NEWS

March 2014

I had such high hopes for my Amazonian cruise on board Marco Polo and as reported last month I sent off on the 5th January for a 42 night cruise of a lifetime. The destination had been on my bucket list for 17 years so I was very excited about making the voyage.

I have to say it didn’t start out well as the Christmas cruise, the one prior to our ailing had hit horrendous storms coming back into Tilbury and as I was embarking the passengers getting off were positively green in complexion. I was quite nervous about sailing through the Bay of Biscay because it is notorious. The Bay is a wide concave sweep of water that stretches around the western coast of France and along the northern coast of Spain. Combine this geography with the prevailing westerly winds that sweep in from the Atlantic, and you have one long, 310-mile lee shore. Naturally sailing ships of old had a great fear of getting embayed here after a succession of westerly gales, but the Bay is also notorious for its stormy waters, driven up as the Atlantic Ocean meets the shallower continental shelf of the Bay.

We were lucky in that the say after setting sail we were due in Amsterdam and the captain made the decision to say put an extra eight hours. This literally saved us a lot of unpleasantness. A far as I was concerned the adventure could now begin and I have to say there was nothing more exciting than entering the mouth of the Amazon although I stupidly thought I would see both sides – well I didn’t know it spanned 300 miles! But you can see it as you approach ‘the meeting of the waters and whereas the sea is blue, the Amazon is a definite muddy brown and the two liquids don’t mix so there is literally a stark line across the waters.

Piranha

It was hugely exciting from start to finish. I went Piranha fishing in Lake Maica, a natural tributary outlet of the Amazon that more closely resembles a stream in a floodplain. Our reels were pieces of wood with miles of nylon wrapped round at the end of which was the hook lured with fresh meat. We caught several on our boat but one know-it-all old sod insisted on taking the fish off his line himself and as bitten down to the bone. Should I say serves him right – well I did. The lakes of this section of the river are especially lush and contain a wealth of vegetation. As well as the locals, who all waved as we meandered past, we saw a plethora of birds and wildlife including fresh water dolphins and a particularly lazy sloth idling in the branch of a tree.

Departing from the pier in Santarem we drove along the bustling waterfront, where boats from all over the Amazon dock, passing by the fish market en route to the cathedral of Our Lady Conceicao, the oldest building in town. From there we went to a small local museum where exhibits included stone pieces and Indian pottery, burial urns and ceremonial figurines from ancient Tapajos tribes. The building itself dates from 1867 and has been a jail, city hall and courthouse during its history. We also made a stop at the Manioc Flour House. Locally known as ‘Casa da Farinha’, this facility offered an opportunity to see rubber trees and Brazilian nut trees. It was really quite cool.

I booked a private tour with a couple of other passengers which saw me set off in a private speed boat and zip down the Rio Negro, passing native houses of the ribeirinhos (river people), built on stilts to accommodate the river’s tidal fluctuation. We saw the floating petrol stations and the ice factory before arriving at the confluence of the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes. This is the birthplace of the mighty Amazon River. The ‘Meeting of the Waters’ is where the muddy yellow water of the Solimoes and the clear dark water of the Rio Negro meet and continue to flow together without intermingling. I found out that there were several areas along the river where the ‘meeting of the waters’ happened.

We travelled on to Lake January, an ecological park situated between the two rivers. On arrival we enjoyed a buffet lunch, which was served on a floating restaurant. Afterwards from the landing stage we boarded our boat for a ride through the smaller tributaries and creeks of the area and a close-up view of the local vegetation and trees. The highlight for me was our next stop – a chance to swim with the pink dolphins of the area. The water was as warm as bath water and I spent the most amazing half hour playing with these wild creatures. What a day.

Caiman Fishing

Later that night I boarded another boat and crossed the Rio Negro back to Lake January. On arrival we transferred to a small-motorized canoe to enjoy an evening in the river searching by flashlight for caiman. Caimans are close relatives of the alligator that can be found in Central and South America. Like their crocodile cousins, Caiman live near rivers and other bodies of water. Most are around six or seven feet, but the largest species, the Black Caiman, can grow to a length of 15 feet. While the bright light hypnotizes the caiman, our canoe slowly approached it and once we were close enough our guide caught it with his bare hands. It was very exiting and our band of travellers each got a chance to hold it for a picture before it was safely returned to the wild. After the thrill of this hunt in the dark we transferred back to our riverboat for the return to Manaus.

Boi BumbaBoi Bumba

Boi Bumba Boi Bumba

Boi Bumba

The small town of Parintins, situated in the largest river archipelago of the mid-Amazon is a settlement rich in Indian culture. The Boi-Bumba Festival is one of the largest cultural and vibrant festivals of the northern region of Brazil and is held over three days during the last week of June. The Boi-Bumba are dressed in outlandish costumes and dance to the beat of the drums and their team changes. Each team is judged on its music, dance performance and costumes. The story behind the Festival is of how two warring families – the Cids and the Monteverdes – compete against each other with two manmade bulls. Each family presents a repentisa, a singer who challenges his counterpart to sing a better song or dance a livelier dance. Tenders transferred us to a small venue in town for an exclusive performance for Cruise & Maritime and we had the chance to witness a sensational display. It was a fabulous show with glitzy dances and the exquisite carnival type costumes were amazing. It was a world of magic, bright colours, music, dance and folklore – a true feast for the senses. 100 dancers and musicians who delighted us with their infectious rhythmic music, endless energy and the most flamboyant costumes imaginable performed this mesmerizing show. I was slightly skeptical of this show expecting some locals dancing round a drum but it equals anything I’ve seen in the West-End of London.

Amazon

Next it was onto Santana for Macapa, the capital of the Amapa region and is the only major city in the Amazon to actually be situated on the banks of the River, lying at a point where the Amazon meets the sea, right on the Equator. The Marco Zero Monument marks the passage of the Equator through the city of Macapa, which is located on the northern mouth of the Amazon River. Here I had the unique experience of being able to have a foot in both the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere at the same time and of course I had to stand on the line so I could be ‘nowhere’ (latitude 000). Our tour then continued so we could visit the Sao Jose de Macapa Fort, which sits at the entrance to the city. Completed in 1782 after 18 years of labour by Indians and slaves, the Fort is one f the best-preserved military monuments in Brazil. Each brick of the Fortress was brought from Portugal as ballast between 1764 and 1782: fifty iron cannons remain.

Another highlight was our visit to Boca da Valeria. We had to tender here so we could visit the remote jungle village. Only 85 people live here but as Marco Polo stops here every year word goes round and people from other villages come to greet the ship. I knew about this stop ahead of time and armed myself with 100 lollipops and gifts for the local school. It was an amazing morning as we were welcomed by the natives who’d made a supreme effort dressing in their tribal finery to greet us. The children proudly showed off their pets including caiman, toucans, sloths and a monkey and for the princely sum of a dollar we could have as many pictures taken as we wanted. I paid five dollars and took a canoe up the river, a twenty-minute journey upstream and once again, once I’d made an inelegant disembarkation, a rush of children came out to greet me. It helped that I came bearing gifts but I was touched by the warm welcome and big smiles as the children fought to hold my hand and lead me to their village. It was a real adventure and having left all the passengers behind at Boca da Valeria, one could immerse oneself in the moment. It took me half-an-hour to climb a 400-foot steep incline but boy the view from the top was awesome. Not only could I see Marco Polo gently bobbing in the river but the vista of the Amazon from this viewpoint was incredible.

I have probably left out a myriad of other adventures but hopefully you will have glimpsed a tiny part of what I experienced. I don’t regret the cruise for a moment. One could be forgiven for forgetting the fact that I was not on holiday and had actually been booked to work. I did my two cabaret shows of ‘An Audience With….”on 16th January and I have to admit to not doing a great deal more, six talks and a photographic workshop which was great fun. I staged the first photographic scavenger hunt on Marco Polo and about 100 passengers turned up for this silly bit of mayhem but I think everyone had fun.

We had a great array of entertainers on board including Gerry Allen, a comic that has worked with dad in the past, my magician friend Andre and several other speakers and three different crafters including jewellery making, watercolour painting and woodwork painting. Richard Sykes was booked as a guest entertainer but has been cruise director on the vessel previously. He definitely wins the prize for the most worked artist at sea. He must have done 50 shows, hosted the passenger choir and compered several game shows. I’m sure he needs a rest by now.

The Caribbean part of our cruise was marred slightly by the arrival of the Norovirus. Nothing can ruin a vacation like a bout of vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Noroviruses have become notorious for sending hundreds of cruise ship passengers at a time running for their respective bathrooms and for steering entire ships back to port early. The cruise director told me that this usually happens are visiting Manaus because passengers are told not to eat the local food or have ice in their drinks. But of course the warning falls on deaf ears. One woman visiting the Boi-Bumba show was warned not to accept the ice in the free drinks. Her response “I can afford to lose a few pounds’. Some people are so ignorant.

Noroviruses are a group of viruses that cause inflammation of the stomach and large intestine lining (gastroenteritis); they are the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S. The norovirus was originally called the Norwalk virus after the town of Norwalk, Ohio, the location of the first confirmed outbreak in 1972.

People become infected with noroviruses when they eat food or drink liquids that have been contaminated; raw or undercooked oysters and raw fruits and vegetables have been implicated in some outbreaks. You can also get infected if you touch an object or surface that has been infected with the virus and then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes.

The virus thrives on cruise ships because they are very hardy and highly contagious. They can survive temperature extremes in water and on surfaces.

Once someone is infected from contaminated food, the virus quickly passes from person to person through shared food or utensils, by shaking hands or through other close contact. People who have a weakened immune system are particularly susceptible and of course a lot of the passengers are old. The reason the outbreak spreads so quickly is because a passenger is loath to come forward and admit they have the symptoms even though medical assistance is given for free. This is mainly because they don’t want their partner to miss out on the port stops because once diagnosed the patient is quarantined in their cabin for 48 hours. This is stupidly at its highest level because generally the partner is infected as well but the symptoms might be slower to surface. The upshot of this was that the virus lingered for 17 days. It meant the whole ship was affected in terms if the library, card rooms, craft lessons etc being closed for the duration.

One thing the cruise line doesn’t tell you prior to booking the cruise is that the swimming pools are closed before entering the Amazon as salt water is prohibited from being dumped in the river. This meant that when the weather was at its hottest the pool and hot tubs were not available. Now because of the virus they stayed closed throughout our Caribbean visit.

Unfortunately I have caught the virus once before on Fred Olsen’s Balmoral and it was awful and I vowed never again so apart from spending all my waking hours on deck, I wore a mask each time I entered the main body of the ship. I don’t care how silly I look. I might not have mentioned this before but on every cruise ship I have the same seat out on deck and that table is mine for the duration whether the passengers like it or not. On day five, Peter the wood painting crafter had left a wooden sign on the walk above my table, which said ‘Michele’s Office’. It caused much merriment with even the cruise director saying on one occasion, I need to look that up so I’ll come by your office in about 10 minutes.

Harrisons Cave

I absolutely adore the Caribbean and on each of our stops, Barbados, St Lucia, St Vincent and Grenada, I headed straight for the beach. I did actually do one tour in Barbados and that was visiting Harrison’s Cave. I’ve been t the island at least 16 times as I used to go with mum and dad every year in my school holidays but I have never made the visit to the caves. Harrison Caves is a magnificent natural phenomenon, quite in a class of its own. Formed from a particularly beautiful type of crystallized limestone, this stunning cavern is undoubtably one of the most spectacular natural attractions in the entire Caribbean. Though created over the course of thousands of years, it has only been accessible to the public in recent years. After checking in at the Visitor’s Centre, we were taken to a theatre to watch a short film on the formation of Barbados and how the Caves evolved. I then boarded an electric tram that took me down into the Cave. As the driver pulled away, the guide commenced her commentary and then we were away to magnificent chambers, incredible stalactites and stalagmites, bubbling streams, tumbling cascades, plunging waterfalls and emerald pools. Throughout the mile run the flowstone covered walls glistened in the lights as the calcite laden water dripped down from the roof. At various points the tram pulled over so we could get out and take a closer look at the beauty at hand.

After my visit the coach took us to the Highland Adventure Centre in the parish of St Thomas at an elevation of more than 1000 foot above sea level. From here the view of the East Coast is truly breathtaking. The pounding Atlantic surf in the distance contrasts with the unspoiled beauty of nearby Mount Hillaby, which at 1,138 feet above sea level is the highest point on the island.

Boatyard

Next stop after alighting the tour was the Boatyard. Upon entering the venue, a prime target for all the ship’s crew, a package is offered at Adventure Beach, which ensures you a day filled with fun and pleasure in paradise. Site amenities include, beach chair, shared umbrella, ocean trampoline, iceberg climb and slide, dive platform, rope swing, fresh water showers, restrooms, pool table, Wi-Fi, darts board, beachside restaurant, bar and lively music. It is really the place to relax in their seafront restaurant or South Deck and savour the flavour of the Caribbean. To satisfy your hunger they have an extensive menu of local and international dishes. Sharkey's Bar is fully stocked and just the place to be to quench your thirst after soaking up the warm Caribbean rays. It is a great place but it can get very crowded if a lot of ships are in. What is nice is that they have a roped off area especially for ship crew so there is always a place to sit.

Coal Pot

One special outing was a dinner at the Coal Pot, an award-winning restaurant situated on the water’s edge, started by the Elliot family over 40 years ago. It offers fabulous food; I recommend the lobster, the best Caribbean ingredients and classic French cooking techniques. Here’s the thing, five days into the cruise I get a message in my cabin from John and Tony, two wonderful people I had the pleasure of touring Kenya with 27 years ago with the wonderful actress Peggy Mount. Sadly Peggy died and the boys moved abroad and we lost contact with each other but I was absolutely gobsmacked to be able to meet up again in such wonderful surroundings. My fabulous friend Sheena Allsopp, the cruise hostess on board Marco Polo arranged for the four of us to have dinner in this very special place and it was a magical evening. The owner’s wife makes and sells ceramics and Sheena bought herself the most gorgeous bowl depicting a Caribbean scene in glorious colours. They only have one of a kinds there but she bought me an equally fabulous bowl as a memory of the evening. That was one of the best things about the ship’s itinerary; we stayed on two of the islands until 10.00pm and the other two until 8.00pm. Usually ships leave at five or six so it was a real treat.

As I already mentioned the norovirus followed us all the way back to Ponta Delgada but the weather was wonderful for the most part. We were supposed to be in port until midnight but the captain suddenly announced that we would be leaving an hour later than scheduled as there was a storm coming in and he wanted to beat it. Now I admit to not knowing much about weather but I didn’t see the point. It made more sense to me to wait an hour until the storm had gone in front of us. Having a fur day sea run it was bound to catch up and on the second day at sea the storm caught up with us and we were suddenly caught in Force 11 winds. Over the next two days everything that wasn’t battened down was thrown, smashed or broken. Four windows in the restaurant imploded and the area was filled with seawater. The Captain announced a state of emergency and passengers were told to either stay in their cabins or sit on the floor where they were. All services were suspended and the injured were seen to as quickly as able. There were many injuries and sadly one death. We had two helicopter medical evacuations whist in the English Channel and several passengers were reduced to tears from fear. I have never seen an area destroyed so quickly but as one storm raged from behind we were caught from the one ahead of us in the Channel. I am not going to go into any more detail but one thing I will say is that the crew were amazing. They never stopped working to ensure everyone ate and got water. In the Captain’s Lounge the floor was littered with bodies and the only people upright were the entertainment team sitting round the piano and giving a singsong to keep morale up. The officers made regular announcements forbidding people from going outside although it was impossible as the doors were locked up tight, and from moving around the ship. To be honest not enough announcements were made, the crew forget that we are reliant on being told what is going on and it would have been nice to have been informed that we were going to make Tilbury on Saturday night rather than Sunday morning well before we were. That would have given reassurance to some that the nightmare was coming to an end.

The one negative was that I heard several smokers ask where they could go for a cigarette and they were constantly told there would be an announcement. It never came. While the ‘lepers of society’ had to put up with being relegated to the outer decks for a smoke throughout the cruise, I thought it wrong not to assign an indoor area when disaster hit. It was a horrendous period of time in which people were badly injured and a life was lost, passengers that smoked should have been assigned an area rather than just ignored.

 Tilbury Tilbury

It was a long two days and the crew were dogged tired some only grabbing one hour of sleep. What people forget is that there is no let up for them. The ship, when it limped into port, was turned around in less than a day and then went out for its Northern Lights cruise. Everyone was amazing and my thanks go out to every one of them.

We finally got into Tilbury at 10.30pm and I was one of only 28 people who insisted that we were let off the ship. I needed a hug from my son and I wanted my own bed. Max told me that P&O had been trying to contact me urgently.  Because I had accepted the Amazon cruise it meant missing my departure on Oceana inn Southampton by four days so I was due to fly out at 6.00am Monday morning to catch a flight to Madeira to catch up with my next ship.  It turned out that Oceana had pulled over for safe haven and because of that were two days late coming in from their previous cruise. Instead of sailing out to the Caribbean on 13th February, they didn’t eave until 15th. Head Office and the Captain had made the decision that Oceana would plough straight across the Atlantic and head directly for the Caribbean bypassing Madeira altogether in order to make up the time.

Although I was relieved not to be getting straight on another ship, straight away it left me with a dilemma and that was whether to fly out to Barbados on the Saturday to make the connection in Barbados. After careful consideration I felt I had to. Apart from missing my talks I have seven friends on board who had planned this reunion ever since we met on the same trip last January. Whilst on board I actually arranged a renewal of vows for one of the couples and because of its success another one of the couples had decided to do the same this year and obviously I was to be guest of honour. I didn’t feel I could let everyone down.

Before I had left England I had signed over Power of Attorney to my Financial Advisors so they could exchange on Monro Towers whilst I was away. Unfortunately I later found out that the forms were not legally binding and so my solicitor asked if I could print and sign an email attachment he’d sent, get it witnessed and DHL it from the Amazon. I laughed for days wondering where he thought I might find that sort of service in the rainforest. I’m a great believer in fate, that and the fact that I suddenly realised that I couldn’t come back on 24 March and move 29 years of my life in three weeks. When I arrived back in England I found two other offers on the table but after a lot of negotiation I decided to stick with the original buyer, reduce the payment to the agent and extend my completion date until the end of August.

I signed the new Power of Attorney and it was delivered to my solicitor and there the matter should have ended except I suddenly got a new offer of £780,00 on the house, with the same agent’s fee at 1% and completion in August. All well and good except I insisted on a £10,000 non-refundable deposit immediately for me to change buyers at this late stage, which I am now waiting on. The trouble is that I have been advised that in the six weeks I’ve been away the market has risen dramatically so I’d be silly to plough ahead with the original offer. If everything on the table falls through I think I’ll have to remarket the house again and although I am loath to start letting people parade through the house it’s the sensible thing to do. When I return at the end of this month I am home for a month so it will give me time to look for somewhere to live myself. That’s another thing that was bothering me, having nowhere to go on completion would probably have cost me £15,000 in storage and rent and the like and its money I can’t afford to throw away.

Producer Graham Pass spent a day here last October making a radio programme for the BBC. The hour special, East End Lads, hosted by Barbara Windsor aired on 17 February and was a great success. I was very pleased with the show; it’s just a shame with all the material that Graham had that the BBC didn’t make a three-part series out of it. Mind you that’s not to say that it couldn’t be updated and something special made for dad’s 30th anniversary.

STOP PRESS…. Talking of that, a little birdie hints 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 Mother’s Day release, ‘The Definitive Matt Monro’ the album has now been delayed. 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.

I have now heard back from the Johnnie Mathis office and permission has been obtained to use the quote that Johnnie used on a recent BBC radio show. Having said that I am still waiting to hear whether the two of them ever worked together. Watch this space.

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
24 February -13 March- P&O Oceana
13 – 24 March – P&O Oceana
20 April – 4 May – P&O Oriana  (Strictly Come Dancing Cruise)     
5 – 21 May – P&O – Adonia
2 -8 June – Cruise & Maritime - Marco Polo
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 on Perry Como.

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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