When I signed up for a “small celebration” I didn’t expect a whole week away on a cruise ship. However, such was the excitement amongst the female colleagues who had organised it that I felt that I couldn’t back out. What sold it to them was a single holiday snap taken by a mutual friend. It showed Sting, Trudie Styler, Jeremy Irons and Sinéad Cusack sunbathing on a private deck of the same liner onto which we were all now booked. I wasn’t quite so impressed. Indeed what interested and concerned me most were the dodgy reports on TripAdvisor.
Unfortunately all my fears were realised. The ship was absolutely filthy, and kitchen “hygiene” unbelievable. The toilet facilities and food preparation area were in the same room, where the catering staff worked at floor level. My enquiry about food safety procedures was initially met with a blank look, then reassurance came that the chicken pieces were “always cooked for 12 hours”. There were so few staff that the passengers spent much of the day queuing for food. In some respects this didn’t matter because there really was nothing to do on the boat other than wish that you weren’t there. I tried to do some work, but it was too noisy (mainly teenagers singing with the skill of X Factor contestants from the early rounds), and then my iPad got wet when I swam with it in a bag on my back in one of the pools.
The only enjoyable aspect of the whole experience came when PC and I were summoned to cabin 56 for afternoon tea to chat about one of our research projects. Very slim, and looking a good decade younger than her 85 years, Queen Elizabeth II exhibited an astonishing familiarity with our work.