Kishwar Desai | Of staycations and cheap meals: Will Christmas be merry again?

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Columnists

Just a fortnight ago, people were told to travel abroad to European countries with which the UK had “air bridges”

Passengers wearing facemasks as a precaution against the spread of Covid-19 walk through arrivals at St Pancras International station in London on Friday after travelling on a Eurostar train from Paris (AFP)

ONLY those who were sensible enough to opt for a staycation did not get their holidays wrecked.

Oh, to think that just a year ago we could fly endlessly around the globe. And now taking even a short holiday is like a complicated military manoeuvre, where every possibility has to be measured and prepared for.

Just a fortnight ago, people were told to travel abroad to European countries with which the UK had “air bridges”.  As holidays typically end by the beginning of September, Brits rushed off to Italy, Greece, Spain and France.

Now comes the ruling that France is a no-go, as is Spain, which has seen a second wave of infections. If you have been or are in France and get delayed in returning, then you face a fortnight of quarantine at home upon return.

This means kids will miss opening days of school. That is, in case the schools open at all. The Teachers Union is not sure if their members or their pupils will be safe. But not to worry.

Pubs are open and restaurants have been cheered up by Rishi Sunak’s scheme of meals at half-price if you eat out.

As the old rock song said: “We need no education”. Cheap meals is all we need! But whether this will be enough to ensure that restaurants will survive is difficult to say -- as the subsidies cannot last for too long.

Each society has its own way of dealing with Covid-19. In India we have families bonding even more and the sale of noodles and pasta is shooting up as people home-cook. And many feel it is time to bring back the joint family.  But in London it is difficult to keep anyone at home while the pubs continue to overflow.

LIKE others, the royal family too have opted for a staycation. The Queen, 94, and the Duke of Edinburgh, 99, headed off to Balmoral, their Scottish castle where the weather is, if anything, more severe than in Windsor, where they were isolating themselves.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also chosen Scotland for his holidays but that is more because he knows that there is yet again a rising demand in Scotland for independence.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister (like chief minister) managed the Covid episode much better than Boris did for England and is likely to win the elections in Scotland. So we are bracing for yet another referendum on Scottish independence.

EVEN so the government in Scotland did not do better than England when it came to exam results of school leavers waiting to go to universities. Teaching was disrupted due to lockdowns. Schools tried teaching online but as usual the private schools did better than state funded schools.

Proper examinations could not be held. So they had mock exams in many parts of the country. The students also have teachers’ assessments to send forward with their university applications. With no proper exams, what would the final grades be?

If anything worse than the pandemic policy can be imagined, we have had it. The Scottish Education Authority used an “algorithm” which resulted in massive downgrading of students. There was such a furore that the minister had to apologise and rescind the results.

Better decisions are awaited and students feel cheated and angry. So they will appeal. With only four weeks left before the university admissions are decided, an unhappy holiday is what students can look forward to.

For young people all over the world, 2020 has brought huge uncertainty.

THERE are many reasons to celebrate or commemorate August 15 which is also Victory over Japan (VJ) Day, but it gets celebrated much less than the Victory in Europe (VE) Day.

In India it is rarely mentioned, though one of the most crucial land battles, that in Kohima, took place in India, which Japan lost and then retreated from Southeast Asia. It means a lot in Australia and New Zealand but not in other places which should commemorate it.

THE one good news among many sad ones is that theatres are about to reopen. In a dramatic gesture, Andrew Lloyd Webber volunteered to be a test  case for the Covid-19 vaccine because like many, he thinks that until there is a vaccine the problem of social distancing will trouble theatres.

He had to close the long-running Phantom of the Opera (which I saw it for the first time 20 years ago), but no doubt he will rebound with something else. But even with their capacity reduced to one-third of normal, venues like Bridge Theatre and the National will open in the autumn.

Bridge would show a new play by David Hare and later it will revive Talking Heads by Alan Bennet.

The National will open only the Olivier Theatre with a new one-person play Death of  England: Delroy. It is an unusual play about racism written by two black playwrights.  Art galleries are also reopening.

Tate Modern has opened as has the National Gallery. The British Museum and the British Library are back but with limited capacity. Perhaps by Christmas, life may, finally, be merry again.