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Thirteen guests huddled in Prime C, eagerly gathered for the Connoisseur Dinner. Everybody looked very smart indeed. Waiters hovered, the Maitre ‘D beamed and we all settled into a state of high anticipation.

Mine host appeared, a large man squeezed into a blue uniform dripping with golden stripes. The combination of his Austrian accent and that military uniform was a tad unfortunate. It was impossible to ignore the fact that he looked exactly like Hermann Goering.

Rudi introduced himself and ushered us to the table. Guests were left to flounder while he took a rapid phone call and promptly disappeared.


In Aquilina, right next door, three young gentlemen slid into their chairs. They were fabulously perfect and perfectly fabulous, über-gay, über-London, über-shallow. One was soft and cuddly, a plumpish mother-hen with pierced nipples, one was arch, silent and limp and one was evil incarnate. I don’t want to think what he has pierced. Evil Inc. was a wanna-be celebrity chef and ran his own designargh-h-h restaurant for London’s hoi polloi. Limp was his boyfriend. The hoi got just as drunk as the polloi, apparently. They needed gentle wrangling. That was the job of soft and cuddly – he was the Maitre ‘D.

Cuddles had the seafood entree; lobster, four cold prawns, two clams and two mussels on a plate of ice. All was going fine till he bit down on his clam. Cerrrunch. One filling gone to God.

‘I didn’t want to make a fuss. It’s a piece of grit. Stuff happens,’ he said, nursing his tooth, ‘but once I mentioned it, he was off!’

Our V.I.P. chef threw a celebrity tantrum.

Sometime very soon Rudi’s bat-phone will ring.


Never make a complaint on Azamara. They care, they really do. If your lobster is chewy, don’t tell them. In seconds you’ll have a crowd of bobbing white hats and gold stripes apologizing and dripping shame.  Your waiter will bring the Maitre ‘D. The Maitre ‘D will bring the Sous Chef; the Sous Chef will bring the Commis who’ll bring the Executive Chef who’ll call the Hotel Director. Now Rudi joined the merry throng.

Nothing would shut down Evil Inc.

The more he complained the more fuss was made over him. The more fuss they made the more he complained. His designer face ached from pouting; he hissed and spat his way right through to dessert. Course after course was inspected and found wanting; nothing was good enough; not enough jus, too many herbs – on and on, minge piled on grizzle in a perfect storm of complaint.

Cuddles was mortified.

‘I don’t know what he was on.’


We connoisseurs were left to bond. The dinner could not proceed without the host. We mingled. We waited. The waiters waited. The sommelier waited. The Maitre ‘D smiled relentlessly. The piece of grit was an international incident.

Thirty minutes later, still nursing his fourteenth glass of Aza-bubbly, with no prospect of food any time soon, Dog got up from the table.

‘When the host can be bothered to turn up, give me a call.’

Mr. Dogster quietly left the room. In any other circumstances, Mr. Dogster would have left the building but, as we were somewhere in the Indian Ocean, found himself somewhat constrained.


By the time I re-appeared, Rudi was holding forth in his rightful place. He glanced at Mr. Dogster with a look of Teutonic loathing. Clearly my absence had been noted.

‘Hello,’ he boomed, ‘good to see you back.’

Mr. Dogster smiled sweetly.

‘Good to see you finally, Rudi.’

His face contorted into a smile. He had the eyes of a killer hyena. We both looked away.


Rudi sat in the middle, Dog directly opposite. Each side of us six people stretched into infinity along a table longer than an aircraft runway.

On my left was a family group of six from London. I use the word family loosely. They were thick as a pack of gypsy thieves and, in another life, may well have been. New money. They were loud and determinedly themselves, rich as the Queen and didn’t give a toss.

Rudi took one look at them, sniffed and drew an invisible line diagonally across the table. It was seven and seven. No prizes for working out which seven Dog belonged to.

On my right were six people I barely remember. Rudi kept them engaged in conversation, charming them with his sledgehammer wit and lengthy stories about himself, leaving seven of his thirteen guests utterly alone to talk amongst themselves.

We had been dismissed.


‘How long have you been with the company, Rudi?’ someone asked dutifully, ‘this must have been a feather in your cap…’

‘Oh, yes,’ he gloated, ‘Azamara came to me.  The negotiations were…’ he paused for effect, ‘very speedy. They gave me what I wanted…’

His eyes twinkled. I think we were meant to be impressed.

‘The negotiations were over in less than three weeks.’

‘Well, I’m sure they picked the best man for the job.’

‘My signature carries a lot of weight.’

So did Rudy.

If Azamara wanted to employ a stand-out performer, they couldn’t have picked a better man. He was the only overweight officer on the boat. Large bellied, tall, proud, Austrian and arrogant, he was the perfect bully. His staff loathed him. He butted in when they were serving, corrected the sommelier, bwahhhed and gloated over his power. Like all bullies, he was cunning. He knew when to defer. It was only unfortunate that, after a career in hospitality, he hadn’t learnt how to defer to the clients.

‘I don’t suck up to anyone,’ he said.

That was very apparent.

‘Perhaps you should start,’ someone chuckled. I think that was me.

‘I know my job. There are only two kinds of complaints I worry about,’ he crowed, ‘Is the food cold when it should be hot? Is the steak rare when it should be well done?’ That’s it.

Everything else is a matter of opinion. Pfft.

The Azamara Connoisseur’s dinner is not quite by invitation only – but if you don’t know about it, you aren’t invited. It’s a special event where they serve lousy food and get you so drunk you think it’s good. Chefs are applauded, toasts are proposed, sommeliers hover and announce each wine as if it fell direct from Bacchus’ own hand. By the main course nobody knows what is happening. You are so juiced up the chef could serve you Burger King and you’d applaud the Maitre’D.

Each dinner is held around a long table set for fourteen, the punters pressed tight and personal. Conversation begins hesitant and ends up wildly enthusiastic. Things get loud, then they get louder – then it’s shouting, not speech. Wild laughter accompanies dessert. Everybody, except all the other patrons in the restaurant, has a wonderful time. Then they gather afterwards for cigars and admit it was crap.

But that’s only their opinion. Pffft.

Down the pariah end of the table, we were getting on like a house on fire. Meet Richard and his fiancé Svetlana, his father Henry and dad’s partner Marjorie call-me-Mandy.

Richard was just as big bellied as Rudi – but he wasn’t a bully, au contraire. Carnivorous in the office, in his private life he was a lovely, lumpy sook, full of love and generosity. What demons drove him to his business success I never discovered. I liked him. He liked me. No need to get deep. It was his birthday tomorrow.

Sitting quietly next to him was Henry, his dad, a small, nattily dressed man sporting a surprisingly successful grey toupee.

‘Do you remember when Richard was born, Henry?’


Such exquisite blankness. I was surprised.

Marjorie Mandy leant over the table.

‘He’s ‘ad a stroke…’

Henry was once a producer with the BBC. In one cruel swoop his career and most of the details of his life disappeared. He was perfectly aware of what had happened to him.

‘I can remember twenty years ago, as if its yesterday – but I can’t remember yesterday.’

Actually, Henry was having trouble remembering the beginning of dinner.

‘Well, I bet you remember when Richard was born,’ I said to Marjorie Mandy, making the obvious assumption.

‘Gawd no!’ she shrieked and laughed, ‘I was raising a brood of my own! Richard’s mother died years ago. We’re a second relationship.’

Marjorie was a famous British television star – or she wasn’t. I was never sure which. Maybe that was Mandy. She was a gravelly Crime Mum, dressed to the nines, a well preserved lady with no fear whatsoever and a collection of jewellery around her neck that weighed more than the ship. Mandy took no prisoners – but if she liked you, Marjorie was a pussy-cat.

‘When did you get married?’

‘We’re not married. He ‘ad his chance’, she said in a broad East End accent, ‘he didn’t take the opportunity and now he’s lost it.’

It was a running joke in the family.

’Maybe she’ll change her mind, Dad,’ laughed Richard, ‘ask her again.’

Henry looked at his beloved over the table. He took off his rimless glasses for special effect.

‘I love you darlin’, he said, solemnly, ‘I’ve loved you for years. You are the light of my life…’

She rolled her eyes.

‘Will you marry me?’


Maybe she was a famous television star. She sure could deliver a line. Everybody laughed.


Just across the table were Richard’s best mate John and his girlfriend Heidi. She sat delicately poised on her own small cushion.

‘I’ve just had ‘em done. I didn’t know we was coming on this cruise.’

Heidi had enormous tits. They were tits, not breasts, as far as Heidi was concerned. I could imagine the boyfriend sinking into them with abandoned glee. Some men like big-breasted women. Heidi was a big everything woman – big personality, big blonde hair, big hungry love for her man, big warm welcoming smile – those magnificent tits were just appropriate to her style. But it wasn’t her tits she was talking about. Heidi’s surgery was a little closer to home.

‘That why I carry this around…’

She stood up with some difficulty, reached down and plucked her cushion from her chair. She punched the middle.

‘See? Nothing there.’

Indeed, her cushion had no middle. It was like a frilly pink doughnut fresh out of the oven.

‘I only had ‘em done last week. I’m still a bit sore.’

Marjorie leant over and whispered confidentially.



‘I do, I love you, mate.’

Best mates were getting sooky.

‘You’re my best friend. I love you.’

John wasn’t the kind of man to declare love across the table, particularly to a full-bellied East Ender with a Russian fiancée hanging off his arm – but  it was Richard’s birthday in a couple of hours and he was getting maudlin. Tears sprang to his eyes.

‘You’re my mate.’

Svetlana erupted in enthusiastic joy. Photographs must be taken.

Richard’s fiancée was from Moscow, equally big-breasted, full of Cossack fire. She was quite the most remarkable woman on the ship, full of life, energy and overflowing with Slavic emotion. She veered from hilarity to rage, tears to happiness, all within the space of a sentence. Quite how Richard found her I don’t know but I suspect it was a relationship forged in the fire of carnal desire. Both he and his best mate were men who loved generous women.

Many flash photos must be taken of the birthday boy with his nearly-wife: Richard and Svetlana.

‘Put yer hand on her tit,’ laughed John.

Richard happily complied, a grin on his face like a bottle-fed baby.


‘Put yer tongue in his ear…’ screeched Heidi.

Svetlana’s pink tongue went to town.


‘Don’t look, Henry!’ said Marjorie, ‘you’ll get bad ideas.’

Everybody laughed. Flash! Flash! Flash!

Richard clearly adored her. She was intent on spending as much of his money as she could.

‘He just can’t resist,’ Marjorie Mandy whispered, ‘if she sees something she likes he gets it for her… he loves her.’

He loves her. She said it flatly. That was that. He loves her. Everything else follows.


It was time for a dose of host.

‘What is this cheese, Rudi?’ Mr. Dogster asked innocently, pointing to a curling orange triangle on my gourmet plate.

He leant over the table and stared intently at me.

‘What do you mean, ‘what’s this cheese?’ Do you think I don’t know? I’m responsible for every piece of food that comes on board this ship!’ Rudi hissed.

‘I just want to know what this cheese is,’ I said sweetly, ‘is it meant to be dry?’

‘I’m the food and beverage manager. Of course I know what cheese that is…’

‘Then tell me.’

‘Are you testing me?’

If he could have climbed over the high table and bitten me, he would have. I was clearly on the connoisseur’s menu that night.

Ah, yes, there I was. Sliced Dogster, pan-seared to perfection… 

‘I’m not here to be questioned about cheese,’ he snorted dismissively. His Austrian eyes were pin-pricks of menace.

‘Why not, Rudi? Don’t you know?’

The air froze.

‘Argh-h-h-h!’ Svetlana suddenly shrieked at him. The cheese was forgotten. ‘You haven’t talked to us at all!’

As it turns out, Dog wasn’t the only guest on the menu that night. In the course of the evening, our host had insulted almost everyone at dinner. Rudi was on a roll.


We gathered for cigars on the deck after dinner. All of us were drunk.

‘What a prick!’ said Heidi.

‘He ignored us the whole night!’ said Svetlana, ‘he thinks we’re common.’

‘Well, look at us!’ Marjorie shrieked, ‘we are!’

The family all laughed uproariously.

Svetlana let out a full-throttled howl. She was magnificent, like Callas on crack.

‘I kill him next time I see him…’ she raged.

‘He was rude,’ said John, ‘deliberately rude…’


Henry smiled vacantly. He’d already forgotten we’d been to dinner.

‘Are you tired, Henry?’ said Marjorie Mandy, stroking his hand.

‘I don’t know. Am I?’

‘That food was crap,’ said Richard, quite out of the blue, ‘that man was completely unprofessional…’

Richard ran one of the largest cruise booking companies in the U.K.

I think Rudi picked the wrong end of the table.



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