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BIBLE THUMPER


African perdition they call Tangier.” But he felt at home in Odessa, which was “just like an American city,” or would have been were it not for its church domes that “looked like a turnip turned upside down.” It would be difficult to emulate the tour of the Holy Land which Twain and his fellow-passengers undertook on horseback and by camel, but other aspects of the trip are still familiar. Or perhaps he was gifted with an ability to foretell the future when he wrote of Italy (long before Mussolini made the trains run on time): “I cannot understand how a bankrupt government can have such palatial railroad depots.” The Innocents Abroad has given me a great deal of pleasure while I have been travelling, and I thoroughly recommend packing a copy before your next cruise.


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here are other, more recent, books which have taken their inspiration from cruising – from which I am


happy to exclude the floods of fiction and non-fiction surrounding the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. Leave aside, too, Evelyn Waugh’s 1957 semi-autobiographical The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold; its account of the central character’s descent into madness while doped up on barbiturates and crème de menthe during a journey on the SS Caliban is too depressing for words. But do take a diversion with Michael


(The English Patient) Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table. Its horizons are far wider than the three-week voyage from Ceylon to England that an 11-year-old boy makes on board the SS Oronsay in 1954. While it contains the familiar ingredients of an adventure story – an under-cover thief, a mysterious prisoner,


a rabid dog and a friendly first-class passenger to keep a motherly eye on the young boy – the book attempts to follow the ripples they cause rather than concentrating on their immediate effect. Even more entertaining is Here


Come The Girls, Milly Johnson’s romp in which four one-time schoolfriends celebrate reaching their 40s by setting off on a Mediterranean cruise.


Milly is a P&O aficionado and her diligent research brings familiar features such as Canadian ice wine (fresh from Olly Smith’s Glass House on Azura) and patriotic Union Jack sailaway parties fresh to the pages among the romantic escapades of her heroines. She finds time to acknowledge Michele


and Lorraine “who looked after me so beautifully on board Azura,” and Captain Paul Brown, “who answered all my daft questions with generous patience.” But, given her central character falls in love with the skipper of the fictional Mermaidia, I hope Captain Hamish Reid is not blushing too much at being described as “quite simply unforgettable.” For a wry take on life on board, Laurie


Graham’s At Sea is difficult to better. Her Lady Enid, “a woman in need of a project and a husband,” is travelling with a partner whose role as a celebrated on- board lecturer has given him ideas above his station. As the narrative unfolds, with contributions from a colourful collection of fellow passengers and a conniving cruise director, plus amusing interludes on the dance floor and in the internet centre, we discover neither are quite what they appear to be. I might even write my own book one


day, but I haven’t decided whether it should be fiction or whether I should take my cue from John Steinbeck and travel to the Gulf of California to deliver The Blog From The Sea of Cortez. 


Be sure to read the Captain’s regular Blog online at http://blogs.mirror.co.uk/ captain-greybeard/ and don’t forget the World of Cruising blog, http://timespentatsea.blogspot.com.


Winter 2011-12 I WORLD OF CRUISING 39 A


nother book that should be a fixture on the shelves of any regular passenger is the


Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships, often hailed as the Bible of the industry. It is indeed an invaluable


reference work, always at hand in case I need to check when a particular vessel was built, how many passengers it carries and if it has an indoor swimming pool or a casino. It’s not infallible, however, and, with new ships being built each year and existing ships emerging from dry-dock with extra cabins and new restaurants, it would take a small army of researchers to keep all its facts and statistics up to date. But my biggest beef – and one which struck a chord with many readers of Captain Greybeard’s blog – is with the idiosyncratic scoring system devised by its author, the indefatigable Douglas Ward. Much has changed in cruising during the 27 years his guide has been published but his ratings have failed to move with the times. There are three categories (boutique, small and mid-size) for ships carrying fewer than 1,600 passengers.


Everything else is lumped together in one category for large resort ships, pitting, for example, P&O’s lovely little Oriana against the hulking brute that is Norwegian Epic, and the rather dated 1987-built Pacific Pearl (ex-Ocean Village) against modern magnificence such as Allure of the Seas. Come on Berlitz, it’s time for a


re-think.


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