Monday, 28 December 2009



Friday 25 December, at sea

Up quite early and down to help marshal the group for our big breakfast – we’ve managed to gather 28 participants and I need to do quite a bit of traffic management to ensure that people sit at tables where they’ll get along with their neighbours, for example ensuring the Chinese guys who speak little English get some Canadians with whom they can chat in French. Only about four of us opt for a glass of champagne but my morning is considerably brightened by the Perrier Jouet and the fact that we have our two favourite serving staff – Giorgy and the very beautiful Maya who everyone keeps saying should be promoted from stewardess to waitress. It’s a terribly layered hierarchy in the restaurant, there seem to be about seven tiers of job title.

A few circuits of the walking deck and it’s time for the Queen’s Christmas Message, scheduled for 12.20pm. The start of the broadcast is badly damaged by the clod who is the captain of this tugboat broadcasting his position and weather announcements over the first few minutes of the Queen. He cuts off very abruptly, presumably because someone got to to him to tell him there’d be a mutiny if he didn’t shut the fuck up. He’s arse-numbingly boring at the best of times, but this gaffe could have got him lynched.

Actually, Her Maj wasn’t on top form and I didn’t think it was one of her greatest hits. Lots about the Commonwealth as usual, including how she’s convinced it’s so relevant to young people. Perhaps she should chat a bit more to those in the UK rather than the lickspittles she’s introduced to in staged walkabouts on a state visit to Umbongo.

We have to bring forward our nightly cocktail party to 6pm because at 7 it’s the ‘spectactular’ Christmas Concert in the Royal Court Theatre. Perhaps because I’ve performed in quite a few Christmas Concerts, I can see the cracks in this one and whilst the costumes and production values are good, the singing’s a bit ragged and the programme has a hastily-assembled end-of-term feel about it combining some performed items with the audience standing to sing O Come All Ye Faithful, Edwina Currie fluffing her lines in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and an absolutely excruciating downshifted and high-note-excised version of ‘O Holy Night’ on dry ice and hydraulic platforms.

The Entertainments Director introduces the “orchestra” for instrumental variations on ‘We Three Kings’ but it’s so brassy, discordant and out of time that it’s obvious these are random musicians culled from pit bands rather than the Royal Philharmonic, and most of them peer so desperately at the sheet music it’s clear they’ve had insufficient rehearsal together. Having a conductor might have helped, too.

But again the audience love it, so it must be just me.

And so to Christmas Dinner, where the options of course include Turkey and Christmas Pudding which are banqueting-standard but at least I didn’t have to make them myself. No sprouts, though, shame. Our ‘Secret Santa’ presents are distributed and everyone’s made a great effort. There are some hilarious but tacky t-shirts with slogans, a pack of pornographic playing cards, and a mint-chocolate flavour oral anaesthetic for people who have difficulty deep-throating, although no-one at the table admits to needing it. I’m relieved and pleased to get a rather lovely mug with maps and motifs of the Caribbean which I’ll certainly carry home. But it was all good fun, and the surrounding tables look a bit envious which is always a bonus.

As usual, we’re among the last to leave the Britannia Restaurant and emerge to find the corridors choked with people, as the chefs unveil their massive midnight buffet featuring ice sculptures and vegetables, fruit, fish and cake which have been carved, teased and tweaked into semblances of flowers, birds and cornucopia. Can’t see the point, really, since the second sitting has just eaten, so only the terminally greedy and those who dined at 6pm are even remotely hungry. But there are plenty of people piling their plates as I pass by on my way to bed.

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