The way ahead

I’ve taken the title of this essay from that of a film I recently saw on the Talking Pictures TV channel. Made in 1944, it aimed to boost civilian morale at a time when civilians needed to be convinced that ‘one final push’ would take us to victory – which, of course, it did.

However, apart from drawing the obvious parallel between our situation in 1944, and the one we are in now, I shan’t dwell on the film, as my aim is to consider where we are in regard to holidaying abroad later this year.  

As far as foreign holidays are concerned, we are in a tangled and complicated place, with talk of ‘vaccine passports’, ‘travel corridors’ and destinations designated red, amber, or green. Also, any travel – which can’t happen anyway until after 17 May – carries a threat of mandatory, and expensive, quarantine and health tests on one’s return.   

The tourism industry, in the UK and worldwide, is in dire straits. A few days ago it was revealed that airlines have already lost some $48 billion dollars. Some of those airlines are screaming blue murder at a proposal by Heathrow to increase its fees, which, they claim, they would have to pass on to their passengers.   

For the record, Heathrow already charges the highest landing fees of any airport in the world.

Also, at Heathrow and other UK ports of entry, the few arriving passengers have to queue for hours to get through immigration formalities.

We should not be surprised that the Border Force is buckling under the strain, as it has failed to perform effectively ever since its creation in 2012 from the ruins of the equally inept Border Agency. I have no idea how it can be improved, as it is under no real pressure to do so.   

(Complaints from the travelling public which funds the Agency through its taxes, and in particular the Government’s punitive airport departure taxes, do not, of course, count as pressure.)    

Perhaps taking the staff out of uniforms and putting them back into civilian clothes might help. Or making them refund part of our Departure tax if they take too long letting us in – an idea I floated here some time ago.

As for ‘vaccine passports’, various governments, the World Health Organisation, and other interested bodies, are trying to come up with a solution acceptable to all. The EU is making much of its progress towards a ‘Green Pass’ – whatever that might be.  

Something that has a photograph of its bearer, cannot be forged, and can be scanned electronically to confirm said bearer’s state of health is one suggestion.  

Which means that the little piece of paper you got from the vaccination centre (and which you are keeping safely in the wallet with your Bus Pass) won’t do. An ‘app’ on a smartphone seems to be the preferred solution, if current newspaper stories are to be believed. Though I’m not versed in the technicalities, I wonder if it will suffice, as the person who presents the phone to an immigration officer may not be the person whose details are in it. Not to mention the fact that many people don’t own such devices.

No doubt a solution will be found. The politicians say this will happen in two or three months. I prefer ‘eventually’, as it is less likely to result in disappointment. One bright spot is that members of the European Parliament believe that fully vaccinated travellers (that’s us, folks!) should not be required to undergo quarantine, self-isolation or testing.

What a pity MEPs are not always as sensible in their deliberations and decisions.

As things stand, are we to be confined to ‘green’ destinations only, reached through ‘travel corridors’? If so, what happens if the Government back home decides to downgrade a country’s status to ‘amber’ or ‘red’ when we are in the middle of our holiday?

Cannot enterprising insurance companies add a section to their travel policies, to the effect that, if such a situation occurs, the cost of our unexpected quarantine would be covered? Are they even considering it? I wish they would tell us.     

All in all, the prospects for international travel are in quite a muddle, even as the domestic situation appears to be speedily improving. Never mind: “It will all come right in the end and, if it is not yet right, then it is not yet the end.”   

Yes, that quote is from a film – ‘The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel’ – but you knew that. However, it brings me back to the film I mentioned at the start.

‘The Way Ahead’ began life as a 40-minute training film made in 1943 for the Army Kinematograph Service, but a major in the Army Film Unit realised its potential, and persuaded its director and script writers that a longer version for public consumption would be a winner.

The perceptive officer was David Niven. The director was Carol Reed and the script writers were Eric Ambler and Peter Ustinov. To comply with army regulations, so they could work together during the making of the film, Private Ustinov was appointed Niven’s batman. Both appeared in the film, of course.

So did Trevor Howard. It was his first film role, but so brief that his name doesn’t appear in the credits.

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John Carter

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

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