When the lovely Mrs Field told me her passport was only valid for another four months a week before we were due to fly to Dubai, I knew there would be a problem. The nearest Passport Office to me to issue urgent passports is in Peterborough, and when I mentioned this to my Dad his eyes lit up. He worked there and as he has not been back since he retired, he suggested we go there on a father and son adventure, so off we set down the A14.
The United Arab Emirates consular advice states UK citizens require at least six months’ passport validity to enter Dubai. I think it might be worth risking it with flights to somewhere like Germany or Spain, but the U.A.E? No thanks, I don’t fancy a year in jail or a hand chopped off.
If you ever need an urgent UK passport, you must ring the Passport Office (0300 222 0000) to book an appointment – you will be turned away without one. There are Passport Offices in London, Peterborough, Liverpool, Durham, Belfast and Glasgow, and I was offered a 12.30 appointment a couple of days later in Peterborough, 70 miles away.
The drive down was fairly easy and uneventful, punctuated by Dad’s occasional comments like “That wasn’t there before” and “That used to be a good pub”. Before we headed to the city-centre Passport Office, we popped to see Dad’s old workplace and I’m sure I saw a tear in his eye as he reminisced of his long pub lunches outside the factory gates.
After parking up, we went our separate ways and agreed to meet up. At the Passport Office, I had to go through security a bit like at an airport – I was asked to put my metal objects in a plastic box, had my bag searched and was frisked. I was called on time for my appointment “interview”, which took place in a private cubicle attached to an open plan office. After handing over my wife’s documents (you’re allowed to collect on someone else’s behalf if you take a signed letter of authority), I was told to come back no earlier than 4.45pm. The website warns that urgent passports can take up to 4 hours to process, but I wasn’t expecting this to be an exact timescale.
So what is there to do in Peterborough in 4 hours?
It’s a fairly small city with a population of around 190,000, and a surprisingly impressive cathedral, built in the 12th century. Surprising, as I knew nothing about Peterborough before, other than my Dad’s work stories but the cathedral is right up there with the most impressive in England.
Peterborough has one of the largest Italian communities in the country, a result of recruitment from Southern Italy in the 1950s by the London Brick Company. We enjoyed a leisurely coffee in a nice Italian café inside the Rivergate Shopping Centre. Fratelli Tavola Calda is adorned with chequered tablecloths, maps of Italy and, bizarrely, signed photos of Luke Pasqualino, star of the TV programme Musketeers.
Grabbing a baguette from Greggs, we strolled on towards a bridge crossing the River Nene, and walked along the banks dodging nosy swans and geese. The river has a bar on a boat on one side, and a Chinese restaurant on a boat on the other. The Nene Way is a walking route that leads to Northampton along the river, but I was hoping my passport would be ready before I considered doing that.
I left Dad on a bench admiring the swans, while I had a quick peek at Peterborough United’s football ground. London Road (or the ABAX Stadium, as it is now known) has a capacity of around 15,000, and the club currently play in English football’s third tier, League 1. The main stand is unbelievably close to the back gardens of a row of neighbouring semi-detached houses.
Peterborough’s main street is full of the usual high-street names, and features a John Lewis – a modern-day sign of affluence. As the sun was shining on this late-October afternoon, we enjoyed an alfresco coffee at Bewiched Coffee on Bridge Street.
Being a civil servant myself, I’m well aware that most of us want to leave work at 4pm, so we thought we’d head back to the Passport Office an hour early and try our luck. I had to go through the security procedure again, but they wouldn’t let Dad in – he obviously looked like a terrorist.
Anyway, lo and behold the passport was ready – God know how long it had been waiting for me. It would have been nice if they could have rang me to say it was ready, but as Dad said “That would have been too easy”. So we set off to the car park and bade farewell to Peterborough – next stop, Dubai!