Happy Christmas

Thank you for finding your way to my blog. If you have subscribed (it’s free) it means that in future, if I write a piece, whether on a cruise or not, you will be notified.

After 26 months of cancelled cruises, in January we managed to find the last wheelchair friendly cabin on Queen Elizabeth for a cruise to the Med. The detail is on the blog if you click on January 2022.

Kim was with us to look after Jane. She has been coming with us for 6 years now and without Kim, cruising would be impossible. We were so lucky to find her.

In February I received an invitation to speak on Zoom to the Southern Californian Chapter of the Steamship Historical Society of America. I had written the history of my fathers career at sea, which was published on the blog (July 2021) but I chose the broader topic of “Famous Cunard CaptaIns, their ships and their Royal connections”. A friend Cark coached me on Zoom and the presentation delivered in May seemed to go well.

In June we were due to sail away on Queen Victoria, but in the weeks beforehand, I was aware of pains in my left leg. My GP’s were unable to come up with a prognosis, so I found a consultant rheumatologist, and she told me I needed a whole hip replacement! It meant cancelling the June cruise and getting the operation done quickly so that I had time to recover before a cruise booked for September. All these cruises arose as a result of Covid cancellations and moving the money forward!

It was then a matter of finding one of the recommended hip surgeons who could operate by mid July to give me 6 weeks recovery time. Jeremy Latham, who I had known for 20 years, found a gap for me on the 18 July. Kim came to look after Jane for the 3 nights I was in the Nuffield. The morning and evening carers continued throughout. A live in carer was here for 3 weeks. She was very good at cleaning the kitchen floor.

The operation went really well and I was quickly up and moving (not running!). Physio by Marie (she was also my physio when I had a new knee 6 years ago) in the Nuffield pool helped enormously.

On Sunday 4 September we set off on Queen Victoria. The usual trio of Jane Kim and me. A voyage to the Eastern Med taking in Dubrovnik and Trieste and many other ports. More details are on the blog (September 2022)

After our return Jane was lined up for an operation on 25 October. 18 months earlier she had been added to the URGENT list for bladder stones to be zapped (lasered). After 4 hours of waiting, form filling, hoisting and 2 nurses undressing her and getting her gowned up, the surgeon turned up and said the operation had been cancelled as there was an emergency. No suggestion of Jane being dealt with after the emergency or in a different theatre. Inevitably the Smith emails are still asking why Jane was chosen to be axed! The NHS avoid difficult questions.

Mike, Gretchen and Archie are off to NZ for Christmas with Gretchen’s Mum, MaryJane and Bruce. Louise, Red, Ethan and Charlie are coming here to celebrate with us and Louise has invited all the Holts and Atkinson’s here on the 27th. 22 at the last count. It will be great to see them all.

Thank you to Jane’s friends who take her out in the adapted Peugeot to garden centres and Hilliers gardens and to all of you for accepting an electronic card. As you know the savings go to the MS Society and I have been instructed to double the Christmas contribution this year!

Have a peaceful Christmas and a great New Year. Love Richard and Janexx


An unsuccessful gambler

I’m not a great gambler. I don’t mean that I’m not good at it – just that I rarely gamble. But for some reason, back in February 2019, I decided that I wanted to place a bet.

I probably hadn’t been into a betting shop for 20+ years and back then it would have been to risk a few pounds on a horse in the Grand National.

In February 2019 I entered the Corals betting shop alongside Waitrose in Chandlers Ford. It was packed with punters watching a variety of race meetings on screens around the walls.

I asked the Corals man behind the counter if I could place a bet on the next Prime Minister. He looked blankly at me. He clearly hadn’t heard of a horse with that name nor did he understand what I meant. I explained to him that I wanted to place a bet on someone I thought would be the next Prime Minister. He asked who I wanted to place the bet on. Rishi Sunak I said. “Never heard of him” he said. He rang Head Office who told him that they were not taking such bets at the moment.

That surprised me. I went home, found the Corals website and sure enough there was a Political category and an invitation to bet on the next PM. The odds on Rishi were, I thought, mean, bearing in mind that he was a virtual unknown and had only had a junior government position for a short time.

Nevertheless I placed the bet on line. Not a large sum.

But why did I place a bet on the outsider Rishi Sunak?

We first came across the Sunak family when our son Mike was at Oakmount School in Southampton. It was my old prep school. Mike and Sanjay Sunak were in the same class and Sanjay’s older brother Rishi was also at the school. He was 2 years older. In 1989 Oakmount closed and many of the pupils including the Sunaks and our Mike moved to Stroud School, another prep school based in Romsey.

From the Stroud School photo 1993 with Rishi as head boy in the front with Mike Smith behind him

You will have read the story of the family and of Rishi’s career. I remember a number of things about the family and their values. Mike and Sanjay were friends and I recall one particular day when I went to the Sunak home to collect Mike. Rishi was there and one of his young uncles (a young man in his twenties) was also there. Rishi was about 12 at the time and he and his uncle, with copies of the Times, were about to spend a couple of hours going through that days newspaper, discussing the stories and the articles in it.

That was the culture. Education and more education. Music, religion and education.

Many of the stories of the family talk about their wealth particularly when Winchester College is mentioned. The family were not wealthy. Rishi was head boy at Stroud and gained a place at Winchester College but, as I understand it, missed out on a scholarship. So massive fees. And Sanjay went there 2 years later. In the early days there I believe some fees were saved by the boys not boarding, but that meant the parents collecting them from the College late at night and returning them early next morning.

Rishi’s dad Yash was a partner in a GP practice in Southampton. He worked every hour there was and in addition he was doctor to the local store of a major national chain. Rishi’s mum also worked tirelessly as a pharmacist, in later years in her own pharmacy. I know nothing about their finances but I can only assume that after educating 3 children privately there was little money for anything else. I had not mentioned that the 2 boys had a younger sister Rakhi who was a pupil at St Swithuns in Winchester.

So back to the bet. This summer things were looking good except that the 1922 Committee came up with a ridiculously drawn out procedure to select the next PM. As we all know, the Tory Parliamentary party voted for Rishi. There were then a series of televised hustings where, in my view, Rishi came came out well in front but the process then enabled the Tory party members to vote. From the reports I received many decided it was a choice between a blonde English lady and an Indian man; many didn’t bother with the hustings. And those same people who were clearly wrong in voting for the blonde English lady were upset this week that they were not given the opportunity to vote under the new rules devised by the 1922 Committee. Had the bar been lower and had the members been able to get involved in the process this week and vote, no doubt the new PM would be a dark haired English lady.

The bet was of course lost, but that didn’t matter. I was 7 weeks out with my prediction, but I am sure that our new Prime Minister is the right man for the job. He has some major hurdles to jump but I have great faith in him.

I congratulate the Sunak family. Their work ethic is a great example to us all. They have all contributed to Rishi’s success and they should all be very proud.


Jane Caroline Atkinson (now Smith) Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education

51 years after completing her 3 year course at the Bedford College of Physical Education Jane has been awarded her BA.

The degree was conferred at a ceremony at the University of Bedfordshire on the 10th September 2022. Unfortunately we were unable to attend as we were at sea.

The reason for the 51 year delay was that, at the time, the College did not have degree awarding powers, although it did gain those powers a few years later.


The Bay of Biscay Beckons

Today’s sunrise was magnificent.

And despite us approaching the Bay, the sea has remained friendly, crisp and fairly even

Both taken from our balcony

We just have one more day before Southampton, but tonight we are dining in the Verandah restaurant, courtesy of Cunard following the fiasco in Dubrovnik.

Last night in the theatre we were entertained by New Amen Corner, said to be the hottest band on the 60’s circuit. Their lead singer Glen Leon has a fantastic voice and led the band through a classic series of hits of the last 60 years. They will appear again on the last night of the cruise.


Days at sea after Trieste

After leaving Trieste we sailed down the Adriatic Sea along the coast of Italy, round the heel of Italy, across the gulf of Taranto towards the Ionian Sea.

We then headed up towards Sicily. This was a return to the Straits of Messina that we had passed through in the opposite direction a week ago. It’s the narrow stretch water that divides Sicily from the toe of Italy. A week ago we were heading West to East from Cartagena to Corfu so sailed across the flat top of Sicily and the turned to starboard through the strait with the large port of Messina on our right and mainland Italy to our left.

This time were travelling back from Trieste to Sardinia and through the strait we were sailing in a northerly direction. It was lunchtime and we were dining in the Britannia Restaurant. I had asked for a table as near to the stern of the ship as possible because I was anxious to see and photograph the small volcanic island of Stromboli which I had missed earlier.

Before I talk about Stromboli, I want to mention Messina. It was in Messina that Jane, Kim and I left Queen Elizabeth 5 years ago for niece Katie’s wedding to my blog guru Sam near Lucca in central Italy.

We flew to Rome, then another flight to Pisa. We then drove to the wedding venue 20 minutes north of Lucca and after 3 days of wedding celebrations we drove north to Venice where Queen Elizabeth was conveniently waiting for us.

But back to Stromboli. It was misty and Stromboli wasn’t erupting for us so the best I could do was a photo taken by Kim which is much better than any I took

This is how I hoped it would have been performing


The Canal at Trieste

The canal is a very short one but it does have two bridges over it and one of the bridges has an impressive statue of James Joyce on it.

Another bridge has a statue of the seated figure of Gabrielle D’Annunzio and many tourists have made idiots of themselves being photographed with him.


Winchester Cathedral

Jane’s brother Nigel is giving the eulogy at Winchester Cathedral this evening. The service starts at 6.00 pm UK time. If you go to the Winchester Cathedral website there is a Live Screen button which should enable you to see and hear the whole service.



This should be headed VENICE because on the original itinerary that was where we were due to be on Wednesday 14 September. Out of the blue in the summer we were notified that Trieste was replacing Venice. I think they said there was no room for us in Venice which seemed a little odd. We all know that Venice wants to limit the number of cruise ships in the port because of the damage to the buildings.

Whether that was the reason or whether it was a financial decision we will probably never know. We’d do love Venice and particularly that 40 minute vaporretto ride from the ship to St Marks Square with all the working launches full of supplies darting in and out of the congested canals.

In the port at Trieste when we arrived

But Trieste was new for us. Queen Victoria was berthed right in the City. The terminal was a little tatty but we were quickly through and into the beautiful town. Jane and Kim have become experts in all things architectural after attending a lecture on this cruise by a remarkable lady. Now we study the windows and the doors, the colours and the statues. Well the ladies do.

We found a tourist information office and they produced a map and marked on it the route to the Old City (which, very helpfully, was at the top of a hill). The very helpful lady told me that there was a lift up to the Old City but told me that it was important that when we arrived at the kiosk for the lift that we pointed out Jane in her wheelchair (hard to miss!) as the lift man would need to active some special machinery which would be needed to get Jane’s chair out of the lift, when we arrived at the top. It took us some time to find the entrance to the lift which was hidden in an underground car park. The lift man looked out of his kiosk, saw Jane and shook his head. The gist of it was that the machinery had broken and Jane couldn’t go up.

Beautiful squares and lovely narrow side streets led us back to the shops and the coffee houses and it was agreed that the old man could sit and have a coffee while the ladies did some shopping.

And they left me there.

No. By then it was time for lunch and Jane’s afternoon nap and after Jane and Kim had had what was one of the best coffees of the trip we headed back to the ship. We had been told over and over before leaving the ship that we must have our passports with us as they would be checked by the Italian police before we could board. No one looked at anything! Why would they want to keep us there?

Our home from home.

At anchor off Hvar

We had always known that Jane would not be able to get ashore in Hvar. When the ship has to anchor, the trip to shore is in the ship’s tenders and they are impossible for Jane. It made our treatment In Dubrovnik harder to take.

The plan was that I would go ashore in one of the tenders after breakfast and return at lunchtime so that Kim could get ashore too.

Hvar is an island off Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast in the Adriatic. It is lovely. I was ashore by 9.00 and walked first to the west around the harbour. There were large numbers of yachts of all shapes and sizes. Their occupants were beginning to stir and some were diving it to the harbour to clear their heads.

Later, after exploring the town centre, which was just beginning to organise itself for the daily influx of tourists, I found an excellent bistro by the eastern harbour for a coffee and time for the daily Wordle.

And then it was back to ship by tender for lunch with Mrs Smith.