A shot in the arm

Travel Talk

If you clock into this space regularly, you’ll know that I am an optimist as far as Covid-19 is concerned, and have been since the moment it showed its ugly face a year ago. 

I know it’s been awful, with death and grief, and our lives turned upside down. But I have always believed we would, as a nation, come through and even live in a better and kinder society as a result.

Having just received my first vaccination (which I’ll get back to in a moment), that belief is strengthened. It had already received a boost by newspaper reports that ‘optimistic over-50s’ were rushing to book summer holidays both at home and abroad.   

Thomas Cook, TUI, National Express and Saga all report a surge in demand. Not only for holidays in 2021, but also for 2022, particularly for long-haul trips. Saga has sensibly insisted on proof of vaccination before a booking will be accepted, and I’ve no doubt other tour operators will follow suit.    

Almost sixty years ago, when I was still trying to get the hang of the travel trade, somebody told me that, when times get tough, holiday bookings are the first to suffer – but are the first to pick up again when times get better. So it would appear, with ‘Silver Travellers’ leading the trend.

That news, plus a recent steady reduction in the number of new cases, leads me to believe we might be getting over the latest ‘spike’, though we must not become complacent.

The transformational element is, of course, the vaccination – a shot in the arm, literally and figuratively.

I received mine in a ‘pop-up clinic’ in the heart of town, just a few yards from a convenient bus stop. We had to wait, of course, as the procedure was running almost an hour behind schedule. That was nobody’s fault. It happens when you are dealing with people, especially the older generation, who are not as nimble as they used to be.  

Anyway, shuffling along in a socially distanced queue provides an opportunity to chat with strangers, which is always a good thing.

The chap immediately behind me, wearing a plastic visor and a face mask, was named Stanley. We had a fascinating conversation – though he did most of the talking – being interrupted from time to time as the volunteers politely ushered us along.

In fits and starts, Stanley told me of a neighbour who had been widowed for several years but re-married in 2019, at the age of 76.

“Good for him,” says I.

“Ah,” says Stanley, “it really isn’t that good, because she’s only 27. A lass from the Philippines.”

“Oh”, says I (there being no other suitable response, when you come to think about it).

“Yes”, says Stanley. “His three kids hate her. She’s younger than they are, and they reckon she’s only after his money and the house.”

I pondered on this. That old guy might not have much money, but having been told the area in which he lives, I know his house must be worth the thick end of a million pounds, probably more. Something tells me his children may have reason for concern.

But that was just incidental to the evening, though reinforcing my belief that real life is more interesting than anything you’ll read in a novel.

My only disappointment was that the jab I received was the Pfizer version and not the ‘Oxford’. 

This is because I have knowledge about the Oxford vaccine that has been kept from ‘The General Public’ – as we, who are in the know, call those who aren’t.   

However, as you are a discerning reader of the Silver Travel Advisor web site (especially this bit of it), you are not, strictly speaking, “The General Public” so I can let you into the secret. But don’t breathe a word.

Despite the hypnotic sequences you have seen on television, with little bottles passing through complicated machines, the real manufacturing process of the Oxford vaccine takes place in the kitchens of Cotswold farmhouses.   

There, the wives and daughters of worthy yeomen whip up the basic mixture in huge wooden churns, wielding traditional ‘Firtlespoons’ and ‘Puddling Ladles’ with practised ease.   

The wives, for the most part, are plump and apple-cheeked, with

floral pinafores and beaming smiles. Their daughters are prim maidens with downcast eyes who dream, as they stir, of their swains.

Agitating the bubbling brew, their young hearts become equally agitated when they think of what might happen when ‘Wurzling’ season comes round again. That headstrong, heartstrong time when al fresco courtship re-commences, might persuade lusty Silas to come up with a proposal rather than his usual proposition. If so, joy – and much more – will be unconfined.

But I digress. I must tell you that those toiling mothers and daughters are unbelievably efficient. On a daily basis, gallons of their industrial-strength, herb and berry-based ‘jollupmix’ (as it is known to the cognoscenti) are conveyed in stout oak barrels on horse-drawn carts to the cellars of a certain Oxford college. 

There, age-withered alchemists transfer the mix to copper cauldrons in order to contribute their secret ingredients and necromantic skills. That toiling team of anonymous Dumbledores – never acknowledged in the ‘Clap for Carers’ demonstrations – are as dedicated as those we do recognise. Truly, unsung heroes.

I hoped to have that home-grown elixir sloshing around inside my old corpus, not something produced in an impersonal foreign laboratory by people in white coats. And not merely for patriotic reasons.   

Because, you see, the Oxford vaccine I describe has beneficial side effects.

Not only does it protect you from Covid-19, but it gives you command of the dance floor, a singing voice that charms birds from the trees, and the ability to play, at concert level, the musical instrument of your choice.   

My closest chums know of my lifelong ambition to master the flageolet, but that, and those other advantages (which, I forgot to mention, include becoming irresistible to members of the opposite sex) have been denied me.

Never mind, the Pfizer fizz should keep Covid-19 at bay, and that’s more important than any fringe benefits.

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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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