Sometimes its nice to get a break, a change in the daily routine. However, not every break is welcome, and in this case, the ‘break’ in question was a very severe fracture of both bones of the right wrist suffered by Mrs E, following a nasty fall a month ago, whilst on a short visit to the UK (at least, that was the intent). In addition to the wrist damage, she also dislocated her right elbow – she did a thorough job!
As a result of her injuries Melanie ended up in hospital and required 2 rounds of surgery, which has meant she is unable to fly for 2 months. Following a very emotional phone call, I immediately traveled back to the UK from Kuwait to be with her, and set up temporary home in the Reading area, so that we can attend various appointments at the wonderful Royal Berkshire and West Berkshire Hospitals, who’s staff have taken great care of her.
We are now in a cycle of physio and doctor appointments, but in between, as Melanie becomes stronger and more confident, we have been able to explore our new surroundings, and turn this vexatious event into a bit of an unscheduled holiday.
Although I was in a bit of panic when I packed for the trip not knowing how long it would be (or what I would find when I got there!), I did manage to remember my camera, so this is a bit of a photo diary of the trip so far.
Base 1 – Reading Town Centre
My initial days were spent at The Novotel hotel in Reading town centre, whilst Mrs E was still in hospital. Located on the River Kennet, the town centre offers some great places to explore.
After spending a week in hospital, Melanie was discharged with a bag full of pain killers; her arm, complete with clamps, rods and pins holding the shattered bones together, in a heavy plaster cast. Whilst we refer to this metallic structure in a lighthearted way as the scaffolding, the technical term for it, we have come to learn, is ‘External Fixator’, or X-Fix for short!
We spent the first few days after her discharge in a family room at ‘The Hillingdon Prince’, a small hotel located near the hospital, whilst she began to get used to the limitations of her injury.
Melanie’s maiden name is Kendrick, and her family have a long association with Reading, going back to the 1600’s, so it seemed very appropriate that our hotel was located adjacent to the road that bears her family’s name.
Base 2 – California Country Park
After a few days at the Hillingdon Prince, we wanted to find somewhere that was more of a home, to give us a bit more independence. On the excellent suggestion of my cousin Ann, who lives nearby, we rented a 2 bedroom chalet for 2 weeks, at California Country Park, which is located some 10 miles south of Reading in the county of Berkshire. The location was ideal; a peaceful woodland site, and not too far from the Hospital. We also took the opportunity to rent a car, as up to this point, we had relied on buses and taxis (and shanks’ pony!)
The chalet overlooked the wonderful Longmoor Lake, teaming with fish, with ducks waddling around near our chalet, and swans majestically gliding across the waters.
The 100 acre park was originally established in 1931 as a private amusement park and zoo, and was referred to as the ‘California of England’, although it takes it’s name from the nearby village of California. These days however, it is managed by the local Wokingham Borough Council following various changes in fortune and business owners.
In addition to a public park, restaurant, play area and child’s play pool, there is a camping and caravan site, and permanent residencies are also available on a mobile home site. The surrounding woodlands offer great walks, and local fishing enthusiasts can take advantage of the 6 acre Longmoor Lake.
Whilst in the area, we ventured out to a few other locations, including the former RAF airbase at Greenham Common, and the site of the Magna Carta signing at Runnymede.
Trips were also made to the nearby towns of Wokingham and Bracknell, and we had the pleasure of visiting Milton Keynes to attend the 40th Wedding Anniversary celebrations of my cousins Colin & Carol.
The trip to Greenham Common came about as we had an appointment at the West Berkshire Hospital, which is located away from Reading, near the town of Newbury. On the way in to the hospital, we had a bit of fun with Melanie’s shadow – one friend saying that the external fixator looked like a pet lizard!
After the appointment, we drove the short distance to (former) RAF Greenham Common. If you’re of a certain age, you will be familiar with the ‘Cold War’, and the nuclear arms race of the 1980’s – Greenham Common became synonymous with these times, as it was used to store some 60% of the UK’s nuclear arsenal, and play host to the US Air Force.
It also became home to a large women’s peace camp, who were protesting the presence of the nuclear weapons. The camp was based there from 1982 through to 2000.
What I hadn’t realised before visiting the base, was that it also played a very key role in World War 2, as then too, it hosted the USAF, and it was from where President Eisenhower addressed troops before they left to take part in the momentous events of D-Day.
These days, the base is a very quiet and peaceful place; the fields that once hosted a 3 mile runway upon which some of the world’s biggest bombers used to take off and land, are now used for cattle grazing and dog walking. The control tower has been transformed into a museum, depicting the base’s incredible history, and manned by a group of dedicated volunteers.
Runnymede is located some 23 miles to the east of the country park, and is somewhere we have both wanted to visit for some time, to see where the famous Magna Carta was signed by King John in 1215. In addition to it’s historical value, its location on the bank of the Thames makes it such a picturesque place to visit.
After what has become a bit of a ritual during this stay – a visit to the tea shop, we embarked on a walk around some of the key Runnymede sites. Leaflets from the tea shop illustrated 3 different walks around the area, varying in length, we chose the shortest.
The first stop was the John F Kennedy Memorial – a gift to the people of the United States, from the people of the United Kingdom, in memory of President Kennedy.
The memorial is accessed by climbing 50 irregular granite steps, intending to signify a pilgrimage. The steps lead to a garden, the focal point of which is the memorial stone. This is inscribed with a famous quote from the President’s inaugural address.
Keeping with the American theme (which seems a bit strange, given the significance of this site in English history), we next stopped at the Magna Carta Memorial, which was created by the American Bar Association; it recognises and celebrates Magna Carta as a ‘symbol of freedom under law’, as inscribed on the the pillar of English granite that sits at its centre. The association return periodically to rededicate the memorial.
Our third and final stop was to view a relatively new addition to the Runnymede experience, a work of art called ‘The Jurors’, by Hew Locke.
The work celebrates 800 years since the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215, and comprises 12 bronze chairs, each dedicated to a particular struggle for freedom, equal rights, or rule of law.
We were lucky as when we visited it was very quiet, so we were able to look at each chair in detail, and take the time to understand the stories being depicted.
All in all, Runnymede was a great choice for an afternoon’s excursion, definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
So, that covers the first four weeks of this particular adventure, more to come in the next edition of ‘A break from the norm’! These weeks have certainly been made easier by the love and support of our family and friends for which we are very grateful; it’s amazing how visits, chats and messages can really lift spirits.
I’ll close this post with a picture of Mrs E, Melanie, taken at The Jurors, smiling as brightly as she was in the opening picture. Throughout this entire ordeal she has been so brave and positive, even when the going has been difficult, which it certainly has at times. None of us can know how we would deal with events such as these until they are thrust upon us, but she has been amazing, she is such an inspiration!
- Hillingdon Prince Hotel
- California Chalet and Touring Park
- Greenham Common Control Tower Museum
- National Trust Runnymede