A man I met at the hairdresser should be enjoying his Christmas break in Sharm El-Sheikh by now.
Well, at least I hope he is, after telling us all that there was an unusual travel restriction attached to his Egyptian adventure. After all, there is a war going on next door, in Gaza.
It started off as one of those typical hairdressing conversations, which took us to the Red Sea resort before finally bringing me down with a bump on the A9 between Inverness and Perth. Another risky travel destination if ever there was one, strewn with broken political promises.
Our conversation meandered on along in this way, with shared holiday tales, before we got onto the A9 at some peculiar junction. I think it was the point at which the Scottish Government announced a new “commitment” to delay completion of A9 upgrades for another decade.
The general drift was that we could jet off to exotic faraway places with the greatest of ease, but driving along the A9 is something else.
Oh, to float away from our freezing stormy weather for a Christmas treat. But we do have to be careful in these troubled, dangerous times.
Christmas in the sun?
The Knights have toyed with the idea of Christmas in the sun. Our favourite destination in Lanzarote was chock-a-block for Christmas Day lunch, with scores of British travellers crammed on a super-table snaking around the clubhouse.
As we lazed at the pool in September, we could hear people talking about needing to book up quickly for Christmas. It’s a nice thought, but one thing always scuppers us: family, of course.
If we left our son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren in Scotland, it wouldn’t be much of a Christmas for us. Most of us unwrap a gift money can’t buy – the joy of being closer with loved ones.
I thought he was joking at first, but the hairdresser man told me there was an important caveat in his insurance because he was travelling to Egypt. He was only insured if he stayed in the hotel.
I couldn’t believe it, but maybe he’d gone for a budget-friendly insurance deal. Maybe I misheard, but I’m sure that’s what he said.
I’d say full health insurance was essential for Egypt, especially after its recent troubled past with tourists, and unrest over the horrors across the border in Gaza.
Travelling abroad comes with risks
If you look at Foreign Office travel advice for Egypt, you’ll need to set aside half an hour, with a map and slide rule by your side to keep you straight.
It’s like looking at the Covid international travel rules again; bursting with advice and warnings for every conceivable corner of the country.
Yet, there will be plenty of people who go there year after year without any trouble, because they are careful.
But, let’s face it, others are so naive or reckless, they’d get into trouble just going for tea in a Benidorm old folks’ home.
Was he an undercover security person? Or did all the cleaners here carry guns as well as brooms?
I said I was lucky to visit Antigua once. It was going great until it dawned on me – day four, I think – that I had forgotten to take out travel insurance for me and my wife.
A staff member cleaning near our beach loungers alerted me, unwittingly. Absentmindedly watching him as he stretched forward, we spotted a handgun stuffed in his belt at the back of his shorts.
Was he an undercover security person? Or did all the cleaners here carry guns as well as brooms? I made a few frantic long-distance calls to our insurers back home to get some cover, quick.
My acquaintance in Sharm El-Sheikh is actually relatively safe, just over 100 miles from the nearest no-go province for British tourists. About the same distance from Inverness to Perth on the A9.
A9 delay is shameful
Many of us will be pondering holiday journeys for next year, with varying levels of complexity and risk. But there is a travel headache on our doorstep which shows no sign of going away.
First Minister Humza Yousaf can fly to international conferences to give the misleading impression he’s a world leader, but he can’t fix the antiquated roads to the Highlands.
And, to rub salt into the wounds of this festering, long-running community grievance, it’s just been revealed that SNP ministers knew privately five years ago that they couldn’t meet their own A9 upgrade timetable, but didn’t let on. Now, they have kicked the shamefully delayed A9 project back to 2035.
I think, in football parlance, this is known as “game management” – to keep the opposition at bay to achieve a bigger target. We know what that is.
But the game might be up for Yousaf and co if the A9 dominates the next parliamentary elections. It’s worth checking if this new “commitment” is written in invisible ink.
David Knight is the long-serving former deputy editor of The Press and Journal