Postcard From Rhodes

24 October 2020  /  Updated 7 March 2021

Guy de la Bédoyère

Sitting on a beach on the north coast of Rhodes in the last week of October, the sight is enough to warm the cockles of a British airport manager’s heart. One Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 series machine after another joins the circuit to come down at the airport. Every one of them is carrying a couple of hundred more willing punters and representing money and jobs for the local economy.

And meanwhile what’s happening in Britain? One glance at the news and I learn that Mark Drakeford has thrown Wales back hundreds of years into half-demented medieval superstition. Totally unable to concede to himself and anyone else the basic reality that coronaviruses are beyond the wit of man to do any more than inhibit, he has decided the best thing to do is lead the pack in the race to the bottom of economic destruction in the crazed belief that finally COVID-19 will get the message that he means to destroy it with futile gestures. While the Welsh wrap up microwaves and socks in supermarkets to stop anyone buying them, the citizens of Rhodes are operating more or less normally.

Mind you, we didn’t get here without some trouble. Both the British and Greek governments are subscribing to the ‘we’re not here to enjoy ourselves’ school of thought, though to differing degrees. The Greeks insist on a passenger locator form being completed before arrival. A QR code and its serial number, sent the night before arrival, denote whether you’ll be tested on arrival, assessed by an algorithm. The lucky ones are those with a code that starts with an uneven number, mainly a seven. That included me. The FCO’s website usefully tells you that a test at a Greek airport may be followed by a period of compulsory quarantine (about 24 hours) until the result which either means liberation or a fortnight as a guest of the Greek Government. Thanks to that useful piece of advice and some online horror stories we nearly cancelled the trip at the last minute. Thank goodness we didn’t.

Our travel company’s reps (I never take package trips normally but under current circumstances it’s better to be with a company that has to get you home) were completely useless. They knew nothing at all or were deliberately keeping their mouths shut. In fact, they didn’t even seem to have heard of COVID-19, which was refreshing. In the event I was tested on arrival and told nothing by the Greeks about any quarantine. The big question was why this ingenious algorithm (perhaps devised by Imperial College’s razor brains with their Ever Ready battery-powered bakelite calculator?) decided that someone like myself who lives in rural Lincolnshire and has never even knowingly met someone who’s had COVID-19, let alone died with (or actually from) it, constituted such a risk. If so, that would explain why Neil Ferguson thought half a million people were going to die from it in the UK before Friday teatime in late April.

Big surprise. I heard nothing. Which is the Greek Government’s way of telling you the test was negative, or perhaps their way of telling you the tests were just for show and the results are all being taken care of by ‘top people’ in the warehouse the size of the Peloponnese at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The experience illustrated to me the utter absurdity of not having testing before departure at the airport. It’s patently obvious that it’s far more sensible not to travel and go back home to self-isolate than it is to get to the destination, having potentially infected half the plane, and then be quarantined. In fact, it’s more than absurd. It’s downright insane and the people at Heathrow desperately trying to get the British Government to realize this should all have medals.

Our hotel, picked at random from the tour company website, turned out to be largely filled with high-risk overweight Brits aged mainly 60 plus. Judging by their accents, I’d say most of them are Tier 2 and Tier 3 refugees who’ve clearly had enough of Covid misery. If they are going to die imminently as the tabloid apocalyptic-headline-competing members of SAGE keep telling us, they’re determined to expire in the sun, stuffed by the all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast and dinner. Loafing by the pool in 28 Celsius heat under a blazing sun, the sweat poured off them in rivulets. Three growing-old-disgracefully ladies in their late sixties went for a spot of topless sunbathing which must make quite a difference from the opportunities currently available in Liverpool or Cardiff.

Across the sea to the north and visibly shimmering in a heat haze is the southwest coast of Turkey, a land according to Grant Shapps where vast mobs of Covid zombies stagger about in an effort to inflict more of their disease on any unwitting tourist. Thank God Grant has protected us though, since it’s only a few miles away and I’m sure an enterprising virus or two could catch a lift on a seagull’s rump and make it across. But so enterprising is our Government and so devoted to our safety and security, as well as economic destruction, I just know Grant will be on them with all the verve, vim and vigour of a drone made out of a wet flannel the moment they try any funny stuff.

There is the odd mask here but actually it’s so hot it is almost impossible to wear them for more than a minute before one’s face is covered in a film of bacteria and virus infested warm sweat. In practice masks are only worn in places like taxis, buses and shops. It’s not compulsory in hotels. Now, to be fair the hotel has altered its practices. The buffet is now served on demand from behind glass panels which means queuing and the normal options like excursions aren’t operating. It’s really no hassle.

Don’t get me wrong. Rhodes is quiet and it’s clear most of the bars and restaurants are fairly empty though the hotels are moderately busy. There are Covid signs around, and plenty of hand sanitizer. The aircraft, despite following one after another, are far fewer than normal.

I’m beginning to regret not booking longer but frankly it is almost impossible to describe the psychological effect of walking down a beach in the pure sharp autumn light of the Greek Islands in the middle of the mania of our time. That’s when you begin to realise that the way the UK governments have handled the crisis, egged on by the rabid doom-mongering useful idiots they have hired, have done almost everything and anything they could to drag us all down on a self-fulfilling spiral of decline and despair.

The fear of COVID-19 is being pumped into British people’s homes like mustard gas and corroding everyone’s will to live. So, it’s a relief to see that there are people who have managed to find a way to escape. I’m not promoting negligence and stupidity but rather the fundamental need to have a sense of wellbeing and optimism if one is going to deal with a potential disaster. Self-flagellation of the type Britain and so many other nations seem hell-bent on inflicting on their populations and with which so many people have enthusiastically complied is the best possible way to reduce everyone’s capacity to deal with a crisis.

It’s turning into every man for himself and every woman for herself. In the end we are all learning to see that we must protect our own personal interests and that of our families. The UK governments lost the plot months ago. Driven half-demented by the discovery they are not gods after all and thus unable to abolish death and sickness, they continue the pretence of omnipotence with increasingly eccentric measures which consist almost entirely of beating ourselves up. Paper potentates with cardboard crowns. Most of their measures are ultimately futile but for the moment they continue to insist that it is only our hideous irresponsibility and failure to follow the rules that is frustrating the success of their empty promises.

I look forward to Mark Drakeford holding up an unbought microwave to ‘prove’ to the Welsh people that without that machine staying in the shop x-dozen other citizens of Cardiff would undoubtedly have died. Just like the Simpsons’ anti-tiger rock. It’s a form of such reckless symbolic stupidity that it is hard to credit to an intelligent person, especially someone claiming to ‘follow the science’. Or should that be alchemy?

Meanwhile I’m off to stuff my face at dinner. And I’m glad our money is going towards keeping the people here in Rhodes in work, and at Stansted and in our airline, as well as the hotel we stayed in the night before we flew. We plan to visit our youngest son in Mexico in January. BA flies there weekly and the country is open, and I’ve also found a full-service full cover travel insurance company for non-FCO approved countries. Irresponsible? How so? Our family is more important to us than anything else and we’re not alone, and we’d rather BA’s staff have some of our money and the company keeps operating. We’ll be careful, just like we are here, and we’ll accept the fortnight quarantine on return. We’re learning to live with COVID-19 which in the end is the best we can do. Just like the Greeks.