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There must have come a point in Exodus - The matzoh was all baked. They’d packed a couple of floaty dresses - when they thought to themselves. Hang on. Are you crazy? What if?

We haven’t travelled in a year. Then it was only for a stolen week and it seemed so easy. But now getting away for a ten-day trip to the South of France, is all…so…scary.

First off, the rules - they keep changing those suckers. Are you Amber or Amber plus with a bullet? Red with a touch of Amber. Green on the threshold? Now France has added orange, what’s that? Sometimes you’ve already booked and then they pull the rug out from under you. Or even worse, you can be there, when unexpectedly the rules change. Suddenly everyone is rushing back to England. Lost money. Broken dreams. You hear hair-raising stories about the lines at the airport. Four hours, five hours, maybe you should bring a pillow.

So mostly before contemplating our trip we were on full alert.

Sitting around, hunched over our phones, watching for news bulletins. It reminded me of those old black and white World War Two movies with little English families glued to their outsized radios waiting for one of Churchill’s historic speeches. Then suddenly the BBC made an announcement. Oh no! The EU is banning Americans. Only later did they add just the unvaccinated. Whew!

So, we book. But the booking and the flight reservations are only one hurdle. Because then come the forms and the very expensive tests. I think I need to stop here before I hyperventilate. Certain things should not be done together. Shopping for white goods in a large department store for example. I’ve seen bare-knuckle brawls break out over the proposed purchase of a fridge/freezer. Packing for a trip is another. How many shoes does one man need? When I last looked my husband was not a centipede. I can’t even begin to discuss shirts with him.

But by far the worst joint occupation is the filling in of complicated forms. Formerly happy couples’ marriages have fallen apart over the Locator Form. In fact, there should be a check box for contemplating divorce. And the tests. Now total panic sets in! We take which test when? How many? Where? How? Are you sure? Read that again to me. Does that make sense? Can’t you read more slowly!!

Maybe we can ask someone who’s done it before. But that’s just it. Almost no one we know has. We’re like a scouting party. We’re breaking out. Going over the top. We’re going into the desert…all alone.

After the forms, the tests. In most countries you just must stick a Q Tip up your nose until you hit an eyeball. But not in England. Oh no not here! Here you must also swirl it around both tonsils four times, activating something called the gag reflex. I guess bulimics have no trouble. On top of that you can’t fudge this test, or you can’t go. It feels like Finals Week at University when you haven’t even cracked open all 1,200 pages of Boswell’s “Life of Johnson.”

But having completed that and printed it all out, we were at last standing in the huge snaking line at Check-in. Everyone was clutching paperwork with white knuckles, shuffling papers, checking again and again. All at once someone said: “You do have the special app for France, don’t you?” Panic, “App? Which app?” The person gave us a knowing look. “Of course you know, ‘Tous Anti-Covid,’ the French one that shows you’re fully vaccinated” “But, but, but, we have the English app.” The person really enjoyed giving us a disapproving shake of the head. “Oh dear, that’s not good enough. Otherwise you can’t get into any restaurant or hotel.”

This is all before we even get to the plane and our miniature bottle of water and a rusk which is standard airline catering nowadays. Then landing and again like those war movies where an icily glaring SS officer goes through the train barking: Passport! Passport!

Then, suddenly after three months of biblical English rain, we are in the South of France, blinking in the dazzling sunlight. And it is just as gorgeous and wonderful as it always was, brilliant sun, blue sky, blue sea, packed restaurants.

Now that we finally made it, we can totally unwind. But just as we are starting to relax….oh no, there are still two more tests and even more unspeakable forms. Just in case you think I’m exaggerating, we went to a party and the gruelling tests and forms came up immediately. Suddenly I could see the fear in everyone’s eyes. And then an English fireman who was a guest at the party took charge. A sigh of utter relief went around the room. He has a plan. He will lead us out of the wilderness.

“Go forth to a Pharmacy,” he spake. “And let them do it for you.” And so gratefully we did just that.

Then the trip was over. The glorious French sunshine had been replaced by English drizzle. We returned clutching even more papers, with one more test and form yet to go. Which we did. And only then did we realize we’d spent so much time worrying, that we’d missed some of the fun. So we promised ourselves the next time we won’t, knowing full well we probably will.

Was it worth all the angst? Let me put it this way, my sister in Los Angeles was reduced to watching a movie featuring Diane Keaton in a retirement home training cheerleaders. So totally yes, it was absolutely worth it.

Although I still have to wonder if Mrs Moses didn’t stand there looking at 40 years of dirty washing and secretly ask herself the same thing.

PS – For those who enjoy irony. Just as I was spell-checking this, we were contacted by Test and Trace that we were in close contact with a person who tested positive for Covid. (Some clown on the plane probably) So lots more forms and another PCR test!!!

TURNING POINTS from Crowd-Writing

a book by Shelley Katz

Out Now


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