Peterborough to Oxfordshire: What's a British holiday really like?


A double rainbow above Chipping Norton. Photo: John Baker

Having already cancelled two foreign trips this year, including the Olympics holiday that I'd saved for for two years, I didn't really have the appetite for another will they/wont they quarantine bingo game abroad. So we chose Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire.

But before I went on this epic voyage let me tell you of something that happened last week, in a bakery nearer to home.

It was my wife's birthday and I decided to pop out for a little treat for everyone in the morning, with six-year-old in tow. 

The bakery has a one-person policy and a gentleman was buying items inside, so I waited at the doorway. Without thinking, my six-year-old walked in.

After a few seconds I noticed the man was getting agitated, and suddenly my brain clicked into gear and I called Eliza out, sheepishly.  

I apologised, and the man immediately turned and started shouting at me. I asked him to calm down. He then started swearing at me - an incredible volley of language - and had Eliza not been there, I have no doubt things could have become very ugly. 

Is this what we are reduced to? Shouting abuse at someone because a 6-year-old and her dad made a brief mistake? The man - who was not wearing a mask, incidentally - stormed past and huffed down the street.

So then on to Oxfordshire, and the experience was...great. 

The key is that people seemed to be enjoying themselves, and living their lives. Most people don't appear to have any issue wearing masks. Restaurants were really busy, and these weren't Eat Out to Help Out days. The parks and streets were clean, most shops were open, and really apart from a few queues outside stores it could have been any summer week in any year.

There were a few inconsequential oddities. One pub didn't have straws BOC, while at another we didn't have to ask for them. One way systems were ridiculous. At least one small souvenir shop had 15 people inside it. 

A curious cream tea. Photo: John Baker

We went to a crocodile farm (as you do) wearing our masks. Most tickets were sold out showing that visitors weren't staying away, we had to go via a one-way system, and you couldn't enjoy a crocodile petting experience BOC. A garden centre nearby had massive signs boasting that it was 'Cautiously Open'.

Bourton-on-the-Water was so packed that we didn't even stop because the car park was full, so we drove along the waterfront. To say it was vibrant is an understatement - it was the busiest I'd ever seen it, and I've been several times.

My wife noted few masks on anyone in the blazing sunshine, but thousands of smiling faces of all ages, dogs and children laughing and playing while somewhat maintaining social distancing - and noticeably life going on.

The holiday freshened me up, made me happier and energised, and proved to me that holidays are not only possible, but to many people they'll be essential, and should be embraced.

I realise I am fortunate and that some people will read this and be horrified and fearful, and may need baby steps to return if they feel they can. It is understandable.  

I looked at the latest government data. The latest round of figures show that six people in the UK died on August 23 who had tested positive for coronavirus in the past 28 days. Of course this is tragic, but compare that to 1445 in a single day in April.

The number of people who tested positive on August 23 is 1041, against a number in hospital of 834 for August 20. This last number has dropped dramatically and markedly from the frightening days of early spring, when the number was around 20,000. 

These figures, at least, are going in the right direction and provide hope.

I think back to the man at the bakery, and while I was initially angry (at myself and not just him) the only emotion now is worry. I have no idea of his status and his experience, but I do believe I have an idea of his current state of mind. 

The predictions of a mental health crisis, allied to rising unemployment, and people's fear of anything approaching a return to living, will come true if society fails to be convinced that that return is safe enough, because 100% safe doesn't seem to be an option. 

There are many many people and businesses - and soon schools - who will need help and understanding, and winter is not going to be easy. But I am optimistic that most people are trying their best. And ultimately that's all we can hope for.