Any student of politics knows that there's little genuinely new under the sun. Over the past week, I've been immersed in the constitutional history of Northern Ireland (for a paper connected with next year's centenary) and I stumbled across something pertinent from the Second World War. Although Northern Ireland was (and remains) part of the United Kingdom, travel restrictions were imposed between the two on the outbreak of hostilities.
In 1940, Home Secretary Sir John Anderson – a Scottish civil servant turned politician – told the House of Commons that 'all forms of unnecessary travel shall be reduced as far as possible', although there were to be exemptions for those travelling in either direction 'on business of national importance'. The restrictions also didn't apply to members of the Armed Forces, while exit permits were later granted to those travelling 'for urgent family reasons such as the serious illness or death of a close relative'.
But the interesting thing is that, even at the end of hostilities in 1945, some of these restrictions remained in place. While non-essential travel was permitted, British subjects normally resident in Great Britain or Northern Ireland were still required 'to carry either travel identity cards or passports […] to enable them to be distinguished at sight from other passengers and passed through [border] control without delay'. A fee for issuing travel identity cards was abolished in October 1946, but the identity requirement remained in place until 1952.
The Government maintained this was necessary in order to distinguish those entering the mainland from 'aliens' resident in what was then known as 'Eire', but MPs repeatedly lobbied for its abolition until Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, another Scottish Home Secretary, announced that as of 7 April 1952 it would be 'unnecessary for passengers travelling on the routes in question to obtain special documents for the journey or to obtain leave to land from an immigration officer'. Aliens, he added, would 'still have to carry documents establishing their nationality and identity'.
Still, there were no 14-day quarantine periods such as that now in place across the UK. As a keen traveller, the news I follow most avidly is that relating to my now moribund globetrotting. Almost daily, I digest the latest reports concerning the quarantine period, legal challenges to that quarantine period, the prospect of travel 'corridors' between the UK, Greece, Turkey et al, and (according to some) the imminent end of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's guidance against all 'non-essential travel'. I'm still holding out for a pre-booked trip to Malta at the end of August and might even throw Corfu into the mix – assuming it's permitted.
Meanwhile, my household has been tentatively planning for a 'staycation' in early August, something predicated on the Government lifting its ban on domestic holidays between now and my 43rd birthday on 7 August. We've even booked a place in the Peak District for that weekend, having made sure we can get our money back if this proves impossible. The prospect of leaving London for the first time in (by then) almost five months gladdens my heart. I'm also amused at how modest my travelling goals have become. Earlier this year, it was neglected parts of West Africa. Now, I'm content with a forest near Manchester.
At least I'm continuing to make progress on the refund front. EasyJet coughed up for a cancelled flight a couple of weeks ago – something that gave me enormous pleasure given reports of that particular airline – while Norwegian Air has just reimbursed a flight to Rio where, all things being well, I'd have been spending this week. I also spent a couple of days last week in talks with my travel insurance company regarding four unused visas for my aborted trip to West Africa. Initially, they were reluctant, saying they would only refund one because I lacked sufficient proof of payment for the others (apparently physical visas affixed to my passport don't count). However, after intense negotiations they coughed up for three after I staged a tactical retreat on Liberia. Happy days.
Other than this, I don't have much to report, mainly on account of the weather. I now realise how lucky we were – in London at least – with the climate during the first few months of lockdown. Following a glorious few weeks of pre-summer sunshine, my iPhone weather app indicates about 10 days ahead of fluctuating temperatures and only a smattering of blue skies. This has a clear impact on my mood, not to mention the extent of my external activities.
The (UK) Government seems attuned to this too, with increasing talk of reopening external pub and restaurant spaces (in England) earlier than planned on 22 June, less than two weeks from when you'll be reading this. According to The Times
, half a dozen Cabinet ministers are calling themselves the 'Save Summer Six', but while they can obviously influence Government policy, they can't control the weather. So, for the time being, I'm reminded of lyrics from a song I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago:
Where is the life that late I led?
Where is it now? Totally dead.
Where is the fun I used to find?
Where has it gone? Gone with the wind.