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Having sailed out of San Francisco Bay on a warm summer’s evening, by the time we reached open water, the fog bank had engulfed any view we might have had. By the next morning, I was briefly tempted to dash out onto the deck in the pouring rain to paint “foggy day off the coast of Oregon”, but headed for the spa instead.

Our first port of call was Victoria (Vancouver Island), where “we like to be known as the garden city”. This place is probably the most uninteresting city ever. Nothing happens here. It started out as a fur trading port. Then it moved upscale to being the stopover for the greedy hoards making their way from San Francisco and Seattle to the Klondike. Now it’s the place that exports more cut daffodils than anywhere else in the world.

I went on a tour today, and there’s nothing to see (except the Butchart Gardens, but more of that later). The tour started with the bus driver (sorry, coach captain) pointing out three of the four waterside hotels in Victoria. Then we drove up the main street he showed us the new shop that’s opened. Then he took us through a mini Chinatown, where the highlight was the narrow alley that Mel Gibson rode down on a motor cycle in “Bird on a Wire”. Pity I haven’t seen it. Next up – an ancient hotel that hasn’t been restored, but might be soon, closely followed by a drive-by of the first retirement village in Victoria and the new shopping mall. We were introduced to all the plants along the road individually.

Then the Butchart Gardens – the old duck who designed them in the limestone quarry that her husband carved out of the landscape really was a visionary. The main garden the Japanese garden are wonderful; and wow, have they been turned into a money-making machine.

I thought we were in for a short trip back to the ship, but no. We had to go via all the other tourist ‘points of interest’. We went up to the top of every hill to see the view. We went past every golf course. We drove through every suburb to check out the houses. We scanned the golf course where Bing Crosby played (once). We saw the house that’s owned by the man who is descended from the man who was married to the lady who designed the Butchart Gardens. We saw all the yachts and lighthouses. And to cap it all off, we got to see the park where, each year, Victorians gather to vie for the honour of winning the three-legged race; which is so exciting it has to be held six weeks before the bath tub race so that the locals don’t keel over from the whirlwind of activity. Ruth I headed straight for the bar when we got back to the ship.

We hit the shops for something to do for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, I was pointed in the direction of a dangerous place and now have a new member of my Inuit sculpture family. I’ve named him Abraham (after the artist, Abraham Etungat) and he’s titled “bird”. Very explicit, these Inuit. The artist is 89, so “bird” will probably appreciate quite nicely in the not too distant future when the artist drops off the twig.

Last night was the captain’s dinner. The captain is a scruffy, tall Swede who sweats a lot and needs some cleaning up of furry stuff on various parts of his head. When he makes a speech he rises up on his toes in unison with his Svedish lilt. He introduced nearly every member of the staff (there are 550 of them for 900 passengers) except the Engineer, who was apparently looking at an engine somewhere. Caviar, consomme with mushroom quenelles, peach sorbet, steamed lobster with drawn butter and truffled pilaf, unpasteurised gorgonzola and brie to finish made for a fine dinner, all washed down with Domaine Laroche chablis and Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape. Our table of eight looks to be a pleasant crew, although one wife appears to be a tad short in the ‘life’s practicalities’ department. She’s terrified of flying and hasn’t been on a plane since 1981. Her husband travels a lot to far off places that he has to get to quickly! Ed and Ron from Palm Desert are the highlights. A couple of gay guys, Ron looks like he escaped from a good Western – he speaks seven languages; including Hungarian Russian. Ed is a Professor at the Uni of Southern California in something very interesting and did a stint at the University of New South Wales for a couple of years in the early nineties. Good fun.

After exiting Victoria, we rocked around the bottom end of Vancouver Island and headed north. With a couple of days sailing the inside passage, I started the day with a workout, and biked next to a German dude and his Austrian wife who live in Scottsdale, Arizona. He really was a piece of work. First of all he demanded she get him a towel, then a glass of water, then he asked her to raise his seat while he pedalled on. Enough, so wife spat the dummy and we had an hilarious 20 minutes bagging him while he pleaded defence of his chauvinism. While I was on the treadmill, a dozen dolphins decided to swim alongside perform acrobatic tricks.

By the time I’d worked through the treatment menu in the spa, I was late for the champagne and caviar tasting then forgot to go to the cooking lecture by the chef of the Napa Valley Wine Train. Lunch was an Asian barbeque on the pool deck, then we just had time to check that our cabins had not escaped before hitting the wine tasting at 2.30. After all that activity, I had to have a go at the classic – lying on a chaise longue on the back deck with a rug looking at where we’d been. I was asleep in three seconds.

Next – I was off to Ruth’s cabin (next-door) for a G T before dinner at 8.30, and more fun with the strange lady, Cindy. Turns out she has a pet pekinese and the dog goes to work with her – the Peke never leaves her side. Ed said he had some great recipes for Pekinese and Ron chimed in with some truly awful jokes and witty bits. Cindy said he wasn’t very nice, Ron replied that he’d been nice to people for forty years as a librarian and he doesn’t have to do that anymore. He’s had his fill of silly women coming to him saying they took a green book out two weeks ago and does he know what they’ve done with it how does it end?

Last night the guest chef was from the Napa Valley Wine Train. My choice was Roman soup with pasta veg; followed by iceberg salad with egg and warm bacon dressing; then Alaskan Halibut with a champagne beurre blanc with tomatoes, red onions and capers; then a tropical fruit sherbet – all washed down with a bottle of Maconnais. And very nice it was too. We stopped in on the evening show for a second, then it was time to call it a day. I took some air on my balcony – it was rather brisk outside with not a light in sight, except for an astonishing band of luminous swirling mauve and green along the horizon to the north – it could only be the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) as there’s nothing else up there!

Next morning, we’d hit Alaska. After breakfast, we jumped in the bus for a quick trip around the sights of Ketchikan. Ketchikan is the self-proclaimed salmon capital of the world and/or first city of Alaska/totem capital – you name it. The most riveting fact for mine is that there are no roads into or out of Ketchikan. You fly in or come by boat. That’s it. There are 40,000 bald eagles living in and around the town, which is four blocks wide and a couple of miles long. Ketchikan had 196 inches of rain last year – more than the normal 160 inches. They measure rain in feet here. They have measurable rain 240 days of the year, and only 20 days of sunshine. We got half of one today – this afternoon has been gorgeous 15 degrees. The ratio of men to women is 13:1. There are a couple of sayings here – 1) if you’re a woman “the odds are good, but the goods are odd”, ref. the fact that the men are all lumberjacks or fishermen; 2) if you’re a man “you don’t lose your girlfriend, you lose your turn”, ref. you work it out for yourself!

We’d booked the seaplane flight over Misty Fjords, which is on the mainland (Ketchikan is on an island). The morning was cloudy but clear, so our flight was just gorgeous. We landed on a hanging lake, stranded hundreds of feet above the fjord courtesy of an exceedingly abrasive glacier, and walked out on the floats to take in the scenery and the silence. Misty Fjords National Reserve is 6 million acres. There are only twelve buildings in the entire park – foresters’ huts built before 1975, when Jimmy Carter banned any further construction in the Reserve. These foresters’ huts are now rented out for $45/day; the only hitch being that the only way in is by seaplane. The flight in is free. The flight out costs $600; but that’s OK if you rent a hut with four or five friends. The outhouse at Great Goat Lake (where we landed) must have the best view in the world.

We didn’t see any goats (there are tens of thousands in the Reserve), nor bears, but it was a lovely tour nonetheless. After lunch we embarked on a quick scout of the shops of Ketchikan, with nothing to report; however a pair of beaver earmuffs took my fancy – very handy for chilly winters and definitely a fashion statement on the ski slopes.

Leaving Ketchikan we headed for Sitka, sailing through glassy seas in the slowly gathering dusk. At midnight it was still light so we decided to call it a day. I woke up at four o’clock looked outside and the sun was up. By 6.45am we’d arrived in Sitka to a flawless day, with the town surrounded by snow-capped mountains in a beautiful bay. Then I walked to the other side of the ship to be confronted by the equivalent of Mt Fuji in the foreground. It’s called Mt Edgecumbe it’s a knockout. There was an old dude smoking a cigar (come to think of it, I think he’s a hobo – he’s nearly always on our back deck – he must have lassooed the funnel on the way out of port in SF). He said that the weather was like this in Sitka the first time he visited 25 years ago. He’s been here many times since and this is the second time he’s seen Mt Edgecumbe – that’s a long time between views!

Into the mighty metropolis of Sitka. It’s also known as “Little Russia” (being the Russian’s capital of Alaska). Alexander Baronov chose the island as his site for his Russian American Company in the 18th century and was promptly run out of town his fort burned to the ground by the Tlingit (pronounced klinkit) warrior tribes. He should have known better – the first party of whiteys, sent ashore by the not-so-nice Vilnus Bering 50 years before (as he was passing the island in search of something to name after himself ), failed to return by curfew, so good old Vilnus abandoned them and sailed off into the sunset.

Things looked up eventually as the old soft gold (fur) industry came to the fore, whereupon the Ruskies slaughtered everything that moved and Sitka became known as the “Paris of the North” at a time when Los Angeles was a scruffy settlement and San Francisco had a Spanish mission as its highlight. Even so, I reckon the “Paris” epithet is drawing a long bow.

Not much has happened since the Yankies pulled a swifty on the Ruskies bought the whole shebang for 5 cents an acre. Oh, the Japanese built a paper mill here – that’s progress for you. It’s a heap better than Ketchikan – it has 14 miles of road; but you still can’t get in or out of Sitka except by boat or plane. If you want to get away for the weekend, you sail out to one of the islands and camp! However, it does have the biggest park in the country, including any in the “lower 48”. This park is 16.5 million acres, and every one of them the same – trees, bald eagles, trees, bears, trees, goats, lakes, trees trees.

We caught the tender into town to tour the highlights and case the shops, which didn’t take long, then ducked into the local bloodhouse for an early lunch prior to our wildlife tour. It was fine – chilli Alaskan beer for me a kiddy-serve burger for my sidekick. I really liked the kid’s hot dog – called a ‘puppy dog’. Before heading for the boat I bagged a whole lot of touristy bits and pieces to foist on victims at home.

It was just the day for our wildlife tour aboard the St Tatiana: 15C, no wind, a few stray clouds – perfection. We rocked out a few miles and met a raft of sea otters. These are the cutest things, they lie on their backs in the water roll around dive engage in a bit of mutual slap and tickle and generally seem to be very sociable little folk. They also have more than 1 million hairs per square inch so their fur is really lush, which explains why they were hunted to near extinction. When the slaughter was stopped in 1911, there were only 1500 of the critters in the whole of Alaska. Now there are 150,000, so they’re getting on with the business.

Next, we stopped by three grey whales. I now have an album of “whale diving”photos. These are similar to the view in my painterly series “foggy day in the Inside Passage”. You (don’t) get the picture. We stopped by a rookery (that’s what they call it here) of Sea Lions. Big buggers they are, and noisy too. Then we spotted a bald eagle in its nest with new hairless offspring. All in all it was a lovely afternoon jaunt.

We sailed out of Sitka north to Glacier Bay. This is billed as the highlight of the trip; which is probably why they put it in the middle. You have the first half to look forward to it; if it’s a bummer, there’s only a few days before you can jump ship.

Dressed for dinner, we headed up to the top deck for a cocktail with Ed Ron, with the sun streaming in through the front windows and grey whales mooching around out the front. Grey whales aren’t terribly exciting because they dive flat so that the fluke doesn’t do the mexican wave – that’s the humpback whales’ department.

Ron had had a big day – he’s now a celebrity, courtesy of The New York Times doing a fashion shoot story on board. They spotted Ron with his wild west moustache tall slender physique decided he was their man, so they commandeered him for the day. This tearaway former librarian is one spiffing dresser. Last night he was wearing a cream shirt, corn silk/wool jacket, cream/corn/tan/ black tie, black kerchief, black twill pants, tan belt loafers, and one cream sock and one black sock. He looked fabulous. Ed also looked spiffing, but in a more traditional style. I couldn’t compete, despite my Venetian Armani blouse, but Ruth looked extra-smick too – especially in the jewellery stakes.

I was dashing up the outside stairs to the gym at 6.45am, only to be stopped by an old dude on level 10 with his camera. “Look at the killer whales”. Not a bad opening gambit. There were three of them at 5 o’clock (that’s nautical speak for behind the boat a bit to the left as you look aft). These are the Orca (aka Killer Whales) – the black white ones that you see in all the pretty footage. Treading mill with whales playing outside snow capped mountains sailing by is a pretty flash way to start the day.

Back in the spa, I met up with the macho New York Times journo assigned to write the copy for the fashion shoot. He’d been ordered to cover the spa along with the rest of the boat. Apparently a crusty type, his approach was scathing about all this cosmetic tripe he refused to try anything except a manicure -“it’s all bullshit and a waste of time and money”. Then he was convinced against his will to have a pedicure – “what’s the point – I wear socks and no-one sees my feet”. Weakening slightly he acquiesced to a facial yesterday and rang last night to say his skin felt fantastic. This morning he popped his head around the door while I was being cooked to say he was having a seaweed body wrap! Some cynic.

Into Glacier Bay, and the weather was perfect – sunny 13 degrees, no wind. This place defies description. Awesome doesn’t do it. The best thing is the sound of the glaciers moving it’s amazing how quickly your ear attunes to both the sounds and in pinpointing location. We got to see a couple of good calves – another roll of film gone. Then we moved onto Bloody Mary hour, lunch another glacier – this one had lots of small bergs floating around in its bay and lookee – baby seals playing in the water clambering on off the bergs. Just delightful. More bald eagles. Someone saw a brown bear. Myriad birdies of all sorts. Fantastic in every sense. After leaving Glacier Bay, we stopped by an inlet where Humpback whales take their summer holidays. They were out in force and having a wonderful time going through their paces – lots of jumping out of the water tail waving; no mean feat when you weigh in at several tons of blubber.

Next stop: Skagway – a cute town sleepy, and the most northerly port of our trip. The main drag is four blocks long then it’s a long way to the next supercity. The formal dinner last night was French. True to his winsome spirit, Ron sported a red tie, cummerbund and kerchief with his tux; and red loafers to top it off. It looked fantastic. The food was fine but unspectacular. The treat was the endive salad which was remarkable for its total absence of endive. It had gone AWOL. Even when those who ordered it asked for the kitchen to have another whip round to see if it could be dug up failed to unearth the intransigent veg. I, on the other had, ordered shrimp cocktail on a bed of iceberg lettuce guess what I got – endive – oh joy, oh gloat. Excellent it was too.

Cindy the strange lady didn’t disappoint – this time she had two serves of french onion soup instead of her usual two serves of pasta (in between the salad and the main course). She’s an entertaining, if odd, conversationalist. Last night the pearl was that basketball is a totally stupid game, why do they play it on such a little court instead of a football field? That one stumped the all the usual suspects. The other rather alarming trait is her habit of using her enormous squared-off fingernails as alternative eating irons.

We went to the show afterwards – all Cole Porter, with a great Can Can at least eight costume scene changes in 75 minutes. I’d like to say I was up at daybreak in the morning, but I wasn’t. Sunrise was at 3.54am (sunset 10.09pm). I was, however, up at 6am so I could fit in my workout before catching the train to White Pass at 7.45.

On the way to the train, we passed a major tourist attraction, the largest rhubarb plant in the north. Fantastic. Riveting. They love growing big stuff up here. Mrs Murphy is trying to break the world record for the biggest kohl rabi. You might ask why. I couldn’t possibly comment. But apparently, the record stands at 31lbs; and last year she grew one that weighed in at 27.5lbs, so she reckons if she get up early (presumably 3.45am), she’ll be in a good position to have a shot at the big one.

But I digress. Back to the train. Just before we got on the train, we were each handed a coupon, called a White Pass Railway coupon. Just after we got on the train, a man in uniform came past and took my coupon away. I’m missing something here, but I guess gainful employment is a beautiful thing. Then we were off on one of the ‘scenic railways of the world’ trips. It’s 42 miles up to White Pass (altitude 2900 feet). God, it must have been a mongrel of a trek for the stampeders back in 1898. No wonder so many of them didn’t make it. There were no shortcuts, and if you got to the top and the turkey on guard at the pass didn’t reckon you had enough provisions for a year, you were turned back to Skagway. The railway is narrow gauge – 3.5ft, because it made it easier to build the railway. They only had to cut a 10 platform out of the mountain instead of fifteen; and narrow gauge railways can make tighter turns. It’s a seriously beautiful trip. The scenery is stunning and so is the vegetation, featuring spruce, birch, hemlock native geranium plus there are some special waterfalls Dead Horse Gulch really does exist. The poor animals were weighed down so heavily, and were so exhausted, that when they hit the first frost, thousands keeled over. There are 3000+ horses buried at Dead Horse Gulch. Some of the railroad workers weren’t so lucky either. Two of them were hurt quite badly when a 100 ton rock fell on them. A few others had a bit of a problem with their arithmetic after lighting a match and picking up the cigars with the red wrapping by mistake. The stampeders were a pretty plucky lot all round.

Just after I’d taken a photo of my first bear – a black bear – my camera took this scenic opportunity to lose battery power. Unfortunately, my plan to get a replacement battery at the top of the track (Fraser, British Columbia), went awry. Fraser has two huts, a sign saying ‘this is Canada’ and a bus park. That’s it. It’s a terrific border at White Pass. The Canadian one is 8 miles east of the border, the US one is 8 miles west, and in between is a high plain that has the word ‘tortuous’ in it somewhere because of the screaming wind that whips across it 364 days of the year. But not today. Today is beautiful, no wind, 15 degrees and as clear as a bell. Even the bus driver has never seen it like this before, but she’s only 24. It’s all Arctic tundra at the top. The same hemlock trees that grow to 100 a few miles down the road in the rain forest are splayed stunted up here. The locals call them Alaskan bonsai. They have to grow like that or they don’t survive. The trick for them is to be covered in snow all winter; which isn’t hard given they have 40 of snow up here. If they’re above the snow, the wind kills them in no time flat.

We took the bus back to Skagway, which meant we could stop at several places along the way. The best was the ravine that marks the fault line between the North American and Pacific plates. There’s some fairly robust rock gnashing as the two plates move against each other – usually only a little bit each day, but the best quake in Alaska was in ’64 measured 9.3 on the Richter scale. If you want to know how powerful that is in relative terms, you’ll have to go and find someone who understands exponential stuff, but it’s a helluva lot bigger than the one that rocked San Francisco in ’89.

The last stop on the way back down to Skagway was Liarsville, named after the camp that housed the journos that followed the stampeders. This has been turned into an ‘Historic Experience’ village consists of all sorts of jolly ne’er-do-wells cavorting about making fools of themselves pretending to be 100 years older than they are, sporting wonderful authentic touches like those putrid red flannel all-in-ones that somebody wore to keep warm a century ago. A couple of sluts reside in a tent with a double bed called ‘office’. There’s a hippodrome that doubles as a cow shed, and fake gold panning lessons. The ritual wood fire in the centre of the tent-town with smoke wafting skyward through the spruces added to the evocative touches of authenticity. The standard greeting in Liarsville is a wolf howl. On the plus register, there were plenty of clean dunnies. We spent an hour there, but who’s counting.

Skagway, on the other hand, is really picturesque. The sidewalks are all boardwalks – easy on the sore feet, and the buildings are straight out of the Klondike (hardly surprising, really). After cruising the shops and enjoying the sights, sailing out of Skagway was spectacular and the weather was perfect for departure – just a light breeze, and the scenery was fantastic all evening, sailing past miles miles of inlets bordered by snow-capped mountains.

At 6am, we moored at Juneau which provided a bit of local colour of a familiar sort – half a dozen ‘first nation’ men women lying around in the rain next to the dock swigging beer and screeching at each other. We’d booked for the dog-sled adventure, so it was down to the bus at 8am only to find that there is a whiteout up on the glacier trip was delayed until 12.15pm, then cancelled. Option 2 – a cup of tea and the sights of Juneau in the rain.

I lucked into the State Museum. Juneau is the capital of Alaska. Anchorage Fairbanks try to get the honour periodically but Juneau always manages to make the cost of the relocation prohibitive. (Skagway was the first town to get city status in Alaska in 1908 – the criteria for such status remains a mystery.)

Back to the museum. You might recall our old mate Vilnus Bering from Sitka stories. It turns out that he was a marine mercenary – he was a Dane on contract to Peter the Great. The museum’s history of Alaska starts out with some fightin’ words, viz: “By the early 1700’s, following two centuries of exploration by Europeans, the Northwestern shores of North America remained the last major unchartered area of the world”. Excuse me? What about Terra Australis, dammit? However, moving on, the menu for dinner on the SS Yukon on January 1, 1942 was pretty spiffing, with just a few courses with which to be sailing on. The following is just a sample. 1. hors d’oeuvres (devilled ham canapés, iced celery en branche, mixed olives (I find this odd – olives were hardly popular in the US in ’42), sweet pickles, sour pickles), 2. Soup (potage andalouse, consommé a la royale), 3. Fish (sole bonne femme), 4. Entrée (can’t remember), 5. Roast (young turkey with sage dressing/roast sirloin, with sugar peas, creamed mashed potatoes), 6. Salad, 7. Dessert (Seattle ice-cream, fruit), 8. Cheese (English, Monterey, Blue, with dromedary dates), then coffee with crystallised ginger. A modest celebration to welcome in the new year.

The museum also had a wonderful collection of pastel portraits of famous huskies – they really were beautiful each had their life story and brave exploits alongside – just a treat. It was still pissing with rain, so I zipped back to the ship and the rest of Juneau’s delights will have to wait.

Destination San Francisco, and we had a few days sailing the high seas. When we hit the open water it was pretty hairy and the inmates were soon sporting lots of green faces patches behind the ears. But the high seas weren’t enough to dissuade the assembled masses from hitting the Gala Buffet. The first half-hour was designated ‘photo-shoot’ time. This meant that the ravenous hordes who hadn’t eaten a thing since their five course breakfast at 9am were not allowed to bog in until the siren sounded. Ed overheard one old dear (they’re always female; usually pear shaped) saying “when are we going to stop all this looking and start eating?” The piece de resistance of the buffet (but not part of the edibles) was a 250lb halibut caught off Ketchikan in the 50’s (don’t worry, it’d been to the taxidermist).

We escaped to the top deck to escape the imminent carnage at the sounding of the midday gun lunched outdoors on excellent sushi and sashimi. I’d signed up to check out the bridge during the open hour and to get my daily fix of the world’s stupidest questions from my fellow inmates (e.g. “Is the (paper) map the same as the map on the computer?”). Then it was back to the lounge for the wine tasting, the candidates being French Pouilly Fuisse, Italian Pinot Grigio, Marques de Caceras from Spain some appalling muck from Chile. “This wine needs to be accompanied by food.” You’re telling me! It’d be a sad day emptying the honour bar before I got to that one. Then it was time for the next highlight – the tour of the galley – an amazing operation. They serve 450 a la carte main courses in half an hour during dinner, including any special requests. The egg carnage is 2,500 per day. The galley starts work at 5.30am finishes at 4am., manned by 97 staff.

Dinner; and Dave, about to embark on marriage #4, skipped again, bing unable to cope with eating at 8.30 instead of 5.30. Cindy’s seasick, with her head in her hands, but has taken a couple of tylenol. I refrain from offering her a cup of warm fat with a hair in it out of antipodean sympathy. Ed points out the pretty white-caps going past. However, at the first sight of a double avocado cocktail with twist, she perks up something mighty. I’m becoming increasingly fascinated with Cindy. The Pekinese not only goes everywhere with them, it also sleeps in their bed, under the covers, with its head on the pillow. Ron chips in with some more spirited examples of 101 things to do with a Pekinese. At home, Cindy has a room for her toys, of which there are more than 2,000. She has 98 barbie dolls, dozens of tea sets, both miniature ‘full size’. She doesn’t use any of them, but washing and dusting them is a fair chore. Adding to the treasures are dozens of ‘banks’ (money boxes) and stuffed animals (hold the Pekinese). I like her – at least she knows she’s strange and she’s not mean-spirited, just unusual, which is not a bad thing.

Finally, it was the last formal night and the captain’s farewell cocktail party before dinner. I filled out the cruise evaluation form and where it said what would you like to see improved, I said the captain’s scruffy should divest himself of his mangy facial hair; and should also learn not to bob up down on his toes while he’s making speeches. Send him to a course in presentation skills. I was very nice about everything and everybody else, apart from the fitness director, who’s also mangy and has one of those stupid little tufts of hair under his bottle lip. On to the cocktail party. Captain Herring (his name’s really something Svedish – one of those that start with an O with a ‘banned’ slash through it), shook my hand again – he still has sweaty palms. Later he made a speech whereupon he told us what we had done every day of the cruise where we’d been, just in case any of us had problems with our short term memory. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea as obviously some of the inmates have very short attention spans, given that they treat every meal as if it’s their last two hours later do the same again. Logistically this is quite simple viz: 6am – Earlybird tea/coffee/pastries, 7.30- 9.30 breakfast, 10.00 morning tea, 11.00 bouillon, 12-1.30 lunch, 3.00 afternoon tea, 5.00 high tea, 6.00 cocktail snacks, 7.30 – 10.30 dinner, 10.30 -1.00 supper and hot savouries.

The lads (Ed & Ron) had brought a fine bottle of champers on board to have, which the four of us shared (the other four sip on ‘arsed wadder’ all night); then Ruth I contributed a bottle of Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape and very nice drinking it was too. Tomas, our sommelier, has been exceptionally amusing as have all our dining room staff; so we gave all of them a big tick (as well as the so-called optional big tip) all round. Dinner was pretty good – caviar, truffle consomme topped with puff pastry (after Paul Bocuse’s creation for Giscard d’Estaing), Alaskan snow crab; and then the piece de resistance – bombe alaska. This was quite amazing. The chef came out (the one who’s abandoned his wife in Fiji – “I’m just going out to get the milk, dear”, whereupon he jumps on a passing ship for a six month tour of duty, leaving her with the ten kids) and introduced the staff; then the waiters came out in a parade of flaming bombes accompanied by some appropriately awful music, making for a seriously good laugh all round.

To end the evening, I had my one only visit to the casino to get rid of my free chips make a donation, which I did in double-quick time. Packing up is the worst bit of cruising, especially trying to stuff in all the tourist dross collected along the way. Time to jump ship and head for home.

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