Bed, Bath and the Back of Beyond

Back in the back of beyond

So, here we are. Opening camp after a closure of several months for the rainy season.

The usual things have happened. Most of the staff have suddenly found reasons to be urgently needed elsewhere, those that haven’t have got malaria, someone has stolen a beautifully embroidered loo-roll holder from one of our guest tents, (we can only presume that someone with great taste has a rather well-appointed mud hut in the vicinity) and, in our absence,  the travel agencies have been urgently scouring Hitler Youth rallies, senior amateur dramatics societies and the local prisons to find us our first guests of the season.

Meanwhile, some idiot thought that the below was a good advert for a close neighbouring camp, as though the savannahs are a gigantic showroom for bathroom fittings with a two hundred kilogram cast-iron claw-foot bathtub here, a porcelain bidet there.

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“You can just make out the young leopard between the trees, see how alert she is to the hyenas presence? She’s hoping the smell of her kill won’t attract their attention. But if I can just have your attention for a moment, I would like to show you the Austen range of claw-foot baths, normally £399 but I understand there’s a offer on the moment: £299 including the hurricane lanterns and spears.”

For some of our current guests, I fear this would be the highlight of their trip. I’m always glad when people are pleased with the accommodation, but we’re hosting an American family who were over-enthusiastic about everything in the tent whilst I was showing them around.

“OH MY GOD! Is this the toilet?” they asked, pointing at the toilet. After I’ve confirmed that it is definitely a toilet, they call the rest of the family over. “Jackson! Look at the toilet!” Six of us crowdily gather close, reverently staring at a toilet. A hand falteringly reaches out to touch but, losing courage at the last moment, sinks back to its owner’s side.

Joe shakes his head, laughing, “That is the strangest toilet I’ve ever seen!” Everyone, save me, nods in agreement. “It’s a toilet! In a tent!” 

I cannot deny it.

Shannon gets our her iPhone, “Would it be weird if I took a photo?”

Nope, believe me, someone taking a photo would be the least weird thing about this moment.

Bill goes to leave the room when something catches his eye, “OH MY GOD! JULIE! Check out the toilet-roll holder!”

Great expectations

We have an American family of six in camp.

The parents think we’re dim and the wife keeps comparing my job to when she worked as a chalet girl for a ski season. The four young children are somewhat precocious. I know this because, over yesterday’s lunch, the 12-year-old, Kit, told me so himself. “Yes, it’s been somewhat of a transitional period for me as I turn from a child into a young man. I’m hoping to become a tax lawyer like my father.”

I nod, immediately lose all confidence in myself as I’m not sure I ever made the transition from a child into a young woman and resolve to sit next to the eight-year-old girl, Rosa, in the evening.

***

Turns out I am not a desirable companion for Rosa either. She had previously complained that she’d finished all her books. Remembering that I had one left behind by another family, I brought it down to dinner. She took the book out of my hand wordlessly, looked at the title, flipped it over and read the blurb in silence. Finally, she looked at me and said, “Is this yours? It’s a little below my normal reading age but I’ll try it.”

Deciding that the four-year old represents my only hope of having a normal conversation over the next week, I carefully devise a seating plan.

***

It’s Kit’s 13th birthday today and late last night the father gave me three enormous presents and told me to wrap them.

“No problem,” I said, “let me just pop to the shops in the local village for some wrapping paper and ribbons, the 24-hour newsagents is next to the monorail station.”

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Then they asked us to inflate the ‘Happy Birthday’ balloon which turned out not to be a normal balloon, oh no, it turned out to be, I shit you not, a ‘Five-Foot Banner Balloon’ which took D twenty minutes to inflate into something that didn’t resemble a giant penis, before passing out through hypoxia on the floor of the office.

***

During today’s lunchtime celebrations some new guests arrived, they looked vaguely worried when they saw the four young children. Guessing what they were thinking, I reassured them. “Oh, don’t worry, they’re not like normal children, they’re perfectly well behaved,” I said, before adding, “though it might be wise not to disclose your taxable income to the oldest.”

At that very moment, Kit must have had a rush of blood to his head and briefly leaving behind the world of federal law and white-collar crime, he threw his new frisbee as hard as he could where it flew swiftly through the air and would have carried well into the long grass, had it not made contact with the side of D’s head.

I turned to the new guests, “Would you like to have private meals in your tent?”

Lions and tigers and despair, oh my.

After a not so brief interlude away from Safari Camp Life which included a stay in hospital, the closing of the camp for the rainy season, and the untimely death of our good friend The Wonder Dog, D and I have been released back into the wild and are surrounded by the dust and bleached grass of the bush once again.

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Following on nicely from my last post about having an inadequate pet, the following message was nestling quietly in my camp inbox. All italics are mine.

‘I was so sorry to hear about The Wonder Dog. I know how you must be feeling as my lion died last year and I’ve never really recovered.’

Lest I was about to throw myself off the nearest escarpment at our shared despair, there was good news:

‘However, we still have our 17-year old Bengal tiger who is in excellent health and we’re hoping he is around for many years to come.’

It’s good to be back.

The Tent Commandments

Lightning strike with text copy

The rules that govern the life of a safari camp manager.

  1. Thou Shalt Not Spend More Than Eight Weeks in Camp Lest Thy Slay Innocent Guests.

As the working weeks pass and time off becomes but a faint echo, the likelihood increases that guests or staff will be attacked, not by a buffalo or lion, but by a marauding manager whose wits are overloaded with camp life.

The endless plains and the wuffling zebras respectively turn into isolation and a bloody nuisance. The first hint that it’s time to gather up those closest to you and head for the hills is increased levels of forced joviality with guests:

‘No, I’m glad you decided to have a lie-in at the last minute! It means I got up at 5.00am for no reason, as did three members of staff. Refreshed, you say? Ha-ha! Excellent!’

‘Oh no, of course it’s no trouble, I’ll be glad to walk a round trip of a kilometre to search the game drive vehicle for your phone which you’ll almost certainly find in your handbag later! I’m so glad you waited until it’s dark to mention it. Oh! Is that a spot of rain? That will make the search so much more challenging. What fun!’

Sarcastic responses to innocent questions lurk close to the surface.

“What do elephants eat?”

“Rabbits.”

One of the common errors made by guests is confusing Cape Buffalo (who live in Africa) with Water Buffalo (who live some five thousand kilometres away in Asia).

It’s customary to listen to a guest, hear their mistake and wait for a suitable opportunity to politely drop in the correction; “Oh, yes, I do so love Cape Buffalo when they’re in large herds; the calves are so playful.” Eight weeks in, however, and there’s the ever-present danger that it’ll turn into:

“We saw lion, cheetah, leopard and water buffalo…”

“Water buffalo, huh? Fuck me, you’ve got good eyesight.”

There’s also the fear that you’ll go ‘bush’ if you stay in the wilderness for too long. Living amongst trees, vultures and mud, my already estranged relationship with culture is beyond counselling. Glossy magazines with make-up and perfume adverts have no relevance.

Carcass Eau de Toil

The very last time we drove to Nairobi I made the mistake of going directly to the hairdressers without popping home first. As I’m having my hair washed I hear a clunk in the sink behind me. I turn round to find the girl holding up a three-inch acacia branch that has clearly just fallen out of my hair. I’m horrendously embarrassed and attempt to explain, “I live in the bush,” then seeing her look suspiciously out of the window at a tree in the car park, I realise she’s misunderstood. “No, no, I mean The Great Outdoors, not an actual bush.”

As I’m writing this I’ve received an email from a lovely guest, “I’m going to Mombossa. Will I be safe from the Somelians?”

I’ve only been in camp for six weeks so I’ll be gentle.

Cattle Class

A shepherd, of course.

A shepherd, of course.

It would be fair to say that most of our guests are from a certain demographic, namely upper middle class, and D and I are sometimes left floundering amidst a flurry of cut glass accents and RP.

I periodically read Nancy Mitford before dinner so I know what the hell is going on and am able to offer my own opinion about fox hunting and having SHRIEKINGLY good fun at tennis parties.

However, sporadically someone will turn up who falls outside this category. Sometimes they’re like a breath of fresh air amongst the maritime lawyers, surgeons and hedge funders. And sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the upper classes will remember their manners and include us plebeians in their conversations. Aaaaaand sometimes they won’t.

We’re currently hosting a husband and wife from Australia. The wife weighs four stone and lives off white wine, from which she must draw all her calories. The husband works in mining and smokes 40 cigarettes a day, from which he must draw all his calories.

All the other guests have, how shall I put it, withdrawn from their company somewhat. One couple from America threw a tantrum of frankly epic proportions (more on them in another post) and refused to share a vehicle with the Australians. Luckily the Aussies remained oblivious to this snub and happily stayed on the conversational periphery smoking and drinking, pausing only to swap hands and commence drinking and smoking.

I tired of this social discrimination last night after one of the lawyers had mentioned that she and her husband had moved from London into the countryside and had a couple of animals around the place; a dog, a Shetland pony, a couple of sheep, a sprinkling of chickens etc. Trying desperately to make conversation I asked, “Who’s looking after your sheep whilst you’re away?” The woman looked shocked and said, “Why, our shepherd, of course.”

Oh, of course, your shepherd is looking after your sheep. Fearing to ask who was looking after the pony, I turned my head and caught sight of the Aussies being ignored at the end of the table, taking a rare break from their Olympic Smoking training.

They’ll probably surprise us all, I thought to myself, I bet he has an obsession with Beethoven’s symphonies and she collects Jane Austen first editions. That’ll knock everyone off their snobby perches.

Looking forward to shocking the crowd, I coughed and loudly enquired of the son what he liked to do when he wasn’t drilling mines in Australia. The table fell silent. C’mon, I willed him with all my heart; say something intellectual…

Addressing the table, he announced: “I go pig ‘hunting. I like to ‘unt pigs.”

Fabulous.

About this blog

Admittedly, I’m not the first European woman to move to the wilds of Africa and write about her experiences. However, as half of an expat management couple of a luxury tented camp in a famous game reserve in Kenya, most guests seem to think that after waving them off on their game drives I pop back to bed for the day, presumably with a gin, resurfacing only in the evening to listen to their tales of the bush. Others think I have clearly made a terrible mess of my life (I do live in a tent, after all) and I must be hiding in the African bush working up the courage to enter ‘real’ life again; as did one pitying lady who asked me in a whisper over dinner, “how long do you have to do this job for, dear?”. This blog is an attempt to put the record straight.

A Truth Universally Acknowledged

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It is a truth universally acknowledged within the safari industry that even the most intelligent of guests degenerate to having the analytical abilities of a newborn kitten on the day they leave camp.

I’ve watched internationally-respected giants of industry mentally collapse under the strain of having to pack their bags, go on a game drive and embark a light aircraft all in one morning. In possession of a fortune but not their intelligence. If guests are travelling as part of a group the syndrome is exacerbated.

Alas, this morning a group of nine retired Americans and their Kenyan tour guide are departing after breakfast to fly south to a camp in the Serengeti. All have lost the ability to undertake the simplest task and are asking questions to which there is no polite reply. When I walked into the dining tent at 7am, George pulled away from what was clearly an unsatisfactory conversation with their tour guide, Robert.

“I’ll ask B,” he said, striding across the tent towards me, “she’ll know.”

I asked what I could do to help.

“Should I have a shower after breakfast?”

“The opportunity is certainly there,” I said, “we can arrange for hot water to be at your tent.”

George looked exasperated, “That’s what Robert said, but do you think I should have a shower?”

“Well I guess the question is, do you want a shower?”

“I don’t know. Do you think I’ll need one?”

“It depends how skilfully you usually eat breakfast, I guess.”

As George stared at the buffet, unable to foresee if he would end his morning meal covered in scrambled egg, one of his co-travellers, Barbara, joined the conversation and told George that he should wait to shower until he got to the second camp.

She looked at me conspiratorially and said, “Men!”

Sensing a kindred spirit, I nodded and started to tell her the newborn kitten tale. She laughed, agreeing with me and then asked me if I thought the camp in Tanzania would sell Maasai beaded bracelets. (Our little in-camp shop had sold out of bracelets the previous morning.) Knowing that most camps in the area sell variations upon a theme, I said that I thought they would.

“Excellent,” she said, “do you think they’ll have them in red?”

My superpowers had deserted me and despite having a beautiful old pair of Zeiss binoculars to hand I couldn’t quite make out the colour of a bracelet in a neighbouring country.

Barbara’s sister joined our huddle and waved an Apple charger in my face, “Is this mine?”

“Does it look like yours?” I asked.”If it looks like yours, let’s just say it’s yours.”

Joan comes up to me, “If I have a cup of coffee with breakfast, am I likely to need the bathroom before we get to the plane?”

Forty minutes later everyone has been served breakfast, (“Is your muesli like the stuff I would normally have at home?”) and they’re ready to leave.

It turns out that trying to get nine retired Americans into two Land Rovers and getting them to stay there is quite a challenge. Every time eight are in, one decides to pop to the loo, or unpack their luggage to get out a scarf, or to change camera lenses. Joan remembers she promised her son in California that she’d buy him a map of Kenya and pops to the shop. (“Will the map show where we saw the elephants?” “If the elephants were in Kenya at the time, yes.”)

Hearing the word ‘shop’ inspires Hilary. Although she’s been staying here for 96 hours, five minutes after she should have departed for the airstrip is revealed to be the ideal time to hunt for souvenirs. She holds up a branded t-shirt, “Will this fit my grandson?”

D is concerned that time is ticking on; we’ve got 12 incoming guests that morning and our staff need to stop waving goodbye and prepare the tents. He tells the guides to start the engines, I block anyone’s exit and pretend not to notice Howard, who’s been patiently sitting in the vehicles for twenty minutes, stand up from his seat and mutter something about a weak bladder.

“Bye then!” I said, closing and locking the door, “safe flights!”

The guides take the cue and drive off at top speed, creating a dust cloud. My last view of the group is of Howard’s panicked grasping at the lock and Barbara’s sister confusedly looking from one hand to the other, both clutching identical Apple chargers.

Cat Hats Trophy

The conservation area in which our camp is located covers tens of thousands of acres and is managed very competently by our chief warden. His is one of those roles that would be impossible to contain within a job description and covers land management, community work, wildlife welfare and ensuring that the camps adhere to the conservancy code of conduct.

As he knows we will be with guests at particular times of the day he mainly communicates via texts, some of which have been very cryptic.

‘It’s possible that a naked man might be running through your camp in the next two minutes.

This turned out to be a herdsman who, when caught by rangers grazing illegally through a conservation area, had panicked and caused a mini stampede amongst his cows, one of whom had stood on his shuka [wrap-around blanket that the Maasai wear] which meant the herdsman continued his frantic run without it. An unusual number of our female guests showed a remarkable interest in using the binoculars in the mess tent that afternoon.

A couple of months ago he sent us:

Have you got any room in your freezer for a lion’s head?

A lioness had died in a suspected case of poisoning and the head needed to be stored until it could be collected and tested by the relevant people in Nairobi. D was really hoping that someone would annoy him over the following days so he could do a bush version of the oft-quoted Mafia threat.

Then, today lunchtime:

‘Is anyone’s guest missing a hat? We’ve found it next to the Simba lion pride, a bit pawed but still ok.’

D read out the message to our guests who all confirmed that their hats were safely on their heads. Then:

‘On second thoughts; are any of the camps missing a guest? The good news is; we’ve found their hat.’

Did you know?

A common guest habit is to assume that, because D and I live in a tent for 8 months a year, we are a little bit dim. Last night a guest very kindly took it upon themselves to tell me who the president of Kenya is.

Now, I’m not the most politically astute person in the world and I would struggle to tell you the name of the president of Mali, for example. [Just had to look it up; Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. See? Now I even know who the president of Mali is.] It would however take a special person not to know the name of the president of the country in which you reside.

The hospitality challenge is of course to react politely when someone tells you something that you’re very likely to already know. What I want to do is slap my forehead in a dramatic manner and yell, “KENYATTA?!You’re sh*tting me?” and then make the guest listen whilst I list lots of facts about their home country; “So, in England you’ve got the Houses of Parliament and you have a Prime Minister, David Cameron, that’s right. Now let me tell you all about the Queen ‘cos I read a 200-word paragraph in the front of a Lonely Planet Guide on the plane and am therefore now something of an expert.”

Food Mountain

Just sitting at my desk in our office tent trying to recalculate the food budget for the next week.

Four new guests arrived today, all of whom swear that they enjoy low fat and sugar-free diets.

Without wishing to be rude, their claimed dietary restrictions have not, um, manifested physically in the way you would expect.

The chefs and I watched in amazement as they piled their plates high from the lunchtime buffet table. A pasta dish that would normally comfortably feed fourteen people ran out after these four new guests had filled their plates. The chefs ran up to the kitchen tent to prepare some more whilst I wondered if we’d not explained things properly and they thought this was to be their only meal of the day.

We sat outside in the shade of the trees, with flycatchers, weavers and eagles fluttering, tweeting and gliding respectively above the farmhouse-style lunch table. However, none of this caught my eye today as I was distracted by the piles of food on the plates.

Worried about keeping within my food budget over the forthcoming days and how I was going to justify extra expenditure to the camp’s owners, I considered trying to collect photographic evidence.[“Oh, sorry! Thought I saw a very rare bird sitting on YOUR MASSIVE PILE OF PASTA.”]

After lunch an interesting experiment took place. One of the new guests ordered a bottle of Bitter Lemon. If you’re not familiar with this drink; I imagine the accountants at the Coca-Cola company who make Bitter Lemon are more troubled by the invoices for sugar than they are by the invoices for lemons… Despite this, I watched one of the ladies attempt to add some more sugar to the bottle using a teaspoon.

I don’t think anyone’s attempted to add sugar to 100% sugar before and some sort of molecular-level reaction occurred, causing a lemony Mount Vesuvius.

The waiters performed the clean up heroically.

A difficult dinner last night; we’re hosting a group of twelve Americans in their seventies and eighties. Although there are a few friends in the party, most met for the first time in Nairobi three days ago.

Everyone has their story to tell, and it’s clear that some of these stories must be told at any cost. One lady, let’s call her Dorothy, will not stop talking. She segues effortlessly from one subject to the next without pause. Last night’s dinner was twenty minutes late as the waiter couldn’t find a gap in Dorothy’s monologue long enough to announce the menu. In the end I just yelled rudely, ‘DINNER IS SERVED!’

There was a little dance around the dinner table as the other guests tried to second-guess where Dorothy was going to sit and moved accordingly. Myself and two guests from Alabama lost the game of musical chairs and we sat at one end of the long table with Dorothy. The collective sigh of relief from the others blew out the candles.

Through sign language and telepathy the couple from Alabama, Cecilia and Robert, and I decided that our tactic had to be to not let Dorothy start talking otherwise the game was lost. Unfortunately, Dorothy is nobody’s fool and had started on her chosen topic of tennis before we’d unfolded our napkins and relit the candles.

After a twenty minute discourse on the merits of a grass surface over clay, the situation was desperate. I could see from their eyes that the Alabama two had lost hope of ever escaping; Robert handed me a note for me to pass onto their children.

I was struck by inspiration and leapt from my seat, “Oh my GOD!” I yelled, “I can smell burning!”

I dashed out of the dining tent to investigate hoping that the couple would play their part and use the distraction as an opportunity to stop talking about bloody Roger Federer.

When I returned to the table it had clearly not gone entirely as I hoped and I was disappointed to hear Dorothy say, “… so my friend has bought me tickets for the Open, we’ve gone together for the last twenty years…” but it turned out Cecilia and Robert had plumped for another tactic; Dorothy was going to carry on talking and they were both just going to talk over her. It resulted in a very bizarre three-way conversation about growing rhubarb in the southern states of America, the merits of getting tickets for the Australian Open and the state of the Danish monarchy.

It was unconventional but I thought I was handling it well until I said, “Are they fruits or vegetables?” to Cecilia who I thought was the one talking about rhubarb but it turned out that she was the one talking about the Danish royal family.

I was forgiven and learned an interesting fact about Bluetooth.

Summit to Say?

A few guests who stay with us are travelling on to climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Most are accepting of the fact that this remarkable feat has been achieved by others throughout history, indeed, it’s highly likely that it’s being climbed at this very minute.

However, two British guests likened their plans to that of Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller.

The boring smug buggers managed to sneak in the fact that they were climbing Kilimanjaro into every conversation.

Me: Would you like some tea? Coffee?
Them: Hello? Climbing Kili next week, we’ll be drinking tea and coffee then!

Me: Goodnight then, sleep well.
Them: Hello? Climbing Kili next week, we can sleep anywhere!

Me: Ooh, look at the full moon!
Them: Hello? We KNOW, climbing Kili next week when there’s no full moon!

They also bored the other camp guests who stopped including them in their conversations as game drive viewing was open to unfavourable comparisons.

“You saw two leopards together in a tree? Oh, we’re much more interested in landscapes; we’re looking forward to the view from Kilimanjaro.”

They even left a little complaint in the visitor’s book; ‘Would have liked to do more walking as we’re climbing Kilimanjaro next week.’

"Flying? We're flying over Kilimanjaro next week."

“Flying? We’re flying over Kilimanjaro next week.”

 

New to the Game

It’s interesting being an expat in a country such as Kenya. Everyone is desperate to demonstrate their own expertise in the wilderness, urban or otherwise. The expats who’ve been here longer will treat you as if the day your plane landed was the day you were born.

On safari; “That’s an elephant.”

On the beach; “Be careful in the sea, there are tides.”

When shopping; “You’ll need a trolley.”

Wildebeest Weather

A day which launched on an uneven keel when we were asked, “who’s the worst guest you’ve ever had?” by the worst guest we’ve ever had, was righted by an hour of very heavy rain; a puddle-filling 32mm.

It transformed our dry and crispy part of the Mara eco-system into a veritable lake and cheered up the herds of wildebeest beyond measure. As wildebeest aren’t the most expressive of creatures, I’ve made quite an assumption here.

Unfortunately, the rain had its dark side as well. All laundry is hand-washed in camp and sometimes not all the soap powder is rinsed out. This becomes apparent in rain when clothes get wet and start lathering up at inappropriate times. One of these times was today as I handed a guest an umbrella and she caught sight of my feet and shrieked. I looked down to find myself in my own personal ankle-deep bubble bath, a sea of frothy soap suds, with more running down my legs.

“It’s from the clothes,” I quickly explained to the horrified guest, lest she think I suffered from a soap-dispensing affliction, like a wishy-washy superhero with possibly the least impressive superpower available; a soaper-hero, if you like.

To recover from the embarrassment, my very clean ankles and I set sail on the plains in our Land Rover and found this wildebeest cleverly concealing his joy at the rain.

Pure, unadulterated joy, wildebeest-style

Pure, unadulterated joy, wildebeest-style

The Tortoise and the Zebra

Two of our new guests had sleepless nights because of an unseen herd of large creatures munching away at grass near their tent throughout the night. They shared their misfortune with us this morning before their 6am game drive.

"They said what?"

“They said what?”

“Probably zebras,” explained D, thinking this because a) there were zebras everywhere last night, b) there’s zebra poo everywhere this morning, c) there are zebra hoof prints surrounding the guest tents and d) the askaris said they saw zebras overnight. D pointed out the overwhelming evidence to the guests who said in all seriousness, “Oh no, we don’t think it was zebras. No, we’ve been talking about it all night, we’ve worked out what it was – it was tortoises.” So, in the minds of our guests herds of giant tortoises went marauding through camp last night – we’re lucky to be alive…

Lost in Space and Translation

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During a camp safety briefing with some honeymooning guests we asked the husband what he did for a living. He casually replied that he bought and sold meteorites for the San Francisco 49ers (an American Football team). Both D and I were impressed yet confused – why would a football team need meteorites? Certainly, why would a football team need so many that you’d actually need to employ someone to be in charge of the purchase and sale of them?

It then dawned on us that we live in a tent far, far away from all things modern and we assumed that the acquisition of comets for sports teams must now be a commonplace occurrence.

Not liking to remain ignorant, we pressed for more details over the next few days but his responses to our questions didn’t really make sense and our confusion continued.

Undaunted, we made a special effort in pointing out constellations in the clear night sky and, as luck would have it, there was a Perseids meteor shower when these honeymooners were in camp. We set up the telescope each evening and asked the guest all about what we were seeing.

Strangely, he didn’t appear interested in what we were showing him and didn’t seem that willing to share his knowledge. In fact, as the days progressed it became obvious that he was making his own special efforts to avoid us.

On the honeymooners last day in camp, some new guests arrived and over the lunch table the American Football meteorite-buyer was again asked what he did for a living.

“Huh, good luck in getting any info out of him,” I thought to myself.

But then, to my dismay, I heard the honeymooner clearly explain to the new guest that he bought and sold media rights.

I was horrified; the honeymooning couple must have thought we were deranged. We could imagine them going to bed every night after dinner, the husband absolutely bemused; “Why do they keep asking me questions about the moon? And what’s with the telescope?”