Kit Hesketh-harvey carries on cruising
‘Both parents and all siblings have, at some time, been on staff at the BBC
I’ve run away to sea. It was the chickens that tipped me over the edge. Hens tend to look permanently furious, but two months’ enforced incarceration, thanks to bird flu, and they were regarding me more balefully than a haystack. Then the papers announced a Ten Day Killer Freeze. Then Tara (P-T) died. Then my nephew was robbed of acres of snowdrops by conmen.
February’s a beastly little month. St Valentine himself was beaten, stoned and finally decapitated. I was starting to feel the same and when Kate suggested that we buy a football to alleviate their boredom because chickens allegedly enjoy playing football, something in me snapped.
It’s a grab-bag break. Selfemployed, one never dares book a holiday because a gig may come in, but it dawned on me that it had been six years. The mighty Eddie from Iglu.com does up-tothe-wire unsold cruises at silly prices; you pack your holdall, shut your eyes and pick—like Scrabble. Three days ago, it was to have been India, but the Indians demand tiresome visas, so I missed that boat—or they missed mine.
I’m in Uruguay. At £80 a day all in, including flights, it’s cheaper than heating the house: 27˚F in Norfolk, 27˚C here.
Medical advances within one generation have evolved an entire human sub-species: the unretiring retired, although you won’t have met many as they’re more or less permanently offshore. You glimpse them in the ad breaks for Midsomer Murders: men called Ken, guffawing in their Specsavers two-for-ones, and their ladies (who do not look like Barbie) going large on the duty free. (For scent, that is, not alcohol: the clouds of Opium are enough to send you to the lifeboats.)
They aren’t rich and they may not be the sort that Lord Mandelson or Sir Philip Green might welcome sharing their passages; they’ve merely been conscientious with their pensions. They aren’t particularly highbrow— they’re more excited by Gavin & Stacey on the onboard TV channel than by the cathedral at Montevideo—but they attend the morning’s ‘Enriching Lectures’ and they’re very, very nice.
Norwegian Cruise Line runs an exemplary and extremely comfortable ship. Is there some curious historical link between Norway and Uruguay, like Patagonia and Wales?
I’ll stay in my beautiful balcony cabin, gazing at frigate birds and porpoises. I’m not being stand-offish; I have a novel to finish. I may join the (oddly unsexy) samba classes. I’ll never be able to shake my booty like Ricky Martin singing Livin’ La Vida Loca, but I’m hoping that an East African childhood has given me a head start, as well as a love of long sea voyages.
In my case, retirement is academic: cabaret singers never retire. However, if medicine is creating Methuselahs (my father has already outlived his own by two decades), then there’s only one logical answer to this purported crisis in the NHS. If 60 is now the new 40, if we’re still samba-ing at 80, then, of course, we are now capable of working longer, to pay for the genuine coffin-dodgers.
Nudge the retirement age up by three months each year, until the books balance, and we will feel nary a twinge. One can take only so many cruises, although mighty Eddie is, I’ve noticed, offering a corker: a Captain’s Mystery Cruise out of Harwich on which you genuinely have no idea where you’ll land up.
You might never see me again, were it not that Nicholas Coleridge is about to collect his own bus pass and there’s a whopping great thrash to get back for. As a Cambridge under- graduate, he (unlike the rest of us) knew exactly what he wanted to be: editor-in-chief at Condé Nast. Having achieved just that within a few years, he’s been there so long that, rather than being chairman of the V&A (as he has now been appointed), he should be its chief exhibit.
Another editor, my little sister, Sarah Sands of the London Evening Standard, made the news herself this week when she took the helm of Radio 4’s Today. Cue fluttering trepidation at the Beeb because her experience was in newspapers rather than in broadcasting, but she completes a singular family flush.
Hear these comfortable words: every one of us, both parents and all siblings, has, at some point, been a staff member at the BBC. For what reassurance it may offer, broadcasting is in our DNA. Anchors aweigh!
Kit Hesketh-harvey is a Society cabaret entertainer, lyricist, opera translator and regular BBC broadcaster (www. kitandmcconnel.co.uk). He lives in Norfolk Next week: Jason Goodwin