Ending the break

Concluding the story of ‘A break from the norm‘; when last we encountered Mrs E and her broken arm, she had just said goodbye to the friend who had held her arm together for 6 weeks, Rod the Ex-Fix. In this third and final instalment (omne trium perfectum!), we embark on a short road trip to South Wales to pay homage to one of our favourite TV shows, before preparing to return to Dubai, via a final physio session, and a farewell appointment with our wonderful surgeon.

As with many things, it seemed like a good idea at the time – after the surgery, let’s take off for a few days, get a change of scenery and enjoy the freedom of having lost the metal! So a road trip was planned, 2 days in Gloucester, and 2 days across the Welsh border in Barry. As an added bonus, my son Alex was able to join us as he was off work this same week.

In hindsight, as Mel was still in quite a bit of discomfort following the surgery it perhaps wasn’t the best idea, but nonetheless, we met up with Alex at Reading railway station then headed for the westbound M4.

Road Trip Part 1 – Gloucester

Why Barry and Gloucester? Well, Barry was easy, we are all massive fans of the BBC sitcom, ‘Gavin & Stacey’, which features Barry quite extensively, so we planned to visit some of the key sites from the series. Gloucester was more of a lucky dip type of choice; I didn’t want to drive all the way to Barry in one go as this was the day following the surgery, so Gloucester seemed a good midway point to enjoy a stop over.

One thing you could never accuse me of is being a ‘petrol head’ – I’m not good with cars, I barely recognise them (just ask my friend John Hagen!), and you will seldom find me fixing or tinkering with them. Consequently when we heard a strange noise and felt a piece fly off as we motored down the M4, I was a little concerned to say the least, so a stop at the next service station was called for. In keeping with the Gavin & Stacey theme, that next service station just happened to be Chieveley which fellow fans will know is featured in the final episode of series 3 “What, not even at Chieveley? You don’t stop at Chieveley?”!

It transpired that the mud-guard had become damaged, and a piece had broken away (luckily not hitting the very expensive looking Mercedes that was following us), and as I was playing the mechanic, my dear son captured this very rare picture of me, trying unsuccessfully to fix it! (The keen eyed amongst you may recognise my make-shift seat, as Melanie’s arm sling, featured in the first episode of our story!)

Photo credit – Alex Easley

Long story short, I managed to push the guard back into a temporary position so that we could drive safely, then we resumed our journey to Gloucester, via the Europcar office in Swindon. Whilst they didn’t have any spare cars, they did verify the fix was ok, and arranged for a vehicle swap at their office in Gloucester the next day.

All these delays meant we got to Gloucester a couple of hours later than originally planed, so after checking in to our hotel, The Hallmark, we all took a rest before a lazy dinner in the hotel bar, and an early night.

The next day, bright and refreshed (well sort of!), we wanted to do a bit of sightseeing, and after some research, we decided to go to Gloucester Quays; an area featuring an outlet shopping centre, and adjacent to a completely redeveloped quayside area of former warehouses that have now been turned into apartments, offices, bars and restaurants.

The development is stunning, and exploring it made for a very enjoyable few hours. The waterways even include a lock which enabled access to and from The River Severn, it’s been some time since I watched the full cycle of a boat entering and leaving the lock – it was so relaxing!

After leaving the quays to swap out the car at the nearby Europcar office, we returned to enjoy a late lunch, and a further exploration of the area. We really did enjoy being there, although I got a little concerned when Melanie went into one of the local estate agents, to enquire about some really lovely riverside properties!

Road Trip Part 2 – Barry

After another early night following another quiet dinner in the hotel bar (very rock n roll!), we left Gloucester and headed further west, bound for Barry. However, (in his best Welsh accent), if I’m honest, it wasn’t actually Barry that we were headed for, it was a small village close by called Sully – where we had booked 2 rooms in what we Brits call a B ‘n’ B (Bed and Breakfast) – again booked through Airbnb.

We arrived mid-afternoon and met our hosts, Kay and her husband Keith, they were just wonderful and very welcoming, and more importantly, they knew all the best Gavin & Stacey locations! Kay also made the most delicious Welsh Cakes; perfect with an afternoon cuppa! They also made us fall about with laughter by quoting some of the famous catch phrases from the show, of course in their beloved Welsh tones.

Kay’s fantastic Welsh cakes

After suitable refreshment, we embarked on the short drive to Barry Island, a seaside resort area located to the south of the town of Barry, and where so many references are made in the show. These are a few spots that fans of the show may recognise:

Gavin and Stacey’s chippy of choice

And a few more shots around the impressive Barry Island beach area (it’s not Barry’s Island, it doesn’t belong to a bloke called Barry!):

We had a couple more Gavin & Stacey locations to visit, but they would wait. The next morning, after a very hearty breakfast prepared by Kay, we ventured out further along the coast to Nash Point, where Kay had recommended we visit – an area featuring a light house and some stunning coastal scenery, looking out over the Bristol Channel; it didn’t disappoint.

On our way back, we stopped for lunch at the very picturesque town of Cowbridge, also one of Kay’s recommendations. Even the drive offered some stunning views.

But later in the day came the ‘pièce de résistance’ as far as the Gavin & Stacey experience was concerned – we returned to Barry, and visited the house on Trinity Street – the house where Stacey lived with her mum Gwen, how exciting! Not for this show were there fake sets, no, the houses were real, the streets were real, and as we were about to find out, the streets were damn steep too!

47 Trinity Street, where Stacey West lived! Look at that slope!
Mel took this picture of me, standing in front of Uncle Bryn’s house … taking a picture!
Looking down very steep Trinity Street, towards ‘The Island’

The final piece of the Gavin & Stacey experience was one that I really wasn’t expecting. In the show, Gavin lives with his parents Pam & Mick, at their house in Billericay, Essex, and I had assumed (incorrectly) that the house used in the show was actually located in the area of Billericay. How wrong was I! It is in fact in a small Close, in the town of Dinas Powys, just a short drive from Barry – clearly the show was on a small budget!

Being a very quiet, private residential area, we decided not to stop and walk around, but a slow ‘drive by’ did allow Alex to take this great picture of the house, which will be instantly recognisable to fans of the show.

Pam & Micks! Photo credit – Alex Easley

The next day, we ate another delicious Welsh breakfast, said our farewells and followed the signs for the M4, as we headed for my home town of Crawley, in Sussex. It was such a smooth drive, that Mel slept the entire journey of almost 4 hours!

The sun setting on our second and final night at Sully

Base 5 – Back to Kennet Island

We stayed overnight in Crawley, after dropping Alex at home, then for the final week of our adventure, we returned to Reading and based ourselves again at an Airbnb at Kennet Island. This time a slightly smaller 2 bedroom apartment, but very comfortable nonetheless, and with great views across the marshland that borders this estate – we even got to see the deer once again.

For the next few days, we took things easy, and planned our return to Dubai. We packed and re-packed, on the pretext of deciding whether we needed more cases or not, in the end, we saved our money.

We did have 2 very important hospital appointments however, firstly with the physiotherapy department, where Cathryn and Julia put Mel through her paces, pushing, pulling, stretching, but seeing the agony on her face I found the the whole thing very difficult to watch. Julia particularly had worked with Mel a great deal over the weeks since the initial surgery, monitoring, cleaning and redressing her wounds, and giving lots of advice in how to care for them going forward; we were so lucky to work with her.

The second appointment was a couple of days later with Mel’s surgeon, Mr Consigliere. He was as always, very friendly but to the point. He checked her arm and hand movement, and discussed the issues she would face in the coming weeks and months. He was happy with how things were, but we learnt that it would take up to 2 years for her to be fully recovered, although it’s unlikely that she will get 100% of the movement and ability back. As we left his room, he went to shake Mel’s hand, and she instinctively offered her left (uninjured) hand, but he was adamant that she should use the right hand, which she did!

The day before our flight back to Dubai, we left Reading, having decided to spend the last night at a Heathrow hotel, so it was with some relief that we packed up the car, and drove away from Reading for the last time (at least for now).

Our Reading apartment balcony view
Storm clouds gathering, towards the end of our stay

Before leaving however, we took one final picture of Mel, to remind us of how far she had come since the accident.

There was one last bit of tourism to do though on our way to Heathrow; on the excellent advice of our friends Chris and Charlie, we decided to stop en-route at Windsor, where hopefully we could get some lunch, and have a walk around.

Windsor proved to be a great choice, the weather was perfect, and although it was a bit crowded, we managed to find a quiet restaurant that served an amazing Sunday roast – ‘Meat at the Parish’, highly recommended!

The perfect Roast Beef mmmm

A few other shots from our walk around Windsor:

After an enjoyable afternoon in Windsor, we took the short drive to Heathrow, and checked into our hotel for the final night of this very extended trip, The Hilton at T5. We spent a quiet evening having a light meal in the hotel bar, both a little nervous of returning back to normality after such an extended ‘break’.

Some 54 nights (59 nights for Mel) after arriving, we finally departed the UK, to return to our home in Dubai. This was by far the longest either of us had spent in the UK since we became ‘ex-pats’ 14 years ago; typical visits during this time have been from a few days to two weeks. Whilst this is not the way we would have chosen to have an extended break, we can certainly look back on some really fun times; we were extremely lucky with the weather, the sun shone almost every day which given the UK’s reputation for rain, especially during the Summer, was a real bonus.

Most importantly however was the love and support that we received from our family and friends throughout the past 2 months, and I wanted to use this opportunity to say a big thank you to everyone concerned, especially:

  • Jamie, Alex, Rachel and Jane for visiting us in Reading, and being constant sources of support
  • Our Australian family, who kept in close touch throughout
  • Charlie and Chris (and George!) for always being there, providing help and support in so many ways
  • Ann and John for the great advice, support and friendship
  • Carol for the chocolate, that saved my bacon!
  • Zaara for the regular chats, and support
  • My friends and colleagues at Kuwait Airways for their understanding and support
  • All the staff at the Royal Berkshire Hospital who were just fantastic, but especially Mr Consigliere and Julia
  • Rowena for being a great friend, and regularly reminding Mel about the cats that she had to look forward to on her return
  • Everyone who called, sent messages of support, liked or commented on our facebook updates, or contacted us in any other way

Thank you all so much!

Postscript – meet the family

Since returning to Dubai earlier this week, Mel has flourished, her arm and hand movement have really improved; and our family has grown with the introduction of 2 cats, thanks to our good friend Rowena. Dumpling is a rescue cat, whom we have adopted, and Truffle, another rescue cat, we are fostering.

Truffle, learning not to scratch the armchair
Dumpling, doing what Dumpling does best

So we are slowly getting back to some sense of normality, being in our own place is making a real difference, Mel can even put her hair into a pony tail now without my help, a massive step forward!

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