Bitter disappointment and a botched cruise

The sad truth is that nothing will cheer those wretched 'Aurora' passengers up

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How do you cheer someone up who has just spent £40,000 on a world cruise that turned out to be not much more than a day trip to the Isle of Wight? If they had missed the ferry to Cowes you could say: "Come on pet, cheer up. We'll have lunch at that new gourmet pub and then see what we can pick up in the Debenham's sales."

How do you cheer someone up who has just spent £40,000 on a world cruise that turned out to be not much more than a day trip to the Isle of Wight? If they had missed the ferry to Cowes you could say: "Come on pet, cheer up. We'll have lunch at that new gourmet pub and then see what we can pick up in the Debenham's sales."

But that wouldn't wash with someone who has just packed three months' worth of smart/casual cruise clothes including a selection of comfortable leisurewear, eye-catching beach gear and informal but elegant cocktail and evening outfits suitable for both relaxed alfresco suppers on deck and sophisticated dining.

You're impressed, I can tell, by my familiarity with cruise jargon. This comes less from personal experience than from long acquaintance with a neighbour who takes at least four cruises a year from which she rarely returns without a husband - usually someone else's. I'll call her Vi because she is that sort of vintage.

Vi is not financially challenged. On the contrary, her break-up value, to put it crudely, would be well into seven figures. But she's no slouch. "I'll not deny I like the good things in life,'' she says, refilling her glass with pink champagne or the Australian equivalent. "But I am not afraid of hard work.''

Vi's version of hard work is getting the articles she writes about all the cruises she takes published. To this end she is constantly on the telephone to newspapers and magazines all over the world with the following offer. She pays her own expenses, which could mean a return ticket to Los Angeles, Shanghai or wherever the cruise starts. She charges no fees if the article is published.

All she wants is for the editor to write a letter to the cruise saying that she working for them and not only does she get a free trip, she gets the kudos of being an accredited travel journalist happy to do something that few serious travel writers want to do, namely, spend two weeks cooped up in a floating hotel playing bingo in five different languages.

The sad truth is that nothing will cheer those wretched SF Aurora passengers up because if you have missed out on a world cruise, where else is there to go? Disappointment is a hard row to hoe. I know from bitter experience, having once inadvertently found myself at the sharp end of someone else's. It was a long time ago, throw another log on the fire, and I'll tell you the story.

I had been persuaded by a honey-voiced literary agent to write a book about royal nannies. I think Princess Diana was having problems in that area at the time. The idea was for me to dig up a lot of juicy gossip about royal children from ex-nannies and other royal employees but, extraordinary as it may seem now, I couldn't find anyone willing to talk to me. This was tricky. I'd been paid a large advance and spent it.

In the end, the agent cut her losses and changed the name of the book to Little Princes: a history of royal children, and for a few months I scratched about in a desultory sort of way (I'm no historian) looking for new and exciting things to say on the subject. There weren't any, except perhaps for the story about one of Louis XIV or possibly XV's children who as a babe and tightly swaddled was being used as a ball by his royal siblings in a game of catch. They were playing in an upper room in the Palace of Versailles, someone misjudged the distance, the ball flew over the catcher's head, out of the window and - zut alors - another Dauphin hit the dust.

The book was not a success, which made an invitation to speak at a literary lunch in Manchester the following week something of a surprise. Had I been older and wiser I might have smelled a rat, but I was too excited at the prospect of sharing a platform with David Frost, Patrick Moore and Robert Lacey, who had also just written books, to notice details. We travelled to Manchester, we ate our lunch, the authors spoke, me last and, I thought as I sat down afterwards, rather wittily.

"Any questions?" asked the master of ceremonies.

"Yes," came a man's voice from the back of the dining room of the Midland Hotel. "I've got two. Question one - Can you tell me why I paid £25 to hear Joan Collins talking about her book Confessions of a Sex Goddess and got someone called Arnold blethering on about royal bloody babies? Question two - Can I have a refund?"

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