Tuesday, 20 January 2009


MY NEW PASSPORT was delivered by courier less than four days after I posted the application for a new one, and my almost-outdated passport, in our village Post Office-cum-Bookstore, to a processing centre in Peterborough.

Peterborough is some distance away, a few hours by fast train, an hour by air. I suppose, perhaps six hours in a van. I don't know how my application and the cheque for £72 got there, or how the British Passport - which has above United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the front cover two words which I despise: European Union - got back to me so very quickly.

When the courier, who was driving a white van, knocked at my door and handed the envelope to me I thought there must be some problem with my application. However, it was just a case of efficient service. Amazing what £72 can buy in January 2009 when a pound is worth but a groat.

I not only received my new passport, but one of the two photographs I had sent to Peterborough (as requested on the forms) was returned to me, along with a couple of pamphlets on travel and currency matters. As the only foreign currency I expect to encounter is that in Scotland, I popped the pamphlets in my file, along with my old passport.

Ten years ago, my passport photograph featured a white-haired gentleman that I still hardly recognise. Said old codger had, and has, a white moustache (a feature since he was about seventeen when The Beatles grew theirs in imitation of his - Sgt Pepper and all that Summer of Love business). I didn't wear my bifocals in the latest picture as the fellow showing me how to use the digital photo-booth in the village thought glasses might give off a reflection. So, steel-grey eyes under white brows. Damn, I'd look pretty tough except for the wattles.

Facially, I've not changed so much. I looked this bad a decade ago. And I remember getting that passport picture taken in 1999. I had it done in a little shop in Bermuda called Kit 'n Caboodle. What I didn't know on that day I had it done was that a couple of years later I would be the passport photographer in that shop. I spent two years in hell in Kit 'n' Caboodle taking passport photographs, making photocopies and selling newspapers and fags. Ugh!

I don't have much of a history, or paper trail, compared to some. Blogging is increasing the chances of someone noticing my effort to make a mark on the world. That's the sort of mark that many might treat much like shit on their shoes: They want to be rid of it before it marks something else and they are held to blame.

My new passport doesn't say much about me, not even if one could read the computer chip embedded in it. A quick visual inspection shows the same old face, my full name, my citizenship and place of birth. That's about it. And when the passport expires, which might not be when I do. If I were travelling, I suppose the chip would have some family and residential details when scanned. So would my right eye, if examined appropriately. I had that photo-scanned at an airport a few years ago; it must be in computer databases. I believe the patterns on a retina are unique. I had to remove my glasses to have that scan done, of course; otherwise there would be unique fingerprints in the computer databases too.

The only other documents I have that identify me quite legally are my birth certificate, which is filed somewhere safe in the flat (can't think just where, it's that safe) and my bus pass, which has the same picture as my passport, it happens. The photo-booth spat out four photos for £5.

I'm identified on records such as my utility bills, bank statements and cards, club memberships, medical records and Cailean's medical records, but not legally, I'm guessing. I couldn't claim an inheritance by showing Cailean's castration bill, or my Visa card. And no end of these blogs will enable me to travel overseas through a customs and immigration checkpoint. Google up Ross Eldridge won't win the Lottery.

I have a few hobbies: The latest and most consuming is genealogy. I work many hours each week on my Family Tree, and I have over 700 names that I'm fairly familiar with. Eldridge is the least of me. I am King, Witney, Crow, Moon, Proctor, Clough, Heys, Stockdale, Lancaster, Driver, Lee and Geldard, and more. Those are blood lines that flow in mine. If you prick me, am I not Hustwit and Sherwood and Conqueste as well? It's a fascinating thing to look into all this.

The folks, my folks, in my Family Tree, are faintly represented in the world: Census and BMD reports. The Mormons have many, many church and registrar records available for Family History buffs. The Mormons do their research to dig up names (not bodies) to have proxy baptisms for the dead. Kind of creepy if you are a Jew exterminated at Auschwitz to have a Utah housewife being dunked for you. One can find old telephone books, wills and legal documents, photographs and correspondence.

I've been looking at my grand-uncle James Arthur Lancaster's military papers, in particular his medical records. James Arthur, my grandfather William Lancaster's older brother, was 21 when he volunteered to fight in the First World War, and had his medical on 5 May, 1915. The medical was certified and he was signed on that same day by a Justice of the Peace, H.H. Heys, who may have been related if James Arthur had lived long enough to see his brother marry into the Heys family.

On 5 May, 1915, James Arthur Lancaster was 5' 5 ¼" tall, weighed 128 lbs, had a fully expanded chest of 35 ½" (the expansion being 3") and he was 21 years and 4 months old. He was right-handed. He was, up until that moment (and had been from the age of eleven) a weaver in the Queen Street Mill. He was a member of the Church of England.

In May of 1918, James Arthur Lancaster was hospitalised near the battlefield, twice for diarrhoea, and was also treated for scabies. I've looked up scabies: They are mites that burrow in between one's fingers and toes, in armpits and groins, in the cleft in the buttocks. They are easily passed by direct person-to-person contact, or from surfaces, and are still commonly found. Well, one hopes James Arthur got his from a hooker, but it was probably a dirty towel. (Same thing, you might say.)

2 September, 1918, poor young James was killed in action, all of 24 years old. That was not recorded on a new certificate, just scribbled onto an old form. I guess paper was scarce with all the trees going to prop up the trenches.

I found out more about my grand-uncle's proportions, in some ways, than you could easily find out about me. I'll confess here that I'm taller and heavier than he was, and wear a 42" jacket if you want to send me one. I'm partial to tweeds and corduroys.

Should one go looking for one's kindred dead? Mormons are told they must, for they cannot be saved without them. My excuse is just as selfish: I'm looking for myself.

My next passport, due in 2019, might feature in its embedded device a family tree back to Adam, every document of any importance that ever featured me, the contents of this blog, and several photograph albums.

Of course, I might be dead in 2019 as the average age of members of my family hardly extends to 70, and I sneezed several times this afternoon. No telling what I'll look like next go around. I might be in an urn. Some great-nephew of mine might be wondering what to do with my dust.


suz said...

i suppose there is a steely-eyed 007 quality to your photo, but i still see the golden-haired young man with the sweet smile on whom i had one of my first crushes!
:) khairete

Ross Eldridge said...

Oh! Suz!

You're making poor old (grey) Bolphie blush!

I most recall the events, before we set eyes on each other, when you were responsible for my name change to Rolph, which became Rolphie, then Bolphie. I can still have a fit of giggles about that.


Ruth L.~ said...

Even talking about death and dust, you make me laugh. CAn't go back as far as Suz, but you cut a handsome figure . . . or bust, in this case. :>)