Category Archives: Travel articles

First glimpse of Britannia, P&O Cruises brand new cruise ship

It cost more than £520 million to build, weighs 141,000 tons and will carry more than 3,600 passengers. And this Friday Britannia, P&O Cruises brand new cruise ship, will be making her way from the Fincantieri shipyard in Trieste, Italy, to her new home in Southampton, ahead of the official launch ceremony on March 10th.

Britannia P&O Cruises
Britannia is P&O Cruises’ largest cruise ship and sets sail for England on Friday

Journalists and travel agents were given a sneak preview last weekend, including a tour round the vessel guided by Britannia’s Captain Paul Brown.

P&O Cruises chairman David Dingle and chief executive David Noyes were part of our group, as were P&O’s new ‘food heroes’ Olly Smith, Eric Lanlard and Charlie Turnbull, respectively in charge of the wine, cakes and cheese offering on the ship.

Britannia P&O Cruises
It was a rainy Sunday morning but Britannia was still an impressive sight

The rainy day didn’t detract from the impressive sight of Britannia, P&O’s largest cruise ship to date, which will boost P&O’s passenger capacity by 24 per cent.  At 1.082 ft long, and with 15 passenger decks, she displays the world’s largest Union Flag on her bows (94 metres long) and she was pretty impressive on the inside too. Continue reading First glimpse of Britannia, P&O Cruises brand new cruise ship

Fifty Shades of Grey review: Blue Steel and an Ikea Room of Pain

First, the good points about Fifty Shades of Grey, the film which has been greeted with massive under-enthusiasm by the critics (but which hasn’t stopped it breaking box-office records, unsurprisingly given the books’ massive fanbase).

Dakota Johnson, who plays Anastasia Steele, is actually rather good in a difficult role in which she has to be sexy, innocent, vulnerable, feisty, a bit of a drip and a stubborn sex kitten all at the same time, no easy task.

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Wide-eyed ingenue turned sex kitten meets the Blue Steel gaze of Mr Grey…

When she first pulls her unbrushed hair into a ponytail we instantly know she is playing the Anne Hathaway role in A Devil Wears Prada – attractive Hollywood actress attempts to look like ‘a normal person’ by wearing some frumpy clothes and not paying enough attention to her hair – but she somehow makes this and even the constant lip-biting (a key plot point in the book) not too irritating. She is the easiest woman in the world to turn on though – just a neck-nibble or rib-kiss is enough to have her writhing in ecstasy, but that’s probably just as well, as sadly the big let down of the film is Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey.

Again, it can’t be easy to play such a cliche-ridden character – he’s a billionaire! he’s mysterious! he’s had a bad childhood but doesn’t  want to talk about it! he’s a businessman who conducts deals from the top of a phallic skyscraper and barks business-like things into his phone like ‘They’ve got just 24 hours to decide’ and ‘Get the plane ready, I’ll be there in 30 minutes’ – but Jamie sadly, cannot act at all.

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Oh my, that’s a rather big chopper you’ve got there Mr Grey…

He clenches his jaw, he shows us his ‘Blue Steel’ glare as often as he can, but in spite of how many times he tells Anastasia things like ‘I want to f*ck you into next week’ you never ever feel he’s actually horny at all. He takes his top off (hurrah!) but does so in the matter of fact manner he’d use to strip at the gym (boo) and never, ever convinces us that he’s full of desire. At one point he is gently stroking Ana with his stiff wand (not a euphemism) and the peeved, perplexed, slightly nerdish expression on his face reminded me of Rimmer (again, not a euphemism) in Red Dwarf. This is not an attractive look.

fifty shades of grey film review
This pencil gets sucked an awful lot…

Neither character is served well by a script and set-design which served to lay bare the daftness of the plot. Christian’s office is staffed entirely with Aryan supermodels who swish around as if auditioning for an updated version of Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love video [I’m assuming equal-right legislation doesn’t apply in Seattle: ‘Receptionist wanted: must be blonde, stick thin and you will be fired when you reach 30].

fifty shades of grey film review
Christian is rather annoyed that the guy next door has a bigger one than his

Some lines are just embarrassing. The supposedly sophisticated Mr Grey makes a right twonk of himself with the simple task of ordering a drink. He faffs on for ages: ‘I’d like a gin and tonic please, Hendricks or Bombay Sapphire. Cucumber with the Hendricks, or lime with Bombay Sapphire.’ I expected the waiter to slap himself on the forehead and shout ‘No shit, Sherlock, everyone knows that’s how Hendricks is served, Mr Big Shot!’ Was this supposed to show how cool Christian was or just a load of product placement? Either way, it was irrelevant as we never even saw him drink the thing, we were too busy off in a glider. He also can’t say his admittedly terrible line ‘Laters baby’ without sounding like someone’s embarrasing Dad – and he actually does this twice, an absolute passion-killer.

fifty shades of grey film review
Love in an elevator…this was possibly the only scene where you felt he might actually fancy Anastasia

Some of the best bits of the book seemed completely missed out – there was a lot more shagging in cars, I remember, which would have been fun – and dinner at his parents would have been far spicier if she was taunting Christian by not wearing her underwear as in the book (it was hinted at, but then forgotten altogether) and there were several pointless sequences such as dancing in his penthouse flat, and flying not once but twice (helicopter and that post G&T glider). And the famed Red Room of Pain looked way too new to have seen much action: it was as if he’d gone out and ordered a ‘build your own BDSM chamber’ kit from Ikea and never actually used it.

So for the inevitable sequel, can I politely suggest more lust, more desire, more sweat and less jaw-clenching? Jamie looks good – he’s just not hot.

What’s wrong with having a photobombing yellow car?

Poor Peter Maddox. The 82-year old has been accused of allowing his little yellow Vauxhall Corsa to ‘photobomb’ otherwise picturesque shots of Arlington Row in Bibury, acknowledged as one of the prettiest streets in Britain.

I’d like to make the point that the cheerful little motor actually adds to the scenery, not detracts from it.

True, it might look more like something you’d find in an episode of Inbetweeners.

But without its presence the row of cottages would just look exactly like a postcard, or a publicity shot, and one that could have been copied and pasted from any number of VisitEngland brochures.

The inclusion of Mr Maddox’s car means you can actually prove you were there, and in a living, breathing, inhabited village rather than one which every aspect of human life (including the need to park your car somewhere) has been irradicated in favour of a pretty picture.

In solidarity therefore, here is my equally comic-looking car, a bright yellow Fiat Seicento (looking even more like the Inbetweeners’ car, if that’s possible) in a variety of rather beautiful settings:

Here’s  the Fiat outside the rather posh Luckham Hotel and Spa near Bath…

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The next day it popped over to the also very lovely hotel The Pig near Bath

photobombing yellow car

Recently it visited the Compleat Angler in Marlow

photobombing car

This very nice man at the ultra-swanky Cliveden House Hotel (yes, the Profumo one) couldn’t wait to get my car out of the way (I mean, very kindly offer to park it for me)

photobombing yellow car

However I would argue it complements the beauty of Cliveden rather well…

photobombing yellow car

…even outshining the newly restored bell tower. It’s hard to compete with a little yellow car!

One Aldwych: a slice of luxury in London’s West End

There was a lion right outside my hotel room. Well, to be more accurate, a Lion King.

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The view from my bedroom at One Aldwych hotel in Covent Garden

The Lyceum theatre in Covent Garden, which has been home to the hugely successful Lion King musical for more than 15 years, was about 10 metres from my bedroom window. I peered down on the crowds as people started gathering for the evening’s performance, safe and unseen in my warm sanctuary…that is, until I realised that I was being spied on in turn, by  people peeping out of their window at the very top of the theatre. It was time to stop people-watching, and retreat to the spa.

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One Aldwych is right at the heart of London’s West End

One Aldwych hotel is situated right on the corner which marks the beginning of of the Aldwych semi-circle which also houses the Australian and India High Commissions and Bush House, once home to the BBC World Service. As a Central London location it is hard to beat, with not just Theatreland on its doorstep but Covent Garden, the Strand, Holborn, the South Bank and Somerset House all just a few minutes walk away.

In spite of being on the corner of one of London’s busiest streets, the hotel itself is an oasis of tranquility, particularly in its subterranean spa which includes an 18-metre swimming pool. Continue reading One Aldwych: a slice of luxury in London’s West End

Volcanoes and fire-dancing: just a typical day in Papua New Guinea

Swimming near a school of dolphins, walking on a recently-erupted volcano and diving to a wreck of a World War 2 Japanese fighter plane might seem like once-in-a-lifetime events but in Papua New Guinea, it is just an average morning.

I was spending 10 days travelling round Papua New Guinea, which is just 100 miles north of Queensland, Australia but 8,600 miles and halfway across the globe from the UK.

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The golden sands and crystal clear waters of Papua New Guinea

Having been previously colonised by Germany and Britain, and governed by Australia, Papua New Guinea became independent in 1975 and is now part of the Commonwealth – (driving is on the left, as in the UK and Australia) but it is also one of the most diverse and undiscovered places on the planet.

There are thought to be more than 800 different languages spoken among Papua New Guinea’s seven million inhabitants and four-fifths of the population live in remote rural areas. There are few roads, so travel is done by boat and plane, and the country is one of the least charted in the world. Continue reading Volcanoes and fire-dancing: just a typical day in Papua New Guinea