ALEXANDRA SHULMAN'S NOTEBOOK: I had a taste of holiday freedom

ALEXANDRA SHULMAN’S NOTEBOOK: I had a taste of holiday freedom… it’s utter bliss

For weeks, the debate has been going on in homes across Britain. Is a holiday abroad worth all the fuss, all the form-filling, all the eye-wateringly expensive – and often just plain eye-watering – Covid tests?

We went through the same agonies and now, writing as someone who was on one of those first flights to Portugal when the shackles were loosened two weeks ago, I am in a position to deliver my verdict.

What is certainly true is that, like old age, holidays abroad right now are not for cissies. You have to take a big deep breath and jump – as many families will be doing this half-term. 

Quarantine may loom on return and testing is a nightmare of unnecessarily costly logistics which, in contrast to our magnificent vaccination programme, puts the country to shame.

For weeks, the debate has been going on in homes across Britain. Is a holiday abroad worth all the fuss, all the form-filling, all the eye-wateringly expensive – and often just plain eye-watering – Covid tests? We went through the same agonies and now, writing as someone who was on one of those first flights to Portugal (above) when the shackles were loosened two weeks ago, I am in a position to deliver my verdict

On a short break, you’ve only just figured out how to upload the PCR tests on to your smartphone when you’re having to find a local place that will test you for your return. 

And that’s without factoring in the stress, if you’re of a nervous disposition, about whether the test you might find in Palma or Porto is going to be of the right specificity agreeable to UK border control.

And yet I’ve also rediscovered something easily forgotten: how lovely it is to be elsewhere. To be in a place where the smells and light are different, and, of course, where the sun shines pretty much every day.

I also think it’s utter nonsense to feel for a single moment the pressure of holiday shaming by those who don’t want to travel.

Both my partner and I are double-jabbed and I don’t believe we are at any greater risk of catching and spreading Covid in Portugal than we would be in Putney or Peckham.

In spite of our Government’s current attempts to depict foreign holidays as an activity akin to inciting civil disturbance, leaving the country for pleasure is now officially legal.

Yes, it’s a luxury for sure and for those who have medical reason to be wary of the bigger world, it’s not the only way to take a break.

But the past year has been so confining and unnerving that even the most robust have felt stressed and anxious. To my mind, the notion that you are achieving anything for the greater good by sacrificing the view that I currently have, of sunlit terracotta roofs and palm trees, is ludicrous and unnecessarily self-flagellating.

And frankly something you will forget with the first Aperol Spritz under a beach umbrella.

From majestic glory to a ghostly ruin

Portugal hasn’t had a monarchy since 1910. Visiting the Palacio da Ajuda, which was once Lisbon’s royal palace, was a salutary glimpse of what happens when you get rid of the royal family. 

This once-splendid building is now a bruised ghost of what it would have been, with leaking ceilings, wonky candelabra, peeling paint and shuttered windows. It doesn’t bode well for what might happen to Buckingham Palace or Windsor. 

The upkeep of these huge buildings would be massive if republicans were to get their way. And who would want to pay for them? It would make the kerfuffle over the Downing Street wallpaper pale into insignificance.

Portugal hasn’t had a monarchy since 1910. Visiting the Palacio da Ajuda, which was once Lisbon’s royal palace, was a salutary glimpse of what happens when you get rid of the royal family. This once-splendid building is now a bruised ghost of what it would have been, with leaking ceilings, wonky candelabra, peeling paint and shuttered windows. It doesn’t bode well for what might happen to Buckingham Palace (above) or Windsor

My idea of exotic… a new pair of jeans

What is it about shopping abroad that’s so much more enjoyable? Even in Zara.

There are endless Zaras in London and it might seem crackers (to use my favourite Dom Cummings adjective) to have spent a precious half-hour in the Lisbon one. But I still loved every minute. Possibly, when I get back and look at the white jeans and rather snazzy sandals I scooped up, they will look as uninspiring as they would have done in Oxford Circus, but right here, right now, they feel like a delicious exotic souvenir to bring home.

Plant a tree? Not if you want insurance

We all love trees, except building insurers. They don’t love them at all.

Last week, a very genteel protest against the removal of a 250-year-old oak took place outside the Oxford home of former Thomas Cook boss Harriet Green. She wants to remove this glorious landmark, supposedly because of subsidence problems.

I have some sympathy for her, because as much as we and, possibly, she, might prefer to keep her tree, the insurers on this subject are a nightmare.

We live in a Victorian terrace which, like so many in London, is literally cracking up. Who knows if the summers have been too hot and dried out the soil, or the winters too wet? But the first thing the loss adjusters will do if you even think about making a claim is insist on the removal of all vegetation.

Out must go the hedges, the climbing roses, the shrubs and, yes, any tree larger than a twig. So while we are all urged to plant trees to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee next year, the insurers want to turn our front gardens into pavement extensions.

Just as Joni Mitchell so presciently predicted: ‘They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.’

Cruella’s no good if we can’t hate her

Cruella de Vil is one of my all-time favourite characters. That is, the authentic Cruella, as created by children’s novelist Dodie Smith.

It’s that Cruella, the pelt-skinning embodiment of unmitigated evil, not the slightly wet Roger and Anita nor even Perdita and Pongo and their adorable puppies, that makes 101 Dalmatians the classic it has become.

The whole point of Cruella de Vil is that she is utterly heartless. So why completely ruin her with a heartstring-tugging back story in the new movie, where we aren’t allowed to hate her?

The whole point of Cruella de Vil is that she is utterly heartless. So why completely ruin her with a heartstring-tugging back story in the new movie, where we aren’t allowed to hate her?

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