Fifteen years ago we were at a child’s birthday party in the Church hall at Bride with our girls, when Dave revealed that he had received in the post that morning compulsory call- out papers to serve in Iraq. It was completely unexpected, he was a serving member of the Territorial Army but we had always been assured that they would never serve in an active Theatre of War, and yet here we were and my then 41-year-old husband was given less than a month to sort his affairs out before being whisked away at the end of May to Basra Palace.
We had only just moved to the Isle of Man with our girls and the whole situation was like some complete nightmare and it was a day full of sadness and grief, and as the children played party games I spent most of my time crying quietly in the corner. In so many ways that moment, that letter, that situation changed our lives forever, and in a sense, I think even at that moment we knew that things would never really be the same.
In fact it almost feels like fifteen years on, we are only just beginning to put it all behind us, the path it sent us down was not an unhappy path but it was a path that was less travelled and it is only now that we find ourselves walking back to the crossroads in an attempt to rediscover some of the life and lives we left behind.
This weekend the sun shines. We have taken a road trip to Harrogate to spend a night at the Old Swan Hotel. A beautiful place that used to be called the Harrogate Hydropathic and is infamous for providing Agatha Christie with a safe haven during a troubled part of her life in 1926. Unbelievably we have been given the room she stayed in as our room for the evening and I feel very privileged.
We stopped off in Skipton on the way through and enjoyed watching the Tour De Yorkshire. They were also celebrating down on the canal and the Accrington pipe band put on a splendid performance and they must have been sweltering in their uniforms. The canal barges looked inviting and the post-industrial landscape told a story of reinvention and rejuvenation.
We came to Skipton quite a few times before the girls were born, we even used it as a stepping stone and caught the train to Leeds a few times when I was having my IVF treatment there in 1998. So it is a place of memories, the last visit the girls were about 2 and in the double buggy, we stopped at what was Woolworths and bought Ellen a toy Jake from the Tweenies and Emily a Mopatop. I think she still has Mopatop, but Jake got lost in the Mcdonalds at Llandudno junction in about 2001.
After Skipton, we drove on to Harrogate where we are staying at The Old Swan Hotel. What a joy, it has its own character and sense of self and here we find ourselves in room 253 which was the room that Agatha Christie stayed in for 11 days in December 1926 when she went missing. It feels a little like serendipity, it has been a dark and deep week and the cracks have been showing and I could happily have disappeared myself on Wednesday and if I had found myself here I am sure it would have been a positive and healing thing to have done. I would like to think that she may have found this too. She divorced the following year and rumours about her mental state at the time of the missing 11 days vary from the concept that she was suicidal, or in a fugue state, to the fact that she was making it difficult for her husband to continue with his affair and he claimed she had amnesia following a car accident. I guess no one really knows. I hope she found peace here. The room doesn’t feel tormented so perhaps she did.
©Alison Jean Hankinson