Two weeks ago I took my leave of you, saying I was about to be trapped in the Med for a fortnight on an ocean liner with four other Oldie writers, and I promised to report back on whether it was possible for a bunch of writers to coexist at close quarters without going mad. So here are extracts from the diary I kept on board Minerva II in the last days of October, between Barcelona and Libya...
SATURDAY We are shown to our quarters. I am sharing a cabin with somebody's wife. Mine, thank goodness.
Our leader, Richard Ingrams, calls a meeting and explains that as we shall be involved as a panel in several question-and-answer sessions during the voyage, we must be ready with some wise and witty answers to passengers' questions. And with some wise and witty questions, too, if passengers don't come up with any. He then muses: "You know, people always come ashore after a long voyage saying that they can still feel the ground swaying and pitching under their feet, but nobody goes on board at the start of a voyage saying they can still feel the ship absolutely motionless under their feet. I now say that." We look at each other. The ship is motionless. We are still moored tight to the quay. Before anyone can say anything, Ingrams' ears prick up.
"Do you hear that?" he says. "I hear a piano somewhere." And off he goes. Ingrams, a keen classical pianist, spends the next 24 hours locating all the pianos on board, and calculating the times at which they are not used, so that he can play round the clock.
SUNDAY Mavis Nicholson, Oldie agony aunt and legendary broadcaster, finds a ping-pong table on Deck 9, and proposes the formation of a table-tennis writers' league. Later, I laughingly challenge her to a game and am slaughtered. "And I'm only 10 years older than you, Miles," she smiles. I do not smile back.
Valerie Grove has located all the dance floors, where she and her husband, Trevor, intend to dance the nights away, and Rosie Boycott has located the Fitness Centre, where she intends to train during the day so she does not have to dance all night. Myself, I simply enjoy being surrounded by people older than me, which does not happen so often these days. After studying the other passengers, I write in my notebook: "So many Miss Marples, and so few murders."
MONDAY Mavis has come down with a bug and is confined to her cabin. The ship's doctor is consulted. She says it may be nothing. On the other hand, it could be the famous cruise superbug which sweeps through ships like wildfire, in which case Mavis would almost certainly have to be landed on the next desert island and marooned there till our return, living on wild fruit, cocktails and penicillin. Could she survive that long without table tennis? It seems doubtful.
TUESDAY Our first question-and-answer session takes place, without Mavis, alas. Luckily, lots of questions have come in from passengers, such as: "What have you done with Mavis Nicholson, you brutes?" and "Do you know who I would suspect of doing away with her? That Kington fellow who was beaten by her at table tennis on the first day! He looks very shifty to me." The panel deals nonchalantly with this barrage, but we are uneasy.
WEDNESDAY Mavis Nicholson emerges from her cabin, pale but definitely better. The rumours of her disappearance, unaccountably, do not diminish. It is as if people do not believe the sight of her, or think she may be a spectre. To make it worse, there are reports of ghostly music at 3am somewhere forrard. It turns out to be Ingrams practising Schumann, but people's nerves are still very twitchy.
This afternoon I find Ingrams lounging on a sunbed, reading a Maeve Binchy book. This seems so out of character that I question him sharply. "I'm not Richard Ingrams, you fool," says the silvery haired gent. I look closer. Nor he is. He is an Ingrams lookalike. That morning I spot 20 other men on board who could easily be mistaken for Richard. What on earth is going on?
More of this diary soon, unless I get a good film offer for it before thenReuse content