A duty manager at our hotel was heading towards us with a big smile on her face. And she was waving a little plastic bag in her hand.
We were enjoying a sumptuous breakfast by the beach on another sunny morning in Thailand. It’s a million miles from where we are now in bleak midwinter with a killer pandemic gripping us by the throat. But I can dream because it helps relieve the misery of our predicament.
It will be the first anniversary next week of that wonderful holiday; just before our world changed.
Duty manager Amanda was inexhaustibly charming and helpful. She plonked the bag down between us on the table with a flourish of delight as though she had discovered pieces of gold on the beach.
The reason was that my wife and I were fascinated by roadside fast food stalls which sprang up every morning to feed busy Thais commuting to work. Amanda promised to bring us one of the most popular of these mysterious local breakfast delicacies on her way into work one day. And now she was here – with a bag brimming with crispy chicken skins glistening in their fried juices.
Yes, just the skins. The locals loved them. They were like KFC, but without the chicken if you know what I mean.
My stomach was screeching “no” at me – while digesting eggs Benedict, followed by a big bowl of porridge, blackcurrant jam and nuts – so I declined politely. But my wife tried them and they were delicious.
I thought of this with a chuckle after an email popped up on my mobile phone as I trudged in freezing cold along Union Street, Aberdeen. It was from Amanda – “all the way from our sunny little island in the south of Thailand” – wishing us a happy new year. There was a subtle sales pitch as well. That did not bother me; their tourist economy has suffered horrendously like everywhere else.
We had got to know her background a little bit: she spoke fondly of how she and her mother toured the Highlands and islands a few years before. In her message she looked forward to seeing us again this year, perhaps?
It’s a tall order for all sorts of reasons, not least the Covid-19 stranglehold on travel.
We yearn for foreign holidays again, but can things ever fully get back to normal? Matt Hancock warned us against summer holidays abroad, but he might as well be fitted for a King Canute costume as a tidal wave of bookings was reported – particularly from vaccine-ready over-50s.
If I receive my vaccine by early spring I’ll be raring to go; I have my eye on Lanzarote. It sounds crazy, but I have just booked flights to the Canaries for September/October.
My hunch is that the travel industry will be making a comeback by then – I hope. And it is a basic human desire to have something to look forward to – even a flight refund if my trip bites the dust.
We must also look forward to some form of mask-wearing and social distancing even after vaccine rollout. Vaccines should have a dramatic effect on keeping Covid-19 at bay but, as with flu, some people will still be struck down. Experts are also unsure about exactly how protected we are going to be after vaccination or how easily Covid-19 might still be carried and transmitted by us.
Covid-19 and its mutants will always be lurking, so is it likely masks and social distancing will remain part of our daily routine to some extent?
During my short walk I breathed in smoke from people puffing on cigarettes; I knew it penetrated my mask because I could smell it. This was science in action: smoke-filled air from their lungs was blown into mine from 15 feet away, showing theoretically how much further Covid particles travel under propulsion.
I stepped into a bank with glasses steamed up permanently by warm breath escaping from my mask, so an obliging staff member performed my transactions at the machine.
He advised me, with a confidence borne out of daily practice I assumed, to place my glasses firmly over the top of my mask to stop breath rising. I also checked online anti-fogging advice and found all sorts of suggestions: lenses could be treated in advance with toothpaste, shaving cream, vinegar or potato slices. Tightening masks around your ears – or even your glasses.
Now I know why “following the science” is so perplexing.