Roux Parliament Square

What a place to celebrate.  This was proper posh and even better I got to interview Marco for Kennet Radio before the meal.  He is an other passionate chef, always a great sign when you are about to eat somewhere.

IMG_2701_2Marco looking like he wishes he was somewhere else

It was very kind of Marco to give up his time for the interview bearing in mind that it was just before lunch service.  We talked about his influences, he loves Australia, in particular Melbourne and Sydney and the Asian influences that happen there.  He also talked through the menu for me.  I was particularly interested in the set menu which was an incredible £35 for three courses.  It included Salt Skrei cod which shouldnt be a surprise as I believe that Michel Roux Jr is an ambassador for that breed.  The mains included slow cooked ox cheek or roast Var Salmon.  Desserts included apple tarte tain with a calvados cream, a joy we tried later with OUR menu.  Seriously this is worth a train ticket for – £35 lunch – wow!  Not open at weekends though.

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My lovely mum with her MBE, totally deserved and earned

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 My mum and Boo, my sister, wont do all the photos of family as there are so many of us, never mind spare and heir, she has spare and an entire country to take over should anything happen to heir (who is Krissy by the way).

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 Lots of my family, in a private room as it is least disturbing for the other diners!  My mum got really excited when she realised that Murray, Beths husband and on the left of the picture, is from New Zealand which is part of the Empire, she felt that her MBE gave her power over him, like we don’t all do as she wishes anyway.

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The amuse bouche was a cauliflower and cumin veloute enveloping a raisin sorbet.  What an amazing contrast of cold and hot

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oh oh oh  this was a stunner, Marco had described this earlier and I was so thrilled that it was on the menu.  Scallop, crisp suckling pig belly, black pudding, fennel and apple with a celeriac puree.  The roe from the scallop was dried and grated over the scallop.

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I wanted this too, Char Roast Langoustine, prawn tortellini, prawn tartare and coastal vegetables

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A surprise dish of smoked quail, leek heart, Iberico ham, hazelnuts and ice Verjus.  Marco had told me about the ice Verjus before hand, it is something I had never heard of before but basically little spheres made of grape juice and jolly expensive so when my sister Miriam offered me a taste I hoovered up rather a lot, thanks Miri x

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Duck, confit heart, bergamot, sprouting broccoli and more.  Tasty, moreish and a good choice

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 oh yes, my dish, roast cod, spelt, garlic, parsley, mussel and fennel.  Every element worked with its friends on the plate, perfectly cooked fish with tones that hit in waves, thank you sir.

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What can I say, if Michel Roux Jr cant do Tarte tatin then no one can and this didn’t disappoint.  My lovely mum is quite keen on puddings so there were a range for her to have.  Was it better than receiving her MBE? Probably not but a close second and well done on Toby for organising the pudding situation.

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Do you know what, work these puddings out yourself.  I had far too much champagne for which I humbly apologise and promise to eat breakfast next time.  I do know that everyone loved them and they were the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Just as a little aside, I don’t believe the wonderful Michel Roux Jr was there on the day but the food was excellent.  If you look back through my blog to day 4 of my miserable cruise when I went to the Marco Pierre White restaurant you will see that the food was pretty awful.  I was chastised for expecting quality if the chef wasn’t there.  Hey Marco, go see Roux, he can put you right!!

Day 4 – Bruges and the end – oh dear oh dear Mr Pierre-White

Ok lovely reader, we are at the end of this whole very sad and sorry story.  We woke up early, again, and met in the buffeteria.  Today one of the good things happened.  A P&O server offered to help carry my tray for me, this was a lovely and moving movement even though the tray only contained a plate with some cool (temperature not attitude) baked beans and a sausage.  I joined my sister and our lovely girls and we all had a glint of hope in our eyes.  We remembered how yesterday we had eaten the best meal of the trip so far and today we were in Bruges.  It was foreign and exotic, the food was bound to be amazing.  It didn’t matter that the breakfast was Dullard International, we had taste to come.  Hurrah for our second trip to land and gourmet restaurants.

nice view

nice view

We set off for Bruges, a simple trip requiring a coach trip to Blankenberge, a town that seemed not unlike Newbury to be honest, in fact the main difference is that the houses had shutters not curtains.  From there we waited nearly an hour for a train to Bruges station then a bus to Bruges centre.  A long trip but worth every minute we were sure although I was a little worried when Rachel and Ruby bundled me into a luggage locker and tried to lock it because they thought it was funny.  It wasn’t.

IMG_1688Ruby looking sad, the lockers they locked me in behind her

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This was how we appeared most of the time, hysterical.

Bruges, the weather was just as I always imagined when I thought about Bruges, grey and drizzly.  Everywhere we looked we saw familiar faces from the boat, even a hen or two with rather sagging bunny ears in the distance.  We wanted to see what the local food venues offered and as is our wont we (I say we so that I don’t sound so crazy as it was actually me) checked out all the menus for desperate fear that we would miss out on something better.  Now I thought this was called MOFO but apparently that is something else and rather rude, in fact it is called FOMO Fear Of Missing Out.  We decided to ask a local for their opinion but everyone else appeared to be a tourist.  Eventually I twigged that the person with the giant dog would be a local so Beth and I did a pincer movement to get his attention.  I don’t mean that we made pincer shapes with our hands I mean that we approached him from both sides so that he was cornered.  Sadly both he AND his dog were also tourists.  We were on our own.

Every single mussel dish seemed to start at €22 wherever we went so in the end we just went for it.  We found a lovely authentic looking place which had some diners in it that spoke ‘foreign’ and was pretty full.  We decided on the same principle as when we were in Guernsey, go for one excellent course.  I had the mussels in Belgium beer and bacon and everyone else had the seafood brochette with prawns, scallop, salmon and eel.  Wow, when the seafood came out I had severe plate envy although my mussels were plentiful.  Unfortunately..

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Now doesnt that look beautiful, a wonderful tower of fishy beauty with some asparagus and broccoli in there as well.  The vegetables tasted amazingly similar, a sort of long thin mush and a sprouty mush.  The seafood that gave us such hope ws overcooked and so rubbery we could have used it as entertainment on the boat for some sort of bouncy throwing game.

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Whoop maybe I had chosen best after all, smugly I put the spoon down to the bottom of the pot and scraped.  I could feel the grit that covered most of the bottom of the dish, this was not only tasting of the sea it resembled the beach as well.  Blast!  Damn and Blast.  I think, dear reader, that you know how incredibly cross I get when food that I purchase isnt good enough.  Well my travelling companions felt similarly.  We were a bitter and resentful group when we left the restaurant.  The only saving was the purchase of a waffle for €7 (by now this felt like a bargain) on the way back to the ship.

Still, we had our final meal to look forward to.  We had paid an extra £70 to dine at Ocean Grill, Marco Pierre Whites restaurant on the Oriana.  He wouldn’t put his name to anything that wasn’t excellent would he, he would only endorse quality of the highest order.

There werent many people in the restaurant which should have been a sign.  The good thing is that the waitress asked if I wanted my food cut up for me as she had noticed my broken arm.  That was a very good thing.

IMG_2772        Butternut soup that no one could eat, it was like coloured water, the amazing flavour sucker struck again

IMG_2776Creamed cauliflower soup with smoked paprika straws and no crispy shallots

This was Ruby’s starter, it was like condensed soup and she couldn’t eat it so swapped with Beth who had the Thai Fish Cake

IMG_2775Thai Fishcake with Hollandaise sauce and Finnan haddock and corn chowder ……. and  surprise bacon

This was a very brave and adventurous dish.  The Thai Fishcake together with the haddock was umm interesting.  The bacon was unfortunate as it wasn’t mentioned on the menu and Beth is a pescatarian, it didn’t matter as she gave it to Ruby who also didn’t like it.

IMG_2773Prawn cocktail with brown bread and butter which are those tiny circles just behind the dish

This was a bog standard prawn cocktail with the maddest ratio of prawn to bread I have ever seen.  They served two tiny rounds the size of a 50p piece.

IMG_2774Soft shell crab

This tasted ok!

IMG_2779    Lobster

The lobster had that fluffy cotton wool texture that tastes as if it has been frozen.  Not good

     IMG_2778Steak with garlic king prawns, yawn

Steak was ok, prawns tasted woolly and frozen again.  And ooh look, Jenga chips, soggy.

IMG_2777       Lamb with Dauphinoise Potato, Crushed Minted Peas and a Romarin Jus

They cut up the lamb for me which was great.  It wasn’t rare as requested and was quite chewy.  Didn’t eat more than a third

IMG_2780   Eton Mess

This was ok, fluffy in a good way with thin crispy shortbread, nothing special but edible.

  IMG_2781Blackforest Mille-feuille

Beth barely ate any of this, it looked burnt although I dont think it was, it just wasn’t attractive or tasty.

Ok Marco what is going on here.  You created this restaurant yes?  You created the menu yes?  You ensured the kitchen would put out the food you wanted it to yes?  So why was it so rubbish.  I judged a food competition in Newbury Market Square on Saturday with three restaurants, Brebis, Bladebone and Luckys all sending along a chef and EVERY dish they produced was so much better than any dish we had on the Oriana.  Surely your food should be amazing.  I am SOO disappointed.  This was meant to be the best meal of the cruise.  We paid extra for it and even paid extra on the extra once we sat down and chose our food.  What on earth is that about.  I am seriously unhappy that you have had my money and extra money and you disappointed me!!  How could you?

So there you go, that is my personal experience of a cruise.  The P& O ship Oriana.  The good things are that they were very generous offering us back 50 % of the price paid because of bad weather which wasn’t their fault which lost us a day at sea.  In fact losing a day was a good thing too.  Although we haven’t had the money refunded yet.  There was a nice server who carried my tray for me at breakfast and a nice waiter who cut up my food in Marco’s restaurant.  I had a lovely time with Beth, my sister and Ruby and Rachel, our daughters.  We laughed a lot.  I would love to go on holiday with them again. The meal at Pier 17 in Guernsey was amazing.  I would go back to that restaurant like a shot.  The education has been great, I have learned that cruising isn’t for me, nor is Bruges.  The other good thing is that we now really appreciate being at home or at work or indeed anywhere but on a ship.  However we feel we have been cheated out of a holiday so if you would like to donate one to us we would be very grateful.  As long as it isn’t afloat.

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    A dog on a bike in Bruges

Chefs Competition

Just a quickie before I finish day 4 of the Cruise Saga.  Three restaurants, Brebis, Luckys and The Bladebone competed in Newbury Market Square in a Chef Off.  The food was amazing from all three chefs, well I say three but Luckys came well manned and also cleverly fed the judges and the crowds with all sorts of tasty delicacies.  Smart move Luckys.  Looking around I could see giant rollerblading tomatoes and other edible items made life size.  Surreal.  All three restaurants produced amazing food in difficult circumstances and it was so difficult to choose that we ended up in a tie. Therefore a non judge decided the winner for us and that was Kiren Puri from the Bladebone but believe me you could be really well fed at Luckys or at Brebis in Newbury.  We are lucky to have so many great restaurants and pubs in our area.

Strange fruit to paraphrase a song

Juicy prawns in an exotic tropical sauce from Luckys

How cute are these caprese macaroons from The Bladebone

Mackerel, crisp on the outside, juicy and well cooked from The Bladebone

I dont have any photos of the food from Brebis which is sad as it looked incredible but here is Sam creating magic

Well done to The Bladebone, Brebis and Luckys

Day 3 – Land and THE good meal – Guernsey

Please note that these opinions are my own!!!

We set the alarm to wake us up, not something that I like doing on holiday, so that we could have breakfast before going to Guernsey for the day.  Breakfast was in the Buffeteria (named by Beth), not quite a buffet, quite like a cafeteria.  There appeared to be a huge range of food until we realised it was the same on both sides of the aisle and there appeared to be 4 starting points to queue (yes another queuing pen).  We managed to get in the wrong queue but were alerted to this by the tuts and drawing in of breath of our fellow inmates, I mean passengers.  I had a full English Breakfast, reminiscent of the day before at the Premier Inn, I am starting to get suspicious of the close relationship P&O and the Premier Inn share.  If I see Lenny Henry doing an ad for P&O I wont be surprised.  The breakfast was served with the animosity and resentment I had learned to expect from the waiting staff.  OK, the positives about the breakfast were that the scrambled egg was reasonable and ….. no that was it.  My breakfast wasn’t hot but I managed to eat some before the staff rushed over to remove our plates and wipe the table down.  This may have been down to the ever threatening noro virus rather than personal animosity.

Next we were off on our first excursion, Guernsey.  This involved getting on another much smaller boat, a tender, to take us ashore so we shuffled into another holding pen to wait.  Beth had cleverly bought cards so we played my mums favourite game A*s+hole which Beth won with with triumph and glee.  As always our family motto is ‘Gloating in Victory, Vindictive in Defeat’.

This was a wonderful excursion.  I have a delightful friend, Duncan, who has been singing the praises of Guernsey to me for some time and I have to admit that he is absolutely right.  The day was bright and sunny, we had places to go and things to see so the first thing we did was go to M&S, very exotic, where I bought some much needed Scooby snacks just in case.  Next we went to a coffee shop because it had WIFI!!!  At last, we could connect with the rest of the world.  There was no talking between us once we had that wifi code.The coffee took over an hour to drink.  We facebooked and emailed and were generally very happy bunnies.  After the staff at the coffee shop were clearing our plates and their throats more and more loudly we realised we had to leave the virtual world and explore the real one.  Guernsey was lovely, quite like Jersey with lots of nice shops and restaurants.  In the family way that we have we studied every single menu, and I mean EVERY single one until we decided that the best place to eat was Pier 17, right where we got off the tender.

Hurray hurrah!  We experienced the best food of the entire trip.  We had one course each, I had the most amazingly fresh mixed seafood starter, lobster, crab, prawns and smoked salmon with a potato salad, a beetroot salad and new potatoes.  The fish was so fresh and delicious it could have ambled up the gang plank outside by itself that very morning.  Beth and Ruby had turbot which looked magnificent and Rachel had filet mignon and lobster, her first introduction to lobster and blast, she loves it.  Why do I keep introducing her to expensive food?  Isn’t there something in the parenting manual that warns you to keep the kids on gruel.  The surroundings were delightful, the service was great and if this had been the last meal of the day it would have been the perfect ending.  Sadly it wasn’t.

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Turbot with prawns and potatoes

   IMG_1672My wonderful seafood platter, every bit was perfect

We caught the tender back to the boat, happily there were some loose hens on the tender, still singing but looking a tad more exhausted as they leant on each other and complete strangers.

We were starting to flag and tonight was the Gala Dinner.  We had already seen so many fellow passengers with their bags containing suits and other fineries and could feel the excitement and buzz on the ship, in the corridors, in the lifts and the passages.  Everywhere except for our cabins. To be honest we were just a tad resentful at being made to dress up for what had been, so far, very average food.  Still, stiff upper lip and all that.  We dolled up and went to our restaurant, The Peninsular, for our gala meal.  We saw a long and winding queue and realised that we were to join the end of it.  Not to get into the restaurant but to get a bleeper to tell us when to get our meal.  Another holding pen.  To cut a very long story short, we ended up getting our meal, it was ok in a good cafeteria type way and some of the waiting staff weren’t so resentful.

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The starters

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The mains, they look like twins dont they

Now we had one of the highlights of the cruise, we went to see the film Paddington and it was fab.  Afterwards we didn’t bother with the buffeteria but instead went back to the cabins and asked for tomato soup on room service.  The room service menu was really quite good until you looked at the detail and realised only a tiny percentage was for our ship and that they did NO hot food except soup.  Luckily soup was just what we wanted, Rachel had been whining in her whiny wanty way for tomato soup for days so at last we could get it.  Oh we were so excited, a desperate need for tomato soup about to be fulfilled.  What eventually came bore no relationship to the tomato soup we know and love, it was like an instant soup but with the chemicals timed by 10 and no taste of tomato.  At this point the phrase that came to sum up the whole cruise came to us “For the love of God get us out of here” we wailed as we tore our nightwear and tried to suffocate in the pillows (sadly they were foam and not feather so that was another ambition thwarted).  Our wailing must have echoed down the corridors.

Finally, you may not know this about me but I find it very hard to sleep at night.  I dread bedtime and do everything to put it off.  I cant stand just lying there trying to sleep so Rachel chose tonight to teach me relaxation techniques.  It went like this:

Rachel ‘mum try to think about each part of your body to see where your tense areas are so that you can work on them to relax them’

Leila ‘what do you mean, WHICH area?’

Rachel ‘concentrate on your tense spots’

Leila ‘EVERY CELL IN MY BODY IS IN FLIGHT OR FIGHT MODE, EVEN MY FISTS ARE CLENCHED’

Rachel, after a moments thought ‘mum do you think you may need professional help’

Sigh

More of my own opinions to come, nearly there folks

Day 2 of The Holiday

Sooooo …… we woke up in the Premier Inn and had a cooked breakfast which was ok, indeed the sausages were good, the tomatoes were anaemic, the water glasses were, as in every hotel, tiny but the staff were enthusiastic and friendly.  I chatted to a fellow passenger to be by the toaster, you know the one where it takes 2.5 turns to be perfect so it will never be so.  Ever the optimist I asked this chap what he thought of cruises.  Apparently they were great, he had been on at least 20 cruises and the situation of being delayed was a rarity.  Gosh, if he has been on over 20 then they must be fabulous so my faith was restored.  I rushed back to the table where Beth, Ruby and Rachel were finding amusement by piling plates on top of each other and moving them around the table.  There wasn’t a lot to do to and we find entertainment anywhere.  Having shared my good news we realised we had at least 3 hours to kill before being loaded into holding pen number 3, the coach back to the port, so we had a great time walking to Sainsburys and back.  Our biggest concern was whether we should buy food supplies following our terrible time the day before where we experienced hunger.  Hope prevailed and we didn’t buy snacks just in case, we bought swimming costumes instead.  Oh foolish foolish decision.

IMG_1663A reminder of the first holding bay

Back to the holding bay that was the reception of the Premier Inn, we sat on our cases and waited for the coach to arrive.  Oh the joy of the passengers as it turned the corner and negotiated the tiny carpark.  The happiness as we all climbed aboard and made our way to the port.  The glee as we saw the pink bunny eared hens inside the next holding bay.  The fantastic cruise had started and we couldn’t be happier.  We joined a queue and shuffled through security, we used our passports because of course we were going abroad to Guernsey and Bruges, ooh exotic.  In the distance I could hear the faint sounds of the hens singing “We’re all going on a Summer Holiday” enthusiastically.

We trotted onto the ship now, looking forward to luxury and wonderfulness.  Beth and Ruby were on the other side of the corridor to us so we split up and found our cabins.  They were perfectly adequate, two single beds a couple of feet apart and a toilet which had the tiniest shower I had ever seen.  It looked like it had been designed by the people that had designed the Premier Inn but was half the size.  Cosy but functional.  We had a newspaper which outlined the days activities and gosh weren’t there a lot.  There was karaoke, a show with singers and dancers and pyrotechnics, different bars with different themes, a selection of restaurants and places to get snacks plus the sail away party we decided to attend.  First of all we had to go to the muster station where we were shown how to put on a life jacket.  This took a long time.  We were tired and hungry (is this a recurring theme) but we listened carefully until Rachels phone went off.

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Rachel taking the muster talk very seriously

After the muster talk, and feeling so much safer as a result, we mosied off to the sail away party.  In my mind I was thinking of Pathe News reels of ships leaving the harbour, brass bands playing on the docks, ladies with white gloves waving on the deck, men in smart blazers saluting as we left.  Our optimism seemed to be realised as we came to the door and could see, through the glass, waiters holding trays of full champagne glasses.  Yes, this was indeed the start of the holiday.  The doors opened, we saw the price list for the glass of ‘fizz’, it wasn’t complimentary, and then we heard it.  Yes the singing.  A song we all recognised, indeed many were singing along.  And doing the actions.  Our ears were being assaulted with the song that is YMCA.  This was the first moment when we wondered if we should actually get back on shore immediately.  However the ship was already at sea/channel, clever move!  We were trapped.  To be fair we hung about for quite a while watching everyone sing and do the actions and after 3 minutes we legged it.  Fast.  This too was a recurring theme of the ‘holiday’.

Dinner, this would salve our emotional distress, this after all is what the cruise was about.  Whoop whoop.  We strode to the restaurant in a very determined manner.  This, remember, dear reader, is our first ever meal on board our first ever cruise.  Expectations are high, hope is not quite at maximum.  The restaurant was massive, hundreds of tables and lots of waiting staff.  All of whom appeared to resent us being there.  We were seated resentfully, when we asked for water they sighed.  The only starter I can remember is Beths which was prawn chowder but which actually appeared to be a brown weak sludge with ONE tiny shrimp and ONE tiny cube of potato.  She couldn’t eat it.  Every time I write that something couldn’t be eaten you need to understand that this is serious as we eat everything.  Including each others food.  Not this time, Beths broth was virgin, unsullied, no one wanted it.  Next the main course, I was having beef with red wine sauce, roast potatoes and vegetables.  What came was a slice of beef, one small roast potato and one very small broccoli floret.  I thought this was the prelude and they would be bringing the rest of the vegetables over but my hope was dashed. This was it.  Every one else’s helpings were just as tiny.  It was if they thought I was a very very old person with a very tiny appetite.  I looked around.  I felt very young. There was a sea of grey hair, people who were definitely enjoying themselves and satisfied with their helpings.  Hmm.

Pudding was a pineapple slice for Beth with a little bit of ice cream in the middle, I am thinking that they found a special sort of baby pineapple, possibly a rare delicacy I hadn’t heard of although Beth’s face didn’t seem to show her appreciation.  I had a huge mound of 3 small profiteroles.  Sigh.  Every course was served with resentment and irritation.  Our very presence was annoying to the staff.  We slunk away to search for entertainment.

There was so much choice for the evenings fun we decided to work it out carefully.  First we went to the Karaoke bar for a cocktail.  All of our party except me are very talented musically so we thought this might be fun.  We ordered a cocktail each and thought about what they could sing.  The problem was that there wasn’t a list of songs so we had to think of something and see if they had it and the girls weren’t up to that after such a huge dinner.  Ahem.  We sipped our cocktails.  We sucked very hard on the straws.  Desperately.  Then Ruby shouted, ‘yes, I have found a little pocket of alcohol!’  She was wrong.  This is when we decided to Pollyanna the whole holiday.  This means that we found something positive about everything.  The dinner was good as we didn’t feel bloated (or sated).  The cocktails were good because our livers benefited.  We thought of a song the girls could do, Valerie by Amy Winehouse.  The compère announced that she needed names as no one had come up but in the meantime she would sing a song, yup you have guessed it, Valerie.  We finished our cocktails but not fast enough so huge apologies to the man who started to sing a Billy Fury song and wondered who the four ladies with red hair giggling uncontrollably as they passed a foot in front of him were.  We are so sorry.

Oooh well at least we had the singing and dancing show with pyrotechnics to look forward to. Even better the hens with their pink rabbit ears came and sat behind us, hurrah!

The show.  How to describe this. OK well the dancers/singers were very enthusiastic.  Umm the seats were really quite comfy.  The hens behinds us were very entertaining.  The entertainers came in all shapes and sizes and abilities.  One we thought may have been the squeeze of the producer but she tried hard, another was very talented but possibly had a bit of trouble fitting into her costume.  They hit loads of the right notes, over 70%, and had the most interesting costumes.  Both the pyrotechnics were umm well a bit bangy.  They sang snippets from James Bond films and then a random assortment of snippets of other songs.  Well, we laughed a lot.  In fact over the whole holiday we laughed a lot and I was thrilled beyond measure that I was with people that I love who all laughed with me.  Or at me.  Behind us the hens were getting into it all so we joined in and then it was over.  Time to check out the evening snacks in the bufferteria on the top floor.  I will be honest, we were just a little bit excited by another course of free food.  We got there. There was a bit of a range of Indian type food which included chilli (?).  The chilli was very very salty, actually inedible, the rest was leftover stuff.  We trudged back to our cabin.   The good thing is that we didn’t overeat.

More to come tomorrow x