Hugh MacDonald: We are here for only a brief time…we better make the most of it

BACK on the road again. My foray to London the other week was so successful (it’s a low bar, involving returning home largely unscathed) that last week it was Germany for fitba’ and kulcher.

It was hugely entertaining, not least at Berlin airport.

Who would have thought that the requirement to have a passport, a PDF of a passenger locator form and a scannable code of a Covid vaccination would not be the first priority of a group of lads returning from a stag weekend?

They seemed destined to perdition. Or at least to the compassion of a low-cost airline. They were, then, doomed. I do not know what happened to them. But we left them a canteen of water and a revolver with a single bullet before heading on to the plane.

The trip was, frankly, slightly reckless. Can one even be slightly reckless? Anyway, as a pensioner I was heading to Leipzig which is to Covid infection in Europe on a par with what Florence was to the Renaissance.

Farewell to Fidelma Cook: meet our new columnist Hugh MacDonald

There is much justifiably written about what Germany does better than this septic isle but taking up vaccinations is not one of them. The newspapers and telly broadcasts quivered in shock at the mass reluctance to have a jab, hospital doctors doctors were loudly talking of full wards, there was an easy acceptance of phizzogs bereft of masks.

I, meanwhile, was off in search of the Leipzig open-top bus. This sang froid was the result of having had three Covid vaccinations and a bad bump on my head as a baby.

I wore my mask, went to the fitba and museums and latterly watched as the Leipzig tide turned and there was a veritable melee at the city centre vaccination centre.

There were queues there worthy of Greggs at a Glesca lunchtime on a day when steak bakes come with a complimentary bottle of vintage Irn Bru and a six-foot yum yum.

As I skirted around them, I wondered why I had sought to travel when it was far from necessary. Yes, I was working. But I could have earned a coin at home. Yes, I was on holiday too but one can do that in Scotland, apparently.

The initial conclusion was that Leipzig and Berlin in November was merely an extension of my continual wanderlust. This stretches back to the St George’s Road days when I left a primary one class during a lesson and walked around Garnethill. The teachers had presumed I was on a comfort break and were somewhat surprised when my maw told them I had eventually come home. In the spirit of the times, this was all shrugged off without recourse to lawyers or teaching councils.

In Busby, too, I was a cavalier expeditioner. We played football down the glen but I was always up for a further trip to the Elysian Fields of Overlee. This journey involved walking over the railway viaduct, jumping out of the way of trains that insisted on using it despite our obviously having the right of way.

It was reminiscent of a Stephen King short story. A sort of Stand by Me with rickets.

The travel obsession took off, though, when I started journalism. It was wonderful. It continues to be wonderful.

Yes, the word counts grew as the luxury diminished but it was a good way to earn a living, particularly for someone who could not otherwise earn a living.

The beneficence of newspapers allowed me once to stay in a hotel with a grille. This was not a French steak house. This grille protected reception.

It was in Jamaica, Queens, with Manhattan a taunting presence on the skyline and where evenings were sometimes warmed by the flickering, lingering flames of burnt-out cars.

I, of course, returned as soon as I could, this time as a tourist. It was just another of my trips, just another of my endless efforts to escape where I was to go somewhere else. There is some guilt about this. Blaise Pascal is credited with saying something along the lines of “all men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a small room alone’’.

Yet, thanks to a personal reserve and Cala Homes, I can sit in a small room alone for quite some time. But the bug to move always comes back to bite. I watch television and want to be there, wherever there is. I read books and want to be where the story has occurred, where the historic has happened.

I wonder at its deep-rooted cause. Is it a fear of missing out? Is it a recognition that we are here but for a blink of time and must try to squeeze all experience in quickly? Is it a matter of nervousness, an inability to settle? All these theories have the hint of truth in my case.

But there is something more and I have yet to divine it. It is an obsession, perhaps a benign one, but that may be a matter of explaining it away without self-recrimination.

Any reflection, though, comes to the same destination. Standing in a queue at Berlin airport, amid the shrieks of weans seeking comfort, young men hunting the holy grail of a passenger locator form and the routine, wearisome jetsam of jet travel, I had but two questions.

Why am I doing this? And when can I do it again?

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