I have just seen myself as I very much hope that others do not. You see, I needed to renew my Railcard and they (the railway powers that be) required a new photograph of me, so I took a quick selfie, uploaded it and Bob, as they say, was my Uncle (even though, strangely, my father had never mentioned him). Job done. I awarded myself a gold star for being tech savvy and down with the kids. Great.
Except that I now have a Railcard that looks like it belongs to a deranged lunatic who has just awoken to find that he really should not have done so.
There were questions to be answered. Obviously, first of all, I had to ask what kind of idiot would blithely use such a photograph without checking it first? Well, the kind that looks like some kind of malnourished ginger Rasputin, obviously. You know the famous photograph, taken after he was dead? I know it’s hard to imagine anybody looking worse, but I do. How could I have failed to notice it before uploading? Somehow, it would appear, in the short distance between my face and the camera’s lens, I had lost about three stones in weight – and most of it from my neck. I have more wattles than Bernard Matthews¹. My eyes appear so sunken that I could probably see through the back of my head and something has happened to my hair that could only have been achieved with a chainsaw. The mirror tells me that I have a short and fairly neatish sort of beard, but in the photo it looks like somebody has pushed a couple of doormats into a giant amorphous blob of pink plastecine: Wallace after a three week bender. All of this under the shade of W.C. Field’s nose. I could not look more like a Victorian convict if I tried.
Now, I am under no illusion: I am no oil painting – although having spent an afternoon in the Tate Modern recently, I’m quite pleased about that. My face is not so much lived in as abandoned, but – and here’s the crucial point – it has never been as bad as that. I look in the mirror and it’s ok. No Brad Pitt – more disused colliery – but definitely human: a hint of a smile, a glint in the eye. It is a pretty normal, if bland, face. It fills the space between my chin and my hat quite adequately. It might not be anything to write home about – unless, perhaps, you have the free loan of somebody else’s pen – but it’s ok. It kind of suits me. I don’t think that it would frighten the horses – although I must admit that in certain lights it does have a tendency to look as though it has been kicked by one or two of them. It doesn’t look hideous in the mirror and it doesn’t look anything like so awful in the photographs of me holding various babies that are scattered around the house – wherever there are stains to be hidden. None of the babies appear too shocked by the fizzog on whatever-it-is that’s holding them. But the more I look at my Railcard, the more I am shocked by it. It is as though the camera had the ability to see into the future – a very long way into it I hope. The photograph certainly gives every indication that it might have been taken post mortem. It doesn’t even allow for the possibility of being a good-looking corpse. It leaves me wondering what I have to do if I am not to face a future walking about under a visage that serves employment as the ‘after’ photo on a thousand life insurance policies.
I’m relatively fit (for a man of my age²): I don’t smoke, I eat properly, I still run and exercise regularly³. I have spent my lifetime looking younger than I am and now, quite unexpectedly, I am faced with a photograph in which I look older than it is probably possible to be. I look like Keith Richards must look before he receives the attentions of the mortician (I’m sorry, I mean make-up artist) in the morning.
And then the hope kicks in. If, at the future date at which my Railcard photograph appears to be set, I am still looking younger than I actually am, then I must be very old indeed and, instead of hinting at a very bitter future, my phone could, instead, simply be predicting a very long one.
Of course, none of this helps me when I get to the train station. Imagine how irked I will be if they refuse to accept the card because it looks nothing like me. Imagine how much worse I will feel if they decide that it does…
¹A famous – in Norfolk – turkey farmer.
²This phrase can be attached to the end of any sentence which is clearly untrue, with the aim of making it seem vaguely possible.
³Once in a blue moon – regular as clockwork.