News

December 2018

Ho Ho bloody Ho,

They’re coming. For some of you, they may already be here - cropped, filtered, photoshopped and perfectly awful in every way: that stack of extra special Christmas cards containing annual round robin letters cunningly concealed within Christmas cards, out they come fluttering double-sided sheets of A4, charting all this year’s neighbourhood news from the particularly boastful subset of your friends and family. The dreaded missive about talented children, wonderful holidays, new conservatories and dazzling success at work. There is no pity. These people lead faultless lives and they insist that you know it.

December was challenging enough when all we had to contend with were those Christmas cards, which comprise specially taken photographs of the senders’ families. You know the ones. Everybody’s in matching festive sweaters like a sinister singing troupe. Inevitably, at least one of the party is signalling RESCUE ME with their eyes. Or they’re in some sort of Look How Marvelous Our Lives Are! pose outside a ski chalet, on a boat, or on a tennis court.

This much-maligned yet still widespread phenomenon took off during the Eighties, when home computers (usually an Amstrad, Sinclair or Commodore) were introduced to the world. Suddenly, every amateur scribe could become a back-bedroom publishing magnate, able to type up an annual family news round-up of varying length – two pages being the norm, although some found it unable to resist circulate rambling efforts that are much, much longer – before printing off multiple copies and tucking them inside their Christmas cards.

As software and IT skills became more sophisticated, courageous types even started incorporating photographs into the text. Up popped pictures of graduation ceremonies, fairy-tale weddings and purple-faced newborn babies - often with the additional thrill of trying to work out who was who, given the streaky ridges from where the pesky printer ran low on coloured ink.

The original pre-Facebook status update, these festive bulletins are then sent out indiscriminately to everyone on the Christmas card list, ranging from cousins or close friends who’ve moved abroad - and might conceivably be interested in trivial news nuggets from back home - to virtual strangers met briefly on holiday or at a work conference.

Sometimes they provoke the nods of agreement, hoots of laughter and heartstring-tugs now more commonly charted in likes and shares. But as the content of the average round robin letter is narrow in scope yet big on smugness, they often read like a blend of faux-casual bragging about holidays, home improvements, academic achievements and career success, seasoned with tedious minutiae involving pets, petty neighbourly disputes and physical ailments.

Not forgetting a generous dollop of showing off about high-achieving children and darling grandchildren, in whom, if we are really honest, nobody outside the immediate family is terribly interested. Come to think of it, many of those inside the immediate family might not give a festive fig either - even if the missives do come topped off with a charming holly border courtesy of World Clip Art.

Yes, the unread round robin is coming bob-bob-bobbing along your garden path in the postman’s bag. Christmas seems to bring out the inner letter-writing narcissist in weaker souls. Resist, resist! Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Don’t despair, though, because as seasoned seasonal bulletin receivers will know, there is often more to these news blasts than meets the eye. Guessing the tragicomic truth behind the upbeat tone and unsubtle boasting can take the fun of receiving the round robin to a whole new level. Here’s my handy translation guide to 31 things that people write in their round-robin letters - and what they really mean…

 

They say: “Dear friend…”
They mean: “Dear person I met once, many moons ago, and who now hates me due to this annual bombardment of banality…”
“Ben's having a great time at university and made lots of new friends”
I haven't heard from Ben since I dropped him off at his halls of residence in September 
“The garden is looking beautiful”
The garden is looking better than John and Alison’s next door, which is what matters.
“Caro has taken to motherhood effortlessly”
 Caro has turned into a bored zombie who self-medicates with Sauvignon Blanc on the stroke of #wineoclock
“The grandchildren are doing delightfully well at school”
 The grandchildren are utterly average in their abilities
"I had an idyllic holiday in the Seychelles, two weeks of blissful relaxation”
By Christ, I was bored
“We're already looking forward to next year's holiday”
We wanted to show off about that too
“We redecorated the spare bedroom”
We’re sleeping in separate rooms due to snoring issues and simmering resentment
"Bingo the Labrador is getting old now but he’s still full of life”
Bingo the Labrador sleeps most of the day and he’s beginning to smell
“We're hoping to take a cruise”
 We've got nothing left to say to each other, so want to get drunk every night with total strangers 
“Sophie’s A-level results were a source of pride”
We paid for Sophie to have extra tuition after she fell in with a bad crowd, began binge drinking in the park and flunked her mocks
“We were lucky enough to receive a windfall from a distant aunt”
We were hoping the old battleaxe would leave us more, to be honest
"Tim is often away on work trips"
 Tim is having an affair
“Lotta won a medal at the school sports day”
Lotta attends one of those schools where they don’t believe in competitive sport so everyone gets a medal, even the asthmatic ones with a clubfoot
“We had some problems with a temperamental boiler”
The man of the house is forever fiddling with the thermostat and putting his hand flat on radiators while tutting
“The skiing trip was a great success”
It was over-priced and there were too many Brexit jokes at our expense. At least no bones were broken this time.
“We had a glorious golden wedding anniversary celebration”
You weren’t invited
“The new conservatory is a fabulous addition”
It’s ice cold in winter, sweltering in summer but it cost a bomb so we’re pretending to like it
“Sebastian has travelled extensively on his gap year, most recently to India”
Sebastian is a workshy fop who’s currently smoking something highly illegal on a beach in Goa and will come back sporting henna tattoos and a bindi
“We finally took the plunge and bought a brand new Volvo, which we adore”
It’s not a Lexus, but what can you do?
“Pat's knee has been responding to treatment”
Pat never stops moaning about her bloody knee
“Peter got a well-deserved pay rise this year, so we’re weighing up what to do with the extra income”
Peter got a small incremental increase in line with inflation, which will make no discernible difference
“Our new next door neighbours are quite the characters”
We’re in bitter dispute over their loud swinging parties and proposed outdoor hot tub
“The hotel was charmingly rustic”
We spent our entire stay complaining
“Florence managed four As and three A-stars in her GCSEs, though she was disappointed by the C in biology” 
The C in biology disappointed Florence’s pushy parents because they want her to be a surgeon, regardless of her own wishes
“Enclosed are some spectacular photos of our safari trip to Kenya”
Enclosed are some photos lifted off the Internet because all of ours were blurry.
“Keeping busy with charity work”
Organising gossipy tea-and-cake sessions with my mates
“Our much-loved cat, Mr Snuggles, sadly passed away but the grandchildren helped us hold a sweet funeral service in the back garden”
The vet’s bills for an individual cremation were extortionate
“The allotment is flourishing and produced a bumper crop of courgettes this year”
 If I ever have to eat ratatouille again, I’ll top myself
“Hope you and yours are well”
I can't remember your family's names
“We must catch up over dinner next year”
We’ll never see each other again, will we?

A couple of Christmas brain teasers for you -

Traditions are an important part of our holiday season. Some traditions are shared by many of us and some are only meaningful to a few individuals, even if it is only the annual festive round robin. For me, I do it as a chance to touch base with far away family and friends and people I care about.

January and February I hopped a lift with Cruise & Maritime back to the Amazon. I was supposed to be on P&O’s Oriana but three weeks before the trip they pulled the ship out into dry dock for urgent repairs. That left me sitting in England for the winter and that didn’t really appeal. My options were slightly limited, as I had to be back in England by 24 February and I didn’t want a seven-night trip. The usual suspects were available but the Canary Islands aren’t that warm in January and I wanted tropical without flying. There were two single rooms showing on Cruise & Maritime’s website and the price had been halved. You know what they say… better the devil you know!!

The 42-night adventure took in the Amazon and Caribbean and having done the exact itinerary three times before I knew what to expect. To be honest I wanted hot weather and a rest but things didn’t get off to a great start when I was told I would be denied boarding if I brought my three wheeler scooter with me. I explained I didn’t want to use it on the ship but in the ports. My illness hasn’t been the greatest of late and my mobility is definitely not what it was last year. The little scooter folds down and fits under the bed in the cabin but that wasn’t good enough for the company. I could only bring it if I had an adapted cabin.

It’s quite ridiculous. I don’t need a disabled bathroom so why take it away from someone who might really need it. While I quite understand that the ship don’t want dozens of assisted walkers roaming the decks, I had given my assurance that this wouldn’t be the case and offered to put that promise in writing. I don’t know why I wasted my breath.

In my opinion Cruise & Maritime are the worst cruise line selling to the British market and it’s a shame as Magellan has the potential to be a great ship if some money was thrown at it. While I could combat the lack of heating in the cabin by bringing blankets and solving the lack of a fridge by bringing on a mini-one, I cannot change the seating on deck to make it somewhat less painful.

The mini-fridge was under £20.00 and was a lifesaver. I have to take medication in the night and the company expected me to get up, get dressed and go down to reception at 2.00am every night. Having to take medication isn’t their fault so I didn’t mind going to that extra trouble and cost to resolve the issue.

We left Tilbury early evening and I was pleased to see old friends, CD Tony Parkins, Hotel Director Marco Scavuzzo, Guest Service Manager Olga Klunik and Financial Controller Iaon Petrutiu together with his new bride Lauren Simpson who has been promoted to Assistant Cruise Director since we saw each other last year. My god if that team had been on for last year’s world cruise, what a different story it would have been. We had more entertainment on the six-week trip than on the whole 4-month world cruise. Tony even gave up his personal time off to give us an hour of music on deck for a few days with him acting as DJ. It was great and just what people needed to break the day up.

We were very unlucky with the weather this time with lots of rain in the Amazon and four out of the five Caribbean ports. It started straight out of Tilbury with Force 10 winds and 9 meter swells lasting four days. It was so bad for a bunch of passengers that they opted to fly home from Antigua. Once we were in South America and heading for our first port Santarem, the whole ship were camped out on deck unaware that we were about to get a dose of bugtitis!! It was rather like invasion of the giant longhorn beetle

Many people assume that mosquitoes, and bugs more generally, are a ubiquitous presence in places like the Amazon. To be sure, they do thrive in the hot, humid and densely vegetated environment of the tropical rainforest. In fact, there are estimated to be around 30 million species of insects residing in the Amazon, encompassing everything from wasps, beetles, dragonflies and ants, to mosquitoes, moths, caterpillars, grasshoppers, spiders and plenty more besides.

However, the reality is that you’ll encounter only a very small proportion of these critters on an Amazon River cruise, and an even smaller number pose any real danger or annoyance. There are also significantly fewer bugs around in certain regions of the Amazon or during certain times of the year, something to bear in mind if you’re particularly bug-phobic. In fact if you read the Health organization’s warnings it would put you off stepping off any form of transport in Brazil.

Apart from the bog standard malaria, rabies is found in dogs, bats and other mammals in this country and Dengue is transmitted by mosquitoes in tropical and subtropical areas of the world so no great surprise there but did you know about Chagas disease, which is caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi. It is spread by insects known as triatomine or “kissing bugs”,

Chikungunya is caused by a virus transmitted by mosquitoes. It occurs in Africa, India, South-East Asia and the Western Pacific. Preventing mosquito bites is the only way to reduce your risk of infection. Duh!!

Hookworm is a parasite that can infect humans in countries with poor sanitation and a warm, moist climate. Hookworm larvae penetrate through unbroken skin (such as walking with bare feet), and can go on to cause severe gastrointestinal upsets and skin infections.

Leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease caused by a parasite transmitted by sand flies. Roughly 10 million people in the world are currently infected. Its most serious form is known as kala-azar, which is fatal in 95% of cases.

Lymphatic filariasis or elephantiasis is a tropical disease caused by parasitic worms spread by infected mosquitoes. Although most cases are symptomless, the disease can occasionally cause severe swelling in the legs, arms and genitals.

Plague…. Yes I did say plague. This is a serious infection caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. Humans can catch the infection via infected fleas or by inhalation. Untreated plague can be rapidly fatal, so diagnosis and early treatment are essential.

River Blindness (Onchocerciasis) is an eye and skin disease caused by a worm (filaria). It is transmitted to humans via repeated bites of a blackfly. Symptoms include severe itching, disfiguring skin conditions and visual impairment, which can lead to permanent blindness. No vaccine is available and prevention has been via public health insecticide programs to eradicate blackfly larvae.

Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) is a common, serious infection caused by a parasite found in rivers, streams and lakes in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and South America. The parasite infects people by penetrating their skin then developing in the person’s blood stream. Avoid paddling, swimming and washing in fresh water – only swim in the sea or chlorinated swimming pools. Boil or filter water before drinking – as the parasites could burrow into your lips or mouth if you                                                                                                                                                          drink contaminated water.

Avoid medicines sold locally that are advertised to treat or prevent schistosomiasis – these are often either fake, substandard, ineffective or not given at the correct dosage. Don’t rely on assurances from hotels, tourist boards or similar that a particular stretch of water is safe – there have been reports of some organisations downplaying the risks.

Traveller’s diarrhoea affects roughly 20-50% of overseas travellers. It is caused by ingesting contaminated food or water. The bacteria that triggers the illness may appear harmless to the local population, usually because they have developed immunity to them. Symptoms include abdominal bloating, cramps, nausea, fevers and diarrhoea. Avoid contaminated foods such as raw or peeled vegetables, undercooked meats, unpasteurised dairy products and food from street vendors.

Avoid drinking or brushing your teeth with tap water and only buy bottled water to drink. Avoid drinks that contain ice and avoid using tap water to wash your fruit and vegetables

Tuberculosis is a disease caused by infection with the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis can damage a person’s lungs or other parts of the body and cause serious illness. There is a vaccine available, which confers partial protection. Speak to your doctor to determine if this is recommended.

Zika virus is a mild febrile illness, spread via the bite of an infected mosquito or by having sex with an infected person. Studies have shown that Zika virus infection in a pregnant woman can be transmitted to the baby, causing congenital problems such as microcephaly. The best way to prevent Zika is to protect yourself from mosquito bites. No shit Sherlock!!!

So there you have it… when are you booking?

So the sun had just set in Santarem and within minutes the deck was awash with moths, beetles, cicadas, crickets, and grasshoppers and when I say awash we’re talking thousands. Most passengers screamed and ran for cover whilst us diehards stayed where we were and ignored the assault. The other trips have taught me that this only occurs as we enter the river but after Santarem they almost disappear, most probably as a lot of the main ports are modern with the rainforest destroyed to make way for buildings, homes and shops.

The nicest port is Alter do Chao and it’s annoying that we only ever get a few hours there. It was torrential on arriving and it didn’t help that we had to tender to shore. Famous for its sandy beaches which only appear during the dry season, Alter do Chão is a relaxed, laid-back destination which combines jungle, history and beach experiences into one charming package. My main aim was to buy bananas as the ship had run out weeks ago, but of course. I was on a mission and armed with 60 of the yellow fruit I headed back to the dryness of the ship. Why did I buy so many? Because our next stop was Iles du Salut, better known as Devil’s Island. The Salvation's Islands (French: Îles du Salut, so called because the missionaries went there to escape plague on the mainland; are a group of small islands of volcanic origin about 6.8 miles off the coast of French Guiana in the Atlantic Ocean.

The islands were part of a notorious penal colony from 1852 onwards for only the worst criminals of France. The main part of the penal colony was a labor camp stretched along the border with Dutch Guiana, which today is Suriname. Île Royale was for the general population of the worst criminals of the penal colony to roam about in moderate freedom due to the difficulty of escape from the island. Île Saint-Joseph was for the worst of those criminals to be punished in solitary confinement in silence and for extra punishment in darkness of the worst of the worst criminals of the penal colony. Devil's Island was for political prisoners, including Dreyfus in 1895-1899 after his conviction in metropolitan France for treason.

This penal colony for the very worst criminals of France was controversial for it had a reputation for harshness and brutality. Prisoner violence was common, tropical diseases would kill many others, and a small core of broken survivors would return to France to tell how horrible it was and scare other potential criminals straight. This system was gradually phased out and has been completely shut down since 1953. Nowadays the islands are a popular tourist destination.

While all the tourists padded up the steep hill to see the remnants of the prisons, Michele went off to the right and up a trail I’d discovered a couple of trips ago. It took me about an hour to reach the clearing and getting down on the ground I made myself comfortable. It didn’t take long for my prey to smell their reward for showing themselves and one by one I was surrounded my dozens of monkeys. It’s a wonderful experience being totally alone and having a one-on-one with these spectacular creatures. I love them and spent nearly two hours there until my lure ran out.

For those that are not as adventurous, you can head up to the main restaurant, which is a wooden platform with a roof and if you have time the monkeys will also come out. It doesn’t suit me as I have to vie with dozens of tourists all trying to get that perfect picture so you end up getting someone’s limbs in shot if not their phone. The other advantage I had is seeing agouti, an animal that looks a little like a really large guinea pig. Its coarse hair is covered with an oily and stinky substance that acts like a raincoat. The hair is longest on its rump. The agouti has five toes on its front feet and three on the hind feet. It walks on its toes, not flat-footed like many rodents, giving the agouti a dainty look. Although it is hard to see it, the agouti does have a tail: it is very small, looking like a dark jellybean stuck on the animal's rump!

They are extremely difficult to find as they run off if they hear or see you approaching but with me sat on the forest floor and holding bananas the temptation was too much. Admittedly they never came nearer than six feet away but I was happy to throw them a reward for that Kodak moment.

On Boxing Day I made the move away from O2 as I was fed up paying £4.99 every day I needed to access my texts, emails etc. A friend had told me about the Three Advanced plan where you can Go Roam in 71 worldwide destinations, using your calls, texts and data at no extra cost.

I stupidly made a mistake by connecting in Mindelo not realizing it wasn’t part of the plan and that lesson cost me £29.00 but the Amazon is in South America so I was able to keep the phone on constant roaming. On 28 January I received a text from my good friend’s sister telling me Billy had passed away unexpectedly on Monday 22nd January. I was in total shock.

I’ve known Billy since the late 1970’s and was among one of my first boyfriends. We parted amicably and stayed friends throughout. He was a natural entertainer with that great smile and boyish good looks. Prior to joining the cruise industry Billy had performed at some of the world’s most prestigious venues with international artists Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Tony Bennett to name just a few.

He stepped into the role of cruise director on Cypriot Louis Cruises in 1984 and took to the role easily because of his wonderful leadership skills and trust me managing and juggling a team upward of 70 resident entertainment staff isn’t easy. He joined Princess in 2004 and enjoyed 12 years with their unique brand.

Billy was my mate and I loved him dearly and he is already sorely missed. I loved gigging on Princess and always requested the ship’s he was on and it will now never be the same. I am extremely grateful to his sister Kimberley, who has been a member of our Forum for years, for arranging flowers at the funeral. You try organizing flowers from the middle of the Amazon to Denmark. Now nearly a year on memories come flooding back of al the people one has had to say goodbye too and suddenly the festive season is bitter sweet. On dad’s birthday 1st December I will light a candle in memory of all those that I love who can’t be here.

As you know February is a bad month for me starting with dad’s anniversary on the 7th and then mum’s on the 25th but I do thank you all so much for your cards and emails. It is always appreciated and its nice to know you are not alone.

I came back ready to do battle in court with Cruise & Maritime over last year’s debacle of a world cruise. As predicted CMV didn’t show for the hearing, nor did they ring the court as a matter of courtesy so I was asked to wait an hour to give them an acceptable amount of time to arrive, in case the bad weather slowed them down. At 10.00 the judge called me in and with no defense to consider judgment was made to me.

Two weeks later I went for my annual medical and mentioned the night chills I’d been experiencing to the doctor. I was shaking so badly the night before that I felt like a tumble dryer on full cycle! He explained that my symptoms were classic malaria and wanted me to have bloods drawn. In the four trips I’ve made to the Amazon, I don’t remember ever getting bitten but the doctor was concerned as the disease is rife in South America. Here’s the thing last December I headed to the Dominican Republic for my brother’s wedding and got bitten to smithereens. I had no idea it was a malaria hot zone until Max told me. He and his wife donate blood every month but apparently on his return to England following the wedding he wasn’t allowed to give blood for fear it might be tainted. Well I never.

I headed to Princess Royal Hospital for the tests my doctor had requested. I was very impressed that the surgery rang me two days later with my results. It seems that although not malaria, I had picked up some tropical infection and it may or may not have contributed to my low kidney function. I decided not to have further blood tests until I came home in July, as I didn’t want anything messing with my travel insurance.

I was up to my eyes writing my new book. It’s a much bigger venture than I’d first imagined and my deadline of last September was overly ambitious. As well as a port guide for those wanting to tackle exploration on their own it’s an A-Z to cruising with mobility challenged sections throughout. Because I’ve been at sea for nearly 40 years I have a better perspective than some and I’m providing the basic asks and not the history of the city you might be visiting. As it’s now finally beginning to take shape, I’m excited about its launch. Because of the information included I’ve had to split it into separate tomes. The first will be Norway and the follow up the British Isles and Baltic.

The photographic exhibition had to be put back yet again as there is not quite enough time in the year to give it my full focus but the prints are still selling well on the ships. It would just be nice to bring it to a larger audience but having placed them on their own dedicated website I was bitterly disappointed that the Internet doesn’t give the shots the justice they deserve. The unique angles and finish don’t translate to a screen but god willing there will be a future opportunity.

My son was studying extra hard in the last few weeks before his final exams. In the six weeks I was home I’d only seen him twice but both Max and Matt were coming over for my birthday on Easter Monday. I chose to have lunch out with the family instead of dinner and it was lovely. Max has a tradition in that he always buys a new board game at Christmas and last year he arrived with ‘Ticket to Ride’. Christmas is rather chaotic and the time went so quickly that we only had a chance to play the game once so he brought it over for all of us to play. I came a respectable last!! But it was a lot of fun. Because Max’s exams were looming he was on a strict study regimen so he went home about 8.00 while Matt, Chandrika and I settled down to watch ‘Eddie the Eagle’ (I do know how to live don’t I). It’s one of those films I’d been meaning to watch for the last two years but it is rare for me to take time out to do nothing. Although it was somewhat slow, it had a real good feel factor about it and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but that was helped by the fact I knew it was a true story.

I was completely shocked by how many physical cards, electronic greetings, texts and Facebook messages I received and I thank everyone so much, it was lovely reading all the sentiments of my friends. My birthday last year was a ‘silly hat’ deck party onboard Magellan and although it was terrific fun you can’t beat having time with the family.

So let’s get back to me feeling pleased with myself. Once I got the court case behind me I was able to focus properly on my new book and the next four weeks were extremely productive. If I’m honest I had hoped to have it finished last year but as I have found with so many things, time is my enemy. That and the fact I find it hard to work on my small laptop on the ship. I love sitting outside and the tables on deck are extremely low so I have to stoop when I type. On a small machine I find it hard to type without a million typos appearing in a single paragraph as my fingers seem to hit several buttons at the same time but the biggest reason is that I don’t have access to the Internet. With a factual book it is important to research the items several times over especially the stuff I wrote more than a year ago. It is so easy for something to go out-of-date with attractions closing down for renovation or that addition of a disabled toilet in the town. Being that the first book is on Norway there are a lot of very difficult spellings so it is time-intensive but hey ho, that is what I signed up for. Titan Publishing have released me from my contract so I can publish elsewhere as they don’t deal in this field at all so now I have to decide if I am gong to self-publish or find another publisher just for this series.

May saw me have itchy feet. I was due on Celebrity Silhouette for the season.  I hadn’t worked on this ship before but it is supposed to be the twin sister of Eclipse so I felt it would be somewhat familiar. I was looking forward to getting back to work and welcoming past guests, some who booked just because I was back onboard. Sue Denning, one of the great cruise directors in the field, was presiding which was great news. We’ve known each other nearly 30 years and I’ve been exceedingly lucky to have her as my boss for the last three years on Celebrity.

I have worked most of the luxury liners and have never seen a cruse director work at the pace she does. She lives and breathes the job and whenever you look up she is passing through, presenting something or liaising with the guests. What a force of nature. Contrary to what people think, she gets so little time to herself and we have often made plans to have coffee in port only for things to be cancelled or altered at the last minute.

I’d done the Baltic run for the last three years and I love all the ports except………… St Petersburg (no hate mail please). Two of my favourites are Tallinn and Warnemunde in Germany. Sue and I always try to have a coffee in the terminal’s outdoor coffee shop. Sue usually grabs an hour and I then amble into town.

The ports were as fantastic as ever but Russia was hosting the World Cup for the first time in history from 14 June to 15 July with St. Petersburg being one of the 11 cities hosting the games of the tournament. The ship was docking in the city on 14/15/16 July!!! I couldn’t think of anything worse. Passengers had to book ship tours as there wasn’t any availability of private vehicles and during the peak dates there was last minute sight and road closures. Deep Joy. Any thoughts I had of getting off were quickly set aside, lol

The big bonus for me was once on board I found out that between 19-26 May the ship had been chartered by BRAVO – Cruise for the Performing Arts – and would feature over 25 theatre, opera and classical artists in over 100 live performances including Catherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe. That would of been enough for me but Wynne Evans, The Celtic Tenors, Ruthie Henshall, Mirusia, Tommy Fleming, and Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber were also on the bill backed by the National Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Guy Noble or Anthony Inglis. I was double excited. Advertised as the world’s largest choir I was looking forward to the Jonathon Welch Choir. I used The Morriston Orpheus Male Voice Choir for dad’s tribute at the Grosvenor House Hotel and they were fantastic and there was a hundred on them! There was also lectures and master classes with the performers so I was excited about being a groupie for a week.

The first person I thought I saw was Andrew Lloyd Webber until I realised it was his brother, my god they look alike. He was on with his wife who plays cello and rather well at that. I was officially off work for the week but the promoter asked if I would do a show. I agreed but only if my merchandise was put in the shops and was sold after my show. Agreed. I’m delighted to report I outsold several of the artists onboard. Most of the people on this ship were first-time cruisers, on here because of the line-up, and they were dedicated music lovers. The audience was probably the best I’ve ever had, not in numbers, because you can’t physically get any more into Celebrity Central if you’d tried. The stewards had to bring 50 extra chairs in and it was still not enough. People were standing at the back and sitting in the aisles but that has happened before. The difference was in the reaction, the applause was immense and seemed to go on forever, and I loved every minute.

I had only seen Alfie Boe once before on television when he did a guest spot with Michael Ball on Strictly Come Dancing. To be honest I hadn’t liked the arrangement and didn’t think the pairing worked so I wasn’t sure whether I’d go to the show or not but Sue arranged for us to go together. OMG am I glad I went to the first show because I subsequently went to all three. The man was amazing and I thought the repertoire genius although there was quite a few upset he hadn’t sung any Italian or Opera classics. I couldn’t have been happier, I haven’t enjoyed someone that much since dad, and that’s saying something.

The schedule was tight, all the roadies, crew and artists boarded the ship at 10.00am and rehearsals started the minute the equipment was set up. The first headline show was at 9.00pm that night with two performances the following evening. Alfie then got off in Bilbao and two days later Katherine Jenkins got on in Vigo, did one show the first night, two the next and got off in Cherbourg. All the other guest acts were on for the duration save Wynne Evans (Go Compare). He was a great talent and not just in the singing, the man is a natural comic and had me falling about the floor in laughter. I was fortunate enough to meet him and we spent quite some time talking shop. Wynne has a radio show on Radio Wales every day and kindly asked me onto the program when I get back. He left in Vigo on the Wednesday and was due back on air the following day. I gave him a copy of dad’s new album so he had something decent to play, lol

I also spent a lot of time with Vladimir & Anton, two violin virtuosos who wanted my help in writing a new biog and creating a new image for themselves. By the time they left their new name was Stringphonik, their biography was rewritten and I’d taken new pictures for their website. Watch out for them, as they are incredible, merging old classical standards with a new contemporary edge.

It seems that Alfie Boe is a big fan of dads and he asked to meet me. I didn’t need persuading. What a nice guy, down-to-earth, totally unaffected and an amazing talent. He told me he was a massive fan and anyone that loves Matt Monro, is okay in my book. It was a great night and I had to have the picture to prove it. I enjoyed his last show even more, he put everything into it and finished on a fantastic number from Quadraphonia called Love Reigns. Go to ITunes and download it now.

I wasn’t going to see Katherine Jenkins and she has never done anything for me but I thought I’d be stupid to miss an opportunity such as this. Sue and I caught her second show and although she is a good singer my opinion hasn’t changed. She has no personality at all, no oomph during the show. She has her own personalized rhinestone microphone, which was totally over the top and changed outfits three times in the space of 40 minutes. Her closing number was “Time to Say Goodbye” and I did. I had to leave, as ever since playing it at mum’s funeral I can’t listen to it anymore.

It annoyed me that she had pre-signed CDs and glossy colour 10x8s, which were on sale after the show on a table looked after by one of Bravo’s team but she didn’t make an appearance. In fact she announced at all three of her shows that if we saw her when walking about the ship to please come up for a picture or an autograph but she never left her room all the time she was on the ship whereas Alfie, after finishing all three shows, wanted to see the ship and ended up at the Silent Disco and joined in. What a trooper.

I’d intended to see several other acts but I was far to busy talking. I’ve given the promoter an idea for another themed cruise and he is looking into it. If it comes off it will be awesome. Away from the business side he and his wife Elaine and her sister Rose were lovely people and it would be nice to think I might meet up with them in the near future. It’s funny he reminded me of someone for days and then I twigged, he looks like Jack Nicholson.

I’m always asked if I get bored visiting the same ports over and over but it just doesn’t happen as there is so much to see that you can’t achieve it in a few hours. Going back gives me a chance to explore more of the area. I’ve probably been to Copenhagen 15 or 16 times so I have covered quite a bit of it, but when the ship pulled in again I tried my hand at seeing the sights from a Segway. OMG, totally awesome. I was actually invited by the owner to take a test drive so that when I include it in the new book I had a more in-depth feel for what ‘Segway Cruise’ offered

I am mobility challenged but was able to manage the Segway easily. There are no buttons, knobs or other things to contend with, all I had to do was stand up and gently lean forward to advance and gently lean back to brake. You get a full tutorial before you commence the tour. I was fitted with a helmet and earpiece, which allowed me to hear my English-speaking guide perfectly, and I had the choice of a one or two hour tour. I chose the one-hour because I was worried it might become too tiring but quickly regretted my decision. I could have gone on for hours.

I hired a private tour for myself and set off from Langeline Pier and saw every major sight possible that was on my hit list. Don't miss seeing the Genetically Modified Paradise Fountain and Mermaid, which isn't actually part of the tour but is in front of the training area. You can take your own pictures or the guide will take them for you.

Bjorn Norgaard is a gifted abstract artist with a different view of society who has created a sculpture group called "Genetically Modified Paradise. I came across the granite square with a 400 square metre waterless fountain quite by accident. In its centre is a 9-metre tall figure of Madonna standing on a 40-ton Triumphal Arch surrounded by depictions of Adam, Christ, Maria Magdalena, Eve, The Tripartite Capital and the Pregnant Man. All the figures have been genetically modified and it certainly makes the viewer think of the meaning behind the sculptor's vision. Because the fountain has no water, and the figures quite grotesque I felt that each piece that makes up this exhibition (originally designed as part of the world exhibition Mankind, Nature, and Technology for EXPO 2000 in Hanover) is imperfect and it proves that whatever you look like on the outside can mask the beauty hidden inside. You will have your own views.

The last sculpture in the exhibition is actually in the water on its own small island, that of the Genetically Modified Little Mermaid. Her location is only a few hundred meters from that of the well-known Copenhagen landmark The Little Mermaid. Both are worthy of a visit but I enjoyed this exhibition much more, maybe because it was totally unexpected and not mentioned in the guidebooks I’ve read.

My guide Freddie was expertly trained with exactly the right information without a load of waffle in between. Because I'd booked privately I was able to spend a little longer at the Palace and dismounted so I could have my picture taken with the Queen’s Guards.

The time flew by but from the first views of the Little Mermaid to the last views of Gefian Fountain there wasn't a dull moment. Being mobility challenged there was no way I'd have been able to see these sights myself and if in a tour bus I would not have had the photo opportunities that I had the freedom to take by getting up close and personal to each sight. Worth every Kodak moment.

The days leading up to 14 June dragged by but that is always the case when you are waiting for something and in this case it was Max’s exam results. My baby got a first, which means he will go to Imperial in London to do his Masters in September. Unfortunately, it meant I will be further away from him but there is always Christmas. In the meantime, I had obtained permission to go home for the big day on 4th July.

I went home on 23, and spent the first afternoon going through the huge pile of hard mail, listening to the answer phone messages and tackling some of the 2000+ emails (no I haven’t added another zero by mistake). At about 11.00pm I started unloading my six hand luggage, which was in various bags  (don't ask). Thank goodness I’d left 10 bags on the ship ready for my return (don’t ask).

It was just past midnight and various suitcases were laid open over my kitchen floor blocking my route to the office and I thought it was a good idea to walk in and out of the case instead of trying to move it. A bloody stupid idea, my foot got caught in the metal rods that form the pull-out handle and down I went crashing to the tiled floor hitting my right hip and elbow in the process. A beached whale looked prettier! I laid there while assessing my injuries, well I had little choice as I couldn’t get up and my foot was still caught in the suitcase. It could have been worse but I still broke my toe. I was so not amused. The morning arrived to find my body bruised, battered and hurting like hell so a hot shower was just what the doctor ordered. Well, he might have ordered it but I didn't get it. I still had no hot water. I realized that when I had switched the heating etc off I must have turned the hot water off as well.

Watching my son graduate I have to say was one of the proudest days of my life.
I’d bought a new dress for the occasion but I had my neighbour with me when I bought it and I didn’t even think that I couldn’t do the dress up without help. Sod’s Law of course meant that Pat was out for the day at her sons’, which meant I had to drive with my dress open so that Max could do it up when I got there. I had bought a white pair of ankle boots a size too big so I could put a padded innersole in it to make it more comfortable for my bruised, bettered and very broken toe. I hadn’t put on a pair of shoes in 10 days and the boots felt all right when I tried them on in the shop, (famous last words) and I sensibly drove to Birmingham University in my slippers. Max was waiting for me by the side of a disabled space and it was as near to the ceremony as I could have got. Fabulous. It was just as well as my boots had only been on my feet for 10 minutes before I was in acute agony, not helped by the campus’ cobbled walkways. But at least my dress was zipped up and I was there.

Max went to collect his hat and gown and when he came out fully dressed, I could easily have burst into tears. He looked fabulous. It had been a long, hard 7 years to get to this day and I was bursting with pride, love and admiration for my boy who’d overcome a million heartaches to finally emerge victorious. He so deserved this day and it was even more special when his Head of Year for Physics gave Max a special mention in his end of year speech. Justine’s parents arrived as did my brother and his wife Chandrika and they went to take their place in a special viewing chamber where they could watch the proceedings live on a large screen. Meanwhile Justine and I went in to the Great Hall to take our seats.

I’ve never been to a graduation before so I was pleasantly surprised to see so much pomp and ceremony with a parade and orchestra playing the main players in.  It made every achiever feel important and was certainly a day they could be proud of. It seemed to take an age before it was Max’s turn and when his name was called out and he mounted the stage my heart was fit to burst. I wanted to stomp and cheer but managed to contain myself for the sake of not embarrassing the leading man. It amazed me that some of the achievements they read out meant nothing to me but damn they sounded good, things like “for research into the black hole and the particle dust created by the ozone layer and its structures”. (Don’t worry if you don’t get it as I made that one up but you get the picture.)

After the ceremony we went up for the official family photos and then were able to join the others in the grounds for an iced cold drink, while I continued to take a hundred more pictures. Don’t laugh because Justine and I between us took more than 300!!! It is a day in a million and I didn’t want to miss a thing. It’s better to take dozens that you then delete just to capture those special few which are amazing, then to take a few and get left disappointed because someone blinked or the picture is blurred.

Max had booked Pizza Express by the Mailbox for 7.30pm for everyone and we all had a wonderful night. I was still busy taking photos while Matt picked up the bill for everyone, which was totally unexpected, but so like him. And suddenly it was time for everyone to go home but not before asking Max to unzip me so I didn’t have to sleep in my dress. I just prayed that the police didn’t pull me over as I would have had a hard time explaining what I was doing driving half-dressed, lol

It was worth every minute of the six-hour round trip to Southampton and the broken toe (which was refusing to heal) and three days later I was back on Silhouette to work out the rest of my contract. Maybe it is because I had the break in the middle but the rest of the time flew by and 18 August saw me drive back home.

Five days after the graduation ceremony Max started his Internship at Birmingham University and the hours were long so I didn’t get to see him straight away. Justine had resigned from her old school and her new job in London saw her start before Max’s internship finished so he was on his own for several weeks in Birmingham while Justine stayed with her parents and went flat-hunting. Every Friday after work, Max caught the train to London so he could spend time with his wife.

With only 14 weeks until Christmas I had a host of things to do before I leave again on 3 January, mainly in terms of the book. I have spent nearly every waking hour writing and doing research and by hook or crook it will get finished but I have no idea when at the moment, things keep getting in the way.

I mentioned having blood tests to determine if I had Malaria and I’m glad to report I didn’t but some other tropical infection. I’m still experiencing nasty shivering fits in the middle of the night. It only happens every three of four nights but the good news is that apart from the night chills I feel great. I have to have another blood test soon so we’ll see what the advances of modern medicine reveal this time round.

I helped Max pack up the flat in Birmingham and after 4 trips we arrived back in Telford and deposited most of it in the garage. The good news is that Max stayed a couple of days so we could catch up and that was lovely but now he has already started at Imperial studying for his Masters. Although I’m excited for this new chapter in his life it is hard knowing he is more than 3 hours away but hey life sucks sometimes.

Justine’s parents invited me down to Harrow to help celebrate Max’s birthday and we kept it a surprise. I don’t remember the last time I travelled on a train but boy was it daunting. There was no one working at the stations and I had no idea what platform I was supposed to be on but amazingly I made it to Harrow without incident. My son’s face was brilliant, he couldn’t quite take in the fact he wasn’t dreaming (well I had walked in while he was still asleep and he woke to see my ugly face). It was brilliant and we all celebrated at a fabulous All You Can Eat Chinese in Hatch End. As with all great things, the day passed so quickly and by midday the following day I was back at the station but this time I had two changes to contend with. I won’t bore you but suffice to say I had to go to bed at 8.00pm as I was exhausted.

As most of you know The Matt Monro Story toured for the last time this year. After thirty years in the business, the dates in September, October, and November saw Matt hang up his show business hat. Having just got married to a wonderful lady he doesn't want to spend months on the road anymore, he figures it's time to try something new…. but he hasn’t made his mind up yet on what that will be. It is sad in one way as I had always hoped we could do a couple of shows together but unfortunately my health wouldn’t allow it. The main thing is he did his dad proud and I know he will always treasure wonderful memories of those working years as he always felt dad was watching over him.

You might be interested in an hour special I did for “Teen Dreams” with Alan Thomson and Nigel Pearce. The interview will be broadcast on Future Radio on Sunday 9 December at 4.00pm. Just Google Future Radio and click on the option “Listen Live”.

DON’T FORGET
If you need a stocking filler then don’t forget to grab a copy of Matt Monro: Live in Australia or Matt Monro: Operation Santa Claus, Live in Hong Kong 1962.

Available from Amazon.co.uk or Directly from Mint Audio by clicking each picture above

 

Many times in life a chance meeting or taking a left instead of right turn leads to people and places that will change your life forever and both Matt and I have been blessed with the wonderful moments we have experienced over the last 30 years. I have accepted dates for 2019 but it might well be my last (mind you I have been known to say that before). My first outing is with P&O on 3 January but before that, tis the season for soppy television adverts, excessive mince pie consumption and tediously long round robins.

Whatever the coming year holds, suffice to say that I shall be plugging dad’s music at every opportunity.  That is the wonderful thing about working the ships, it gives me a brand new audience each time and if then, a small percentage goes home a fan, then it is worth all the blood, sweat and tears, not to mention the Bay of Biscay!!!!

 

Cruise/ Work Dates 2019

3 January – 27 February – P&O Aurora
13 March – Café Uno, Alicante Spain, with Big FM Radio,
14 March - Sports Complex – Alicante, Spain with Big FM Radio
15 March – The Club Quesada, Alicante, Spain with Big FM Radio
7 May – 19 May – Celebrity Silhouette
19 May – 2 June - Celebrity Silhouette
2 June – 16 June - Celebrity Silhouette
16 June – 30 June - Celebrity Silhouette
11 August – 25 August - Celebrity Silhouette
25 August – 1 September - Celebrity Silhouette
1 September – 8 September - Celebrity Silhouette
8 September – 22 September - Celebrity Silhouette
22 September – 3 October - Celebrity Silhouette
3 October – 13 October - Celebrity Silhouette
13 October – 24 October - Celebrity Silhouette

Cruise/ Work Dates 2020

6 January – 24 March – Cruise & Maritime

BIG FM Radio... Cafe Uno 13th March - La Marina Sports Complex 14th March - The Club, Quesada15th March.

Don’t forget to check out our Spotlight feature this month, I know so many of you enjoy them. This month we look in on the ever-popular Santa Claus

Despite the billions spent on Christmas presents, department stores opening their Christmas shops as early as August, the supermarket feeding frenzy and the chocolate-stuffed Advent calendars, the true meaning of Christmas is never far from my mind.

Christmas is again upon us and people around the world are busy with their preparations for their own version of a Christmas dinner. Christmas is a time for family reunions, for family bonding, renewing friendships, and exchanging gifts. It was the one time of the year dad made sure the family was together and nothing else truly mattered to us. Dad loved Christmas and ever since he left I have decorated the tree and lit up the street on 1st December, his birthday.  This year will be no different, I will still put the tree up for dad, topping it with a shining star as traditional as it is symbolic.  I will take extra care this year that the tree is everything I remember about the Christmases that used to inspire me. I will scroll through pages and pages of gifts on the Internet that I can have delivered and avoid the debacle of the shops.

Maybe, you've lost the spirit of Christmas, many have. The over-commercialization of the holiday has sapped the pleasure from what should be a joyous time. It doesn't have to be that way. Avoid the crazy crowds. Whatever your reason for the season, nothing can kill the holiday spirit quicker than being crushed against the front of a store by gun-wielding mobs of bargain-crazed shoppers

I have always tried to make it a special time for my son Max and to be honest it isn’t about what you do that matters but the special memories you can make together, it is about reflecting on those that you have lost but also in looking ahead to a new beginning each year.

So my festive message has to be to make the most of every moment you have with you families, even if they annoy the hell out of you. Try and be patient when your mother comes into the kitchen because she prefers her own stuffing or wants to watch the soaps, which you can’t abide. Take a breath and look around and take stock of how rich your life is.

Enjoy Christmas television. "Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings!" Whether your tastes run towards the traditional Miracle on 34th Street, the classics like A Christmas Carol by Dickens (or it's modern comedic take with Scrooged), stop-action animations like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Nightmare Before Christmas, or cult classics like A Christmas Story, holiday television is filled with nostalgia, humor, morality plays, and lots of simple, fun entertainment.

Christmas is such a wonderful time of year but it can soon pass you by in a whirl of shopping, wrapping and festive parties. Sometimes it’s much nicer to slow things down and make time for all those things you used to do before Christmas became one big stress. Whether you’ve got children or not, you’re never too old to inject a bit of festive fun into December. Here are a couple of things that will put you in the festive spirit.

Christmas is the perfect time to gather with friends to enjoy each other's company. Send invites out for a cozy night in for eggnog or mulled wine.

Gather up your friends for an ugly holiday sweater party so everyone can show off their fun finds.

Write a letter to Santa and put it on the fridge instead of up the chimney (great way of giving hints).

Hang mistletoe in every doorway so you can cover your loved one in kisses.

Take a few minutes to wish a faraway friend of family member a very merry Christmas by video chat.

Gather the family and put your own touch on your tree by crafting decorations together or make your own Advent calendar.

Decorate a gingerbread house and warm up from the cold with a delicious cup of hot chocolate.

Don’t like gingerbread then host a cookie baking party. Nothing beats the small of freshly baked biscuits wafting out of the oven.

Make a playlist of all your favourite holiday tunes to get in the festive spirit.

Watch a holiday favourite. It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, stick on your festive pajamas and gorge out on movies.

Christmas markets are a festive destination for the entire holiday season. They're also the perfect place to buy last-minute gifts.

Whether you have a wood-burning fireplace or a festive video of a crackling fire on your TV, just the image of a flickering flame will make your whole house feel cozy for the holiday.

Donate a toy to a local drive, whether its money, toys, or food, it’s what the season of giving is all about.

Play board games and roast chestnuts in the oven unless you have an open fire.

Hide chocolate coins all over the house.

Have a festive picnic in your lounge.

Tell someone you love them and light a candle in memory of someone special.

Going on a tour of your neighborhood's Christmas lights is a must-do activity if you want to get the most out of this holiday season.

Break out the well-worn copy of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and gather round the settee with family.

Create a Christmas Eve snuggle box with festive pajamas and novelty socks

Watch the Queen’s speech…. or not and wear a Santa hat

Buy yourself a present, wrap it up and put it under the tree.

Take a family portrait.

Whatever you choose to do and whoever you spend the holidays with, have the best time ever and here’s hoping 2019 will be a ring dinger.

Much love to one and all

Michele xxxx

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