A Family Re-union

After 18 months separated from my family, I finally made it to the UK despite all the confusing travel requirements

A Family Re-union: After booking a flight to the UK, I almost gave up at the first hurdle, so complicated were all the Covid requirements the airline bombarded me with.  I just couldn’t get my head around what I was required to do, when or where. In retrospect, there was some logic to the sequence, but faced with a constant barrage of notifications with underscored headlines in alarming bright red, endless links to follow, forms to fill in and threats of costly fines and denied access to travel unless all demands were fulfilled, I spent sleepless nights worrying that I might miss something and never get home to my parents and family. If my sister hadn’t come to my assistance by finding a ‘test provider’ in the UK, I think I might have given up on the trip which very probably is the whole point of the exercise being so complicated in the first place.  
The thought however of seeing my family after 18 months was enough to make me persevere. So by the time I’d paid £95 for a PCR test on Day 2 of my arrival in the UK (a modest sum compared to the varieties on offer), organised a £65 antigen test for my return to Italy and set up my subsidized E.15 pre-departure antigen test in Italy, all I had left to do was fill in the passenger locator form. 
Easier said than done: it took me long enough just to find the damn thing, followed by no small number of failed attempts at registering because my ‘unique’ password had gone off to my spam box. Feeling completely incompetent, I filled in the form with a literally shaking hand and was terrified by what consequences I might have to pay by erroneously answering – by default, there was no other option – one of the questions.
With great relief, I finally completed the form and printed it off, lining it up beside my passport, negative Covid certificate, Green pass and Brexit card all of which was required for me to exit Italy and enter the UK. I was now all set to leave hot, sunny Italy and fly to cold, wet UK where no sun had been seen for months. 
The prospect of my PCR test loomed over me (would I really be able to stick that tampon up into what felt like my brain when they did it at the pharmacy??) and I still  had to locate my nearest Priority ‘drop box’ for the completed test (isn’t that something spies use?).
The actual journey was an experience I can only describe as surreal: everyone masked up, a relatively empty airport and plane, passing through ‘check point’ with a mound of paperwork to aid and abet my tracking and tracing, my digital Brexit card – for which my fingerprints were taken - burning a hole in my pocket. I felt, for the first time in my life, uncomfortably exposed to a system I can only hope I can trust. 
The effort however was worth it: to embrace my family after an absence of almost 2 years, to see my father in the flesh, having almost lost him to Covid last year, to hug my mother who continues to fight her various medical ailments instead of succumbing, seeing my sisters who despite their own fears and concerns saw my parents through the worst of everything while I was able to do nothing, finally getting together with my mad aunt…as eccentric, but as wonderful as ever.
And through it all, the sun – miraculously - largely shone; allowing us warm days in my parents’ very beautiful English garden (gone somewhat tropical with this year’s weather).
We shared long meals, English teas (of course!) and walks around the neighbouring vineyards (never seen such small or sad grapes) and finally, on my last day, the unfurling of a lone sunflower we’d been keeping an eye on since my arrival, its seed no doubt deposited by one of the birds that flock daily to my parents’ various bird tables (which are definitely better entertainment than anything I saw on TV).
As a family, we were able to catch up with each other’s lives in a way we never have before: there was a sense of calm that we were finally together, tinged with a sense of urgency because we have no way of knowing when the next reunion might be. Very bitter sweet. Very emotional.  
Leaving them to return to my Italian half of the family was not easy. We all bawled.  I’m still feeling pretty raw, but am also feeling very grateful to have had this window in which to visit them.  Let’s hope it lasts and I can head back again soon.  Now that I’ve done it once, it should be a doddle…although having just read through the new UK travel requirements, I’ve got that brain-fog feeling again of total incomprehension.  Is it just me?
Alison Koetser, 18/09/2021 12:44:15
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