It was an unusual way to start the new year: a dawn flight to Romania followed by a 52-hour bus trip through six countries back to London.
Worst of all, it was my stupid idea. I wanted to catch the first coach leaving Bucharest in 2014 and witness the journeys made by people coming to Britain after the working visa rules were relaxed.
The idea was to tell the human stories behind increasingly hysterical headlines predicting floods of new migrants. But as it turned out, there wasn’t a flood at all. Of all the people who got on Eurolines route 441, just six were going on to London – and only one did not already live there.
Most chose to go to Germany, Holland and Belgium, countries with good economies and less of a reputation for hating Romanians. Those countries are also much easier to get to. It is 1,600 miles by road to go from Bucharest to London – there are parts of Morocco that are nearer to Britain than Romania’s capital.
The last time I attempted a bus route that long I was 18 and going from Tanzania to Zimbabwe. This time round I worried I might not have the patience. But there wasn’t time to get bored. The drama which unfolded was enough to fill a novel: an unaccompanied teenager trying to sneak over the border; a sex worker collecting bribes; a drunken Dutchman abandoned in Hungary and the moving life stories of people making a fresh start.
The one new arrival in London was Roxana Carceag from the Transylvanian city of Sibiu. She has left behind her husband to go to care for the children of a London family. She has no intention of taking benefits or stealing: she just wants to work.