Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Escape from Hong Kong: Admiral Chan Chak's Christmas Day Dash, 1941

Order your copy now online through Hong Kong University Press, Eurospan or Amazon -- or at your local bookshop!

“Tim Luard tells this exciting and little known story with great skill. Some of us departed from Hong Kong much more comfortably! But we missed this extraordinary adventure.”
—Chris Patten, governor of Hong Kong, 1992–97

“Escape from Hong Kong is a crisp and comprehensive account of one of the epic untold tales of the Second World War—a unique Chinese-led British escape, under fire, from the Japanese invaders of Hong Kong.”
—Tony Banham, author of Not the Slightest Chance: The Defence of Hong Kong, 1941

“The great Christmas Day breakout of 1941, when British and Chinese officers teamed up virtually for the first time to escape from Hong Kong as the Japanese Army engulfed it, is one of the most dramatic episodes in Hong Kong’s history. Up till now the story has been diffused in a mass of individual diaries, letters and memoirs. Tim Luard has drawn this material together (Chinese as well as British) to produce a unified narrative that is as full and balanced as it is enthralling.”
—Philip Snow, author of The Fall of Hong Kong: Britain, China, and the Japanese Occupation

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Waichow -- 68 years on

Here we are,  the Heroic Descendants,  posing on Dec 29, 2009, in front of what is now the People's Hospital in Huizhou -- formerly the American 7th Day Adventist Mission Hospital, where the local photographer used his last plate to take the picture below of  the original escapers on Dec 29, 1941.

We feel this lot may have had an easier time of it, all in all. 
OK, we didn't have any Japanese machine-guns attacking us, but we definitely had more trouble finding a boat than they did, let alone things like visas, food, lodging and gifts for our hosts. 
The two main things we wanted to do -- sail to Nanao and then walk at least part of the way to Waichow, on the same paths that our forefathers took with their guerrilla guides - were both in the end judged by today's Chinese to be too dangerous.  Yes,  even the safest and gentlest of the flag-stoned paths that you can see in our earlier post below about our (admittedly smaller-scale)  walk last year. 

But  hey, we made it!  Most of it was a lot of fun and most of us got on really well. And even the host and guest committees got on better in person than they had in six months of daily emails during the negotiation period. For a fuller account, including details of the odd explosive exchange over things like packed lunches, see Emma's excellent blog, called Destination Chongqing.  

The Hong Kong events, such as talks, church services and  Floating Xmas Banquets all went very well  --
and more to the point, the exhibition that the two of us spent most of last year preparing is successfully up and running for the next two years
at the HK Museum of Coastal Defence -- 
with  big posters advertising it all over the MTR.

Here are two McEwan sisters at the opening.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

We Made It....

From the pagoda  at Kew to the pagoda in Waichow - for those of you who got our Christmas card - full circle! Walking to Waichow? Well, not quite - though we think we did 60-70 miles on foot over the 7 days,  while also taking advantage of buses, taxis, tuk tuks, motorbike taxis and bicycles when the roads were just too grim or the way Pop walked had disappeared under the building frenzy that is China today.

Let me introduce - and thank - the Walking Party:

Tim, without whose patient deciphering of old war maps of China in tandem with the written accounts - and using detective skills in turning old phonetic Cantonese into modern written Mandarin - none of us would have been able to retrace the route so accurately - and for his whole-hearted support for an idea I got while transcribing my Pop's diary that we should do the same journey;
Francoise, our Cheung Chau friend for many years and a keen walker who had signed up for the trip before we decided to do it - supplier of dried fruit and with a good (French) nose for a hidden path; 
And Serene - our new friend and truly invaluable fixer, translator, unfailingly cheerful Cantonese, Mandarin and - most important - Hakka speaker who opened doors that might otherwise have remained shut (thanks Duncan H, for the Jack Ma contact!!);
To the families of Ron Ashby, Alexander Kennedy, David Legge, David MacDougall, Ted Ross, Buddy Hide and Chan Chak for their generous sharing of their parents' records;
Thanks also to Russ for his feedback on his own trip,  to SJ for his waistcoat and everyone else who helped us see  a long-held ambition finally become reality ... 

Having been seen off on Christmas morning by Dan and got the train to Shenzhen and bus to Namou,   where the escapers landed,  we went in search of Koutit, the tiny village just up in the hills where they spent the first day hiding ... only to be told it was now under a reservoir.   (note from Tim, at risk of being a pedant: it's  Nanao and Gaotie in mandarin  but we'll stick for now to the slightly eccentric  Cantonese spellings used on the escapers' original map  that we put up on the blog earlier).    We did find a  semi abandoned village nearby which an older Hakka woman we were introduced to (who was from Koutit) said was similar - she remembered Japanese atrocities but unfortunately not any British escapees. We walked up a little path to see the reservoir, then back to Namou as the sun set pinkly over Pingchau - always very clearly visible from this coast.  An elderly man showed us how Namou used to be configured,  with the original fishing village at one end and farming village at the other, both now set back from the new, reclaimed waterfront behind a line of modern blocks of flats and hotels - 

Below  is the harbour itself,  where they scuttled their motor torpedo boats and came ashore, piling up their stores on what was then a lovely beach... 

It's still a busy fishing port and a popular holiday resort in the summer with lots of dried seafood stalls. We attempted to make our way  along the coast, as the escapers did after venturing out by night from their hiding place in the hills. This proved quite a challenge and very slow going in places with a lot of rock scrambling as there's been massive development along the beachfront with private beaches barring the way...we persevered with the help of an offshore fisherman who pointed 'up' 'down' and 'forward' helpfully when we stood completely baffled as to whether to retrace our steps or attempt to hack our way forward. 
One of our trickier moments - in the end we decided against the ladder...there was quite a fall below!

We finally struck inland to Wang Mu and found the Kuan Yin temple being energetically restored and enlarged 
 we also found a fortune teller 
 who had heard tell of the Hong Kong party spending the night on the temple floor. We spent our night rather less peacefully  in the old town, just across the flyover, in a hotel which (like the previous night's one in Namoa)  featured a nightclub with very loud karaoke....the fortune teller omitted to mention that Francoise would be run down by a motorbike on our way out to dinner; although the bicycle has given way to the motorbike and car in China,  traffic manners haven't altered to accept there might be more danger in disobeying road signs.  I'm glad to say she was only bruised and the offender was extremely apologetic.... 
On the 27th we visited Da Peng Suo Sheng - the old fortress and former HQ of the guerillas/bandits/pirates and a lovely example of an old walled city which has become a living museum. Not a single tourist there though (we didn't see another foreigner the whole week) -  and well worth including on next year's agenda.

Then a rather frustrating time trying to find the start of the mountain path - we eventually tracked down the beginning of the second ridge (near Kingsam) only to run into the reservoir police who are not at all keen that we attempt it and try to put us off with stories of snakes, impassable growth and the fact that no one has done it 'for a very long time'.
Serene works her magic and we get an introduction to a local bee keeper from the same police.  He looks pretty much like a bandit guerilla himself AND strikes a hard bargain,  but he eventually agrees to lead us over the mountains  tomorrow. We'll need 9 hours, plenty of food and water and he'll need a second man to help him hack through the jungle......
We turned up bright and early the next day to find Mr Chan from HK - the son of one of the East River guerillas - who had decided that as our fathers had walked these routes together we should too.   
 By chance he and I both had our 'Good Morning' towels in true HK style.. Mr Lee the bandit/bee keeper meanwhile offers us his winter honey-water (delicious) and turns out to be the grandson of one of the KMT soldiers who dynamited the hills in this area to stop the Japanese advance. So almost all the various groups are represented and we're all quite excited as we set out on what was by general consent the toughest day of the whole escape.
In fact we did it in about 4 hours. A bit of machete work was called for but not much - and no great heights were reached as we passed over the saddle between the two larger mountains.
 It is a lovely walk, though, and again would be well worth doing on next year's bigger re-enactment.   You get a real feel of the sort of trekking they were doing in 1941 and for much of the time  you are actually on the same old stone paths - the route is  true to the original as far as we know and Bee keeper Lee confirmed that,  telling us whenever we did small detours. 

I have to say at this point that a lot of the walking we did later on wasn't as nice as that - sometimes it
 involved going along major highways, feeling quite nervous about the thundering traffic or else plodding along the packed mud of building sites or new roads being constructed in dust and drizzle.  I'm not optimistic we'll find much more of the original route that's walkable. When faced with the horrors of yet another highway or construction site we occasionally tried to strike slightly off-route to find back-streets and  byways - often delightful - coming across old villages with duck ponds and old temples and ancestral halls; but sometimes getting slightly lost and probably covering more ground than strictly necessary.
The old smugglers' path across the mountains comes down to what is now yet another reservoir.  We lunched on top of the dam, just behind the village of Tong Pow where my pop says they had their lunch (Lettuce Village it looked like - I've never seen such neat lettuce beds or so many of them!).
On from there to another village mentioned in the diaries, Ho Shue Ha, where we stopped to make enquiries at  the village cafe (the old blacksmith) - though the only pensioner we found had no memory left. You begin to appreciate just how hard the life of the peasant is in China - even in the comparative wealth of the south. We saw people burdened with loads of vegetables that would earn them very little for so much work - yet, like my Pop and the fellow escapees, we were met almost unfailingly with friendliness, courtesy and an old fashioned hospitality. (And a lot of curiosity!) 
Alison heads off  for a well-earned snooze, leaving Tim to confess that we cheated on the next bit - crossing the river - because we reckoned that if we'd actually waded through it as they did, holding their rifles over their heads, we'd have caught some fairly serious disease. The water is shallower, perhaps, than it was then but is a blackish, bluish grey in colour and sludge-like in consistency. Besides, there's now a bridge.
 Cheun Shue Pow on the other side is an endless mass of huge factories ... in what was described in the escapers' diaries as open moorland. 
  We then came to the part where tensions ran highest of all in 1941 because they had to cross a road that was thick with Japanese soldiers who were garrisoned at the nearby town of Tamshui.   That small country road is now  a six-lane expressway.  In the event,   just as they avoided the Japanese motorcycle patrols, we managed to avoid getting run over by the cement lorries - by the simple means of going under the flyover.  
On then to the orchard near Kopow where the escapers finally bedded down at 2am under the apple trees on a bitterly cold night, after being told by an apologetic Chinese farmer that he couldn't ask them in as he had already been visited three times that day by the Japanese ... who were likely to burn his house down or worse if they found he'd been sheltering members of the British armed forces.
That orchard now appears to be part of the Palm Island Resort, a country club for the sort of people who want to escape from Hong Kong  today (to get away from the office rather than a POW camp). It helps if they can afford  fees running into tens of thousands of dollars. The grounds  include three nine-hole golf courses designed by Jack Nicklaus Junior,  using the finest imported Bermuda grass. There's even an assault course to improve leadership skills.  Perfect for Commander Gandy ...   
At Sanhue they rested at the local school - a predecessor of the one where we were very warmly welcomed by a headmaster called Kevin. Through the pass and down a lovely country path to Chanlung, where we spent the night at a hotel that was free of karaoke but had lots of policemen and girls in high heels popping in and out of bedrooms equipped with mahjong tables .... By now our boys in 1941 were seeing Nationalist Chinese troops rather than just guerrillas, and even got to spent the night in the military HQ in the local yamen (magistracy).
We think we may have found that -- we certainly found a fine old Dream of the Red Chamber - type walled compound...and got quite excited by the "Death to the Japanese" slogans on the wall till we realised they dated only from the shooting of a war movie a few years ago.   By now we'd rented bicycles, as that was how many of the escape party completed the final stretch into Waichow. 
  Progress was slowed though -- both then and now-- by large holes in the road.Theirs had been made by the Chinese to stop Japanese tanks and other vehicles; ours were part of the endless building of ever bigger roads,  to encourage more vehicles of every description.
  And so, a final stretch on foot, stopping at a wayside stall, as Colin did, for a bun (or beng) or two.  

Again like them, we mainly lived well off rice and vegetables and green tea. But  they did also have some Navy-style  tins of bully beef. Having failed to bring our own, we persuaded Francoise to overcome her scruples and took her to a McDonald's.

Our final triumphant march through the streets of Waichow didn't quite get the reception of cheers and firecrackers that was accorded the Admiral in his sedan chair and the British sailors in their by now very ragged clothes and marching formations. But we did manage a white ensign of sorts - and a mouth-organ.
We all (It's me again, Alison) loved Waichow and Tim had earmarked a great old Chinese hotel actually on the West Lake, in the centre of what was the old town - we found pockets of old streets with their colonnaded shops gearing up for Chinese New Year and more of the sweetest little tangerines we had been eating  all along the way. My Pop commented on them too! We had our own celebratory banquet with roast suckling pork, salted eggs (to replace the pigeons' eggs) and vegetables in a little restaurant where the owner went off specially to find the roast pork when he'd heard our story....
We spent New Year's Eve morning sorting out all the religious missions with Serene's help before she had to leave us - the tangled web unravelled with the help of Rev. So who we visited (still very much alive)
- Rev.Wong  proudly showed us the photos you'd given them, Russ (signed also by Donald and Duncan Chan) - and we then had a most fortunate encounter with retired Mr Cheung of the People's Hospital as we stood in the former Wai On compound staring at old photos and trying to orientate ourselves...

We ended up with a pretty good mental picture of the Wai On 7th Day Adventist Mission during the war years - with hospital, church and other buildings where the HK escape party were housed (and finally bathed) and which my Pop later frequented in his BAAG days.  The last vestiges - a crumbling building housing the BAAG mess that was visited by Elizabeth Ride just a year or two ago -  had  been removed just a month ago, we were told.  Thank you, Elizabeth, for all the BAAG information you gave us, which helped enormously in Waichow.
There was also the Catholic Mission, based quite nearby, where the new church still flanks the old church (now used for storage and meetings). They also had a hospital in those days, and we were shown where the old Rectory was by a resident nun - it was another BAAG base but is now housing the toilets! Their site - unlike Wai On - appears to have been much reduced in size. It had been a Franciscan order but we couldn't confirm if it still was.
Finally the Baptist Church of the Rev.So -  although a new church building - stands on the site of the earlier Baptist Mission (they had no hospital that we are aware of) and it now represents  3 Protestant churches that used to exist in Waichow.
Of course all these churches had a hard time during the post war years and there's a long gap where any church activity had to be clandestine so it's difficult to find people who hold the links - so what luck to find Mr Cheung!

And so to New Year's Evening in Waichow - Francoise had carefully carried some Cuban rum the whole way so, like my Pop, we were able to bring in the New Year with a tot of rum and some amazing cocktails our hotel had created - even Auld Lang Syne on the banks of the West Lake...

The sharper eyed among you may note that's a bottle of 1999 Great Wall red wine rather than rum and cocktails - this was how our evening started. The local Dragon'8' beer played a part too....but at least we didn't shock the locals by breaking the odd glass as my Pop admitted doing. 
Along the way I thought often of how he and the others must have felt. For him and some of the others based in HK the terrain might have seemed quite familiar - I certainly kept getting flashes of my childhood when we spent days in the New Territories...  For some of the men, there must have been a huge culture clash to go with all the other clashes  (adds Tim finally).  China may have copied us and caught up with us in many ways, but it's still very different and very special and always will be. Meanwhile we have a few more days  here in HK , looking for  anyone else with any information on the escape, since many of those we met on the mainland said this was where their families had tended to move to after the war.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

The way to Waichow

So OFF WE GO early on Christmas morning to Nam O ... and on across what we hope are still mountains to Waichow.

Here, so you can get at least some idea of where we are for the next week or so, is a copy of the 1930s British War Office map the escape party used at the time.

Hong Kong and Kowloon, for those who don't know, are just out of sight, down to the bottom left. Hong Kong's most easterly point, Ping Chau island (where I was last week), can be seen just across the bay from Nam O (or Namou or Nan Ao, depending on your dialect and spelling method).

But you may need to zoom in a bit to see the smaller villages where they tended to hole up by day ... and zoom in even more to see us (or possibly switch to google earth).

Before unwrapping presents and packing backpacks simultaneously, we spent Christmas Eve taking a crazy bus ride out past Telegraph Bay (now Cyber City) to Aberdeen and Apleichau - failing to find Japanese machine gun posts on the Ocean Park hillside or motor torpedo boats lurking among the highrises, but succeeding in getting a full tour of the old Industrial School where they got their supplies from the Naval Stores.

For those unfamiliar with the story of the Christmas Day escape so far ... here (below) is a potted version of events leading up to the landing on the mainland (which is where we start our re-enactment, complete with military berets but not sedan chairs like the admiral's).

Or for the full version with all the trimmings turn to Richard's website - see column on right....

The Christmas Escape

Furtively rather than festively adorned with branches - their only protection from the all-powerful Japanese bombers - two of the five Motor Torpedo Boats which were all that remained of Hong Kong's naval defences spent Christmas Day 1941 lying at the Dairy Farm pier in Telegraph Bay.
The colony was on its knees after 18 days of attack. At 3.15 pm white flags of surrender appeared on the hillside above them. The two tiny boats lay low till dark, then made their way silently to a lagoon off Apleichau Island to join the other three boats in the MTB flotilla. These had just picked up the survivors of an escape party of senior British and Chinese officers, who'd been forced to abandon their launch minutes after setting out from Aberdeen when it was hit by a barrage of Japanese fire. Twelve of the party of 18 survived, though two were injured ...including China's top man in Hong Kong, the one-legged Admiral Chan Chak. He had removed his wooden leg and dived into the sea with the others, but was wounded in the wrist as the shooting continued. His ADC, Henry Hsu, who happened to be a champion swimmer, had helped him make it through the water to Apleichau, where he and the others were eventually picked up by the MTBs.
With the new arrivals now distributed among the five boats, the flotilla sailed past the still-burning southern coast of HK Island to Mirs Bay. The boats were scuttled and the escape party set out to walk through the Japanese-occupied coastal zone to the nearest town in Free China, Waichow -- some 80 miles away. They landed, late on Christmas night, at a village called Nanao. And that's where we'll be spending Christmas night too, as we prepare to re-enact their journey to Waichow.
What with fifty-odd Royal Navy sailors from the MTBs, the twelve survivors from the launch, seven others who set out from Aberdeen in another boat and happened to land on the same beach, not to mention a certain Colin McEwan and his two fellow Secret Service members who had been asked to organise the escape, the original party had by now grown to a sizeable force numbering 68 in total. And they were heavily armed - with bren guns, tommy guns and revolvers.
In 2008, there are just four of us. Alison McEwan, Serene Qiu, Francoise La Toison and Tim Luard. Totally unarmed ... save for a few Christmas presents that may yet come in handy - a Swiss Army knife, a walking-stick and a long, hard and dangerous-looking saucisson.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Hanging Out in Hong Kong.....


Here we are in godson Kieran's excellent Mid-Levels flat with harbour view enjoying being back in Hongkong and eating rather too much and too well with said Kieran ...

... not to mention Carmela, SJ Chan (and his wife May's home made mince pies!), Dr Dan, Frankie on a flying visa visit, Tom hosting a Cheung Chau get together beano in the FCC  and various street side snacks - we were very glad to see Shau Kei Wan was still home to old style dai pai dongs and cake shops...

But we have to be careful as too much food might make us incapable of The Walk which begins on Christmas Day from Nam O. Francoise has been in secret training with the Beijing Hikers and I (Alison) hope to sabotage her superiority with fruit cake and cheese. We're being joined by a new Chinese friend, Serene, who's  based in Shenzhen and can cope with any Hakka speakers we may find - we're still hoping for the odd person who may remember the original escape party passing through their village.

And Tim takes over at  the first Happy Valley bend to tell prospective 2009 Escapers that Ping Chau should be high on our list of things to do. I went there on the Saturday morning ferry - right across Mirs Bay, as far as you can go and still be in Hong Kong - and guess what: after a sunny walk round the island and much fruitless searching among the day-trippers for anyone who actually lived there - let alone anyone old enough to remember 1941 - I tracked down the current village headman, a Mr Mao Shuijing. And as soon as I mentioned the one-legged admiral's name his twinkly little old eyes lit up. "Chan Chak! Chan Chak! He came with the British military - they asked him to help after they lost to the Japanese".

He was only ten or eleven at the time but he'd been there when the landing party (Henry Hsu and Colin McEwan among them) arrived at dead of night and took the village headman of the time back to their boats (Mr Mao thought there were six MTBs rather than five). His cousin had gone along with some other local lads as guards for the admiral. Then he started talking about the guerilla leader Leung Wingyuen, pointing across to Nam O on the mainland where the villagers helped the escapers to land and then scuttle their boats. (Nam O is clearly visible, with its long strip of white sands - but now lined with hotels instead of guerrillas' huts). Sadly, the ferry home was about to leave so that's all I got -- but, if he's still up to it next year, we could find out more over lunch at Mr Mao's restaurant. well...more of an instant-noodle stall really). And fond as I am of those little old ferries, they do only go at weekends and from out by the Chinese University. So it might be easier to hire a boat of our own - and who knows, maybe even carry straight on across the channel to Nam O.
We've also been to the Museum of Coastal Defence. We failed to catch any of the right people to talk about next year's escape exhibition, but had an exciting time anyway, as far as museums go. Alison had just left me behind in the Battle of Hong Kong section and gone ahead to the next bit (showing how the fight against Japan carried on across the Chinese border after Hong Kong's surrender) when she stopped in front of a familiar face splashed across most of a wall. 

Yes, it was her father, posing with Chinese guerillas after rescuing an American airman behind Japanese lines in 1943. I believe Russ did in fact tell us he'd seen this photo when he came here, but it hadn't quite registered, and when I arrived on the scene I found Alison in a state of high emotion, surrounded by a crowd of equally excited HK Chinese girls wanting to take her picture.
Finally, to tea at the Chinese Recreation Club with the wonderful Duncan Chan -  looking very like both his twin brother Donald and
 their father, the admiral.  
We show him our maps, old and new, but unfortunately he's rather pessimistic about our chances of being able to walk at all in many of these places as they are today. He's trying to find some former guerillas (or their children) to help us on our way.


Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Spain ... and home

Having started our trip in Dubai, where our close friend Pauline lived before her final year with us in London, it seemed somehow right to be ending it in Andalucia, former home of the other important figure in our lives who died last year. The photo shows me standing in the garden of my mother's lovely old farmhouse, Finca la Noria, just outside Mijas. Those of you who visited her any time during her 30 years in Spain will be glad to learn it's been spared the redevelopment that has obliterated almost everything else that was once lovely and old down there. The Spanish architect who bought it when my Mum moved to S. Africa nine years ago wasn't around when Alison and I dropped by, but his maid let us through the gate. Rumours that the roof had fallen in the moment she left appear to have been unfounded. The only visible change is that the garden is more luxuriantly overgrown than ever (a bit like the one we've just come back to in Hackney, but more of that later). You could almost hear my mum's voice floating down from the patio saying "I MUST do something about that vine" as she lit another cigarette and resumed her tale about the Swedish model and the local Guardia Civil chief cavorting in her pool with a bunch of grapes.

We spent a great evening in Mijas with Jeff and Lilli, who sadly are almost the only members of the old gang still left there. Many a glass of rioja was raised to Lavinia ... and then the waiters kept insisting we have more brandies on the house, as they too had so many good memories of her. They weren't the only ones. The face of the barman at the Mijas Hotel unwrinkled into a huge grin when I mentioned her name. I thought he was going to ask me to settle all her unpaid bills. But he just wanted to reminisce about the days when foreigners were people you said hello to rather than tourists in swimming trunks demanding more chips.

For most of our nine days in Spain we stayed with Anne and David at THEIR lovely old farmhouse -- on the other side of Malaga, near the village of Periana. It was feria time, so we partied in the village (eating tapas and failing to dodge each other on the dodgems) , went to the odd lunch party (with BBQ by the pool and much talk of property prices) and took the dogs for walks among the olive groves. But perhaps best was sitting out on the terrace in the evening sun with a gin and tonic (with Spanish measures and lemon fresh from the tree) (but still no cigarettes, we're proudly amazed to say) gently wondering once again if the vine needed cutting back. We toured about a bit, seeing pretty hilltop villages like Camores and wondering if this would be the sort of place for decisions yet!

After almost thirty flights (sorry Brian), we'd become so casual that we were strolling onto the Heathrow plane at Malaga when a BA stewardess came running up the gangway to say we should have been on the Gatwick one. The fact that we ended up flying into a different London airport to the one from which we left in January meant we didn't complete our round-the-world journey till we drew up at a very balmy-looking Middleton Road. Andy had got the sausages on for us, and after expressing surprise that we weren't a bit browner he proudly showed off his sun-drenched garden.
The climbing rose and almost everything else had come out to welcome us -- though we haven't yet seen the foxcubs, one of whom Andy had to chase frantically round the house for an hour last week.

We now have a week or so to get used to things like having a whole wardrobe of shirts to choose from every day ( very time-consuming, like buying a coffee in America), before we head off to Hal and Lorna's wedding in St Andrews. I've been putting off writing the speech I'm supposed to be giving, on the assumption that I'd suddenly be full of great ideas and insights once back from our travels. But maybe it's a case of the more you see the less you know. The only thing we've definitely learned about the world after four and a half months is that everything everywhere is made in China. And almost everything almost everywhere can be described as awesome (and often was). But I never did have time to learn the harmonica.

The places along the way, old and new, have been wonderful -- the people we've met, and re-met after many years, even more so. So, many thanks for putting us up and/or putting up with us, either in person or via this blog. We've enjoyed your comments and e-mails along the way!
We'll leave you with a few lines culled from the mountain of mail that awaited us -- a rewrite by Harry (winner of the New Blogger of the Year award) of that Arlo Guthrie song, which I can have another go at now I've got my guitar back (and yes, Fred, I did remember to take my plectrum along -- it was almost the only thing I didn't lose):

"Coming in from Los Angeleeze
No room in my rucksack for a couple of keys,
Department of home security man don't search my bag pleeze
The stained underwear and smelly socks might well give you a diseaseeze "