In my over-active imagination, yesterday offered me a cameo role in a re-enactment of the last chopper out of Saigon.

Being the war nut that I am, it didn’t take much to picture myself being part of that famous 1975 scene from the end of the Vietnam war as I grabbed a seat on one of the last flights home from Spain.

OK, so it wasn’t exactly a war zone we were leaving – but there was no doubting the obvious relief among every passenger on that packed flight back to rainy old Ireland.

All weekend there had been increasing nervousness among holidaymakers about heeding the Government’s advice to get home by this Thursday.

The aisle abounded with stories of exchanging hard cash for home comforts. “We paid €800 for two seats and worth every penny,” a retired couple confessed. “We usually stay out until the end of April, but you have to be home when something like this explodes.”

Another man in his 30s was happy to trade the sun for his mum as the Covid-19 cases rocketed.

“All the pubs are closed, including the place I’ve worked for three years – being back home with family was a no-brainer.”

As the flight lifted off from Spanish soil, a palpable wave of joy permeated as bottles of hand sanitiser and packets of wet wipes broke the ice between strangers.

“I have a bad feeling this thing will last a lot longer than people think,” an elderly gentleman said.

“If all hell does break loose, I want to meet it amongst my own.”

All along the Costas, the signs of an increasing crisis became impossible to ignore – even amidst blue skies and glorious 25C heat.

Out for an 8am run on Tuesday morning, I was the only person on a seafront that would normally heave with dozens of early morning movers.

Then, without warning around a corner, I came face to face with Spain’s escalating efforts to contain the virus.

Two burly Guardia Civil officers standing by a police car complete with flashing light halted my progress.

“This is pandemic lockdown, señor, go to your hotel now and do not come out anymore today.”

It was clearly no moment to say: “You’ve got to be kidding.”

Later on that day all the beaches were roped off, all the cafés and bars were shuttered, leaving only pharmacies and supermarkets operating on reduced hours.

Deserted plazas and closed restaurants in a city devoid of commerce, laughter or chat. Ironically, the only people out were a few locals walking their dogs, the one curfew concession allowed for leaving your house.

All told, it was a vision of Spain I’ll never forget. As our flight banked homeward over the Bay of Biscay, there was no shortage of vox pop opinions on the current state of the world.

With many of my fellow travellers clearly having spent every evening glued to the RTÉ Player, CNN and the BBC, perspectives flowed as freely as the Malbec and Tempranillo.

“People need to be told the hard truth, and in fairness that seems to be what the Irish Government is doing,” one lady opined. “Then you flick over to the UK leader and it’s obvious the penny has yet to drop there on how serious this really is.”

As we arrived into Irish airspace, there was a round of applause as those tangible symbols of March rose up to greet us – grey skies and rain-drenched fields. We all shared a smile at the simple joy of walking once again on home turf.


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