Now & Then by John Carter – April 2022

“I feel like I’m coming out of a two-year hibernation.”

Somebody in the coffee shop said that, on the day in March, when the last Covid restrictions were lifted.  I can’t recall who, but it was certainly one of the regulars at “Giardino’s”, who have morphed into an unofficial club.

We drink our Americanos and Cappuccinos, nibble our pastries, and mull over the news of the day. 

As befits people of our age, we have no hesitation in expressing our opinions – about politics, international affairs, or life in general – because our years entitle us to those opinions.  And, without being boastful, we are more often than not well ahead of the trend.  

“They (meaning the Government) ought to do such-and-such,” declares Tony or Malcolm, or Alan – or, more likely, one of their respective wives.

And, I kid you not, “they” usually follow that advice a week or so later.

Between us we have negotiated the aftermath of Brexit, the life-limiting effects of Covid and, now, are dealing with the war in Ukraine, the incompetence of the Home Office and the shortcomings of the National Health Service.  

But it was the remark about the “two-year hibernation” which set me thinking.

It certainly applies to the situation regarding the resumption of foreign travel.  First, it was completely out of the question.  Then, it became possible if you were prepared to jump through all sorts of medical hoops.  Now, it is rapidly getting back to normal.  Unfortunately in bad as well as good ways.

On the day we put forward the clocks, Gatwick Airport announced the re-opening of its South Terminal, British Airways said it would resume flights from there, and Heathrow and Manchester airports put out positive press releases.

I rejoiced with a mental “yippee!!  But I rejoiced too soon.

Within days came news of massive queues at airport departure gates, long waits in baggage halls and – for returning passengers – at immigration desks.  The airport authorities blamed staff shortages, Border Force kept quiet.  A wise course of action, in my view, as its record is not a good one.

One news item, categorised by a BBC reporter as “good news” was the fact that a threatened strike by airport baggage handlers – over the Easter weekend, naturally – had been postponed.  As long as there are staff shortages, you can rely on the relevant trade unions to exploit them. Just as the unions representing the teaching and medical professions used Covid to press their agendas over the last couple of years.

But the bottom line is that we are now able to travel freely, and those of us at the top end of the age range plan to do so now restrictions are lifted.   

Published this month, Silver Travel Advisor’s annual report on the intentions of that vital section of the travelling public bears that out.  It seems that those of us who have weathered more than our fair share of crises – political, medical, and financial – are rarin’ to go.   

Long-haul destinations. Ocean and river cruises. Even expeditions with an element of “soft adventure”. All are on our list. Not for the first time, the older generation is setting an example.

True, the forecast of future economic hardship may affect some plans, but, the survey reveals, not to a great extent.  

After all, when it comes to the subject of tight budgets, this is the generation that remembers previous hard times. In particular, 1966, when exchange control regulations limited the amount of currency you could take abroad to £50 a year – and no more than £15 in cash at any one time.  

These regulations were flouted as a matter of course, on the reasonable grounds that, if we happened to have money to spare, we had earned it, paid taxes on it, and nobody was going to tell us we couldn’t spend it as we wished.   

Hopefully, the staff shortages that are causing the airport congestion, as well as the particular problems that beset Eurostar and the cross-channel ferries, will be overcome. I hope so, as my own travel plans include a journey from Gatwick to Tenerife at the end of this month.  

They do not, now, include a cruise in May, on which I was scheduled to lecture. For perfectly good reasons, this has been postponed. One of the reasons is that it included a visit to St. Petersburg – clearly out of the question under current circumstances.

In the meantime, the “Giardino Gang” will continue to discuss problems both national and international, and come up with solutions far faster than the Government.  I hope…

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John Carter

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

One Response

  1. John, you are so right. You need to go when you can as you never know what is going to happen. We went to Sri Lanka for a month in January 2022 and despite travelling extensively, everything went according to plan. Fast forward a few weeks and the country is experiencing one of the worst economic crises since 1948 with curfews, power cuts and protests on the streets.

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