Exactly a year ago, Chris Evans – the sometime disc jockey and full-time media magnate – chose Madeira for his first overseas trip with his young wife-to-be, Billie Piper. The couple were never to be seen away from the delectable, five-star campus of the Savoy Hotel in Funchal, where the purple bougainvillea is as rich as the clientele. So they missed out on the dining experiences enjoyed, or otherwise, at the island's restaurants by the package holidaymakers down the road at the three-star Hotel Raga.
First Choice, which sends clients to the Raga, has instigated a book where every holidaymaker to the Portuguese island is invited to share their impressions of Madeira's restaurants. Any preconception that the sort of British package tourist who visits Madeira is far too polite to complain is shattered by the invective levelled against some of the island's restaurateurs.
At La Paella, comments one aggrieved customer, "If you don't order the fish, they treat you like you've just massacred their entire family." Someone else puts quote marks around the "chicken" and notes that "the restaurant's two budgies mysteriously disappeared" shortly before the meal was served. When the dish appeared, it was "small, stringy and consisted almost entirely of bone. Even the stray dogs had the good sense to stay outside."
Le Gourmet fails to impress a reviewer, who found the head waiter "tetchy". I had trouble comprehending the next sentence – "My sweet was still frozen in the middle" – until I realised the complainant was writing about dessert, not his spouse.
A gentleman named Major CPS Bodkin writes page after page of culinary criticism, sometimes lapsing into philosophy. "What is it with the world?" he wonders. "Six billion people of diverse characters, history, languages and cultures, and what is our greatest modern achievement? Chips with everything."
Others take issue with fellow travellers whose activities intruded at meal times: "A party of Scandinavian tourists were given an hour's lecture by their holiday guide which consisted of incomprehensible pronouncements via a very loud microphone," writes one diner at the Restaurant Caravela. "I started off thinking it was some kind of quaint folkloric Madeiran cabaret. Alas, no."
You are also advised to steer clear of one quasi-Indian eatery, whose owners apparently cannot even spell the name of the nation's founder. In a review of Ghandi's Restaurant, an unhappy holidaymaker concludes: "Now I know why Gandhi went on hunger strike".
ONE PENNY per second? That's nothing, says Bob Davenport, after I expressed surprise last week that local calls made from a mobile abroad should be charged at 60 pence a minute. When Mr Davenport and his wife reached Marseilles, he called his mother to say they had arrived safely.
"Having heard about extortionate telephone charges from hotels, I decided to use a pay phone. As the call box didn't take coins and the cheapest phone card cost 50 francs, I used my credit card to make a call that lasted well under two minutes.
"On the subsequent credit-card statement I discovered that I had been charged US$40.45 – or £28.40 – for it." He is debating with the credit-card company whether the charge should be 40.45 francs (£4), but I fear he is stuck with a bill of 25 pence a second.
YOU NO doubt know that airlines insist mobile phones are switched off in flight, because their signals interfere with aircraft systems – and have been implicated as a contributory factor in more than one crash.
On US airlines, passengers are allowed to use mobiles in the cabin until the door is closed; most British carriers insist they cannot be used inside the plane at all, apparently because of fears that they could ignite aviation fuel.
Luxembourg has gone one stage further: the EU's smallest nation now bans the use of mobile phones on the country's fleet of buses. A driver explained that the sensitive electronics on the new fleet are upset by signals from phones. As a result, the buses, like the roads of Luxembourg, are blissfully quiet.
TEN PER cent is the astonishing increase that rail travellers face on some fares in the New Year, even though speeds and services are deteriorating at about the same rate. But if you happen to be travelling by train in Britain over Christmas, it could be get-you-own-back time.
Cut this out in case you need to show it to a ticket inspector: National Condition of Carriage number 37 (b), which applies on railways throughout Britain, could win you an upgrade.
It reads: "If you have a Standard Class ticket (other than a season ticket) and no Standard Class accommodation is available, with the prior permission of the ticket staff on that train you may travel in First Class accommodation (or the equivalent) without extra charge." Good luck.