Priorities in a Pandemic
So, after purchasing several flights, receiving a couple of refunds and accepting an endless stream of timetabled flight changes, here we are in Stratford-upon-Avon, at long last.
Our travelling has been made distinct by the pandemic, making me feel, at times, like an extra in an end-of-the-world film. In Sydney, we had our pre-flight PCRs at the airport in a testing centre that employed security and had an eerie this-crowd-could-turn-ugly atmosphere, as frustrations ran high and poor systems led to crowds awaiting their printed results from a single obviously-overworked employee. I wanted to take a picture of the rows of seats, each with its own full-suited tester, but I figured their day was already challenging enough. Within moments of checking in (the pandemic kind) we were alerted to positive cases at the terminal, making us creep around its edges and walk in wavy lines, so as to keep our distance from the men (almost always) who seem to find it challenging to keep a mask over their arrogant faces.
Japan isn’t playing games. Keep your mask off a little too freely during the dinner service, and an impossibly-elegant flight attendant in goggles will gently encourage you to replace it. The moving walkways in Tokyo airport are marked with social-distancing lines of permanence, and their retail mask game is beyond compare. Unfortunately, they are often on the small side, so no delicate, pastel numbers in sculptural shapes for Lucy and me…just the white, standard-issue XL men’s version. The airport was enough to remind me of the significant affection I have for this country, and it wasn’t solely about the Kitsune Udon (with smoked egg and shrimp tempura – veganism be damned!) we had for breakfast. I will live here one day (she repeats, ad nauseum).
Heathrow was unexpected. Lucy described it best when she said, ‘it feels like they have given up’. No customs, no border control, no checks…simply a wander through the passport scanners and we were on our way. The Terminal 4 drive-through testing centre was equally-mystifying. ‘We’re early for our test’, I told the guy at the first stop, before soon realising this wasn’t going to be high on their list of concerns. Here we are, driving through an enormous, seemingly-abandoned testing centre in a re-purposed car park. Our tester was obviously bored. ‘Which nostril?’ he asked, before really going to town. I can still feel it now.
The actual travelling part of travelling is always a little disorienting, for me anyway, without the markers of time and place and climate. As Lucy said, upon observing the fellow buying himself a second 7am-beer in Tokyo, ‘the rules of time have no power here’. The endlessness of the view from the window, with its snow-capped peaks and ice-scarred landscape, means offsetting an existential crisis with wine and blockbusters, although, to be fair, I am partial to both.
My brain has been busy for a while now. All roads seem to lead to doomsday, fuelled by a combination of the pandemic and climate change, and I am continually mystified by humanity’s response. My social feeds veer from one outrage to the next and the smug incompetence of our leaders leaves me feeling despondent and helpless. This is why, without questioning the sensibility of travelling at this time and the risks involved, I am about the engage in the following:
Eating this cod and chips, with mushy peas and curry sauce
Seeing the actual building where Shakespeare was born
Wandering ‘lonely as a cloud’ around the Lake District
Seeing Hadrian’s Wall and a castle or two with Lucy, and basking in the remnants of history
And, possibly, taking a ridiculous detour to stand where Poldark stood in Cornwall
And, most importantly, I will spend time with my British family, even if I have to sit outside a window in this shite, godawful weather to do it. Because, when all is said and done, what even is there that matters other than people?
PS. That opening ‘so’ was for you, Dad…I hope I didn’t need to point this out.