The Blakesleys are a military family currently serving in Kuwait. Paul commissioned into the Infantry in 1994, and he and Karen (a qualified Head Teacher on a career break) have two sons, Maxwell (15) and Nathaniel (12). The boys attend Ellesmere College and The Dragon School respectively. The family have lived in Catterick, Warminster, Wilton, North Luffenham, Pirbright, the US, Germany, Cyprus. They will move to Izmir, Turkey, in late 2020. The Blakesleys are avid readers and have been members of Reading Force since 2013.
For this series of blogs we asked the Blakesleys to talk about their current experience of being stranded in the UK due to Coronavirus, and life in the Services Cotswold Centre.
Part 1: Paul recalls the diving holiday before COVID19 had taken hold, the books he’s been reading, and trying to get back to the UK.
It’s not got any easier waving the boys off when they travel back to boarding school, but as their half-term drew to a close Karen and I turned our minds towards our liveaboard diving holiday in the Similan Islands, Thailand. We are a family of divers and try and always dive together, but unfortunately this time the boys’ holidays did not match Kuwait’s National Day and Liberation Day Holidays, and so we decided to take the opportunity to have a child free trip.
We are also a family who like to read (although our teenager has had to throttle back on his reading due to GSCSs beginning to loom large), and so holidays are spent with a good book always within reach. As a family, I am in the minority on the physical book vs Kindle argument. I am a complete convert to Kindle – it is a lot easier to download a load of books into an e-book to read while on six-month tours or away travelling than to carry lots of books. Our family’s reading tastes are eclectic to say the least. I’ve always loved fantasy genres (Magician Trilogy by Raymond E Feist), or a good sci-fi (think The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, or Starship Troopers). Karen usually prefers thrillers, Maxwell enjoys the historical blends (think Azincourt by Bernard Cornwall), and Nathaniel, well he reads anything and everything – often having two or more books on the go at any one time.
As we waited to board the plane for Thailand (flying via Doha), I flicked through the news feeds – COVID19 was spreading, but Thailand had it under control, and few travel restrictions existed except in mainland China. Unbeknownst to us, less than 12 hours after our departure, Kuwait would insist on a ‘clear of Asia for 14 days’ travel restriction that would force us to head to the UK. It subsequently closed its borders completely, condemning us to being stranded in the UK with nothing but the kit we flew to Thailand with. But more of that later.
I’ve always enjoyed reading on planes. So as the plane began to taxi, I settled down and fired up my Kindle and aimed to finish The Reality Dysfunction (I was reading it for the second time) before we landed in Phuket. I’ll admit, I did also catch up on the odd film too, but about an hour before we landed in Thailand I reached the end of my book!
I had great plans of enjoying a coffee and a new book (History of the Arabs) in the arrival lounge of Phuket airport, but the first few hours in Thailand were busy due to an unexpected turn of events. We landed to a flurry of Whatsapp messages from the British Military Mission in Kuwait (BMM(K)) informing us of Kuwait’s recent ruling, and asking if we had made it out of Kuwait. I also spent some time chatting to the British Embassy in Bangkok, bringing them up to speed on our plight (we were one of three families from the BMM(K) who had travelled to Thailand for the holiday), and seeking advice. Karen on the other hand made the most of our time before the minibus arrived, diving into two paperbacks she had been given as Christmas gifts – An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and Women of Sand and Myrrh by Hanna al-Shaykh, trying to work out which one she would focus on during the liveaboard.
Four hours later, content there was nothing more that could be done, we jumped onto the minibus and on our way to the boat. This was our first liveaboard experience and we were struck by how early you get up – around 6.30am every day – so that you can get that first dive (of four!) in. By how tiring four dives a day is – or maybe we are just getting old. And just how relaxing it is when in between dives to just chill on the sun deck with a soft drink (no alcohol between daily dives allowed!) and a good book! Karen had decided on An American Marriage, and mine was The Witcher – Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski and Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep (an easy read but highly informative) – it’s rare that I stick with just one book for long! We had a great time on the boat – managing 14 dives in three and a half days, seeing loads of fish, huge corals, turtles, ocean going manta rays, a whale shark, and loads of octopus, and we both finished our books.
Unfortunately, mobile phone coverage in the ocean was very limited, which meant that our two days back in Phuket before we were due to fly out had to focus on searching internet sites for flights back to the UK (where we had been told to head to by our Commander), the small print in both airline and travel insurance policies, and keeping abreast of the news on Coronavirus worldwide.