Apparently it’s the done thing to review various aspects of your cruise; so here are a few thoughts about our week on the Thomson Celebration (and I promise to keep it serious)….
As we flew into Dubrovnik, we saw the ship, dwarfed by the two giant cruisers berthed either side. It may have looked small from the air and in comparison to the other vessels, but we loved the Celebration. Even on the hottest afternoons, we were able to find somewhere to relax and enjoy the sun, the pools are small, but ideal for cooling off; and the interior of the ship was always clean and welcoming (thanks to the hard work of the staff). There were a couple of shops (which we ventured into) and a spa (which we didn’t) and any number of bars (including a coffee bar) in which to sample the cocktail menu. The ship sailed smoothly up and down the Adriatic; sometimes you had to check to be sure you were actually moving… we would definitely have no hesitation in booking a holiday aboard the Celebration again. 9/10
The outside cabin was, as expected, small, and the two beds were in an L shape so we were forced to sleep separately on our first ever child-free holiday, but that apart the cabin was perfectly comfortable. There was plenty of storage space, the bathroom was a bit cramped but fine, and we were very well looked after throughout the week. 9/10
It is hard to be anything other than general when there are several hundred staff on board, and pretty much everyone with whom we came into contact was great. Some were more friendly or outgoing than others, but that’s not a criticism; the staff were helpful and professional throughout and the only reason the mark is not a perfect 10 is that the bar service in the show lounge became a bit of a lottery when the room was full. Otherwise, fantastic. 9½/10
The ship had a large buffet restaurant (Lido) with various “stations” for pasta, pizza, burgers and the like. The breakfasts were excellent and the evening meals we had were pretty good too. We dined twice in the Meridian Restaurant and we enjoyed both meals, although be prepared to be seated alongside passengers who you don’t know. The highlight was the Kora La Restaurant. The food is mainly Indian with Chinese influences and it is superb. Jing and his team were wonderful hosts and you shouldn’t begrudge the additional cost (roughly £20 per head even if you are all-inclusive)… it was one of the highlights of the week. Lido 8/10, Meridian 9/10, Kora La 10/10 - Overall 9/10
There was no shortage of entertainment on board the ship. There were two singing duos, a pianist and a resident band who churned out perfectly pleasant middle-of-the-road covers for the passengers. Not really my type of music, but that’s hardly their fault! There was an entertainments team who looked after the daily events (quizzes, bingo and the like) perfectly well, rather than particularly memorably. If you wanted spectacular, then you needed to watch the show team. Ten young men and women, who performed a series of impressive shows during the week (interrupted by one fantastic–and very un-PC—routine from stand-up comedian Paul Eastwood). What stood out for me were two genuinely amazing voices—belonging to Emma Mawdsley and Chris Lafferty… the latter’s rendition of “Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera” earned a thoroughly deserved standing ovation; and the very obvious dancing talents of Charlotte Turrell. Collectively the show team could not be marked at anything less than 10/10. My subjective view of the other entertainment would be 7/10, but maybe that’s a mark short of a fair objective assessment. Overall it’s 9/10… perhaps it should be 8½ but I’ve added the extra half mark because Emma and Chris really were outstanding.
The cruise began and ended in Dubrovnik, a lovely city that is well worth exploring, but you don’t really get the time on this particular itinerary. The first port of call is Koper in Slovenia; it is only a short walk to the pleasant town centre, but there isn’t a great deal to see or do—a visit to Piran is certainly worth considering. Our main aim in Venice was to sit down and enjoy a pizza in a local café, which we did… and it was great. Watch out for the little birds which have no fear in taking leftovers after you’ve finished! If you want a trip on a gondola, book on board the ship, as it’s expensive otherwise and if you want to venture inside any of the historical buildings in or near St Mark’s Square, expect a lengthy queue.
Rijeka has a large pedestrian-only shopping area and there is a relaxed feel to the city centre and a gentle buzz of conversation from the many cafes and bars. We popped in to the Church of St Mary of the Assumption and the adjoining leaning tower (it only leans a little bit); the church interior is stunning. Korcula was probably the highlight of the five destinations; it is a beautiful island, with wonderful scenery and architecture, which also lays claim to being the birthplace of Marco Polo.
Sadly Durres in Albania has very little to recommend it, but plenty to suggest it should not be on the itinerary. Clearly the country is keen to develop a tourist industry, but some potentially interesting history is totally outweighed by beggars, buildings that are in as poor a state of repair as the partially excavated Roman amphitheatre and some seriously bad drivers.
Koper 8½/10, Venice 9/10, Rijeka 9½/10, Korcula 10/10, Durres 3/10 - Overall itinerary 8½/10
The Overall Cruise – 9/10
I’m sure England’s ignominious exit from Euro 2016 will have sent writers and reporters scurrying for the thesaurus to try and find the adjective that accurately describes last night’s performance and result.
Ignominious is quite a good start… abject… humiliating… disgraceful… feeble… hopeless… clueless… spineless… they’re all perfectly valid; or how about predictable?
How a manager can go through a ten-game qualifying tournament and pre-competition friendlies yet still have no idea what is his best line-up is beyond me. Likewise, how can players that earn tens of thousands of pounds a week not have the craft to unlock the defence of a country ranked 34 in the world (they were no.112 just six years ago)?
Iceland were so well drilled and so committed that their victory was totally deserved and by the time of Marcus Rashford’s ridiculously delayed introduction, England’s ability to complete even the game’s most basic skills had deserted them.
Tens of thousands of pounds a week….
Let’s not forget Iceland had already taken a point from Portugal—a result Cristiano Ronaldo accepted with his customary good grace—as well as dispatching the Austrians courtesy of a last-minute winner that sparked huge celebrations on the pitch, in the stand… and also up in the commentary box, courtesy of the gloriously over-excited Gudmundur Benediktsson.
Last night in Nice, Iceland proved (as had Leicester City in the world’s richest football league) that money and success do not always go hand in hand. Iceland, like the Foxes, had courage, determination, togetherness and belief in abundance; and roared on by their amazing supporters, they were brilliant to a man.
Roy Hodgson’s departure was inevitable… and it may be the end of the international road for a number of “senior” players as well, but whatever inquest follows this latest English debacle, let’s raise a glass to the “Arctic Foxes” of Iceland because they were fantastic.
Interestingly, over at SW19, an Englishman called Marcus Willis reached the second round of Wimbledon with a straight sets victory over Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania. Apart from a certain Scot, it is rare for any British tennis player to progress past the opening round, so this was a notable effort from the 25 year-old.
Actually, forget notable… it was almost incredible. Willis was ranked no.772 in the world and had come through six rounds of qualifying for the right to face someone just outside the top fifty. Until yesterday, his earnings for 2016 had amounted to roughly £220… the sort of money a “top” footballer could make in the time it takes to eat a bowl of cereal. His reward is a guaranteed £50,000 and the chance to face Roger Federer….
Congratulations young man. It’s an uplifting story… perhaps Messrs Rooney, Hart, Sterling et al should take note?!
Long gone are the days when serial drama ratings were built on character depth as opposed to increasingly implausible storylines, but there are still occasions when simple human interaction can provide totally compelling television—and Tuesday night’s episode of Holby City was a case in point.
Holby City has been one of my favourite television programmes for many years now, but inferences that the series is solely responsible for my in-depth medical knowledge are absolutely without foundation—I watch Casualty as well….
The regular cast includes two of the strongest characters in any current serial drama (series, “soap”, whatever you will) in Jac Naylor and Henrik Hanssen, played quite brilliantly by Rosie Marcel and Guy Henry respectively. Both individuals have an almost indestructible emotional exterior and a manner that occasionally takes “professional” dangerously close to “unacceptable”.
Maybe such behaviours reflect the pressure and responsibility of senior clinical management, but on those rare occasions when a surface crack appears, even the partial revelation of the reality behind a public persona can be every bit as dramatic as any tram crash or the like. Hanssen’s treatment of a dying Arthur Digby and the hug that Jac gave a distraught Zosia after her friend had passed away were understated, but wonderfully emotive moments that will surely have affected many of those watching—all the more so because the audience wouldn’t necessarily have expected displays of such genuine compassion from the characters in question.
The episode’s main protagonists, however, were Arthur Digby (Rob Ostlere) and his wife and fellow doctor Morven (Eleanor Fanyinka). Their on-screen relationship could perhaps be described as “unlikely”, but these two fine young actors made the incredible credible; and their final moments together, both as Arthur lay dying and the scene’s ethereal parallel, were incredibly moving. All sorts of thoughts and memories raced through my mind as the tears flowed.
Elaine was at work, but all I wanted at that moment was to have her home and hold her in my arms. No fictional on-screen disaster (however spectacular) has ever done that and I congratulate Rob, Eleanor and everyone involved in Holby City for creating something so very special.
On 25 February 1964, Cassius Clay “shook up the world” by taking the world heavyweight boxing title away from Sonny Liston, a fighter whom experts considered essentially unbeatable. A desolate Liston slumped on his stool in the corner of the ring, whilst a brash twenty-two year-old celebrated not only his victory, but a stunning performance that had proved doubters wrong and made the entire world sit up and take notice.
In a sport where comparative ability is fuelled by subjective opinion, Clay announced himself as “the Greatest”–prematurely undoubtedly, but quite probably prophetically. Four years earlier, Clay had returned from Rome, with an Olympic gold medal round his neck; earned in the name of a country that denied him a meal in downtown Louisville purely because of the colour of his skin.
Soon after defeating Sonny Liston, Clay announced his membership of the Nation of Islam, renounced his “slave name” and decreed that he would be thenceforth be known as Muhammad Ali. The organisation was openly anti-white and Ali’s conversion polarised public opinion, but ability inside the ring afforded the eloquent youngster an oft-used religious and political platform.
What interests me most about this remarkable man are his early fights; those contests that helped shape the legend that he became. That fight with Liston was the twentieth of Clay’s professional career and much as I’m sure many of you could name plenty of boxers that Ali fought during the 1970s (as well as the two disastrous forays into the ring in the following decade); how many of those first nineteen opponents could you name?
Clay’s professional debut was against a tough, experienced police chief from West Virginia, Tunney Hunsaker, who had this to say after losing a six-round decision: “He was as fast as lightning. I tried just about every trick I knew to throw him off balance, but he was just too good.”
For the most part, Clay’s early performances were as impressive as his pre-fight forecasts; his feet and fists were every bit as quick as his wit. There were a few setbacks along the way, including a first knockdown at the hands (or rather left hand) of Lucien “Sonny” Banks in February 1962. Clay got to his feet to complete a fourth round success (thereby fulfilling yet another prediction), and Banks sadly died three years later as a result of injuries sustained in a ninth round knockout loss to Leotis Martin. Four fights later, Clay dispatched Alejandro Lavorante in five rounds, in a bout where the judging the better-looking fighter was considerably harder than the harder puncher. Tragically the handsome Argentinian suffered a serious head injury in his next fight (against Johnny Riggins) and spent more than a year and a half in a coma before passing away two months after Clay had become world champion.
Arguably the closest Clay came to tasting defeat during the 1960s was against the ever-popular Henry Cooper at Wembley Stadium in June 1963. Clay was unceremoniously dumped to the canvas courtesy of a left-hook (colloquially known as ‘Enry’s ‘Ammer): “I caught him in the fourth round. I thought ‘thank God for that’, but then the blooming bell went” was Cooper’s typically understated reflection many years later, and history relates that Clay opened up an horrific gash over Cooper’s left eye in the fifth forcing the referee to bring proceedings to a halt….
And then came Liston….
Clay’s antics in the build-up to the fight as well as his skill and courage after the opening bell sounded are well documented; but the scale of the “shock” remains difficult to fully comprehend over forty years later. As Muhammad Ali a number of defences followed, with the 1966 demolition of Cleveland Williams showcasing the movement, speed and punching power of the champion. It was majestic, and surely a sign of greater things to come, but Ali’s career was interrupted as a result of a ban imposed following a refusal to serve in the Vietnam War.
However you view Ali’s stance, he was prepared to risk his career and his liberty because of his beliefs and principles, and over time, as public opinion towards the conflict and in favour of civil rights, Ali’s popularity soared. He returned to the ring in 1970 and his original conviction was eventually overturned the following year.
The trio of Olympic gold medallists turned world champions (Ali, Joe Frazier and George foreman) heralded a golden age of heavyweight boxing—within which the name of Ken Norton should also be included—and the early morning victory over Foreman in Zaire followed by the final instalment of the Ali-Frazier trilogy are rightly viewed as two of the sport’s most iconic moments. Ali should have hung up his gloves after those gruelling fourteen rounds in the Philippine heat… he didn’t, and everyone will have their own views of the effects on Ali’s health.
Was he “the Greatest”? My opinion is that he was… and is, but had he been able to continuing fighting between 1967 and 1970, I don’t think there would be any need for a debate, because the world would surely have seen Muhammad Ali at the absolute peak of his powers.
The Clay that beat Liston (the first time) was brilliant; the Ali that dismantled Cleveland Williams was as near to perfect as I’ve ever seen. Williams (despite the injuries he’d sustained in a shooting incident in 1965) was a fine boxer—Sonny Liston rated him as the hardest puncher he ever fought—but Ali (complete with his trademark shuffle) was irresistible that night.
During his enforced absence from the ring, some of the speed had left his legs… he wasn’t the same fighter—nearly, but not quite the same. But now is not the time to wonder what we missed; today we celebrate Muhammad Ali, the boxer, the man… the kind, caring, and compassionate man. There will be some who didn’t agree with his philosophies, but his beliefs were strong and steadfast, and the regard in which he was held transcended his sport, as well as his religion and skin colour.
I have always tried to avoid having “heroes” because the higher the pedestal, the further the fall. Muhammad Ali/Cassius Clay was the exception. He’s not the greatest boxer of all-time; he is the greatest athlete of all time. An incredible fighter; a wonderful inspirational human being; we will never see his like again, and the world is a poorer a place without him.
Rest in peace Ali. You certainly shook up the world....
June 6 marks the start of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is observed by Muslims as a period of ritual fasting to commemorate the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Mohammad, who (I understand) had sought solitude in a cave on Mount Hira when he was visited by the Angel Gabriel.
My knowledge of religion is, at best, limited, and as far as my own “beliefs” are concerned, I would describe myself as agnostic. I do not believe, nor disbelieve in the presence of any deity… I simply do not know. However, I do have firm convictions borne from lived experience that are fundamental to the way I view my own mortality, but whilst I accept that my reality which is outwardly unexplainable almost demands contemplation of the existence of a higher power, I can’t translate what I know to be true into any form of faith.
That said none of the foregoing prevents me from respecting those whose lives are guided by any faith (or rather any faith that does not promote intolerance, inequality or violence)—and I can absolutely appreciate (because I have seen it in others) the strength and comfort that can be derived from spiritual guidance and divine worship.
I have a couple of very good friends within the local Muslim community with whom I have shared (albeit a while ago now) deep and introspective thoughts on faith, the world around us and the universe as a whole (as well as boxing and Star Wars…). I am way out of my depth when it comes to such conversations, but not once were my views undermined let alone summarily dismissed. We chatted not as Muslims and non-Muslim, but simply as people… friends from different cultures and backgrounds for whom our diversity was something worth taking the time to understand—and celebrate….
I fasted for two days during last year’s Ramadan. I know it’s not a full month, but a man can only eat so many dates. On both days, I made the schoolboy error of waking up after sunrise and therefore having to effectively go a full twenty-four hours without food and water, but to compensate, my Iftar on the second night consisted solely of chocolate cake….
Those who follow Islam use Ramadan to bring themselves closer to their God, Allah, through spiritual reflection, increased worship and repentance. For me, the fast is an opportunity to devote quality time to those who have shaped the person I am and to some extent, the life that I have; in particular the relatives who have long since passed away, but who I miss every single day.
In my wallet, I have a half-crown from 1879… a worn silver coin that was worth two shillings and sixpence back in pre-decimal times. My great grandfather John was born in that year—in a workhouse to an unmarried mother. Jane Kirby raised her son in the slums of Walmgate in York; an area that was notoriously overcrowded, insanitary and shrouded by a black cloud of polluted air. Jane worked from home as a matchbox maker, and notwithstanding the fact she was a single parent (disowned by her family who lived in the rather ironically-named Hope Street).it would have taken her three full weeks of thirteen-hour days to earn the single coin that accompanies me everywhere.
137 years later, such hardship in the city of my birth is impossible to imagine, but in historical terms it’s little more than the blink of an eye and I keep that half-crown as a constant reminder of the life Jane endured to give her son the best start she possibly could, and as a simple token of the gratitude I feel, but I can never repay.