May 032015
 

My fortnight of blog and tweet abstinence is over – I have just returned from a stint as cruise lecturer on board the Fred Olsen ship The Braemar. It was great fun and the audiences were wonderfully appreciative! Doing five lectures in two weeks to potentially the same audience is very different to doing a handful of different talks on separate occasions to different people. Making sure that the talks did not overlap, could stand alone, and yet encouraged  guests to return, meant lots of revisions to draft scripts, and getting the timing spot-on was an imperative because … the Captain tended to burst in via the sound system at set times and an over-run would be somewhat awkward! I think I managed one talk with about five seconds to spare, with my closing words of “The Captain will be along in a moment” being followed by his own announcement about five seconds later!

I found it a huge learning experience – I suspect if I do it again I will look at it more from a viewpoint of “what will make these people want to get out of bed at 9.45 in the morning to come and listen?” rather than “What would I like to talk to them about?” So I suspect that “Jane Austen’s World” will get an outing, as well as one on Royal Shenanigans (“From randy Regent to the King of Bling” went down well as an idea with the Cruise Director, who measures everything in terms of  how many people you can get to come to the talks, not on how good the talk is).

I had included a talk on gardening and gardens (Capability Brown et al.) which I may not bother with again – it wasn’t my favourite, not least because gremlins at the Ministry of Inanimate Objects  caused the lectern to collapse, sending my lap-top flying, just as the lights had dimmed and I had made my introductory remarks  (….’Houston, we have a problem’…) but all was soon sorted out. It didn’t half mess up my timings though, as I frantically tried to work out how much of the talk had to get the chop if I wanted to avoid to be drowned out by the Captain. But all turned out O.K.

Food and Drink (Regency banquets, etiquette etc) went down well, as did one on Philip Astley. I wasn’t sure about that, but it turned out to be so obscure –  in the sense that no-one had ever heard of him – that they found his story fascinating. Loads of lovely comments. Obviously you cannot win over everyone – I loved the comment my wife overheard from one lady who walked past the entrance to the lecture theatre as she saw the topic of the day’s talk: “The Eighteenth Century? No, I don’t think so, it was a bit before my time.” She went off happily to her Bingo and her Morning Quiz…

The cruise-line were great – they couldn’t have been more helpful and when I was not speaking, we were treated like ordinary passengers – with a few extra perks I won’t go into! Suffice to say I am now waiting to hear the customer feedback comments to see if I can expect another cruise either on the Braemar (which is a delightfully compact ship) or from one of the larger ones. What was quite obvious is that many of the passengers come back year after year after year, often coming on back-to-back cruises, or cruises in the spring, summer and autumn. So I suspect the more I do it, the more it gets to be like meeting old friends!

My wife and I also had enough spare time to have a go at knocking off another two chapters of  our book “An illustrated introduction to the Regency” – up until now I have done “my” bits on my own, but the bits on fashion, shopping, style and so on are joint ventures, based on Philippa’s research. I will only comment that co-authoring with your spouse is about as conducive to matrimonial harmony as trying to share the task of hanging wallpaper together when home decorating….

My Dear Lady Wife and I have managed to survive for 28 years together without murdering each other by following the simple rule: NEVER try to share wall-papering duties. That way there is no “You’ve cut it too short” or “Not that way up you idiot” or “Why didn’t you order the right number of rolls in the first place?”

Co-authorship was always going to be a challenging experience. I tried to explain to MDLW that it is an INTRODUCTION to the Regency, and that although it was fascinating for me to learn which were the best shops to go to in Regency London to buy, I don’t know, cosmetics, or carriage dresses, or riding whips, there wasn’t really going to be enough space to list all the emporiums, their opening times, and whether or not they had public toilets at the back…. Apparently I am a bully, and not a nice person to work with…. I know she is only annoyed because I have used up all the available space doing my pet subjects, leaving her with the tail-ends of each chapter, but hey, who said life was fair, least of all married life?

Talk about a minefield! But we survived, and that is another two chapters put to bed. We should be able to submit the manuscript to the publishers (Amberley) on time next month.

My only regret is that the particular cruise took me to the exotic splendour of …. Alicante. Which happens to be my home town in Spain and to me is about as exciting as any other city you by-pass on the motorway if you get half a chance! Talk about coals to Newcastle! But Seville was magnificent, and always worth a repeat visit, and I enjoyed seeing Malaga and Vigo again. But today, having sailed back to Britain from Alicante, I hop on a plane from Gatwick and head straight back out  – to Alicante, ready to give a talk to a local U3A on Thursday! A crazy world, and one which my ancestor Richard Hall would have  found quite incomprehensible!

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