Susan Jones, 47


P&O Purser


pounds 40,000


Somewhere at sea

A purser - what's that then?

My nearest land equivalent would be a general manager of a large hotel. But it's more involved than that when you're living with people in close confinement. The Arcadia's a cruise ship that takes 1,600 passengers and has a ship's company of 675, with 450 working for the purser's department. It is a business so we have to keep to budget and I am also responsible for staff training. Obviously we have to be self-reliant away from shore.

In what ways?

Well, let's put it like this: if the doughmoulder can't be repaired we have to find another way of producing the 5,000 bread rolls we consume every day. We'd have to make them manually. I mean, it's not like we can just send out for another machine!

Ah, life is full of little trials

Yes, and no day is the same here, but that's why I like it. I joined the old Oriana as a junior assistant purser 22 years ago, expecting to stay for three or four years, and have stayed ever since. I worked my way up through the ranks until becoming a purser nine years ago.

Talk us through a typical day

My steward brings me a cup of tea at 7am. I'm out of my quarters (which is basically bedroom, bathroom and dayroom) by 7.30am and go for the first of one of my many "walks". You walk miles in this job. I talk to staff and passengers and get a feel of how the cruise is going. I'm also monitoring standards in the nine bars, a restaurant, an ice cream parlour and the pizza place.

Ooh pizza! Is it buonissima?

Yes! The food generally is very good. I tend to eat my breakfast in the officer's mess room - grapefruit followed by fried egg on toast. I need to eat. Lunchtime is very busy with two sittings in our 800-seater restaurant. I have my lunch at 1.30pm - soup and a main course. I've never been fond of puddings. Then I check my computer for more messages and put my feet up for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

Then it's back to the office, another walk, perhaps a party to attend like the Captain's Welcome On Board Party, the Posh Club and pre- dinner parties.

Sounds jammy

Well, then there's dinner (between 8.30pm and 10.30pm) where I host a table, sitting with the same group of eight passengers through the cruise. We talk a lot. Passengers like to hear the background to their trip. After dinner I walk around the bars and catch 10 minutes of the shows, I return to my quarters at midnight and have a cup of tea before bed.

Listen, you don't deserve a day off!

Just as well, because I don't get one! Unfortunately, there are no days off at sea. Apart from Sunday when you can hear the church bells ringing, it's hard to tell what day of the week it is. Other things, like whether it's the day before getting into port, are far more important.

So you don't get to see the ports you visit?

We have an in-port manning system so that essential services are covered, and we take turns in going ashore. I try to ensure that I get off the boat once each cruise either with a group of colleagues or on my own. In the Med there are lots of lovely ports with good restaurants so there's no lack of new places to go. Over the years I've built up a collection of ornamental frogs from all over the world which I transfer to my cottage when I get home. They are made from stone, raffia, glass, jade porcelain from all sorts of diverse places - Poland, China, Singapore and even the Amazon.

How often do you get to go home?

I work every day for four months, then have two months off which is all my weekends and holidays together. I suppose I lead rather a Jekyll and Hyde existence. Life at sea is all- consuming but when I'm not there I live in a thatched cottage which happens to be as far from the sea as it's possible to be.

What about a family?

You couldn't do this job and have children and so female pursers are rare. But I've never wanted children - and anyway I've never found a man I've wanted to give this job up for.