passports have featured decorative abstract art in the style of watermarks, but the new version goes several steps further. Each double page spread includes themed artwork - a main image and an inset/closeup, an explanatory caption on the top left and a weather symbol of the sort Ian McCaskill used to stick on BBC maps, back when he got confused and told us there would be widespread GOF in Scotland that day. I'm not sure if each passport is different or there are a few variations (like £1 coins), but the artwork on the copy I have to hand is as follows:
REEDBED features a windmill and a dragonfly
GEOLOGICAL FORMATION shows the Giant's Causeway and an archway
COASTAL CLIFF uses the cliffs of Dover (I think) and a jetty
FISHING VILLAGE is messy, but displays small boats and a pile of rope
BEACH - a beach (obviously) and some beach huts
CANAL - with a lock
VILLAGE GREEN - an old wooden bench by the green, with a view of a duck pond
FORMAL PARK - landscaped gardens and a sundial
WOODLAND - a wood and the leaves from a beech tree
LAKE - and one of its inhabitants, a tuna
RIVER - in similar vein, a salmon
MOORLAND - a moor, and a tree bending in the wind
MOUNTAIN - and a snowy owl
It's all so pretty that it will almost be a shame to have the artwork obliterated by the stamps (or glued-in forms) of other countries' immigration officials.
One or two thoughts come to mind looking at all this creative outpouring. I can understand why there are no images of people - but it does conjure up a somewhat misleading image of an empty, rural United Kingdom. We do have our country spaces, of course. But, if the intention is to give a quick visual guide to our islands, isn't it a bit counter-intuitive to leave out (say) London?
Still, it's a nice irony that a passport enabling UK citizens to travel elsewhere seems now to be used as a way to promote a specific image of the UK. If we get an inpouring of other countries' immigration officials coming here on their holidays, we'll know it's worked.