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Dusty Miller: Year-end Festivities In Mind

IT’s that time when serious thought is traditionally given to end of year celebrations and of “thanks” to loyal staff, customers and suppliers.

Nowadays I’m often away for “Unity” Day, Christmas and New Year. You can’t be in two places at once and the lure of my kids (especially a not-quite three-year-old grand-daughter) in the Disunited Kingdom is more compelling than sub-tropical Christmas in a tropical country…especially one with no food, drink, electricity, water or fuel…yo-ho-ho!
Winter has already begun in the UK, last week the first October snow in more than 70 years fell in many parts.
So much for global warming!
Pommie weather’s not too bad, if expected and dressed for it…like at the end of December. In 2007 I was hacked off when, following the warmest, driest, sunniest April in centuries, May was miserably morose: so much so, I interrupted my first visit to the Sceptred Isles for 23 years, returning to Africa (well Tunisia, North Africa) for 10 days to thaw and chill out on golden soft, silky sands, beside a reliably warm Wedgwood blue Mediterranean.
That year’s English, June wasn’t much better: but oddly all I can now recall is balmy long, light, sun-filled days showing a pushchair full of gorgeous, giggly, grandchild in lush sweet-scented flower-filled country lanes in the Thames Valley, under the White Horse of Uffington, heading for Wind in the Willows riverside country pubs, pulling real ale, cider and lager; serving scrumptious food at reasonable costs.
On  returning there at Christmas I expected — and certainly got –– achingly bitter, bone-chilling winds the odd time I ventured from family homes, local pubs and restaurants. Again I cheated, slicing the northern winter holiday almost neatly in thirds, snorkelling on the Red Sea, at Sharm el-Sheikh on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and crossing to the once lost city of Petra in the Jordanian Desert.
This coming festive season, there will be no reason to visit my son and his wife in the Granite City, Aberdeen: that once dour Scottish port which has grown fat, sleek and astonishingly 21st century on the back of the offshore oil and undersea natural gas it is so involved with as  “Energy Capital of the North”
New Year, “Hogmanay”, north of the Porridge Curtain, is the most festive time to be there (freezing weather notwithstanding), but my connections are off to a wedding in India, so that gave me an excuse to fly to Miami. Florida, thence Ft Lauderdale (“the Venice of America”: odd, thought that was Venezuela). Then I have six nights aboard what I certainly didn’t know on booking, is the world’s joint largest cruise ship.
Independence of the Seas, launched  May 2008 by Royal Caribbean International, is as big as a small town, with 15 passenger decks served by four lifts providing accommodation for  3 664 guests, looked after by 1 360, mainly Norwegian, crew.
The luxury floating hotel, of 160 000 gross tonnes; is 1 112 feet long (more than 300 metres): the length of three-and-a-half football fields, or 37 London-style double-deck buses, or five Boeing jumbos.
It is 184 feet wide (about 60 metres), has a draft of 28 feet (about 10 metres) and is 237 feet high from waterline (about 70 metres). There are 12 bars (goodie!); countless restaurants provide 50 000 gourmet meals daily, served by 400 waiters; it has a 1 350 seat theatre, art gallery, cinema, casino, on-deck surf simulator, climbing wall, ice-rink, even a boxing ring among lots more, including duty free “High Street”.
Oh, we’re cruising the Western Caribbean: visiting two harbours in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, one in Belize (ex-British
Honduras) all close to breathtaking Mayan civilisation ruins, amid the world’s most wonderful, colourful flora and fauna, especially birdlife.
Planned before the credit crunch and bank failures knocked the wind out of cruising and indeed most tourism and travel, the ship took two years to build in Finland, costing a whopping US$900 million (Remember there are two more just like it and RCI  WERE — note tense — planning an even bigger ship!)
My first year-end get-together was the annual must-attend HRIB sponsored race day at Borrowdale racecourse on Saturday.
And what a grand venue for a knees-up this is. Paul Rug, bossman of insurance brokers HRIB is chairman of turf club stewards; his number two there is Kamal Khalfan in the programme.
Among Khalfan’s varied business interests is Catercraft; they do a splendid job at the racecourse, raising the question why are their Zimbabwean airport restaurants so dreadful and airline food provided so undistinguished?
Corners needed to be cut because of the financial crisis, explained Rugg. So, in a very Zimbabwean way, they reduced range and choice at the always attractive buffet lunch, leaving the booze alone.
I applauded that, even before visiting the buffet to find freshly carved ultra-lean pink rare roast beef, large bridge rolls and butter, maybe half a dozen huge bowls of different salads at any time, local and imported hard, soft and processed cheese, wafers, piquantly tasty moist carrot cake and a thin coral pink custard were the day’s recession-hit victuals.
Nothing wrong with that!
I was offered a bitterly cold Pilsener on arrival at 1220. (For the record, declined until 1:30!) and on announcing, at 1015pm, I felt frail, tired and emotional, was (unsuccessfully) urged to have an “ABF” and listen to yet more once great Top 10 hits (largely) murdered by (mainly) caterwauling karaoke fans “singing” along to Dave and Debbie Fleming’s set up.
It was a memorably great, colourful, action- and fun-filled day, despite the fact I’m no longer a racing man. I am not a great fan of insurance, either. If I were I’d make sure HRIB got my business, especially if stunning Sally Rugg handled the portfolio.


By Dusty Miller


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