COLUMN: June 13, 2013

THE letter I had been dreading arrived. It is true what they say, you cannot run forever. Although if I ever did a marathon, I suspect there would be a single man in a hi-vis tabard sweeping away plastic cups as I crossed the line.

I opened it, and my worst fears were realised. The sods wanted me to have a new picture taken for my driving licence.

I do not like having my picture taken, and if I do have my picture taken I insist on full editorial control. I don’t exactly have a best side, but I definitely have a worst.

Also, I have a roving eye. This is not in the vigorously-heterosexual-Cliff-Richard sense, as detailed in the frankly creepy song Living Doll, though I am as capable as any man of enjoying the for-the-dads combo of Susanna and Carol-with-the-weather on the breakfast news.

Rather, because of an operation on an inward-turning squint when I was a small child, I now have, when I am tired or not concentrating properly, the wall-eyed look of a character from The Simpsons.
This means that when I am photographed full on I am at risk of looking as if I am pulling a very difficult face.

That would be fine if I were the only person ever to see the photograph on my driving licence, but what if I went on the run after being accused of a crime I did not commit?

Look at what Harrison Ford had to go through in The Fugitive. Was it not bad enough that he had been wrongfully accused of killing his wife and had to go on the run while trying to prove his innocence? Imagine how much worse it would have been if in the only picture the newspapers had of him his two eyes looked as if they had had an argument and were no longer speaking.

With a sackful of gloomy forbearance, I filled in the form, trudged to the post office, and asked the nice lady to take my picture.

She led me into a sort of photo booth. But this was not the sort of photo booth you see in montages of people falling in love in really bad films. This was the sort of photo booth they would have had in Soviet Russia if there’d been digital photography in those days.

I pulled the curtain closed. “Stand on the spot and look at the red light,” she said. I did as she said. As I did, I saw my face appear on a screen below the red light. “Argh,” I thought. “My eye is doing that thing.”

Flash! “You’re not looking at the red light,” said the woman. “Look at the red light.”

I stared at the red light again. But I could see my face again, with my big fat stupid Homer Simpson eyes. I think I shuddered.

Flash! “Look, just keep still and look at the red light. Just the red light. Don’t look at the screen. Look at the red light,” said the woman. I did.

Flash! “Right, OK,” said the woman. “Is that it?” I asked. “Yes, you can get out of the booth now. You need to open the curtain.”

“What?” I thought. “How else have people been getting out? Did somebody actually crawl under the curtain? I am worried that somebody who doesn’t know how to operate a curtain is allowed to drive a car.”

The licence appeared a day or two ago. The picture’s OK. I’m not going to trouble the homepage of, but I’ve decided I can live with it.

This was mostly because of a picture I saw the day before, of a woman whose face I had not seen for many years.

For a couple of years, around the time of my eye operation, my family lived with my uncle and auntie. My auntie had a close friend called Janice. Consequently I saw her a lot, and played with her son, who was the same age as me. I was very fond of Janice.

A few years later she was dead, claimed by cancer at 27. She was the first person I knew who had died. Over the years my memory of her has faded, with just little fragments and a sense of affection left behind. I couldn’t make a proper picture of her face appear in my mind’s eye. I recalled her as beautiful, but I couldn’t be sure that she hadn’t been romanticised, as those gone too soon usually are.

Then at the weekend I was shown a photo her son had found and sent to my auntie of Janice, sitting with my auntie in a bar.

It unlocked the memories straight away. I could see her standing in my uncle and auntie’s living room, with Tina Charles playing on the stereo.

And maybe one day, somebody will see that driving licence with the stupid wall-eyed picture and be reminded of who I was.

Oh, and my impression was correct. She was beautiful.

But I bet she hated that photo.

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