Still, in my experience so far, spending time on a remote island is very similar to being in lockdown. My partner Lynne booked us a week-long, out-of-season break on the exclusive (but only in the sense we were the only tourists there) island of Pag, off Croatia. It was very safe in modern terms, there being no theatrical, sporting or other interesting events to take our minds off washing our hands and avoiding crowded thoroughfares.
After a while on the island, we felt quite at home, knowing many of the local people and vice versa, so that when we got stranded by a huge downpour, a local taxi driver came, unasked, to our rescue, having observed enough of our habits to know which restaurant we would be eating in that night (a choice of three) and when we would be asking for the bill.
It was a kind of pre-virus version of the NHS phone tracing app introduced on the Isle of Wight keep tabs on potentially-infected people. I’m worried that the NHS may be wasting its money because the average small-islander is likely to be far better informed about people in the vicinity than the most costly surveillance devices.
Another island which appears to be in permanent lockdown is Sal, in the Cape Verdi group in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Its great attraction is that there are no annoying distractions, such as sophisticated restaurants or exotic wildlife. There are, instead, very pleasant and entertaining people, lovely beaches, the small tip of an extinct volcano and a mirage which doesn’t really work unless you squint a lot.
The only place we visited that resembled a regular tourist attraction was the Museum of Salt, celebrating the industry which gave the island its name but which doesn’t exist any more.
The museum seems to have pioneered the epidemic-led policy of closely controlling entry to public places. The receptionist was so alarmed at the prospect of visitors that she had to call her supervisor to check whether they were allowed. The supervisor, who said she should have been at home on her day off, had to come round to peer at us because islanders like to know what’s going on, and we had to show an implausible fascination with the few old salt-shovelling implements on display, so as not to appear rude.
This is the fascination of small islands, Relatively small things, such as the salty cheese on Pag, the Museum of Salt on Sal or the coloured sands on the Isle of Wight, become especially significant when, until we reboard the plane or ferry, that’s all there is.
I particularly like the Isle of Man, which, although not so small, sounds pretty dull compared to hot-spot islands in the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. Actually, I tell people before they start to yawn, it has one of the world’s finest transport systems, with electric trams, steam locomotives, horse trams, a mountain railway and an unusually efficient bus service.
I think the objection that many of the island’s public service vehicles date from the nineteenth century, and therefore tend to rattle or jerk, completely misses the point. Regular commuters may long for a smooth ride but island-hoppers prefer things quirky or even jerky.
And I’m now worried that my nostalgia for out-dated transport systems may be a result of locked-down syndrome; perhaps I’m only thinking of trams and trains because it may soon be decreed that we must only travel by bike, foot or private car unless we need to save the economy by going to work on public transport, in which case the risk is on us.