The incredible journey
We had known for some time that the end of the Chinese Grand Prix would be lights out for a whole new race - a sort of 'Volcanic GP' as the entire Formula 1 paddock tried to get back to various homes across the globe.
F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone's gag on our programme on Sunday that we would just stay in China for the foreseeable future and make Shanghai the new home of F1 filled no one with much joy.
So, Sunday night rolls around, the BBC team gather in the hotel dining room and our boss Mark Wilkin informs us that our scheduled departure is indeed cancelled, there is no confirmation yet that there will be a flight soon and we'll just sit it out.
Our hotel offered a buffet-style dinner and, moments after the news about our (lack of) travel plans, I sauntered over to where we were eating with a plate piled high with pork and potato wedges. As a few team members reminded me about my new-found health kick, I blamed the shock and duly tucked in.
To be honest it was a slight shock, actually. We had all heard the rumours that some people were being offered flights to get them home in mid-May but you always believe these things are just tales being spread by doom-mongers and you'll be just fine.
The next thing that struck me was that people were just desperate to travel. Somewhere. Anywhere.
It was almost as if sitting in a hotel waiting for news that UK airspace was open was a waste of time. There were rumours of people heading to Dubai as they didn't want to be part of the 5000+ F1 community heading out of Shanghai, stories of flights to Doha, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, even New York, as people clearly thought moving was progress.
We stayed put and I was resigned to the fact we were in China for as long as it took. Then we got a call. An F1 contact had us on a plane that evening! I scuttled upstairs, packed and prepared and grabbed a quick sleep before the 4am departure to freedom.
At 3.30am my phone buzzed. The message read: "Sorry, the flight this morning is no longer an option." Hope dashed, back to Bed-fordshire.
The following day was a mix of eating, snoozing, reading my gripping 'Jack Reacher' novel, blog writing, Twittering and keeping my fingers extremely tightly crossed. And later that day my positive thinking seemed to pay off. Our carrier, Lufthansa, was going to run the flight scheduled for 24 hours after ours was due to leave - and they would honour our bookings!
Now, there is always something odd about breaking up a team. We think the unit that produces your F1 output is a pretty tight group. We travel the world, work long hours, spend more time with each other than our actual families, and there is very rarely so much as a cross word between us.
However, this time the unit had to be split.
Unfortunately, because of the complexity of our operation, a number of our team-mates were not booked with the same carrier - so they were unable to travel with us. It was a very odd, rather unpleasant sensation driving off and leaving them in a Shanghai suburb.
However, one thing tempering our sadness was that we knew the chance of returning to the hotel later that night were more than a little on the high side. We'd been told German airspace was still closed and we were only going to the airport "just in case" the flight was on.
So, at 6.30pm Chinese time, our adventure began as we took to the incredibly busy, fast and at times seemingly lawless roads of Shanghai.
Lee McKenzie's taxi heads to the airport
Ninety minutes later we arrived at Pudong Airport where we were told... precisely nothing. The information board informed us that there would be news at 9.30pm. So we went for dinner... but the restaurant was shut. So we wandered to a bar... but it, too, was about to shut. We saw a darts board and thought the despair was over (shame 5 live's David Croft wasn't with us to commentate!), but the darts were "broken", we were told.
So, we settled for a fast-food restaurant and started the wait. And it was at this point that I started to realise how serious the situation could become. We met some students from Glamorgan University who had been thrown off their plane after it was on the runway four days previously, put up in a hotel at the airport that they described as "pretty rank", had no money to spend on sightseeing or having a good time... and were told they could be flown home by 10 May.
The students eventually slunk off, 9.30 came and went, no news. Suddenly, mid-chip, there was a cheer from the check-in hall upstairs. We were allowed to check in for the flight. Cue a frantic grabbing of bags and a couple of whoops not out of place in Ritzy's nightclub in the late '90s. It was happening!
Well, it was until we arrived at the departure gate. By now, it was approaching midnight. The airport was quiet but gate D71 was deserted. No staff, few other passengers and more importantly, no plane on the stand.
The clock ticked past our scheduled departure time. Some slept, others read, VT producer Sunil bought a chocolate panda. Then about 10 flight crew members sauntered past, Sunil giving them a standing ovation. A plane had been towed to the gate and only a little later than planned we were on!
Around 2am, our flight to Europe took off!
Now, China is seven hours ahead of the UK so, despite being on the plane for 12 hours, we were actually making our approach to Frankfurt the same morning. I'll admit that outside the window it was a hazy, smoggy view of Europe but I'm really not sure if I was looking at clouds or volcanic ash.
I'm really not sure if I was looking at clouds or volcanic ash
The pilot came over the radio.
"Good morning ladies and gentleman. We're going to change our flight path. The usual slow descent would mean staying in the ash cloud for longer, so instead we're going to stay at cruising altitude for longer and then descend much more quickly so we spend less time in the ash cloud. But we're pretty sure we'll be all right".
What? Pretty sure? We speculated that this was a lost in translation moment... Gulp!
As the pilot promised, we remained high and then dropped at the last possible moment through the clouds into a smooth, fast landing. Upon arrival the purser sounded as shocked as anyone over the Tannoy: "Well, we actually made it ladies and gentlemen!"
So, we were in Europe. But what would be next. Well, my vote was breakfast but I was overruled by those wanting to plan the next step. Logically, it would be a train to Calais.
Mark the editor and Anne the production manager braved the queue while Matt, one of the editors, spent £3 on the Times newspaper and we tried to make it feel like a school exchange trip by purchasing Hollywood gum and Ritter Sport.
Thirty minutes later Mark offered us a thumbs down through the glass window of the train office. Apparently you had to book to take the trains and there was a few days waiting list which was no good for us. It also seemed the pressure was getting to people. As the desperate travelers crowded around the train staffs desks, one man was heard to shout at the customers: "I am not a supermarket!" No-one dared do a 'bleep' noise for a laugh.
Hotels in Frankfurt were being furtively mentioned, but then we got wind that there was the possibility of some hire cars. Again, Anne took on the role of chief investigator while the airport floor became a temporary dining table.
Three modest-sized hire cars could indeed be located. The next challenge was filling them with 13 people and luggage. We all squeezed in and left the airport by lunchtime.
The 600km+ trip to the ferries was great fun. Our car led the convoy because we boasted 'Mappo', aka Richard the director. He seems to own maps that cover every square inch of the world (apart from Malaysia - he had a rare shocker there!). So Mappo led the way as we crossed through Germany, Belgium and France.
We stopped for lunch in a German service station, where I suddenly felt quite at home as I was greeted by a gaggle of Norfolk boys. Their plan had been to get to Prague for a stag do. From what I could gather they'd headed in that general direction, driven till they'd run out of time, turned around and headed back. In a van limited to 60mph on the autobahn!
However, they were in good spirits, as you'd expect from supporters of the greatest football team in the world who'd just won the trophy they all want - promotion from League One!
We paid 50c to use the toilet. We then continued on our merry way.
Past Brugge, through the flatlands of Europe, around Dunkirk, and to the ferry port.
Here it had clearly been a stressful week as TV crews captured the scene, and it was obvious from talking to everyone from the Welsh Commonwealth Bowls Team to various other families that we had got away lightly. Some of the stories were pretty hardcore.
Luckily the ferry companies were laying on extra services, we pretty quickly got our tickets and then all got to re-live our childhoods that almost to a person were spent on the Pride of Dover, it seemed.
We made the most of the ferry's hospitality with fish and chips for £5, watched the One Show on the TV, and eventually all piled out on deck, where we were rewarded with an incredible sunset and eventually the white cliffs of Dover!
The journey was almost over. All that was left ahead of us was a coach journey to central London. Ironically, the first problem we had after a few thousand miles hitch-free was that the M20 was closed. We knew we were home!
By 11.30pm the adventure was finally over as we all shuffled in to our houses. I can't say any of us would have wanted to spend more than a day getting home, but somehow the trip out to the next grand prix in Spain just won't be quite as special.
And while we made it, spare a thought for our colleagues, who are among the people still stuck in China.