Do you remember that halcyon period in August? When travel corridors seemed solid and we all made plans for the future? It seems as distant as Zoom quizzes and clapping for the NHS.
After a tricky spring and summer, coping with restrictions while my mum went through chemotherapy, we decided to plan a family holiday for October, when my sister (who is a teacher) would be on half term.
I decided to treat Mum to her dream trip: the Venice Simplon Orient Express. She and I would take the Eurostar from London, change onto the Orient Express in Paris, then meet my wife, sister, and brother-in-law in Venice. We would all spend a few days together there, then Mum and I would take the train home.
By the time we agreed to the plan, France had lost its travel corridor status, meaning two weeks of quarantine for Mum and I upon our return. This would have been particularly tricky for her, as she still had regular GP and hospital appointments. But the point became moot at the end of August, when the Orient Express was indefinitely suspended.
Italy, however, still had its travel corridor. It seemed like a good time to see Venice, given the lack of American tourists and cruise ships. And Italy’s case numbers (back in early September) were far below the Netherlands, France or Spain, and about a third of the UK’s own rate.
Unfortunately, Grant Shapps’ Thursday travel announcement had become a form of morbid entertainment. In each announcement’s wake, thousands of Brits scrambled home before 4am on Saturday, when quarantine was imposed on returnees from “newly unsafe” countries.
I realised that Venice would become a sort of Schrodinger’s Holiday: relaxed because we were away for a break; nerve-wracking because we might have to get home within 36 hours. We were also worried about Mum travelling on a packed plane (rather than private train carriage), so we dropped the idea of going abroad altogether.
We began scouring Britain for ideas. Scotland was a bit of a trek, whilst everywhere in Devon, Sussex or Dorset was fully booked. October weather was likely to be grim in the Welsh mountains and the Lake District, and I’d recently been to Yorkshire.
We settled on East Anglia or the East Midlands and decided that, with another lockdown looming, we weren’t too bothered about hotels, pubs or restaurants. What we really wanted was to spend time with each other, hanging out and catching up.
Bainland Country Park in Woodhall Spa seemed to be just the place. Their self-catering lodges and villas had kitchens, living rooms and garden space. We could spend the weekend cooking together, watching movies and wallowing around in the private hot tubs. The only problem was that everyone else had had the same idea, and the place was fully booked. Then Prime Minister Johnson helped us out (for a change).
At the end of September, the “Rule of Six” came into place. Groups larger than that had to suddenly cancel their bookings, leaving many of Bainland’s larger lodges empty. Those newly empty lodges were being offered at a discount, and we secured our holiday at last.
Today, of course, it’s turmoil again. With new Tiered restrictions, which vary across the regions, we are confused about what we are actually allowed to do, since my mum is in a Tier One area, but my wife and I live in Tier Two London.
Fortunately, the Government has consistently demonstrated that the rules have loopholes: perhaps we can follow Dominic Cummings’ advice and ignore them using “common sense”. Or we can follow Cabinet Secretary Brandon Lewis’s logic by breaking the rules in a “limited and specific way”. Sadly, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has said that such rule-flouting is only reserved for international treaties, and not Government regulations.
Having worked with 7 Rifles on the Army’s response to Covid-19, I support efforts to reduce the impact of this virus. But it’s getting hard to keep losing the things that I look forward to. Right now, I’m not sure if our break can go ahead, but I’m determined to find a way to make something work.