Tuesday, December 31, 2013


When things go wrong in Britain -- I mean really wrong, like widespread floods, transport strikes, a national outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, or a truly serious catastrophe, such as the defeat of Manchester United, or whatever your favorite team is, in a Cup Final -- we know exactly what to do. In addition to keeping calm and carrying on, we have a nice cup of tea.
            Somehow, tea’s much more significant to us Brits than coffee is to you Americans. It’s a pacifier, a cure for anxiety and depression, a panacea. The wisdom in Britain is ‘have a nice cup of tea, and everything will be all right.’ No panic, no histrionics. So jolly sensible.
            It has to be said that most UK visitors say about American tea exactly what American tourists say of British coffee, that it’s weak and tasteless and, well, a bit like brown bath water.
Both are true, actually. But it’s not surprising that the British revere tea in the way they do. Their history in the last few centuries has been steeped in the stuff. I’ll bet that when Sir Francis Drake saw the Spanish Armada hovering on the horizon at Plymouth, the last thing he thought of was finishing that silly game of bowls. No, he sat down on the grass and called for a nice cup of tea.
          It’s s a ruddy certainty that Lord Cardigan, standing knee deep in dead and dying redcoats after the Charge of the Light Brigade, invited Lord Raglan to his tent for a cuppa. And don’t believe that Sydney Carlton, the upper-crust hero of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, crouched beneath the guillotine, waffled on about it being a far, far better thing that he did. Of course not! He asked for, well, you know what he asked for. This is, as prime minister Margaret Thatcher once said about something entirely different, ‘The British Way.’
            We have to admit grudgingly that the Chinese discovered tea first, along with fireworks, medicine, astronomy, gunpowder, and a lot of other things. It was around 5000 years ago that the emperor Shen Nung inadvertently made the first cup of tea. While he was sitting in his garden, some camellia leaves blew into a cup of boiling water. I’ve always wondered what he was doing sitting there with a cup of boiling water, but never mind. Anyway, he was intrigued by its fragrant aroma, and soon decreed that drinking tea prevented illness.
            Then the Japanese copied Shen Nung, copying being something they’ve always been rather good at. Like the Chinese, they lauded tea’s efficacy as a cure for aches and pains, including headache, depression and constipation. They made quite a cult out of it with their tea ceremony. They also had tea-tasting gatherings, much like wine devotees do today.
It was 4500 years more before tea -- er -- percolated into Europe. It came from China in relatively small quantities by way of the Silk Road, via Asia Minor. Because it was scarce it was also ruinously expensive, so that only the aristocracy could afford it. Marco Polo had called tea one of the ‘world’s wonders,’ and it was the Dutch who, in 1606, really discovered what he was on about, did a deal with the Chinese, and established tea trading posts, followed quickly by the French.
The Brits, with their trading fleets such as the East India Company, were a year or two behind their European trading rivals, but then, as Eartha Kitt put it so pithily, ‘An Englishman needs time.’ It was largely the British who, with the help of the Dutch and the French, reversed demand with supply, making tea affordable for everyone. Tea quickly became the favorite English drink (at least for the upper classes) and the first teashops opened in London.
By the 1700s the national fancy for tea provoked excessive taxes, and tea smuggling became as common and as lucrative a booty as brandy or rum. And it was these taxes that provoked a slight altercation about tea in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1773. But let’s not talk about that.
It was, of course, the British who invented the real tea parties, which have no connection whatever with that vulgar incident in Boston. Before tea first arrived, the British had two main meals: breakfast and dinner. Breakfast commonly consisted of bread, beef and a flagon of ale. Yes, they had beer for breakfast, and nobody thought this in the least uncouth. Dinner was a protracted, massive meal at the end of the day. So it’s not surprising that aristocrats such as Anna, Duchess of Bedford, had a ‘sinking feeling’ toward the end of each afternoon at Belvoir Castle, and began to invite her friends to join her for an additional snack. She served little cakes, and ‘assorted sweetmeats.’ And what else? Tea, of course. It was made in a silver teapot down in the kitchen and carried up by a maid to the duchess, who presided over the fine china cups and saucers, surrounded by her twittering guests. Occasionally the hostess would top up the teapot from another, smaller one, kept hot over a small spirit lamp.
           The tea they drank at these gatherings would have been green tea from China and, later, Empire-grown teas from India and Ceylon and, later still, Kenya and Malaya. And it was in the days of the Duchess of Bedford’s parties that the ‘proper way’ to serve tea evolved. China tea, being so much more delicate than Indian, was (and probably still should be) drunk with nothing added, though it was not unheard of to add a little unrefined sugar. But for most Indian teas, which have more flavor, and much more tannin, a little cold milk was acceptable, providing it was poured into the cup first. Nobody has ever offered a rational explanation of why this is important, or whether it makes the slightest difference. The snobbiest way to drink Indian-style teas is with nothing more than a wafer-thin sliver of lemon.
The British think the American way of making and serving tea a little . . . how should I put this? Uncouth?  People in the upper echelons of society there still look on the teabag as an abomination, even though their supermarkets are full of them. Though, if pressed, most of them would probably admit they’ve used them on occasion. But no, those who truly cherish Britain’s favorite beverage use fresh leaf tea that’s been kept in an airtight tin container, protecting it from light, moisture, heat and anything that may contaminate its flavor. Indeed, the most pernickety tea drinkers warn the rest of us not to keep a batch for more than three months.
If you’re interested in how to make a perfect cuppa – unlike the millions content to dunk a tea bag in a cold mug of luke-warm warm water for a minute or so – there are one or two other things you should know. To begin with, buy a good teapot. The absolute ideal will be made of sterling silver, but a good earthenware pot will be fine, providing you warm it well with hot water before you begin brewing. Make tea with only the best water, because water tainted with chlorine, lime or iron, can make the finest, priciest tea taste like ditch water. Don’t over-boil the water, because this will evaporate its oxygen, making your tea flat and lifeless. Real gurus will advise you to wait a few seconds before pouring the water into the pot. They say that using boiling water when it’s ‘rolling’ will bring out too much tannin, making the tea bitter.
I’ll never forget an old radio jingle from Radio Luxembourg in the late 30s. It went like this:
“I like a nice cup of tea for my luncheon,
and a nice cup of tea for my tea.
And when I go to bed,
there’s a lot to be said
for a nice cup of tea.”

What else can I say?

Friday, November 29, 2013




I didn't know it that night, but this was the last time I’d ever see my father.
            We sat -- he, my mother, my brother David and I -- amid the overdone  decorations in the modest hotel restaurant. My father wore a dark gray suit, stiff white collar and the tie of the Durham Light Infantry, the only person among the forty or fifty others in the room to be so dressed.
          This was his way. It was how he'd been brought up. I can remember him even on sultry August days at Whitstable, our oyster-fishing town in south east East England,  sitting with knees drawn up on the crowded beach with a neatly folded copy of the Daily Telegraph. He wore a dark wool serge suit, black sock suspenders, and highly polished black shoes. He may not have looked it, but he was comfortable.
            But now it was Christmas Day, 1957. I was twenty-six, and he'd turned 70 a few weeks before.  Looking back, I find it hard to believe that this gaunt, burnt-out man was twelve years younger than I am today.
            It was an odd, superficially festive little gathering. We went through the traditional courses of soup, roast turkey with sage and chestnut stuffing, Christmas pudding aflame in brandy, and mince pies. We pulled the crackers and blew the whistles and read and laughed at the bad jokes that spilled out of them, and we raised our glasses to the future. But the sad truth was that the four of us were relative strangers to one another, and also that the old man had barely any future left.
            David and I never really knew our parents well. We were both sent miles away to a boarding school when I was eight. I don't remember ever sharing a feeling or fear with my father or mother. It's not that they weren't kind to us, or even that they didn't love us. It was simply that neither knew how to show affection.
           I always addressed my father as "sir," and the only time he and I ever touched was to shake hands whenever we met or parted.
           Nor had my brother and I ever known each other well, even though we were together for endless years at school. He was more than three years older than I, and while I had been outgoing, cheeky and garrulous, he was a quiet, solitary boy. My parents never seemed to notice that as a teenager, and later as a man, David had no women friends, and rarely brought home any of his many men friends, who seemed to have oddly diverse social and educational backgrounds.                  
            The meal ended, as Christmas and Easter family dinners always did, with what my father called ‘a nice healthy walk.' When he’d paid the check, counting out the pounds and shillings with care and attention like the bank clerk he’d once been, we faced into the cold sea air, heading for the beach.
            It was dark, unlit steep slope down to the concrete walkway along the sea-front.  The tide had turned, and was dragging on the coarse, flinty shingle below us. Out on the horizon the beam of a lightship pulsed. Ahead of my mother and me, David and the old man walked more briskly.
            As we strolled along together my mother turned to me. "So how do you like your new life, Johnny?"                   
            After nearly nine years in the British Army I was on leave, and in a few days would begin my first civilian job. In the service,  I'd always had a roof over my head, three meals a day,  the excitement of action, and the company of friends. It had been like living in an expensive gentlemen's club, as an infantry captain with my own driver, even a batman to do my chores. But suddenly I was alone, friendless in a little attic room in a none-too-classy part of London and about to start a new life. Though I wouldn’t have admitted it, I felt lost, and apprehensive about my future.  
              I lied in reply to my mother's question. "Fine, Mum. My new life's fine."
           "But are you happy?" she asked.
           "Happy enough," I said. "How about you?"
          My mother took my arm as we walked. It was something she'd rarely done.
          "No," she said. "I'm not happy really. But then I haven't been for years, not since I married your father. Surely you must have realized that?"
                I hadn't. I was speechless. Had this happened today, if she were still alive, I might have said, "Do you want to talk about it?" But I didn't. We walked on.
          "What are you thinking?" she asked.
               By now we'd fallen back some way behind my father and brother.
             "If what you've said is true, I'm wondering . . . well, why you married Dad," I said, "Were things so different then?"
                "Not really," she said. "I escaped, you see. You know the story. Your  grandfather had walked out on us years before.  There we all were. Mother and five unmarried daughters and a brother in that beastly cramped little house at North Foreland. It was like living in a pressure cooker. Then I met your father at a friend's house. It seemed  . . ."
              "It seemed what?” I heard a sharp, involuntary edge in my own voice.
           She looked up. "You're angry, aren't you?" She released my arm. "I'm so sorry, I've upset you. But, you see, marrying him just seemed to be the way out at the time."
             My mother changed the subject and we caught up with the others.
             "What are you two chatting about?" my father asked.
          My mother laughed. "Oh, you know. Shoes, ships, sealing wax . . .”
               Two days later David and I took the train back to London. For weeks I turned my mother's revelation over and over in my mind, but I never told David.
               My father died less than three months later. He went to sleep one night and never woke up, but the circumstances were odd. In their final years together, the old man snored heavily, and so my parents slept in separate rooms. At least, that was the reason they always gave for sleeping apart. And there was something else; he'd become quirky about money, and had for years locked the bedroom door behind him, hiding his billfold under his pillow. 
            Every morning, at seven sharp, my mother would make a cup of tea and take it to his door.  She'd knock and, waking, he'd rise and let her in. On that final morning, of course, there was no answer. My mother climbed a ladder to the open bedroom window to find him dead.
            Was it the wine on that Christmas evening that caused my mother's impulsive admission?  Or did she need the release of this tragic secret to unburden  herself, to share her load?  She lived for another 30 years, and died in her 90th year, but she never mentioned it again.
          Nor did I.                                                                                    


Thursday, October 10, 2013


Napoleon labeled the English “a nation of shopkeepers.”  But he was wrong – we Brits are a nation of gardeners. Gardening’s in our blood, we love it and we’re good at it. Ask any group of Americans which nation they associate with gardening, and more often than not the English and, OK, the Italians will be way up there in the poll.
I may be a trifle biased about the Italians. I’ve seen their gardens, and they’re nice enough, so include them if you must, but they don’t quite match up to the Brits’. The Italian talent’s limited to the villas and palazzos of the wealthy, while in England the passion transcends wealth, class and social status, which is a paradox in the world’s most snobbish and class-conscious country.
There are several reasons why we rate so highly in the gardening stakes. The first is that it rains a lot, and this is what makes the British Isles and Ireland so startlingly green, lending a chocolate-box beauty to even the humblest back yard, and making village cricket pitches look like billiards tables. Perhaps this is God’s compensation for dealing them some of the world’s most depressing weather.
Two other reasons are history and good soil. The British have been on their knees and up to their elbows in rich brown earth, sowing and planting and weeding their plots for at least two thousand years. The Romans, originators of the Italian garden, knew a thing or two about horticulture, recognized good soil when they saw it, and so became the founders of an ancient tradition in Britain. This was later nurtured by the lords of the manor and the aristocracy, and perfected by such gardening giants as ‘Capability’ Brown, once a gardener’s boy who, in the mid-1700s, rose to become the greatest landscape gardener of all time. It was he who created what the world chooses to call ‘The English Garden.’
        So what’s all the fuss about? What is a typical English garden, and  exactly what distinguishes it from those of other countries? Primarily it’s the antithesis of  the great formal, geometric gardens at the Palace of Versailles in France, or the lavish and incredibly beautiful spreads of the great Russians, Peter and, later, Catherine the Great near the Neva river in St. Petersburg. To begin with, there are no straight lines in the English garden, no neat rows or circles of identical plants, no disciplined box-tree hedgerows, and no rigid pathways. If you like, it’s the art of deliberately creating a disorder that is at the same time orderly -- a natural but deliberately balanced contrast of ying and yang.
If that’s too esoteric, here’s Dan Pearson, a London gardener quoted in a recent article in The New Yorker, who describes the English garden style with crystal clarity. He calls it “a juxtaposition of formality and informality . . . a controlled chaos, all tumbly and jumbly, where one plant is spilling and spraying over into the next.”  
In the same article Vita Sackville-West, author, poet, wife of writer Harold Nicholson and Virginia Wolff’s lover (and also, for decades, the gardening editor of the London Sunday Times) explained the difference in just ten words when writing years ago about her own famous garden at Sissinghurst Castle. “If roses stray over the path,” she said, “the visitor must duck.”
The British are pretty good at grass, too. As the originators of tennis, cricket and soccer, they became masters of growing the perfect lawn, which is evident not only in sports fields all over the country, but also in city parks and on village greens, and in every dwelling place from hundreds of stately manors and mansions to millions of modest suburban homes. You’ll find none of that bright-green plastic stuff on the pitch at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, or at the stadiums of top-class soccer teams such as Chelsea and Manchester United.
It should be said that gardening’s a great deal tougher in America, and even the most passionate and persistent American garden-lovers are up against natural forces about which their British counterparts know nothing. To begin with, there’s hardly a single four-footed species of plant-eating predator in England. True, there are wild deer in the national parks from the Lake District in the north to Salisbury Plain in the south, but they’re nowhere near as numerous or as voracious as their once-colonial brothers and sisters. They don’t sneak around the suburbs and open countryside by night and in broad daylight, gobbling up every new seedling and emerging shoot, or munching on hibernating flowering shrubs and newly-planted trees. The only groundhogs the English have ever seen were in a silly movie with Bill Murray, while rabbits have never proliferated in England since an outbreak of myxomatosis years ago. As if all this weren’t enough, American gardeners fight a perennial battle with the weather. It’s either too hot , too dry or too cold. Real droughts are commonplace over here, but rare in England.
There’s a story about an American tourist who stood amazed at the lushness and perfection of the lawns at King’s College, Cambridge. An aged gardener stood nearby, leaning on a fence, and the visitor turned to him.
“Gee, that’s mighty fine grass you got there, sir! I never saw nuttin' like it. How do you do it?”
The old man took his hat off and scratched his head.
“Well,” he said, “There ain’t much to it, really. First you rakes it well and puts down some seed. Then you spreads ‘orse manure and bone meal on it, and waits for a bit of rain. Then you rolls it . . .”
“And then what?” the visitor asked.
“Well, it’s easy after that. You just  go on rollin’ it an’ rakin’ it every day for four or five hundred years.”
And that says it all.

e n d

Monday, August 12, 2013


About a time when nearly three million British people, mostly children, were made to leave their homes and live with total strangers

         They called it The Evacuation.  It seemed a compassionate, well-intentioned concept, yet it turned out in many ways to be one of the most chaotic and tragic operations on Britain’s home front during World War II.

In the early stages of the war, the British government moved three million people, mostly children, from the cities most likely to be prime targets of Nazi bombers, and found them homes with volunteer foster families deep in the countryside.

         By 1939 the Nazis were already geared for battle, yet Britain’s forces were still at peacetime strength, and rearmament began only in the spring of that year, when the declaration of war with Germany was only six months away. A year earlier Hitler had snatched the German-speaking sector of Czechoslovakia. Now, in March, his army was sweeping into Prague itself, and was about to annex a part of Lithuania.
         While rushing, almost too late to recruit, build tanks, planes and ships, the British found time to make a hasty plan of action for the evacuation of children between the ages of three and fourteen. Within three days of the declaration of war, on Sunday, September 1939, the first phase of the plan had been carried out. By then, one and a half million children had already been taken from their homes and sent, mostly by train and bus, miles away to live in the homes of total strangers. Four thousand special trains were commandeered, and London’s red buses alone took nearly a quarter of a million children to the railroad stations, or direct to their new lodgings. A number of the trains had canteens, but many of them and all the buses had no toilets, so the children arrived at their destinations hungry, soiled, fearful and bewildered.
         Author Alan Sillitoe, an evacuee himself, remembers “I was vomiting out the window as the convoy wove its way through Sherwood Forest, my sister keeping an arm round me. Brian, who was the youngest at five years of age, normally a terror and tearabout, sat quietly, saying nothing.”
No one told the evacuees their destination or the names of their temporary foster parents. Some very young children traveled with their mothers, but most -- like the Sillitoes and those whose parents were in the forces, doing essential war work at home, or working to pay the bills -- went with their brothers and sisters, or alone.
         The children had baggage labels tied to their clothes with their names and addresses, and carried only a toothbrush, towel, a change of underwear, a gas mask, and a doll or teddy bear. Six hundred thousand of them came from London, and another nine hundred thousand from industrial cities and seaports all over England, and three vulnerable areas of Scotland and Wales.         The children came mostly from poor working class families, and few had ever seen the countryside before. It was their poverty that caused some of the biggest problems when they arrived, both for themselves and their host families, who described them as dirty, shabby and unkempt, infested with lice and mites, and infected with skin diseases. In the slums of the big cities, but especially in London’s East End, few houses had bathrooms, and the privy was a dark, damp outhouse in a cramped back yard. Instead of bathing at home, the children were used to being marched once a week to the local bathhouse, where they had to call to an attendant with a bucket for more hot or cold water.
         For the middle-class foster families, who had looked forward excitedly to the children’s arrival, the reality came as a shock. They may have expected grubby faces and hands, but they weren’t ready for downright filth, bad behavior, foul language and a complete lack of manners. At the family table they ate like ravenous animals, and ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ didn’t exist in their vocabulary.
         Children from better homes and some from the poorest families soon adapted to their new way of life. They learned the importance of cleanliness, settled well in local schools and learned new skills, especially those billeted on farms.
         But in many households there were frequent arguments and scenes.  Some host families had not expected the cost of feeding, clothing and maintaining their young guests would be so high, and complained that the government's support was inadequate. When their appeals were turned down, they demanded supplementary allowances from the children’s families. Some forced the evacuees (they called them ‘Vacs’) to stay out of the house all day, so they became little more than non-paying bed and breakfast guests.  Some stores refused to serve the Vacs, and put up signs announcing that their goods were only for 'registered customers.'
         Partly because so many children were made to feel unwelcome in strange surroundings, and also because the expected heavy bombing never came in the first year of the war, nearly half of the evacuees had returned to their homes by the late summer of 1940. But within weeks they were packed off yet again at the beginning of the Battle of Britain that September. Having learned painful lessons from the year before, this time the government arranged for as many children as possible to be checked and treated for nits, vermin or scabies before they left.  Also the weekly allowance to host families for an unaccompanied child was increased from nine shillings (75c at the present rate of exchange) to fourteen shillings and ten pence ($1.10).  This would probably be worth about $10 to $12 today, and was expected to cover food, accommodation and laundry. A modest allowance for medical care was available from a separate fund.
         Of course, there must have been thousands of heart-warming stories about evacuees who found welcoming, loving foster parents, and who became a part of the family, and even lifetime friends. Some certainly stayed on and took jobs when they left school, and married into their adopted community but, tragically, there are many more cases in the archives that tell of intolerance, rejection, physical and sexual abuse, severe neglect and deep unhappiness.
         So it's not a happy story, but at least some good came of it. Many of the problems that surfaced during the Evacuation played an important part in drawing public attention to the plight and neglect of the British working class, and helped demonstrate to post-war governments the pressing need for reforms in housing, education, health, and nutrition.
         As a result, after all Britons had endured and won the war side by side, much of the traditional snobbery in the workplace and in everyday life at last began to break down, heralding the evolution of a more equal and less class-ridden society.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013


One evening toward the end of May, 1944, a column of Army trucks roared into our school grounds. Within hours a whole infantry regiment, its cheerful, foul-mouthed soldiery and their vehicles, weapons and supplies had taken over the grassy spaces around the school’s ancient stone residences, classrooms, library and gymnasium. For several days, while the school tried to conduct its business as usual, the troops were hidden under trees and out in the open under camouflage netting.
         More soldiers poured into the county on their way south to the coastal towns in Kent and Sussex, bordering on the English Channel. There was no doubt about it -- the invasion of Europe was coming!  For us, in our early teens, it was all a schoolboy dream. Friendly fighter planes swooped and dived over our heads, while tanks, armored cars, anti-aircraft guns and field artillery rolled through the village streets. The summer term at school had begun, but it was too hard to concentrate on dreary Latin and chemistry and algebra when there were such distractions on our very doorstep.
         Then, in the first few days of June we woke to find the troops gone and shortly afterward, on June 6, BBC radio news announced the invasion of Normandy. Suddenly the war seemed far away, though we were well within range of German fighters and dive-bombers. But the Luftwaffe stayed away from us for the rest of that month, otherwise engaged by the D-Day beachheads. Instead, a few weeks later, we encountered the first of Hitler’s most terrifying secret weapons, 8,500 of which rained down on London and its surrounding counties, killing about 9,000 civilians.
         It was late at night when they came for the first time. They flew out of the southeast, low over the school buildings, with rowdy, rattling jet engines like huge, poorly silenced motorbikes, and tongues of flame belching from their tails.  In our dormitories we hung out the windows, craning to see them as they careered overhead. No grown-ups came to reassure us, and we had no idea what these noisy, mysterious craft were. Of one thing we were sure, they were hostile.
         On the radio next day we learned what they were. These were flying bombs, V1’s  (“Vee Ones”), crudely built, pilotless, rocket-propelled aircraft launched from railroad lines in Nazi-occupied France. Each contained a ton of explosive, and when the fuel ran out, after fifteen seconds of unnerving silence, they crashed and exploded. In daylight, RAF fighter pilots quickly learned to deal with what were soon nicknamed buzz bombs, or doodle-bugs. Some pilots intercepted them by flipping them over with their Spitfires’ wing-tips, causing them to crash, but the most effective way to stop their passage on their fixed courses was for fighters to shoot them down with cannon shells. Whatever the method, the result was the same – a massive explosion in a ball of fire in the fields and woods around our school.
         Soon after the first buzz-bombs plunged into London, more than 2,500 anti-aircraft guns were moved into the counties to the southeast of the capital, mainly to Kent, Surrey and Sussex.  A battery of these guns --  40 mm Bofors guns that had already more than earned their keep during the Battle of Britain --  quickly dug-in on the edge of our school cricket field, a grassy plateau that looked down on the school in the river valley below. In their sandbagged emplacements the guns were right on the course the buzz bombs followed from their launch pads in the extreme north of France to London, their ultimate target.
         Sixty-nine years on, it seems incredible that on one hot summer afternoon in 1944, following a shrill warning whistle signal from the umpire, we schoolboys lay flat on our faces under the wooden benches around that cricket pitch, while the guns blazed away at a passing flying bomb.  Hot, jagged pieces of silver shrapnel pattered down on the well-manicured grass around us.
         Oddly, none of us sensed real terror at that strange time in our early lives. Even in the darkest days of the early 1940’s, though we sometimes stumbled on the grisly wreckage of German and friendly aircraft in the dense woods around the school, and looked up to see the sky black with high-flying formations of enemy bombers heading for London, we somehow felt detached from the reality of it all. It was a dreamscape, some over-long Saturday morning movie show.
         Unlike the Jews, The Poles, the Russians and millions of children in many occupied countries, we had enough to eat, and we stayed warm in the winter. No one took our parents or friends away, and we never actually met the enemy face-to-face.
         We were the lucky ones. For us it wasn’t an ordeal; it was sheer adventure.