Conspiracy theory

Travel Talk

I’m not a believer in conspiracy theories. I think Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President Kennedy and that Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. As for the Duke of Edinburgh being behind the death of Princess Diana, well you have to be a special kind of crackpot for that to have any traction – indeed, a fully paid-up member of the tinfoil hat brigade.

But I admit to thinking long and hard about how Covid got started.   

The account of it leaping the species in a Chinese “wet market” did ring true, as I have seen those Chinese markets and am inclined to believe anything could spring from them.   

When scientists speculated whether pangolins or bats were the source, I was inclined to listen, knowing the Chinese propensity for eating anything with a pulse. Years ago I was told that a species of owl was in danger of extinction for no other reason than the Chinese regarded it as a delicacy.   

But then I had second thoughts, because our old friend “coincidence” reared its head. To paraphrase Bogart in Casablanca: “Of all the wet markets, in all the towns, in all of China …” why did it have to be the market in the town which also has an Institute of Virology – an establishment specifically set up to study this kind of virus.

Now I am a believer in coincidences, having encountered virtually unbelievable ones in the course of my travelling life. For example, a husband and wife first met in a wine lodge near Oporto were encountered again two years later on a glass bottomed boat heading for the Great Barrier Reef.   

And an English lass who gave me a desperately needed haircut on a cruise ship in the mid 1980s, is a neighbour of Carole’s son, in Colorado.

What are the odds against that, eh?

But when it comes to Covid and Wuhan and “did it come from the wet market or the Institute of Virology?” situation, I think it’s probably best to pause before making a decision.   

The Chinese handling of the outbreak cannot be divorced from China’s conduct in respect of the South China Sea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and its treatment of religious minorities. This is a country whose rulers cannot be trusted, who lie, and break treaties. They have no honour.

But, whatever the truth about Covid, they will get their comeuppance in the end. A system that cannot tolerate criticism is a system that must, eventually, fail.

Staying on the theme of Conspiracy Theories – but with a massive change of tack – it is my opinion that the current and growing confusion regarding holidays and travel abroad is because of incompetence or inefficiency on the part of those who run the country – the Senior Civil Servants in Whitehall and, temporarily, an assortment of distinguished epidemiologists and other scientists.   

In short, cock up, not conspiracy.

However, if I were a conspiracy theorist, I might recall that the majority of our rulers regard tourism with a degree of contempt, and always have.   

They think it somehow demeaning that people flock from other lands to see our countryside through coach windows, traipse around Stately Homes and Cathedrals in the wake of tour guides brandishing brollies, or take photographs of Stonehenge, the Tower of London or the Changing of the Guard.  

“It’s like living in a damned Theme Park”, I was once told by a chap who worked in the Treasury. But he and his disapproving chums were, and are, more than happy with the money those “damned foreigners” spend.

This deep-seated attitude towards the tourist industry is reflected in the fact that Britain has never had a fully fledged Ministry of Tourism, like just about every other country in the world. Instead, it is lumped with “Culture, Media and Sport” in a ragbag department where Civil Service careers go to die and politicians, usually, to demonstrate that they are unsuited for higher office.

As for the idea that anyone other than the rich and entitled should aspire to travel abroad for a holiday, that, too, is frowned upon in some exalted circles. 

We are deterred by the highest Airport Departure Taxes in the world and, currently, by the cost of health checks which are far cheaper, and, indeed, free of charge, in other lands. As for the rigmarole of getting back into the UK, I’ve expressed my opinion of Border Force in this space before and have no reason to change it.

When I began writing about travel and tourism, I was told about this attitude by folk in the holiday business who had been battling it for years. Because it has no factories, no assembly lines, no smoking chimneys, tourism isn’t looked upon as a “proper” industry by Westminster and Whitehall.  

Dismissed as a “candyfloss sector of the economy”, to quote a phrase bandied about Westminster and Whitehall in the 1960s, tourism has never been acknowledged as the vitally important economic force that it is. I fear it never will, and the current situation only serves to reinforce that opinion.

However, not all is lost. It was announced a few days ago that the Border Force is to be overhauled. The Force’s director-general, and the director-general of Immigration Enforcement are to leave their posts (which, I suspect, is a diplomatic way of saying they’ve been sacked).

Failure to stem the flow of illegal immigrants is given as the reason, but with luck a shaken-up Border Force might actually result in a more efficient service for all of us. One can only hope.

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John Carter

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

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