Poor Elmer and Myrtle. How they’d looked forward to their vacation in England, Europe. The valises – all seven – were packed, the traveller’s cheques paid for, and the guide books thumbed. And then they saw the news on TV. England was closed.
The land was in the grip of a terrible plague. Englanders were succumbing to mad cow disease in their thousands. So dreadful were the effects that sufferers, their brains inflamed and their senses scrambled, were running amok, slaughtering every living thing in the countryside and setting light to the corpses in a deranged frenzy.
“Aw shucks,” said Elmer, putting a brave face on it. “Looks like we’ll have to go to the Rockies as usual.”
But he couldn’t hide his disappointment from Myrtle. She read him like a book. She knew when he spat a stream of tobacco juice out of the window, without first opening it, that he was feeling sore. She knew how he had looked forward to seeing Tewkesbury – or Twekesburg, as he called it – the birthplace of his great great grandfather, Silas Thacker, who had sailed to America to seek his fortune and found it in suspenders. “No matter if your pants are black or brown, Thacker’s will never let you down.”
How sad, then, in this global village of ours, where news travels so fast that an indiscretion of the carnal variety e-mailed in London can, within minutes, make the author famous to thousands in Toronto, Melbourne and Tokyo, that Elmer and Myrtle have no access to the English newspapers. For within those pages, between hard news items about Geri Halliwell, they would have seen something to their advantage: a full-page ad placed by the Government.
True, it was, on the face of it, an unimposing announcement. In fact, it looked like one of those product recall statements that panic-stricken firms issue. “Wonder-Cut Electric Nasal Hair Clippers Model E46. Would owners of this product return it to the manufacturers, since it has come to our attention that a defect in some batches may cause discomfort to the user, resulting in cerebral penetration and the loss of more than nostril whiskers.”
The Government, too, is panicking. Having urged people to keep out of the countryside, lest they unwittingly spread foot-and-mouth disease, it finds to its dismay that its warnings have been heeded and the tourist industry is going broke.
Hence the hastily cobbled together ad. “No, no, you fools,” it blusters in so many words. “When we said keep out of the countryside we didn’t mean keep out. We meant, go by all means. As long as you follow the rules and obey all ‘keep out’ and ‘road closed’ signs.”
Elmer would have understood. “So England ain’t shut after all. Just closed a little. It says here, where sites are open, you can stay in caravans or tents, or go rowing or canoeing.”
“We can do that in the Rockies,” says Myrtle.
So the British tourist industry loses two more customers. Hooray, let us enjoy it while we can. After all, tourism is a pernicious and second-rate way for a nation to earn a living.
Of course, it’s interesting to see places other than one’s own patch, but, as Enoch Powell said of immigration and Kingsley Amis of higher education – it’s all a matter of numbers. There are parts of this country where, for months on end, tourism reaches saturation point, and that cannot be right.
In a letter to the Daily Mail a woman who runs a gift shop in the Cotswold village of Burford laments the effect of the Government’s warning on visiting the countryside. (The one where it didn’t want you to go there that preceded the one where it does.) “Since the foot-and-mouth outbreak, the number of visitors to the area has dropped dramatically,” she writes. “Hotels and pubs are almost empty… Yet it is perfectly safe to come here.”
A far better advertising copywriter is she than the man from the ministry with his dos and don’ts. Just think: hotels and pubs almost empty, streets likewise, traffic barely noticeable; litter imperceptible, quiet almost tangible. A Cotswold village thrust, for a few weeks, into its pre-tourism days. If you’ve never seen Burford, now’s the time to go. But only one or two of you. Any more would spoil the effect.
Remember: I am an intelligent visitor; you are a tourist; he is a grockle; and that lot, spilling out of the coach, cameras round their necks, are a nuisance.
If you are going to visit the countryside during this bleak time, it is all a matter of common sense, as the Government Minister for Lifestyle, Sophistication and Erudition, Nick Mastoids, explains. “Remember the Country Code. When you walk across a disinfectant mat, tread thoroughly. If you see a cow with one udder, chances are it’s a bull. Do not offer it a fishpaste sandwich. Keep well away from footpaths, fields, hedgerows, spinnies, copses, hills, dales, fells, and outdoor air. Get into hotels, guesthouses, shops, pubs, and restaurants. They need your money, we need their votes. And if you do go into the pub, remember, one and a half pints is the Government-approved limit. Bye for now.”