"Covid left my life in tatters and my emotions in solitude."
Anthony T. Hincks
Covid, culture and camper vans may not seem connected, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about these topics – and how they link – over the past few weeks.
I’ve been fortunate to be back out and about, crisscrossing the country west to east and south to north. I guess it’s been what we would call a ‘typical’ Scottish summer – very mixed and for the most part we watch the UK news with a sense of detachment when the forecast is about record temperatures, and the impact of global warming.
I was reminded about just how far north of the equator our little country is; perched at the north-western edge of Europe our generally mild climate seems to belie our position on the globe.
"Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world."
Anyway, back to my topic as my thoughts roamed as far as my travels. I do love living in Scotland – we have so much to be grateful for and I feel particularly fortunate about not only living in a beautiful spot but also having many opportunities to travel widely across our land.
But not everyone feels that sense of freedom. And there is a chunk of the population whose lives have shrunk considerably as a result of the pandemic. That may be why tourist numbers are down across the country. What is clear is that Covid has been a major shock to our system and these shocks are going to continue to ripple through our society for many years to come.
"Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have."
Winston S. Churchill
In my non-executive work in health and social care I’ve become much more aware of the implications of these shocks in everyday life. We don’t know whether much of the ‘reordering’ that has taken place is temporary or permanent, but the effects are being felt now.
Some years ago, I remember hearing the adage that a burger enjoyed with friends is healthier than eating a salad alone - a recognition of our need for social contact. I wonder how much of the isolation problem will lead to other health problems in the coming months and years. Is there any link to the increasing numbers of people turning up at A&E?
"Most tourists see way less of the places they visit than their cameras."
And in an odd way, are camper vans another reflection of isolation where travelling in your own bubble allows you to minimize your social contacts? The huge surge in the numbers of these vans trundling across Scotland in all seasons indicates a shift in the tourism industry, just as AirBnB did not many years ago.
And are there signs that we may have passed peak tourism in Scotland? If so, we have excess capacity in many areas and this over-supply could lead to more economic and personal woes further down the road.
It could all feel a bit gloomy, maybe another element of the Covid hangover. But, as I’ve previously mentioned I had committed to enjoying theatre more, and this summer has given me the opportunity to indulge in a wide variety of shows in some beautiful locations.
I think my favourite theatre anywhere is the Pitlochry Festival Theatre. Is there one with a more beautiful location? And the way it supports such a range of productions each summer never ceases to amaze me.
This year, after a wonderful production of ‘Little Women’, the cast did a Q&A with some of the audience. The sheer exuberance of their commitment to acting was positively uplifting and a reminder of the social aspect of the theatre.
"Acting is creating a sense of life. It is giving an audience an experience so vivid and truthful that they are able to draw their own conclusions about what it all means."
A couple of days later I saw many of the same actors transform their skills into a very different production, Sunshine on Leith. It probably doesn’t come more Scottish and cliched though it was just the tonic that the tourists – who packed the theatre – needed.
And if I thought the actors were exuberant in their after-show discussion earlier in the week, in this production they were off the scale!
"Art is not about perfection. It is about perception."