Contact us


Several years ago the author Alexander McCall Smith came to my home town of Biggar and gave a book reading and signing session. This was organised through our local independent bookshop, Atkinson Pryce, which is well worth a visit. McCall Smith is a prodigious writer with a gentle, highly observant style which brings out fascinating characters and intriguing storylines, often with a dry and wry humour underpinning a simple but entertaining series of situations. Internationally he is possibly best known for his series set in Botswana, the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, which follows the cases and personal life of the Agency’s proprietrix, Mma Precious Ramotswe. McCall Smith has lived in Africa and Scotland, and his writing reflects his experiences in both. Maybe less well known is his series based on the tenement building in Edinburgh at 44 Scotland Street (yes, the street exists in the city’s New Town, but there isn’t a 44. The odd side of the street goes up to 43, and the even to 26). Were 44 to exist, it might have been on the site of the old Scotland Street railway station which had a direct tunnel link to the Waverley Station. [Note to readers who are furth of the British Isles: there is a common convention here that city streets have names rather than numbers, and the individual buildings have numbers starting at one end (usually that which is closest to the city centre) and progressively increasing as the street goes along. Generally, the houses on one side are identified in sequential odd numbers, with the other side showing even numbers. So, one side will have 1,3,5,7 etc, and the other 2,4,6,8 etc. If geography intervenes to unbalance the numbering, with a park, say on one side, the numbering continues after it whilst retaining the sequence]. Therefore in Scotland Street, the end is marked by 26 and 43. The book series of that name follows the lives of the inhabitants of the sub-divided property. It helps to know one’s way around Edinburgh to realise and appreciate the intricacies and absurdities of the lives of its inhabitants. Having read many of the books in this series, it makes me realise that the adventures of Mma Precious Ramotswe in Gabarone, Botswana might be close to the truth of that nation too, and it makes me wish to go there to experience the country myself.

But what has this have to do with Saudi Arabia? I hear you ask. Well, I had been unable to leave KSA since the pandemic restrictions started in March, and finally the opportunity came to get home for Christmas. But with the restrictions in force in the UK I would be required to self-isolate on arrival for 14 days, which would take the edge off my visit home somewhat. I booked 3 weeks off work which would at least leave me 1 week for catching up with kith and kin. Last day at work was Thursday 10th December. Back in normal times British Airways had a daily flight from Riyadh to London, but currently this is reduced to once a week, and on a day that didn’t suit me. The other airline serving the UK is Saudia which flies about 3 or 4 times a week. On the Thursday night my only option was a flight at 00.05 on Friday from Riyadh to Jeddah to connect to a 07.00 departure from there to LHR and a connection with BA to Edinburgh. This route means immigration at Heathrow and a domestic flight to EDI then straight home and into quarantine. Elaine had preceded me home 3 weeks earlier and had completed her self-isolation, staying at our daughters’ flat and being looked after by them. It would be my turn to lie low. So, Thursday evening I took a taxi to Riyadh airport domestic terminal and checked in for the flights RUH-JED-LHR. The final leg LHR-EDI required a separate check-in. I watched my bag disappear into the luggage system and went through security. Then my phone rang, it was Elaine asking me if I had heard that two further countries had just been added to the UK “safe corridor” list, Botswana and Saudi Arabia. Well, that was good news indeed, it looked as if I didn’t have to do the 2 weeks self-isolation on arrival home. Oh, happy day! But, no, the restrictions were to be lifted from 04.00 on the Saturday, and my arrival in the UK would be at 10.30 on the Friday. Elaine suggested that I delay my travel for 24 hours, but it was too late, I was checked in and my suitcase was away.

By the time I got to Jeddah, a plan was forming. Surely there must be other “safe corridor” countries I could detour by, and arrive in the UK after 4.00am on the Saturday. After a look at the UK Government website there were 3 European countries listed: Finland, Ireland and Norway. Using the Skyscanner app I looked for suitable flights from LHR to EDI via any of Dublin, Oslo or Helsinki. Nothing doing via Norway, there was an option via Dublin but it was extremely expensive, and there was a reasonably priced option with Finnair to Helsinki departing LHR at 18.10 on Friday and then from HEL to EDI at 16.55 on Saturday. This I booked.  On arrival at LHR I stayed airside, and made arrangements with Finnair for my bag to be retrieved and forwarded to EDI via HEL. I had previously completed a UK Passenger Locator Form which showed arrival at LHR and entry to the UK. I was able to amend this to show a transit visit and departure onwards to HEL. On arrival at Helsinki I completed a new PLF which showed entry into the UK after arrival from Finland on 12th December, with residence in Saudi Arabia during the 14 days preceding, which meant that I was exempt from self-isolation altogether. The only point of discomfort was not being able to leave Helsinki airport and having to sleep in the departure lounge. The airport staff were evidently used to travellers doing this and were kind enough to issue me with a blanket and pillow. Very civilised. And so back to Scotland the next day.

But why was Botswana added to the “safe corridor” list? This puzzles me. KSA which was added has a significant Covid-19 infection rate (see the map below) but neighbouring countries of Bahrain, Qatar and UAE are already on the safe list. And at the risk of being cynical perhaps it’s the fact that these Gulf countries are significant trading countries with the UK especially as the Brexit trading agreements with the EU seem – at the moment of writing – to be heading towards an impasse with no agreement being reached before 31st December.  But why Botswana? I cant be the trading as Botswana is part of the Southern Africa Customs Union (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho and Mozambique), and of these 5 other countries only Namibia is on the safe list. Neighbouring Zambia and Zimbabwe are also off the list. So geographically there is no obvious reason. What about the Covid-19 rates in Botswana? Here’s a heat map with virus cases per head of population shown.

1 2png


Yes, Botswana has a nice light colour, but even lighter are Chad, China and Nigeria, and they are not on the safe list. So, no trading advantage, no especially low Cobid-19 rates either. Maybe Mma Precious Ramotswe can work it out for me.

Contacting us is straightforward

* Email:

* Call Alastair Fyfe directly on 07785 370074 (UK) or +966 503095212