NEWS

April 2014

I have had two back-to-back cruises on Oceana, which should have departed on 13 February. Because of the fiasco on Marco Polo it left me having to fly on 22 February to Barbados to pick up the ship. Oceana had wisely stayed anchored in Southampton for two nights while Marco Polo battled through the storms but it meant he ship had to make up those days. The decision was made not to stop in Madeira and sail directly to Barbados so after an extremely long flight of more than 10 hours I found myself lying on the beach for the day.  I needed that day to unwind and with a good night’s sleep under my belt I boarded Oceana on 24 February.

It was hard having to play catch up on a cruise that was none days into its itinerary but after a lot of faffing around I tried to get settled. I didn’t. First I felt sea sick, a rare occurrence after 32 years at sea and then I wasn’t sleeping well at all. Of course I realised that the underlying factor was fear. Having gone through those awful storms on Marco Polo I was obviously dreading the return journey through the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel.

Mark Porter

Mark Porter, a wonderful singer that used to work with the Syd Lawrence Orchestra had been booked to provide the entertainment for the first leg of the cruise but unfortunately as I was getting on the ship he was disembarking. He is such a big fan of dad and has been a member of the fan club for years. I know he has hoped for several years that we had the chance to work together and if I had been on the ship as planned it would have happened but we will just have to wait for another cruise.

 Guadeloupe

I love the Caribbean and had St Lucia, Guadeloupe, St Kitts, St Maarten, Tortola, St Barts and Antigua to look forward to and the weather was gorgeous. Last month I mentioned a special outing at the Coal Pot, an award-winning restaurant situated on the water’s edge, started by the Elliot family over 40 years ago. I went with my close friends John and Tony, two wonderful people I had the pleasure of touring Kenya with 27 years ago with the wonderful actress Peggy Mount. Unbelievable just after the cruise Tony passed away on 8th March of a heart attack. I was absolutely gobsmacked, more so because I couldn’t attend the funeral. There are so many instances that make me realise life is so fleeting and one must make the most of every minute. I am blessed that I had that six-week cruise to reconnect with the boys and for that I will be eternally grateful. Tony was such a lover of life and he was in such good form that I can look back and remember the laughter.

St Lucia

St Lucia is one of the Caribbean’s little treasures. A medley of sights is just waiting to be discovered – colourful fishing villages, secluded beaches, exotic blooms and magnificent rain forests, the scenery is quite simply stunning. Dazzling beaches surround a patchwork in shades of green, made up of tropical field fruits, rugged jungles with wild orchids, giant ferns nd birds of paradise flowers. St Lucia is the second largest of the four islands making up the Windward group.  Like its neighbours, St Vincent and Grenada, it has a mountainous backbone with Mount Gimie at 3,117 feet at its highest point, although much more spectacular are the Gros Piton and the Petit Piton, old volcanic spines rising sheer out of the sea on the west coast near Soufriere. It’s summer here all year long with the constant trade winds cooling the air

Freighters exporting bananas, coconut, cocoa, mace, nutmeg and citrus fruits as well as cruise ship come and go frequently making Castries Harbour one of the Caribbean’s busiest ports. We docked at 8.00am and I’d booked myself on the ATV Beach Adventure and had to be on the quayside at 10.20am. The journey to the north of the island took about forty minutes and as we neared the site entrance I realised I’d done the exact same trip here last January. Silly me but it had been a great trip so I wasn’t upset. After a safety briefing and a trial run we were ready to go off the beaten track and start the adventure. We journeyed through some of St Lucia’s most beautiful landscapes. Whizzing along the rugged windswept coastline we could see the Atlantic rollers crashing against the cliffs. We made a stop at the summit to take pictures before heading to our second stop, the beach.

St Lucia

We were at the beach for about thirty minutes and I couldn’t resist claiming a lone hammock but unbeknown to me it had been strung up lopsided so my arse and legs stayed in the air while my torso and head were on the ground. It took two large men to help me get upright. How embarrassing. The route back was somewhat different from last time in that we travelled back on a long stretch of flat road instead of the long stretch of beach but this was because the tide was too far in, On the was back our guide allowed us to open up full throttle and it was brilliant and exhilarating. Suddenly the guide signaled for me to turn back as it would seem we’d lost the rest of the tourists. About a mile back, the cause of the delay was that Irwin, our cruise escort had come off the road and driven into a ditch and the rest had stopped unsure of what to do. It turned out that coming round a step Bend Irwin had hit the accelerator rather than the brake so he lost complete control of the bike and ended up down quite a steep incline. At took three burly men nearly 10 minutes to get the bike back up on the road Irwin was laughing but I could tell he was in pain and trying to style it out. He did go and get himself checked out at medical but it was only his pride that was hurt. Men drivers!!

Cruise ships calling at St Kitts dock at Port Zante, which is a deep-water port directly in Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts on the south coast. The island’s walkable capital is graced with tall palms and flagstone sidewalks: although many of the buildings appear run down, there are interesting shops, excellent art galleries and some beautifully maintained houses. Duty Free shops and boutiques line the streets and courtyards, built in the style of London’s famous Piccadilly Circus. There aren’t a huge amount of shops but those there had good deals on jewellery, perfume, china and crystal while the batik store stock fabrics, scarves, caftans and wall hangings.

St Kitts and its sister island Nevis – officially known as the Federation of St Christopher and Nevis – consider themselves the ‘secret of the Caribbean’, and mass tourism has had little impact on these two Leeward islands to the north east of Montserrat. We docked early but as there were several small showers lurking about I put all thoughts of going to Frigate Bay Beach to one side and instead wandered round the port, an ambitious ever-growing 27 acre cruise ship pier and Marina in an area that has been reclaimed by the sea. The Welcome Centre is an imposing neoclassical hodgepodge with columns and stone arches, shops, walkways, fountains and `west Indian style buildings housing luxury shops, galleries and eateries and a small casino. A second pier, 1,434 feet long has a draft that can accommodate even leviathan cruise ships. Parked next to Oceana was the imposing Costa Mediterranean, which towered over us.

My best purchase was a Punjab-style outfit. I saw it on a mannequin in the window of a shop and it was fabulous: white cotton baggy trousers with a matching tunic top and all for the princely sum of $35.00. Because it was actually for a man the legs and sleeves were way too long but there is a lovely seamstress on the ship and she had this rectified in no time. It continued to rain but it didn’t bother me as it was hot but the beach was definitely out. I watched the sun set over the ocean and happily clicked away adding a few more pictures to my collection.

Golden beaches rimmed with coconut palms, crystal blue seas and a feeling that all is exotic and unusual sums up Guadeloupe. This French island has been called the Emerald Island for its incredible flora of a thousand tropical scents. On a map the island looks like a giant butterfly resting on the sea between Antigua and Dominica. Its two wings – Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre – are the two largest islands in the 659 square miles Guadeloupe archipelago. The Riviere Salee, a four mile channel between the Caribbean and the Atlantic, forms the ‘spine’ of the butterfly and a drawbridge near Pointe-a-Pitre, the main city connects the two islands.

Basse-Terre is a mountainous island reaching a maximum height of 1,467 meters at Mount Soufriere. It rains more often than on Grande-Terre, however this is the region of tropical flora, with lush greens, waterfalls, banana fields and volcanic craters. Grande-Terre, home of sugar cane, windmills and white beaches with clear blue waters protected by coral reefs is much flatter than its neighbour. Ships now dock at the new cruise terminal at Pier 5/6, which houses and internet café, a duty free shop and the colourful village Karuland, where cruisers can browse an buy spices, pareos and souvenirs or just sit and listen to the local music.

Oceana docked at 8.00am and the sail in was pretty but the area where we docked wasn’t. On downtown Pointe-a-Pitre, it is worse. Although not the capital, this is the island’s latest city, a commercial and industrial hub in the southwest of Grande-Terre. The isles of Guadeloupe have 450,000 residents, 99.6% of whom live in the cities. Pointe-a-Pitre is bustling, noisy and hot, a place of honking horns and traffic jams and cars on sidewalks for want of a parking place. By day its pulse is fast but at night, when its streets are almost deserted, you don’t want to be there.

I got off the ship and walked up to the bustling marketplace where housewives bargain for spices, herbs, herbal remedies and an assortment of papayas, breadfruits and tomatoes. It can only be described as a shithole. I was so disappointed as everything you read about Guadeloupe shows it to be a Caribbean paradise but from where we parked you wouldn’t know it. None of us stayed out very long as there was so little to see and the shops are full of cheap tatty wares.

St Maarten one of my favourite ports is situated about 150 miles east of Puerto Rico between the islands of Anguilla and St Barthelemy in the Lesser Antilles and covers about 37 square miles. St Martin/St Maarten has two different accents and is riled by two sovereign nations. Here French and Dutch have lived side by side for hundreds of years, and when you cross from one country to the next, there are no border patrols, no customs agents, in fact the only indication that you have crossed the  border at all is a small sign and a change in road surface. The two sides of the island retain their separate identities – on one hand you have the French foie de vivre; The French language, boulangeries and chic French boutiques and on the other, The Dutch cleanliness and order as well as cheeses, beers; gin and cigars.

The west end of the island is low land surrounding a lagoon, the east is hilly, the southeast has steep rocky cliffs and the northeast is home to the highest peak, Mount Paradise. In between lie Great Bay, Belle Plaine Valley and Le Galion Philipsburg, where we dock in the largest town on the island and it’s situated on the sandbar, which separates the salt marsh from the ocean. St Maarten is a bust port of call and up to four ships can arrive in one day. The pier is long and depending on the exact position of the berth, it can be a long walk to the cruise terminal and the water taxi.

Oceana was parked further down to where we’d parked before and it didn’t help that we were next to a block of flats, better known as Celebrity Equinox. It’s a monster and literally thousands of people were spewing out of the two ships. Philipsburg’s Front Street has reinvented itself. Now it’s mall-like, with a redbrick walk and streets, palm trees lining the sleek boutiques, jewellery stores, souvenir shops, outdoor restaurants and the old reliables like McDonalds and Burger King. Back Street is where you’ll find the Market Place, a daily open-air market where you can haggle for bargains on such goods as handicrafts, souvenirs and beachwear. Old Street has stores, boutiques and open-air cafes offering French crepes and rich chocolate.

It was a glorious 82 degrees as I caught the water taxi across to the Boardwalk. I’d planned to shop first and then head to the beach but it didn’t go according to plan. My hands were so full I was worried about leaving the bags on the beach unattended. No matter I figured I could sit by the pool when I got back to the ship. I found a wonderful new range of make-up called Black Up and after I’d bought several items I found out it was actually for black people. The clue was in the name but it didn’t bother me as I shall use it anyway. This island is the place to buy tobacco and cigarettes and at $20.00 a carton you could understand people buying 20 or 30 cartons at a time. This is really the place to buy anything, as it is cheaper than anywhere else I’ve ever been. There is one shop I buy all my cameras at and I had my eye on the New Canon G16. Sadly everywhere was sold out with no stock due for weeks.

Oceana had brought a local steel band on to entertain us so I sat on deck later in the afternoon enjoying the music. They had everyone up on the dance floor including several crinklies who were having a whale of a time. All too quickly it was time to leave this gorgeous spot in the Caribbean. I never tire of coming here, it’s got a bit of everything and I’m already looking forward to coming back one day.

Tortola was the day when my friends were renewing their vows they’d first made 23 years ago. Eight of us had met up for the first time last January and we had a whale of a time. I even persuaded one couple, Barrie and Kath to renew their vows and I arranged what was then the first ever outside wedding at sea on that ship. For some reason they like to perform the service in the Captain’s lounge but that is so silly when you have a tropical paradise as a backdrop. It was a fabulous day, so much so that this year Tony and Lynda were doing the same. Captain Simon Terry performed the service and it is interesting to note that he is adamant there will be no more outdoor weddings. They only offered it to us again as we’d had it last year and the couple had booked whilst still on that cruise so they felt they had to honour what had been promised.

Wedding

You’d have thought that looking at the bride and groom is was in fact the first time they had been down the aisle. It was gorgeous, romantic and uplifting and the couple were blessed by perfect skies and a balmy 78-degree blanket that kissed their skins. Lynda looked wonderful and I was so jealous as she had made the dress herself for under a tenner!! The whole day was marvellous and full of laughter. I acted as chief photographer and promised o make then up a wedding album on my return as the prices on the ship were insane. I’m sure we will all carry those memories for a long time.

Now who would stop at St Barts on a Sunday – well we did – and quite disappointing as the island was virtually closed. It is the smallest of the French West Indies and is just 6 odd miles long and barely 2 ½ miles at its widest point. The capital, Gustavia is a very small town and a leisurely stroll around it doesn’t even take two hours depending on the lure of the shops and the open-air quayside cafes but that didn’t apply that day. The town is clustered around the horseshoe shaped harbour, where the 16 feet deep water is nowhere near sufficient for P&O ships so we had to tender. They started at 8.00am but I was still waiting to be called two hours later. The tender crossing was taking thirty minutes and the swell looked unpleasant. The sun was actually burning my ski and I’d found out that on top of everything being closed it is enormously expensive on the island. A plate of chips cost one passenger 20 Euros! Ouch. I didn’t see the point of going ashore so instead took a place by the pool and enjoyed the quietness of the ship.

Shaped like a heart, Antigua boasts a beach for every day of the year with water sparkling in every shade of blue. A beach with an island in the middle is a great way to describe this charming Caribbean island. Antigua with its little sisters, Barbuda and Redonda, forms the largest and most developed of the four British Leeward Islands. Roughly circular, the island is about 12 miles in diameter and has some of the finest beaches in the world.

Oceana docked at Heritage Quay, a multi-million dollar complex with shops, condominiums, a casino and a food court. I’d booked a beach tour to Dickenson Bay which was due to leave at 9.30am but sadly it was raining when we arrived and it remained overcast for most of the morning. The trip was cancelled, which was just as well as I didn’t fancy spending four hours on the beach in the rain. Instead I headed for the shops, not a bad option. Being the last of the Caribbean ports it was disappointing not to have got to the beach but I will just have to put it on my Bucket List for another time.

Before I’d left England I had signed over Power of Attorney to my Financial Advisors so they could exchange on Monro Towers. Because I was unexpectedly home for three days in between Marco Polo and Oceana, I ended up exchanging on my house just hours before flying off the Barbados. The bungalow I’d fallen in love with last year came back on the market just hours before I had to leave o frantic phone calls were made before I left so I was hoping to exchange once I returned to England on 24th March. I’m a great believer in fate so it would seem I was meant to have this little piece of tranquil beauty in the hills of Shropshire. The previous buyers had pulled out as they had cold feet on a mining report that had come through but I am not quite as finicky especially as the Coal Authority have advised me that the property is not in a subsidence zone and in the unlikely event it did subside then they will make all remedial repairs at their expense. Good enough for me.

Leaving Lisbon

Sailing back across the Atlantic the weather turned colder by the day and after leaving Ponta Delgada we were enveloped in thick fog for several days with the fog horn going off around the clock so I was gobsmacked that arriving in Southampton the sun had got its hat on. In fact it was quite warm and so I spent a few hours in the town centre while Oceana turned itself around. We sailed out at 5.00pm heading for the ports of La Coruna, Casablanca, Cadiz, Malaga and Lisbon. It was a nice trip although the weather could have been kinder. As soon as we left Southampton we were back in familiar thick fog, which made the air very damp. I’d received an email from one of our Message Board user, Lynda and Brian Dolby telling me they were booked on this cruise and inviting me for dinner. It is always lovely meeting any of the fans who grace the website and we all enjoyed the trip immensely.

Lynda Dolby

My favourite stop on this leg was Casablanca. ‘Here’s looking at you kid’ ran Bogie’s famous punch line when Casablanca was the in-place for globetrotters. The White House, Africa’s fifth largest city with a population of over three million, though a far cry from Cairo and its 14 million, is nevertheless a vibrant booming place. Lying about a third of the way down the Atlantic coastline of Morocco, Casablanca is the commercial capital, the largest port and the main industrial centre of the county, but that doesn’t mean that the place is utterly without charm.

Morocco is a country of great contrasts and often-extravagant beauty. Twice the size of Britain, but with only one third of the population, Morocco is broken up by three ranges of mountains running from the northeast to the southwest – the Middle Atlas, the High Atlas and the Anti Atlas. Casablanca is the international razzmatazz capital, Rabat one of the imperial cities is the real one, while the three other imperial cities – Fez, Meknes and Marrakech bear witness to the power and the glory of medieval Arab dynasties. Maybe this fleeting visit will encourage me to explore further and discover the real Morocco, the Morocco of the Berbes and the black goat hair tents, of the snowcapped Atlas, the Beau Geste outposts and the scorching desert.

The Hassan 11 Mosque dominates the city and is the third largest mosque in the world after Mecca and medina, with a capacity of 100,000 worshippers inside and out. It cost £400,000 million and all the inhabitants if the country were ‘encouraged’ to contribute. There is a laser beam pointing the way to Mecca from the 700-foot high minaret.

Medina

Oceana docked at 8.30am ship time. I say that because Moroccan time is one hour earlier. I was sure this would only confuse passengers and I wasn’t wrong. P&O had stated they were laying on a ‘limited’ shuttle service so that would mean only one bus so I grabbed a cab. It actually took ten minutes just to get out of the port but from the entrance gates the medina wasn’t that far away.  Part of Casablanca lies within the walls of the Ancienne Medina – built in the 19th century – which contains narrow lanes crammed with piled-high stalls as well as the last remains of the city’s 18th century fortifications. From here you can buy anything from a pair of socks to pirate DVDs, wooden carvings and the latest in genuine fake designer wear. I picked up a fabulous Ralph Lauren Polo jacket for £30.00. It was a shopper’s delight and I spent four hours getting lost within the tiny streets of the city.

My taxi driver Ahmet appeared from nowhere at our given meet time and I was forced to go back to the ship as I couldn’t carry another thing and I’d run out of money. There was only one thing for it, go back to the ship, drop the shopping off, change some more money and go back out again. What great fun I had buying up all sorts of art and sculptures for the new bungalow. What I didn’t take into account was how I was getting everything home and I’m not joking. In the end I had to have 4 pieces of luggage delivered to the house by Baggage handling. The thing is they had actually put 4 pieces on in Southampton for me as I needed a lot of merchandise with me. I’d actually sold the merchandise but needed the boxes to pack up all my new wares. Whatever, it was a great adventure.

I got back on 24th March and I’m grateful that I now have 3 odd weeks at home and for once will be here for both Mother’s Day and my birthday. Max is home and he picked me up from Southampton as I didn’t have the car there and he has promised to make a fuss of me. I’ve said it before by coming home after a long period is quite a challenge, not only was there 872 emails to answer, a month’s worth of mail and oodles of washing, I was also welcomes by more than 120 sheers of legal paperwork to wade through. It would seem the bungalow is over an old mining shaft and so the purchase is not as straightforward as I’d hoped. I wasn’t able to exchange the week I got home but I am crossing my fingers the deed is done by the end of the first week of April.

I’m dreading the move and even if I don’t complete on the bungalow I have to be out of here by the 30th June. I had a skip delivered, as I wanted to start clearing the garage while I had Max on hand to help. We filled this thing in two hours and it hasn’t even made a dent on clearing the space. The trouble is I like to hold on to things, a self-proclaimed hoarder and I’m finding difficult to let go. I figure I’ll take everything and then see what doesn’t fit in. The thing is I’m having an extension built on the bungalow and all the floors need to be screeded because they slope slightly (no good for a wheelchair) so I’ll have to move everything anyway. Maybe I’ll have to put two thirds of it into storage until the extension is up and the floor is down. Of course by then I’ll had had a nervous breakdown especially as I’m not due back from my cruise until 28th June. The following day is a Sunday and then I move. I might have given more thought to this being a bit too tight.

The BBC Radio 2 special, East End Men, hosted by Barbara Windsor aired on 17 February and was a great success. I was very pleased then to learn it had been chosen for radio 4’s ‘Pick of the Week’, which Graham Pass says is an honour in itself. I’m still hoping that the radio station does something for dad’s 30th anniversary next year.

Talking of that, Odeon and myself are working on releasing a brand new DVD to the market for the occasion. The set will include never-before seen material of television shows that dad did for the various stations around the world including Australia and the States. Final negotiations are happening as I write and at the end of the day it will all come down to price. It amazes me how stupid some stations are. For instance dad did three Ed Sullivan shows in the very early 60s. They have sat in a vault for the last fifty odd years and the chances that anyone else will want to release it are pretty slim so you’d think the station would be realistic about their pricing. Sadly not, SOFA Entertainment want $3000 a minute for the use of the footage. This is also the case with other American channels, which is ridiculous. One wouldn’t be able to break even on the project let alone make any money so no doubt the footage will sit there another fifty years. Having said that Alan Byron, Richard Moore and myself have unearthed some wonderful hidden gems…. Watch this space.

With regards to the upcoming release, ‘The Definitive Matt Monro’ the album has now been delayed. It was due out for Mather’ Day but it seems that Warmers have a spate of new albums coming out over that period including an X Factor winner’s album so they feel the new release will get lost in all the other releases. We will advise as soon as we have a new date. In the meantime check out the ‘CD of the Month’.

If you’d like to do me a tremendous favour then a review of either my book or dad’s new albums on www.amazon.co.uk or www.amazon.com would be fabulous. You don’t even have to have bought the item there and your words could very well influence someone else investing their hard-earned money so it really could make a big difference.

I’m looking forward to the 2014 cruising season. As of today, the dates that are in are:

2014
20 April – 4 May – P&O Oriana  (Strictly Come Dancing Cruise)
5 – 21 May – P&O – Adonia 
2 -8 June – Cruise & Maritime - Marco Polo
14-28 June – Emerald Princess  
29 July – 6 August – Cruise & Maritime - Marco Polo
21 August – 2 September – Cruise & Maritime Marco Polo
21 September – 3 October – Cruise & Maritime – Marco Polo
5 – 16 October – Fred Olsen - Braemar 
21 October – 7 November – Cruise & Maritime - Discovery
18-29 November – P&O – Aurora
30 November – 12 December – Cunard – QM2
2015
8 January – 8 April – P&O Adonia (five back to back cruises)


Of course while I am away it will be business as usual. The wonderful thing about email, Skype and mobile phones is that you are never really out of touch. If any of you need anything in my absence I am still available on email but you can also contact Richard on richard@mint-audio-restoration.co.uk. Don’t forget that if any of you have an attic full of old tapes that you want rescued or reel-to-reels that you want transferred then Richard would be happy to oblige. It’s amazing what we stuff into our attics and I am still hoping that some of you have a Matt Monro television show or radio that you taped years ago that you have forgotten about. You never know you might just be harboring one of dad’s jingles without knowing it.
Don’t forget to check out our Spotlight feature this month, I know so many of you enjoy them. This time round we look in on Paul Anka

Check out the ‘Rough Guide to mattmonro.com’, which is available towards the bottom of the Homepage. If you don’t know how to access certain areas of the site or in fact are unaware of new areas, this guide will explain how easy this website is to get around, once you know how.

There is also another information box “How to Use the Forum’. I know a lot of people have been tempted to join in on some of our conversations but are slightly nervous of doing so. For that reason I have printed step-by-step instructions of how to access it. It really does only take a few minutes.

Whatever the coming year holds, suffice to say that I shall be plugging Matt Monro’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 go home a fan, then it is worth all the blood, sweat and tears, not to mention the Bay of Biscay!!!!

Until next month
Warmest to you and yours

Michele

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