So there I was, in the passport control booth at St Petersburg, Russia. We’d been warned that immigration was particularly stringent in Russia. “They’ll give you an immigration form and you must keep it with you, along with your passport, all the time you’re in the country,” our tour operator said. “DON’T LOSE THEM.”
The officer processing me into Russia was an attractive, but somewhat stony-faced girl in her mid-twenties.
“Morning,” I said, pushing my passport across to her. She looked up. The granite face didn’t crack. She didn’t speak. She put my passport on the shelf next to her keyboard and started inputting furiously. Eventually she printed the requisite form. Then she looked at my passport photo.
Oh, I should explain at this point that my passport was just over nine years old. So I’m a bit younger in my photo than I am now. And my hair was very short and spiky in those far-off days– not at all like the current aristocratic barnet.
Then she looked up at me. And back down to the photo. Back to me. Back to the photo. Hhmmm. This happened thrice more, the length of her gaze at both me and my picture increasing each time.
I was just beginning to wonder what the food was like in Russian detention centres when she eventually shrugged and pushed both my passport and the immigration form to me, through the slot in the glass.
Picking them up I smiled at her.
“Well,” I said. “The photograph was taken a very long time ago.”
She continued to look at me. Oh, that stony face.
Then it broke into a most stunning, beautiful smile.
“Ah,” she said. “You more handsome now.”