Ode to a passport

Penelope Walsh’s beloved travel buddy is due for renewal, but she’s not quite ready to let go

The Knowledge

Penelope Walsh’s beloved travel buddy is due for renewal, but she’s not quite ready to let go.

Have you ever notice that people from capital cities rarely tell you their nationality, when asked where they are from? They’ll tell you where they grew up, because Paris, New York or Cape Town have far more significance for them than the colour of the passport they hold. I fall in to this category. My nationality is Londoner.

But during the recent World Cup, it seemed across the globe we’d never been more concerned with pride and esprit de corps, invoked merely by what it said on the front of our passports. I’m proud of my passport.

But my pride is, well, slightly illogically brought about by the fact that after ten years of being carried in sweaty back-packer pockets, across land, sea and air borders, there is absolutely not a thing on the front of it.

Every bit of the embossed gold stamp has worn off. But there is plenty on the inside: stamps, stickers and embarrassing photos galore.

After a decade I’ve become fond of this passport and the memories it holds. It’s been with me for nearly the entirety of my twenties, my salad days and kidulthood, and is a better record of that time than if I’d kept a diary.

There’s the stamp from that cowshed of an airport somewhere outside Rome, a memento of a torturous day spent travelling Florence-Sienna-Florence-Rome, as the only way of getting to the airport on time.

There’s the Japanese immigration sticker, a reminder of the surreal queue to get my temperature checked before being allowed off the boat from Shanghai into Osaka.

My beautiful Chinese visa sticker depicts a less crowded part of the Great Wall than the average tourist sees at Baddaling. And most recently, there’s the stamp from Larnaca airport, specially requested as a memento of my friend’s wedding, and reason for visiting Cyprus.

You may have seen in the news that the UK is currently drowning in passport mania. Mountains of unprocessed UK passports are supposedly still sitting in sacks under a desk, untouched, like children’s letters to Father Christmas. For some reason, the notoriously efficient Germans have been roped in to this problem and tasked with mopping up the un-ticked boxes. But while the Germans excel at booting host nations out of football tournaments, they apparently aren’t very good at processing British documentation.

So that leaves me, here in Dubai, with a passport that is running out like the proverbial sand in the hourglass. Its days are numbered, but I’m reluctant to bid it adieu and replace it with a younger, blank-paged model.

While I pity my fellow Brits whose summer travel plans have been dashed, at least my battered old friend and I get to spend a little more time cherishing our shared adventures. Soon I’ll have to bid goodbye and start anew, though I can’t help but wonder where my next passport will take me...

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