John Carter, Now & Then: Christmas 2022

Travel Talk

John Carter ponders on Christmases past and the travel situation present.

Please accept my sincere apologies for neglecting “Now and Then” for far too long.  

There are good reasons, which involve Covid and an unrelated spell of ill health, as well as the need to finish a major writing project which began without a deadline, but acquired one as a consequence of the Covid, etc. 

But here I am, back in time to contemplate Christmas, and note the various forecasts of how tough and gloomy and wretched life is going to be for all of us during the festive season, and the year – or even years –beyond . 

And I can’t help thinking: “Here we go again”.   

As someone who has marked very many Christmases (you, too?), I can recall those which were far gloomier than anything on the present scene.  When money was tighter, life harsher, and childhood presents werebooks that had been bought at Autumn jumble sales. Or bent and battered model cars, similarly acquired.  They did not come wrapped in fancy paper, with ribbons and bows, but in plain brown or even newspaper.

Those were Christmases when treats were, literally, non-existent.    

When municipal displays of festive lights had been packed away “for the duration”. When food was rationed and festive drinks virtually unobtainable.  

But though my childhood Christmases were sparse, they were enjoyable.  

And, as a child, I had the great advantage of knowing nothing different. 

Of having no memories of pre-war Christmases, unlike my parents, aunts and uncles who gathered, more like a clan than a family, to “make the best of it”, thank their lucky stars that they were still alive, and hope for better times ahead.

More recent memories are of the 1960s and 1970s, when social and industrial unrest were rife, strikers challenged the authority of government, and inflation and interest rates were far, far, higher than today’s.

We survived that, and we can survive this. Indeed, more than survive a situation which is far less daunting than some would have us believe.

In fact, circumstances are improving faster than most pundits forecast.

Oil is now well under $84 dollars a barrel, and falling, and Europe is awash with more liquefied natural gas than it can handle. Cargo ships full of it are loitering off our shores because storage tanks are brimming.

The risk of power shortages is rapidly receding. If there is a “Winter (and Spring) of Discontent” it will be self-inflicted.

In any event, if you are inclined to feel sorry for yourself this Christmas, spare a thought for those who are unfortunate enough to live in Kyiv or Odessa or any of the Ukrainian towns and villages without heat or light.

Enough of all that. We should take comfort from the fact that, in spite of everything, holidays at home and abroad are back on the agenda.

Travel industry sources are cautiously optimistic, though some short-staffed UK airports and airlines are struggling to cope.

Another encouraging sign is that the trustworthy “regulars” who supply first-hand accounts for the Silver Travel Advisor website for mature travellers are back on the road, dispensing encouragement and advice. 

Though 2022 turned out to be a rotten year for most, not all its gloom will spill over into 2023.

My opinion mirrors that of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who became President of the USA in 1933 – at the height of the Great Depression. In his inaugural speech he declared, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”.

He was spot on. Within months, America and the world began to climb out of the economic abyss.

And now for something completely different – as they used to say on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”.

Something that will, I hope, bring a wry smile to your lips, along with that slow shake of the head that says: “honestly, you couldn’t make it up”.

I assure you this story is absolutely true.

During the course of an argument with his next door neighbour, when expletives were being freely exchanged, a man of my acquaintance referred to him as “a blanking French blank”.

The profanity was not a problem, but mentioning his neighbour’s nationality led to a Crown Court appearance in late November, and a fine of £900.

This is, apparently, because calling the Frenchman “French” constituted “a racially-motivated hate crime”.

Now I tell you this tale, so you will not find yourself hauled up before the beak for a similar offence. 

Though you may refer, for example, to Nicola Sturgeon as “a mendacious politician”, you’ll be in hot water if you call her “a mendacious Scottish politician”. Similarly, Mark Drakeford may, in your opinion, be “a windbag”, but call him “a Welsh windbag” and you’re well and truly in the soup.

Whether this is an international hazard, I have no idea, but I think you might just manage to get away with calling Vladimir Putin “a Russian megalomaniac”.

And Donald Trump is, without doubt, “an American Dime-store Mussolini”.

Have a wonderful Christmas, and may your New Year be filled with love and laughter.

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John Carter

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

One Response

  1. Good to hear from John Carter again and I agree with everything he says, especially about the hard times of the past that I’m sure a lot of younger people have no idea about.

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