THE LAND ROVER

What a great name!  It tells you everything you need to know … for outdoor people everywhere, to go anywhere, at any time, over any sort of terrain.  And, if you are British, you either own one or you’d like to own one.  Well, my hubby doesn’t own one, but has always wanted to.  So, when I saw the Land Rover Experience while perusing activities available to us while in the U.K., I immediately booked it.

If you are unfamiliar with the Land Rover (which would surprise me), let me just say that it is probably, except for perhaps the Rolls Royce or Aston Martin, Britain’s best known automobile.  Marketed as the “go anywhere option for the farmer, the countryman and general industrial use”, it is and has been, since its introduction in 1948, Queen Elizabeth’s favorite vehicle.  Not only is this the Queen’s favorite car, it has been a favorite of other royals as well as well-known political figures and celebrities from Winston Churchill to Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro, Sean Connery and Paul McCartney.

Although Queen Elizabeth is not, by law, required to have a driver’s license, she did learn to drive in 1945 as a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) where she trained as a mechanic and military truck driver.  For official engagements, she often rides in the backseat of her custom-built Bentley, but her vehicle of choice is her Land Rover.  On occasion, the Queen can still be seen navigating the streets of London, or cruising across the fields of her Balmoral Estate in her 2015 Land Rover.

Queen Elizabeth II driving a Range Rover at the International Carriage Driving Grand Prix.
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images

This boxy 4-wheel drive, off-road icon was actually inspired by the then American Motors Corporation’s Jeep.  The AMC Jeep, created in 1940, was designed to be an off-road army vehicle specifically to be used in WWII.  It was so popular, the Jeep became even more in demand after the war.  Designers everywhere loved the basic utilitarian look of this vehicle, calling it a “masterpiece”.

Land Rover on Jeep Chassis 1948

Maurice Wilks was chief designer at the Rover Company, a British car manufacturing company known for high-quality vehicles.  Maurice’s brother, Spencer was managing director.  Inspired by the American war vehicle, on his farm in Anglesey, Maurice and Spencer built a prototype in 1947, using a Jeep chassis, and military surplus supplies from the war.

I don’t think I need to go over the Land Rover‘s unique features and specifications, nor do I think I need to cite all its military capabilities and its combat tours with not only the British Armed Forces, but also the Australian Armed Forces.  You might be interested to know, however, road accident statistics show the Land Rover to be one of the safest cars on British roads.  But, what I do want to talk about is the Land Rover Experience.

It is one thing to buy a Land Rover.  It is quite another to know how to drive a Land Rover.  Established in 1990, Land Rover organized a network of centers throughout the world to help customers learn how to get the most out of their vehicles’ on and off-road capability.  Not only do they instruct customers in driving their cars, they also offer a fun, exciting adventure in off-road driving for those of us who do not own one of these all-terrain automobiles.

We booked the experience in the beautiful countryside of North Yorkshire.  Pulling up to the castle, there they were, a fleet of white vehicles all lined up and ready for you to take out.  After all the necessary paperwork, licenses, waivers, etc., we were introduced to our co-pilot and handed the keys.  Our personable instructor could not have been more experienced or a better host.  Fully versed in all the vehicles capabilities, off we went onto Mother Nature’s “track”, with our qualified co-pilot up front, hubby nervously driving and me tucked safely away in the back.

Starting the drive, you’re taken in by the beauty of the area, from dense, lush forests to open fields and pastures.  You can spot deer who perk up when they hear the automobile coming.  Pheasant and grouse dart across the terrain.  It’s quite beautiful.

The terrain was, however, challenging to say the least.  With typical British weather, the recent rains had certainly added an element of breath-taking moments, negotiating the rivulets that ran through the forest.  There were times I was sure, while balancing on a rock, that we were going to topple over, but the automobile took on each obstacle with the tenacity of a warrior.  If you want to pull over, take photos, swap drivers, that’s not a problem.  It’s your day to enjoy.  Now let’s be clear, this is not a ‘test drive in the hopes that you are going to purchase this car’ ride.  This is a bonafide adventure course with an experienced instructor who, with his guidance, takes you over some of the most difficult terrain you’ll ever come across while driving.  It was exhilarating, challenging and so much fun!

This British icon has always been ‘a car of the people’, from Royals to the dairy farmer and there are very few vehicles which can actually wear that title.  If you are traveling in England and looking for something a bit different to do, I  recommend this experience to everyone.  We chose North Yorkshire for our drive, but there are other centers around the country.  And, they offer half-day to full-day experiences.  Would we do it again?  Absolutely!  And now I’ve learned that Land Rover offers the Land Rover Experience here in the States, as well as longer adventure travel packages.  From the warm welcome to the confidence boosting off-road driving challenges, I couldn’t recommend this unique adventure more.

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References:  Jeep-Wikpedia, Cheat Sheet, CNN, LandRoverUSA, Yorkshire Experience, Wikipedia Rover,
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Princess Alice of Battenburg

Has anyone else been watching this season’s THE CROWN on Netflix?  I am spellbound by this remarkably well-made, historical drama.  From the stunningly beautiful and lavish set designs to the dramatic vistas and landscapes, the authentically-detailed period costumes, and, of course, the remarkable portrayals of each of the Royal family by such a talented cast, it’s very difficult to not get caught up in every nuance, image and monologue.  Some people may call this nothing more than a glorified soap opera, but it is so believable, so well made, I had to do some fact checking.  Is this historically accurate or has it been infused with ‘artistic license’

Not having any more information about the Royals than most people (supermarket tabloids, banner headlines on search engines), I’ve been intrigued by such a parade of complex individuals who’ve occupied the rooms of the palace and 10 Downing Street at one time or another.  One such person was the recent episode which introduced us to Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Alice of Battenburg, brilliantly played by Jane Lapotaire.  But a nun?  Living in a down-trodden community in Greece? Looking for charitable donations?  I needed to know more . . .

Victoria “Alice” Elizabeth Julia  Marie was born on February 25, 1885 at the home of her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, in Windsor Castle to German parents, Prince Louis of Battenburg and Princess Victoria of Hesse.  Alice’s father was an officer in the Royal Navy, and as a result, the family lived in, not only London, but Germany and Malta.  The eldest of four, Alice’s mother was very concerned by Alice’s lack of development.  Alice was slow in learning to speak and had trouble pronouncing words.  Through her aunt’s intervention, Alice was later diagnosed with congenital deafness.  Once diagnosed, Alice quickly learned to lip read and became proficient in English, German, French and Greek.

Princess Alice and her husband, Prince Andrew
(1903)

She was a stunning beauty and grew to be one of the loveliest young women in Royalty.  At the coronation of King Edward VII, Alice met her future husband, Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark.  On October 6, 1903, she 18 and he 21, this handsome couple were married and moved to Greece where Andrew became a commissioned officer in the Greek army.  The marriage was marred from the beginning.  Little did Alice know of Prince Andrew’s bisexuality or extravagant lifestyle.  Regardless, the pair would go on to have five children, four daughters and one son. The youngest, Philip, born in 1921, six years after their youngest daughter.

As with most young, wealthy princesses, Alice had little or nothing to do but attend social gatherings.  On a trip to Russia in 1908 to attend the wedding of her husband’s niece, Alice became intrigued about plans to create a religious order of nurses.  When Alice returned to Greece, she found the country in political turmoil.  The turmoil escalated into war and the Balkan Wars broke out in 1912.  Alice quickly threw herself into helping the wounded soldiers by organizing field hospitals.  During this time Prince Andrew’s father was assassinated by a Greek anarchist so the family was forced to flee in exile to Switzerland.

Alice with her first two children, Margarita and Theodora, c. 1910

Just a short two years later saw the outbreak of WWI which caused horrific tragedy to Alice’s family back in Germany, most of whom were murdered.  The family had to give up all of their privileges, positions and titles, as well as their name.  From “Battenberg”, they were now known as “Mountbatten”.  With the end of WWI and the fall of the German empire, the Mountbattens returned to Greece, but once again war broke out in Greece only two years later and Prince Andrew, who was commander of the Military, was banished from the country.  This time the family fled to Paris.

After all this turmoil, tragedy and disruption in their lives, it’s no wonder that Alice turned to religion.  She converted to the Greek Orthodox faith.  Her philandering husband didn’t help Alice’s now fragile state of mind.  With all she had been through, Alice began thinking she had special healing powers and was receiving messages from God.  The couple became estranged. Now diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Alice, aged 45, was forced to move into a sanatorium in Switzerland, where she lived for two years.

Alice tried many times, unsuccessfully, to escape from the sanatorium.  Under the care of many psychiatrists, including Dr. Sigmund Freud, Alice was forced to undergo invasive treatments to “cure her of frustrated sexual desires” which was Freud’s diagnosis.  Dr. Freud concluded that Alice was suffering from unsatisfied sexual frustration.  Her son, Philip, was just nine years old when his mother was taken from him.  Prince Andrew had no desire to raise his son.  He, in fact, ran away with a mistress to the French Riviera.  Young Philip was raised by other members of his family in England, living and being educated in exclusive boarding schools.  During this time, Alice’s daughters all married German prince’s and moved to Germany.  Alice did not attend any of the weddings.

When Alice was finally released from the sanatorium in 1932, she found herself alone.  With nowhere to go, she drifted throughout Germany for years.  The death of her daughter and her daughter’s family in a plane crash in 1937 was the first time in seven years Alice saw her husband.  It was at that time she reunited with the rest of her children and family.  Alice then returned to Greece to continue her charity work.  She wanted her son, Philip, to come with her, but he had a future with the Royal Navy.  When the second World War broke out, Alice’s family was split between Germany and England.  Her son and British family members were on the Allied side, while her daughters and in-laws were on the German side.

In 1941 the Nazis took over Greece.  Although many fled, Alice remained and became an activist, hiding as many Jews as possible in her home, smuggling in medical supplies and doing whatever charity work she could find.  In 1944 when the war was over, Athens was liberated but nothing changed in Greece.  The British were now fighting the Communists for control.  With no food, most people living in squalid conditions, Alice continued putting her life on the line with her dangerous acts of charity.

In 1947 Alice did get the opportunity to leave Greece to attend the wedding of her son, Philip, to Princess Elizabeth.  Her visit was short lived, however, because she wanted to return to Greece where she organized a nursing order of Greek Orthodox nuns, modeled after the one she had witnessed in Russia many years before, known as the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary.  By June of 1953, Alice was now clothed only in the simple grey habit worn by many Greek Orthodox nuns, which she wore to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

The military junta in 1967 forced Prince Philip to send for his mother.  Alice returned to London to live out her years with her son, Prince Philip, and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, at Buckingham Palace.  Now quite frail and deaf, but alert and cognizant, she continued to smoke and play canasta.  Then, on December 5, 1969, at the age of 84, with every one of her belongings given away at her request, Princess Alice of Battenberg died.

This remarkable woman endured more than most.  It’s sad to me that so few have even heard her name, never mind her incredible story.  I wonder if any of us could have lived through the terrors of wars, family members killed and murdered, a husband who betrayed her and children who seemingly left her completely on her own.  The British government named Princess Alice “Hero of the Holocaust” for her services during the Jewish Massacre, and in 1994 she was honored by Israel as ‘Righteous among the Nations’.

As fascinating as the episode on The Crown was, it barely scratches the surface of the dramatic life this woman has lived.  Were there some artistic liberties taken for the script?  Yes, of course.  But I don’t think it was necessary.  A remarkable story of a remarkable woman.  Thank you Netflix!

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References:  Crowns, Tiaras, Coronets, Famous People, Wikipedia, CNN, Elle,

The “John” Company

Why am I writing about this company, which actually changed the face of Britain?  Because I am frequently asked “If England never grew tea, how did tea get to England?” Well, here’s the answer.  It all started with establishing the spice trade for Great Britain and the “John” Company …..

spicesSpices had been known to man since the beginning of recorded time.  Pepper, cinnamon, clove, saffron, ginger and nutmeg are some of the oldest.  Not only for preserving foods, spices made spoiled foods taste better, and helped make the ‘unwashed’ smell a little better.  Spices were used for embalming the dead, in religious practices, and as medicine.  Nutmeg, in particular was thought to be a miracle cure for the plague, which killed more than 35,000 people in 1603 in London.

 With spices grown primarily in Asia and the surrounding islands, the Indonesians were the first to begin selling their spices through what is now known as the Ancient Spice Route.  This long and arduous journey began in Indonesia, traveled through China, India and the Middle East to the east coast of Africa and ended in the coastal city of Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria thus became the central trading center for most of Europe.  Needless to say, these much-in-demand spices became very expensive.

The Portuguese were the first to set their ships off to find the spice islands and by the 1400’s, they dominated much of the overseas spice route.  It wasn’t long, however, before the Dutch and the Spanish went in search of these treasures. Who doesn’t remember the poem “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue ….“? Columbus was, of course, searching for the spice islands, but, as we know, went a bit off course.  By the 1600’s, however, these countries all had a stronghold in this area.

The British East India Company, which was originally named the Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies, but more commonly known as the “John” Company, was the brain child of London businessmen in 1600 for the sole purpose of importing these expensive and important spices from Asia, which was now dominated by the Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish.

 Led by James Lancaster, the John Company set off for Indonesia with five ships laden with linens, iron and lead to trade with the Indonesians. These items were of no interest to the leaders of these tropical islands. The Company continued on and finally ended up establishing trading posts in India where they bargained with tribal leaders and received exclusive rights to build factories.

The Company brought back all sorts of exotic goods in addition to the spices … silks, porcelain, lacquerware, cocoa, tobacco, tropical fruits, sugar, coffee and tea.  The Queen was delighted!  Royalty and the affluent members of society were fascinated by these, before now, unseen treasures. Although these rich and powerful people knew very little about these other things, what they did know was that they wanted them … all of them!

Trade wars began and because of their violent encounters with the Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese competitors, as well as with pirates, the “Company” found it necessary to create their own military and administrative boards, making them an imperial power.  With this overwhelming power in place, the East India Company soon became the ruler of this massive territory.

One of the more popular items they brought back was, of course, “TEA“.  As with spices, TEA was also first touted for its medicinal benefits …. it “helpeth headaches, giddiness and heaviness …. good for colds, dropsies and scurvies.”  It didn’t take long, however, for tea to be drunk purely for its exotic qualities.  Coffee had been adopted by the French and the Italian.  TEA was to be for the British.  (For more information, be sure to read Earl Grey … The Man The Tea.)

The Company continued building trading posts in India and continued to buy tea from the Dutch, because the Chinese would not trade with the English company.  With the Dutch as the middleman, this made the tea even more expensive.   The Company persisted.  It took about 50 years, but finally they were able to negotiate a trade deal with the Chinese to purchase tea directly.  Their first order was for 100 lbs. The demand for tea grew to the point where less than 100 years later the Company was placing orders for almost 5,000,000 pounds of tea each year!  England was addicted.

The Company was in full control now and was setting the prices. The Chinese wanted to be paid in silver bullion.  At the beginning this wasn’t a problem for the British because silver was in great supply; but with losing the American colonies, access to South America, where the silver was mined, was becoming more and more difficult.

Several decades earlier the Dutch had begun trading tobacco and opium with the Chinese – which the Chinese used mainly for medicinal purposes.  The British, led by the Company, was now ruling over India and had established some opium plantations.  They soon realized the answer to their “tea” problem was to increase their opium trade with the Chinese, ultimately leading to the Opium Wars.

The Company would sell their opium to the Chinese at auction for silver; the very same silver that the Chinese were being paid for their tea.  For the next twenty years, this trade was so lucrative that other trading companies wanted a share.   Although China issued an edict that opium importing and consumption were illegal.  The edict had no effect whatsoever.  The Company, using smugglers and corrupt Chinese officials, continued to bring the drug into the country, using a technique still in practice today of giving away free samples.  Interestingly, the term for accepting bribe money was called “tea money”.
The British East India Company aka the “John” Company had grown into a very powerful political and trading monopoly which rivaled the British Government, and, in effect ruled many of the British Empire’s territories.  It fought nations, set prices and taxed goods.  (We’ll discuss the Boston Tea Party in another blog.)  They had become too powerful and the British government sought to regain control.  No longer was the John Company simply a commercial venture.  It was now a political one.

In 1834 the Company was finally dissolved and it was then that London merchants sprang into action. The first thing they did was to purchase as much tea as possible and as cheaply as possible.

More to come ….

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References:  The Spice House, The East India Company, THE STORY OF TEA by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert Heiss, Wikipedia