In Part 2 of the Blakesley lockdown blogs, Karen takes the pen from Paul and recalls arriving in the UK, moving to the Services Cotswold Centre, how reading habits change with life events, and her father’s last days.
As international flights go, the return to the UK was relatively uneventful. We landed in London in early March with only the clothing we took for a diving holiday in Asia, the weather was cold but thankfully dry. We managed to navigate to a military welfare flat in Westminster, our home for the next three weeks. The heating was working so even with thin trousers and just t-shirts to wear, it was warm and cosy to do 14 days of self-isolation in.
While there I was able to finish reading my first book, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, alongside keeping abreast of all the new restrictions and information about COVID 19. Foreign Commonwealth Office and Government websites alerted us that Kuwait had now closed its borders to travellers and we knew our stay in the UK would be longer than we’d initially thought. With a lot on my mind I was not sleeping well so I was reading more to relax and distract my mind from events. I stopped reading news reports and news from Kuwait and started my second book, Women of Sand and Myrrh by Hanna al-Shaykh. As the UK entered lockdown and the welfare flat was needed for others, Paul and I moved to a chalet at the Services Cotswold Centre in Wiltshire. Shortly afterwards, as boarding schools closed, we picked up our two boys and prepared for whatever the future would hold.
As April began we settled into a routine of a daily walk, puzzling, and my favourite part of the day – an hour long snuggle on the sofa with Nathaniel who loves reading as much as Paul and me. He had some books he’d brought with him from school and I finished Women of Sand and Myrrh. Around the village of Neston many people were having a clear out and leaving books outside their homes for others to help themselves to, so we had a ready supply to choose from. Paul had wisely packed his Kindle and so did not run the risk of running out of a good book to read!
I’m a member of a huge international book club on Facebook. Members have donated books to be distributed to key workers and isolated individuals. Authors gave away free books and I was sent an advance copy of a book due out later this summer to review; Greek Island Escape by Patricia Wilson. This was my first exposure this author, and I can highly recommend the book. It seamlessly blends historical facts and fiction about Crete during WWII, there are two strong female key characters and they are both searching for missing daughters.
It was while we were at the SCC that we experienced the highs and lows life can throw at you. In early April we received the fantastic news that Paul had been promoted and we were to move to a NATO HQ in Izmir, Turkey for a three-year assignment starting in July. We managed to visit Turkey twice in 2019, once just Paul and I, and another time as a family. We had enjoyed it so much that we had planned to visit Cappadocia in late May 2020, and so while we were upset and a little down at having to leave Kuwait after four fabulous years, we were thrilled with what the future held. And then on 1st May, while halfway through the Greek Island Escape, we received the sad news that my father had been admitted to hospital and diagnosed with a rare and incurable type of leukaemia. He deteriorated only a few days later, and I was told he could be dead in a few days. As a result of this, and the fact we had been self-isolating, I was allowed to visit him in hospital, and so I left Paul with the boys and headed to my parents.
Thankfully my Dad made it through the weekend and began to have chemotherapy sessions three times a week. My reading habits changed again. Now I was reading everything that I could about t-cell prolymphocytic leukaemia and chemotherapy. I had no interest in reading the newspaper that arrived at my parents’ house daily. However, as night came, I read for an hour each night before bed, both to escape and also to help me sleep. It didn’t take me long to finish my book and so when I returned to the SCC to collect more clothes, I also picked up more books. Quickly we learned that the chemotherapy was not having an effect on the cancer and so my father chose to come home to die. Reading messages of support and love from my friends and family gave me comfort and strength during this traumatic time. Life has a funny way of ensuring that you are in the right place at the right time and if we had been able to return to Kuwait I would not have been there to spend time with my father in his last days.
Reading is definitely my escape and late into the night, listening to my father’s breathing I began reading a Peter James novel, Dead at First Sight. I’ve always enjoyed detective thrillers and this one didn’t disappoint. My father died on 25th May; it’s not a situation I’d wish on anyone, but reading has remained an escape for me through both thick and thin.