View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Life
3 February 2021

Locked down in London, I long for a Spanish bar, a Tuscan vineyard – or even a French supermarket

The last time I left the UK was for ten dusty days in Morocco in 2019; had I known what was to come, I would have relished even the stalls of sheep’s heads.  

By Pippa Bailey

Last weekend I went to the Japan Centre, on London’s Panton Street, in search of kombu and gochugaru to make ramen (“essential” food shopping, you understand). Surrounded by the unknown smells and textures of unknown foods, labelled in an unknown language and an unknown script, I felt, briefly, as though I was on holiday.

The last time I left the UK was for ten bright, dusty days in Morocco in November 2019. If I’d only known what was to come, how I would have relished even the stalls of sheep’s heads, the riads without locks on the bedroom doors. Now, as virus mutations and mandatory hotel quarantines make international travel unthinkable and unaffordable for most, I long for the joyous lottery of the biscuit aisle in a French supermarket; to sit at a narrow metal bar in Barcelona and drink halves and eat olives; or to swill wine at a vineyard in Tuscany and describe every glass as “oaky”, because I know nothing about wine. To say “hello”, “yes” and “no” in a language in which hello, yes and no are the only words I know how to say.

[See also: Why The Young Offenders, with its daft jokes and japes, is the perfect lockdown watch]

A lot has been written about the pandemic habits we’d like to keep: flexible working, more time outside, the death of the commute. Flying less is not among them – but perhaps it should be. Covid-19 is an environmental crisis, both caused and spread by human expansion without limits. During the first wave of lockdowns, global carbon emissions from the aviation industry were reduced by 60 per cent. Such a brief period of change is not, of course, enough to have a significant overall impact on climate change. But the forcible grounding of flights creates a moment of pause to question how, and why, we travel, before we swiftly and totally resume our pre-pandemic ways.

I went on my first trip abroad when I was seven months old; it was to France, and my mother remembers me sucking on melon skins for pain relief from teething. Now I have all my adult teeth, we take an annual trip together – usually something faintly hare-brained: driving the entire way around Iceland in a hire car that frequently refused to start; travelling from Cairo to Aswan on local Egyptian trains because the tourist ones were too expensive.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

I have grown up, as have many of my generation and class, to view travel almost as a right: it is a presumed, ingrained part of life. The beach weeks and city breaks that punctuate my year are as much a part of its rhythm as turning a year older in January. Travel is, particularly for the young, considered edifying and enlightening: we go on gap years to “find ourselves”, as though we are not really present in the places we live. It makes us adventurous, romantic, freer, deeper.

[See also: Before I lived alone I thought I was an introvert. Now I realise I was simply exhausted]

We forget that air travel only became a viable option for most in the late 1950s; that what we in rich countries have come to consider an incontrovertible part of existence has become so within the span of a single human life. I may have visited the Dordogne when I was just a few months old, in 1992, but my grandmother, who was born in 1934, went on her first holiday abroad, also to France, at the age of 45. To her, a life without international travel – or at least with less of it – is not unthinkable.

Of course, there is a limit to the impact of unconnected, individual choice; climate change is an issue of wealth distribution and of legislation. But we should also question why a week in Suffolk simply isn’t enough of an escape, and why we need to escape at all. If we lead such harried lives that they must be left behind entirely to find respite and pleasure, is spending a year’s savings on ten days in Thailand really the answer?

My boyfriend often asks, when I’m trying to explain what I’m writing about, what the conclusion is, to which I invariably answer: “There isn’t really one.” And there are no conclusions here. Only questions – about the strains of life that we accept for 350-odd days of the year; about the interplay between personal and planetary well-being. And also the gasping desire to meet a stranger in a hostel; to butcher “dos cervezas, por favor”; to forget entirely, just for a week.

[See also: Gardening brings a momentum that is otherwise absent from my life right now]

Content from our partners
How to tackle the UK's plastic pollution problem – with Coca-Cola
The hard truth about soft skills
Why we need a national employment service

This article appears in the 03 Feb 2021 issue of the New Statesman, Europe’s tragedy

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU