“Events, dear boy, events”

Travel Talk

I’m sure you recognise that quotation. It is supposed to have come from Harold Macmillan, when he was asked what would most influence his Government’s policy and conduct.

The old boy knew that the most carefully-laid plans and thoroughly-researched policies could be derailed in an instant by some unforeseen happening.    

He was right. A sex-and-spying scandal, labelled The Profumo Affair, came out of nowhere and led to the collapse of his Government in 1964.

(Macmillan’s track record of judging the importance of ‘Events’ was not good. One Saturday afternoon in 1961, when manning the News Desk of The Sunday Times, I tracked him down to the estate near Sheffield where he was enjoying a shooting weekend. When he came to the telephone, I asked for his thoughts about the wall which the East Germans were starting to build in Berlin. His reply? “Oh, I think it’s all got up by the Press.”)

Now before you start wondering where the heck I am going with this, my purpose is to point out that the best-laid plans have to take into account unforeseen events. And it seems to me that Boris’s ‘escape route’ from our present situation does precisely that.   

When a certain set of circumstances applies, then certain things will happen. If something delays the process, those things will, similarly, be delayed. It makes sense to me, even if a few braying backbenchers and other assorted axe-grinders can’t seem to grasp the concept.

How can we possibly know that some new and ghastly variety of the bug isn’t waiting to pounce? ‘The Ascension Island Variant’ that turns your skin green, or ‘The Zanzibar Mutation’ that causes you to shed your toenails? In such a situation, should we press on regardless?

Thus, Boris and his political chums, along with all those top-notch scientists are going to follow the science and the statistics as they make each cautious move towards the exit. Good for them, says I.

(Actually, in one respect, they are not following the statistics. If they were, they would close the hospitals and open the pubs, for the former are responsible for more people becoming infected than the latter.)

Events aren’t always upsetting. Right now, the most heart lifting event is the surge in holiday bookings. It is led, as I mentioned here some time ago, by the ‘Silver’ generation. Not for the first time are they setting an example. Good for them, says I (again). 

I think we will end up with some type of ‘Covid Passport’, which will make travelling abroad – and, just as important, coming back home again – a straightforward business. Some people object, because, they think, it infringes their freedom in an unspecified way.  

If you feel like that, fair enough. Refuse to have such a document. But don’t whinge when reputable tour firms or cruise operator refuse to accept a booking from you. 

As for me, I’m looking forward to being the bearer of good tidings in the coming months, after well over a year of trying to keep a sense of proportion, and a sense of optimism. Information I am receiving from several sources is that, on a practical level, the countries that rely on tourist income are already putting in place schemes to encourage us to visit, and make life easier for us when we do.   

At the beginning of last year I forecast that we would, once again, be travelling the world – sooner than most people imagined. As long as ‘Events’ don’t interfere, we’re well on the way to that happy moment.

As a final thought, let me share with you what I believe is the most striking example of an unforeseen event upsetting a carefully-planned applecart.    

To do this, you must come with me to Washington D.C.

It is the morning of 4th July 1876. The day America will celebrate the Centenary of its Independence. A day filled with parties and merrymaking, sumptuous luncheons, great banquets, grand balls.

And fireworks, of course. Lots of fireworks.

Everything has been planned to the last detail to ensure the day will be joyful and gay. However …

On the morning of 4th July 1876, news reached Washington D.C. that General George Armstrong Custer had been defeated in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

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John Carter

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

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