Pageviews last month

Thursday, 6 December 2012

A Very Apie Ending for the Rugby Lads :)


Our Race Night was a great success thanks to a whole host of people – those who supported us with their presence, who gave us discounted pies, who sponsored races and events and donated raffle prizes.  Thanks to them all we raised over £900 for our under 13 and under 14s rugby lads for well needed kit and essentials. 

This blog is giving a huge thanks to those lovely people and local businesses who helped us have a great night.  I use most of these businesses myself and can vouch for them (especially the restaurants and Jesse at Russell Eaton) so please have a poke around the links and give them some business. 

Aroma – the café ‘up the Frank Bird Arcade’ that transforms into a fab Tapas Eaterie on Friday and Saturday nights .  Watch out for their live music nights too – a real treat.  Check out their menus on site.  Smashing range of food and a real treat.

Bannatynes gym – who donated a spa voucher.  I’m a member!  Lovely gym and pool and the snack bar is to die for – though I’m sure that shouldn’t be my priority.  The Spa is wonderful .  Yummy massages!

Beatson House – oh my… one of my favourite eaterie places.  They do the best steak!  To my shame (and joy) my OH won one of the prizes they donated – a three course Sunday lunchl for two with wine.  I told him to take his mum but if he does, he’s dead.  They also supplied some of their gorge  Boozy Infusion – which would make a fab pressy if you can resist opening the bottle before you wrap it.  Available from Beatson House and also Rob RoydFarm Shop – best meat in Barnsley, lovely café (I have breakfast there a lot) and thanks to them also for the voucher they gave as a prize.

Billingley Christmas Tree Farm – official Christmas tree suppliers to our family, lovely people, lovely pet reindeer and a lovely place to visit.  Inspired my book Winter Flame – which I will be selling and signing at BCTF on Saturday 15th December 12-2pm if anyone is looking for a last minute prezzie for a hard-to-buy-for auntie.

Brooklands at the ‘Holiday Inn’– another of my favourite eateries. Lovely central location for ‘do’s, I’m there more than I am at home!

Computer Problems of Barnsley – Rob has been a great friend of mine for years and once managed to find a whole book I’d lost AND HADN’T BACKED UP – and for that I am eternally grateful and he’s got my business for life.  Friendly service, fair prices, no quibbles.  What he doesn’t know about computers, you could write in big letters on a postage stamp

Debbie Viggiano – thanks to the lovely Debbie for sending me one of her books.  She is also available to be hired as a JK Rowling lookalike ;)

Diane Stoker –(facebook link) ‘Official’ dress maker.  Take her a picture of what you want and she makes it for you – gobsmackingly amazing.  AND getting a dress made isn’t as expensive as you might think.  And it saves me the soul-destroying trips around Meadowhall and ordeal by changing rooms.  Di is a marvel.

Gate Fisheries – ‘Rolands’ -  thanks for the fish and chip supper for two. 

Gems – thanks for being so generous with vouchers for hairdos and massages.  Based on Huddersfield Road they do some lovely packages as treats – even for Mums-to-be.  Lovely present having a massage to look forward to after the chaos of Christmas.

Gillian Stapleton – an old friend and a marvel.  Beautiful dress-maker and one of our Barnsley treasures that is buried away and should be taken out, polished and displayed.  Gillian is a costumer historian – master of a needle and very popular speaker.  Have a look at her website and see what she does.  And she also makes beautiful hand-made bridal gowns.
The very professional and affordable Gillott Builders - thank you.  No obligation quotes from people who want to do a good job for a fair price with no one ripping anyone off.  If only everyone were the same!
HotHouse - wonderful local toiletries (the treat sort), lovely people and makers of the fabulous self-tanning products St Moriz that is the only stuff I can put on without looking a right old streaky mess.  Romps over the pricier competitor at beauty award ceremonies :)

Karen Dyson – our deputy mayor, who took a detour to drop off raffle prizes on the night and always a fab supporter of local causes.

Keep Calm and Spray On (facebook link) – a great mobile service that does away with having to sneak home from a salon with flip flops and no bra on.  You can be TOWIE coloured in the comfort of your own home or have a lovely subtle tan for a wedding/event.  Pop-up booth, no mess.  Give her a call for Christmas!

Lucia’s (facebook link) sandwich and catering business is on Doncaster Road and offers a ring up and ‘get-me-sarny-ready-for-pick-up’ service which is great if you don’t want to hang around.  Lovely sandwiches and outside catering if you have a special event.  Have a look at their services and menus.

Miranda Dickinson – thanks lovely M for sending me a signed book.

Old Vintage Retro (facebook site) - for collectible antiques and some great hark-back to times past.  Some fab weird and wonderful 'diamonds in the rough' here :)

Russell Eaton – donated a cut and blow from my hairdresser Jesse – who is the best cutter and dyer I’ve EVER had.  I’ve sent lots of friends to him and every one thinks he’s a total find. 

Sha'Waddy's – the wonderfully well stocked fancy dress outlet on Sheffield Road, who helped me locate the moustaches for our Movember event.  Didn’t know it existed until recently, but well worth a look if you’re partying in costume.  Easy to get to and parking right outside.

Shaw Pub – thanks to Dave for hosting the event.  We were having trouble finding a venue that wouldn’t bleed us dry (yep and I do mean you ‘local sports club’ – shame on you!)  Dave stepped in, let us use the ovens for the grub, his TVs even his DJ for the sound system.  As a result we made a great profit for the town lads.

Top Run Motorcycle Training – if you are interested in learning how to ride a motorbike properly and safely from someone who is a very experienced biker and teacher – give Dave a call.  He donated a day’s course for some lucky bugger. 

Simon and Schuster – my lovely publishers donated a Jesse J signed book and a Sam Faiers signed book – plus lots of sports books which the men were all drooling over!

Unique Hair – thanks to Keely for donating her coiffeuring services.

Yummy Yorkshire – world centre for ice-cream.  Spent far too much money up there in their Ingbirchworth café.  My favourite is the Trifle ice-cream.  It’s in my top 50 flavours.
Thank you EVERYONE from Angie 'The Pies', Traz 'The Everything Else' , the young Rugby Lads and myself xxxxxx

Monday, 5 November 2012

As One Competition Door Closes.... MORE OPEN!!!

Absolutely delighted to announce that Therese Donnelly won the Ice Wine.  She will love it.  But don't be too disappointed because there will be more next week.

As for this week - we have a double whammy of a competition.

I was sent 4 beautifully crafted flame-red coasters by a very talented lady who works in glass.  (@callulaglass on Twitter, and she's also on Facebook as Callula Glass)

And also some lucky bugger is going to be receiving a beautiful box of handmade chocolates (and they really are delish) from Walkers of Skipton

All you have to do is answer the following question and send it via the contact page on my website

Oh and for anyone who wants to win a fabulous SNUGGLE SET from my publisher - which includes...

The entire Milly Johnson back catalogue
A beautiful orange scarf - just like Eve wears on the front cover of A WINTER FLAME
A jar of premium hot chocolate
A packet of delicious biscuits
A lovely aromatherapy candle
and is the perfect antidote for rainy, cold weekends!   - enter HERE!

Happy Comping!!!

Milly x

Wednesday, 24 October 2012


Well my new book is out.  Number 8.  And seeing as it’s like the birth of a new baby, we’re going to wet that baby’s head with … well, what else but my favourite tipple PELLERS ICE-WINE, courtesy of Slurp!

Over the next 4 weeks you’ll be able to win all sorts of things – more ICE WINE, HANDMADE CHOCOLATES and a KINDLE TOUCH.  So please check in and have a go.  I promise I won’t make the questions too difficult.

I’ve had a lot of questions about ‘The Wedding Dress’ – mainly ‘will it be available in print form’?  The answer to that is ‘not at the moment’.  Sorry.  If you’re wondering whether it’s worth investing the 99p to read it on your Kindle, let me just say that if you’ve read White Wedding and any book where Freya appears, then you’re more likely to ‘get’ what it’s all about as two of the stories in the ebook are connected with those storylines.  Freya’s story won’t mean much to those who aren’t familiar with her from the other books, for instance.  The ebook has been written for my die-hard readers who wanted a little more than I’ve given in my other books about her and the girls who feature in 'White Wedding'.

As for ‘A Winter Flame’… well, I like my books to be stand-alones, but Violet’s story – from White Wedding – is continued in this one.  Her story was really just beginning in White Wedding and I wanted to write more about her.  Plus I wanted to write the 4th season book and finish off the set.

The inspiration for A Winter Flame came from a couple of sources.  The rubbish ‘Lapland’ theme park which made the newspapers and visiting our lovely local Christmas tree farm in Billingley – and stroking their gorgeous reindeers.  It had such a great Christmassy feel about the place and I had to use it in a book – and the white baby reindeer. 

I had great fun writing about the imaginary ‘Winterworld’ theme park with its air of magical possibility – thanks to a lot of German machinery.  Christmas can be dire for people who are emotionally lost, and as usual with my books, I like to bring a bit of hope into the equation, so – fingers crossed – I’ve managed it.

Right… now for the good bit.

Using the contact page on my gorgeous new website (thank you Stu!)… just answer this simple question to enter the draw to win yourself the most gorgeous fizz on this planet.

From what country does Pellers Sparkling Ice Wine originate?

The competition ends Saturday 3rd November.  The winner will be announced on here, Facebook and Twitter – so GOOD LUCK because it really is the most gorgeous wine.
Oh and my publishers are running a competition too along with the book launch - you can win all sorts of goodies here!

Then there will be another competition next week – for Walkers Exclusive handmade chocolates!

Milly x

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR SHIP HAS SAILED (and you're not on it)

I have had nightmares about missing a cruise ship in a port.  Not that it would ever happen to me, because I’m anal about checking details.


However, that’s exactly what happened in Malaga on our recent cruise.  Loitering back to the dock after getting off the ship ‘just to stretch our legs’ - the irony is that we didn't even want to get off - we heard a familiar double blast of the ship’s horn and then stood dumb-founded as OUR ship appeared to be moving.

‘Hang on, our ship’s off!’ I cried to the kids.  Surely it was a mirage after that funny flat-looking chicken breast in the café.  But no, it wasn’t.  It was a living nightmare – one that every cruiser dreads.  And it had happened to me.  And how many times have I said ‘how can anyone miss the ship?’ because we have been onboard when people have done exactly that - the idiots.  Oh boy – the mother of the year awards are just queuing up to sit on my mantelpiece.

When something happens like this, your future appears in bite-sized pieces.  You can’t think ahead more than one step at a time.  My elder son, who appeared to have been smoking pot (because there was no other explanation for a thirteen year old boy to appear so calm) pushed us all towards the security guards where a load of smug Royal Caribbean passengers were going back to their ship with their el toro souvenirs and sombreros.

(Oh and a point here – our ship waited as long as it could, but there are massive fines if they don’t leave after a certain time.  Our fault.  They couldn’t have done anything else. )

‘Oh God, what is the Spanish for “I’ve been a tw*t (insert your own vowel) and missed the Azura”?’ I pondered, trying desperately to recall some schoolgirl Spanish.  The words for two beers and a toilet – and ‘on the table’ (don’t ask) are all that remained in my language arsenal.  Not much good when your head is thinking ‘Pants.  Pants – How can I cope without clean pants?’  Clean drawers and a make up bag were somehow on top of my immediate want list in my panic – even above the passports, cleverly left on the ship.

‘Mi shippo gone-o,’ I managed in Spanglais.  However, my wiggling hand movement was obviously an international symbol as a non-English-speaking port man made a call, led us all to chairs and a few minutes later handed over his phone so I could speak to the P & O representative in Malaga – Eduardo (which I now believe is Spanish for ‘superhero’).  He arranged a taxi to a hotel, where he had made a booking for us.  A clean, friendly and not too expensive place nearby (and trust me, this little adventure was ker-chinging by the minute).  In the morning, we would have to see the consulate in Malaga for emergency passports.  But a night in Malaga beckoned – and the hunt for supplies.

‘I don’t suppose you have a phone charger?’ I asked the hotel receptionist.  All attempts at Spanglais were gone now.  My gestures were far more successful not that Marcel Marceau would be worried for his job.  I wasn’t expecting a ‘si’ (excuse the pun) but he pulled a box out from under his desk FULL to the gills (lot of ‘sea’ imagery in this piece) of phone chargers and the first one I picked up fitted my phone like Prince Charming’s shoe fitted around Cinderella’s bunion.

As bad luck would have it – it was a Bank Holiday Monday in Spain so all the shops shut early.  We headed off down to get something to eat (which turned out to be a café were the speciality of the day was long black hairs and chips) and passed by an open shop which appeared to have clothes in it.  As good luck would even things out a bit - this shop could have been called ‘ The Ideal Shop for Idiot-women who have Lost Their Ship.’  This shop had everything a hapless traveller could have – undies, socks, shorts, toothpaste, deodorant (tension makes you very unfragrant) and a dress that I, Pavarotti and Demis Roussos could have easily all fitted in together and still had room for a party.  And if you think my Spanglais was bad – you should hear my Chinglais.  However, the Chinese woman who ran the shop and I communicated like there were no language barriers.  That emergency wardrobe cost me £30.  We aren’t talking catwalk but when you’ve got your hands on emergency drawers – you don’t care if they’re Prada or Primark.  'Have they got any hair gel?' my elder son asked.  'This is a time for emergencies,' I returned.  But I sympathised because I know how he felt - that was his luxury missed item, as red lipstick was mine.  The little one's was an ice-cream.  God he's so low maintenance.  Where the hell did he come from?

There is a less than flippant side to all this.  I’m asthmatic and seeing as we were supposed to be off the ship for 2 hours max, I didn’t take any medication out with me.  So I had to try and stay calm.  I did but I had a migraine from hell as a result because that tension has to come out somewhere.  Everytime my head touched the pillow, I saw that ship sailing off – I think that image has been tattooed on my brain I’ve seen it so many times.  I had a lovely night throwing up my hairy Spanish meal and how I managed to sleep is anyone’s guess,  but I did and woke up with a surprisingly fresh head. The air conditioning in that room was so strong it sucked our lungs out - I found them stuck on the ceiling fan in the morning.  But I have it to thank for kicking that migraine's ass.

A breakfast of Spanish bread rolls (this was no time for Atkins) and lots of coffee and I felt almost human again – well as human as you can with no lippy and no hairbrush – which we had - alas - forgotten to buy from the Chinese magic shop. 

Talking of Chinese magic.  When I pulled my new drawers out of the bag, I had moment of horror.  I’d only gone and managed to pick up some small boy’s drawers instead because those things were never going to fit me.  They should have been in Mothercare in the premature baby section. 

Nothing ventured – I put my leg in a hole and experienced magic.  These drawers didn’t just stretch… they were capable of closing above my head and knotting.  I could have used them as a sleeping bag.  I don't know what they were made out of - but NASA should be informed.  Never underestimate the magic of Chinese knickers.

The P & O rep had arranged a taxi for us to go to the Consulate.  The lady at the desk, I thought, looked too nice for me to start off her day with my Spanglais so I asked her if she spoke English.  ‘Yes, I’m from Rotherham,’ she said.  (Who said - 'well that's a matter of opinion then'??)

We needed flight times before they would issue emergency passports, we needed emergency passports before we could fly out.  The ship had to send confirmation that our passports were on board, our lovely friends at P & O booked late flights for us.  All the pieces somehow fitted together and our emergency passports were issued.  Bright yellow things which highlighted to all and sundry that we were ‘special’ – but not in a good way.  And my emergency passport picture in my Pavarotti frock and no make up isn’t one of my best.  With my sullen, tired face and bouffanted hair, I looked like a dark version of Myra Hindley.  Put it this way – I wouldn’t have let me into the next country.  Then again on the proper red passport I look like Rasputin.  Even the watermark is expertly placed over my mouth so it looks like a beard.

Eduardo handed me over to the Dubrovnik agent Maria then.  I thanked him for being so kind.  I’d have kicked my own sorry ass had the situations been reversed.  Eduardo summed it up rather sweetly.  He said that had it been his wife in this situation, he would want her to be treated well – and I SO was.

We went off to the airport.  It would have been easier to fly to Venice as there was no direct flight to the next port - but really, I couldn’t miss a day in Korcula – one of my favourite ports of call.  We had to hang around the airport drinking coffee before our flight to Barcelona was called.  Tez was itching to get through check-in because there was a Lacoste shop on ‘the other side’.   What a shame just as we did get through, it shut.

My metally sandals set off the security alarms and I had to be frisked. Fair really because under that Pavarotti frock I could have been carrying a cannon.

We couldn't hang about food-wise so we headed for a Burger-King - hopefully to get something without hairs in it.  We picked the wrong queue  which didn't get any shorter until a supervisor realised and sent our server off to clean some toilets.   It was the slowest fast-food I've ever had in my life.  By the time we'd got served, the kids had gone through puberty.

I’m a nervous flyer and the anxiety was setting in a bit, but as soon as I was sitting on that plane preparing to order a vino tinto I was fine.  The flight was smooth as a melted Galaxy and we landed at Barcelona where I told the lads that the 6 hour wait would fly by as Barcelona airport was just oozing with shops.

They were – but at midnight they were all shut.

We slept in the only café open like tramps on a park bench - only slightly upmarket ones who had ordered croissants - and then prepared to board the plane to Dubrovnik.  This time I took off my metal-studded shoes and put them through the security machine.  Our hand luggage seemed to be attracting a bit of attention as a couple of security guards were drafted over to look at it.  ‘Oh God my shoes are going to be confiscated’ I thought.  Turns out that what was of interest was a folded up page 3 of the Sun which my son had ‘saved’ from a paper we had bought to catch up on some news and waste some time.  He said there was an interesting article about politics on the reverse.

And I’m Keira Knightly.

Is it wrong to have a vino tinto at 6.45 in the morning on a plane?  No – because there are no clocks on a plane.  Or calories.  We landed in Dubrovnik at and as the plane doors opened the heat hit us like a smack.

God I’d have killed for some lippy.

Anyway – we plodded around a very very very hot Dubrovnik with our bag of emergency supplies – which had now been joined by a ‘Hello Kitty’ hairbrush we bought in the airport.  Every five minutes we were forced to take a pit stop as it was boiling.  It's so beautiful in Dubrovnik though.  We were due there on the ship in a few days.  I thought when we returned, we could wear the same clothes, go to the same cafes and see how many waiters thought they were having a severe attack of deja vu.  We had to wait around until 3pm when our bus to Korcula was leaving.  There was a lot of waiting around in this adventure.   Anything that broke up that interminable waiting around - like going to the loo - was a welcome diversion for three travellers with boredom thresholds as low as Barbara Windsor's neckline in Carry on Camping.

We took a taxi to the bus station.  The driver had obviously escaped from an asylum because that was the only explanation for his driving.  He didn't see the need for hands on the steering wheel because he needed them to use his mobile or to thump down on his horn at anyone on the road however far in front of him they were.  I just closed my eyes and prayed to the magic of our Chinese pants to deliver us safely - and they listened.  We stumbled out of the taxi glad to be alive and bought the tickets as directed by Maria who had given us an idiots guide: ‘the bus leaves at 3pm.  It’s 14 euros.  Stand 2.’  Only a complete berk could have missed it.


Only joking.

Anyway – at 2.30pm we were sitting on the bus and I woke myself up snoring just as the bus set off at 3pm scaring the poor bloke sitting next to me to death.  I comforted myself with the thought that I’d never have to see him again.

That two hour journey across Croatia was something I wouldn’t have missed for the world.  Stunning countryside – I only wish I had enough juice in my battery left to take pictures.  The bus drove onto a ferry and across to lovely Korcula, where we were picking up the ship the next day.

Slight problem in that there were no hotel rooms in Korcula.  Were we okay roughing it in an apartment, said Maria?

Er… yes.

Maria had arranged for us to be picked up and taken to the tiniest, most darling apartment at the side of the harbour.  This apartment was complete with its own cat – a gentleman with cat-plums the size of aubergines.  And the name of this testosterone-heavy beast?  Mitzi.

The rep who picked us up had to fill in forms for the police and arranged to meet us the next morning.  The evening was free for us to wander around that gorgeous island and soak up the first pressure-free night in what felt like months.

After a shower which felt like rain from heaven.

We found a café overlooking the sea, ordered icy drinks (alcoholic in my case) and 3 spag bols.  We sat and watched the world go by, the moon rise, holidaymakers shop in the markets.  It was bliss.  I think I slept the best sleep of my life in that little apartment.

The next morning we had to go and see the police and the customs people – who were satisfied we were just daft holidaymakers and not international drug traffickers.  And joined the long list of very kind people – I can’t tell you how lovely everyone was to us.  Then – after a lot of hand-shaking – we got on the tender to the ship and tried to look like holidaymakers who had just had a morning in Korcula like all the other cruisers.

Which we managed until there was a very loud announcement on the tannoy ‘The Johnson family are back on.  I repeat, the Johnson family are back on.’

‘Try to pretend it’s not us,’ I said to the lads out of the corner of my mouth, donning my Jackie Onassis glasses.  Although there is a fine-line between those and Carlos the Jackal specs.

Once on board I could have hugged our cabin.  Oh the sight of clean undies and my much missed lipstick.  I started to shake violently – delayed shock I imagine – so it was only wise to go to the Glass House and calm my frayed nerves with three glasses of Icewine drunk faster than Usain Bolt racing down a track. 

Then the leg-pulling started once everyone knew we were all right.  'I've got a title for your next book "When the boat comes in"' - and I couldn't get off the ship without someone tapping their watch at me.  But you have to take it – and I did, and I rather enjoyed it.  If you can’t laugh at yourself, then you shouldn’t miss the ship you’ve left your passports on.

The lovely captain - Paul - and the cruise director Neil were happy to see us back and I got a big hug from them both.  They're my two favourites - they helped me write my book 'Here Come The Girls' and apparently have signed as many of those books as I have.  My cruises always are a lot happier when they're on - and this one, in a strange and roundabout way - was no exception.

So, that’s my little adventure.  It was daft, it was careless, negligent and bloody expensive but I’m going to have to stand that.  But I’m a believer in things happening for a reason and I have a lot to take away from that little diversion.  I saw parts of Croatia I would never have normally seen and they were beautiful.  And I spent a night in Korcula – something I really have wanted to do for a long time (though next time I’ll do it on a more organised basis).  I experienced how kind people can be to others – even if they do consider them berks of the highest order.  If you find yourself on the shore waving to your ship - at least I know the recovery system works...  I found out that you might make mistakes but it’s how you resolve them that matters.  I discovered how bloody fantastic a cheap Croatian house white wine can taste when it's enjoyed al fresco.  I discovered that I got too comfortable in big floaty frocks and could end up going back to Malaga to buy more.  (Only joking kids) I also saw how grown-up my son had become (although half an hour after being back on ship he was scrapping with his brother again).  I realised how many simple things count in life – a flannel, a hair-brush, a bed with white sheets on, the calmness a big-plummed non-judgmental ginger cat can bring when it plonks itself on your knee.  And above all – clean pants.  You can survive anything when you’ve got those.

It’s all given birth to a new Yorkshire proverb.  ‘When your ship has sailed, may your paths cross with a Chinese knicker saleswoman.’  Neil the Cruise Director said that 'The Chinese Knicker and Sock-Selling Woman' should be the title of my next book.  I'm seriously considering it as homage to her.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Chocs, docks and v posh frocks - 4 nights on P & O's Ventura....(and win a signed copy of 'Here Come The Girls')

Taking a ‘cruise virgin’ on his first ship carries a lot of responsibility – especially after I've built up a holiday taken this way to be the best thing since sliced bread.  Would it live up to the hype?  Especially as I wouldn’t have thought  Mr C was your typical cruise passenger.  He doesn’t like heights or deep water, has heard too much about the horrors of sea-sickness… and he’s sharing a cabin with myself and my two sons.  He fears claustrophobia – especially after hearing he’ll be onboard with 3000 other passengers:  he has visions of being crushed everywhere he goes.
At 7am on Monday morning, we are at the bus station with our suitcases to catch the Eavesway bus.  It’s a nice feeling to know that the next time we see those suitcases, they will be outside our cabin.  No lugging them about from bus to ship and should anything amiss happen to the bus – ie breaking down, caught up in traffic, the ship will hang on for us.  That wouldn’t happen if we were in our own car.  (Coming home we were delayed by over two hours because of 2 huge crashes on the motorway – so it happens). 
We always seem to stop at Northampton services, which has become part of our little regime.  The service there is always so awful, it just serves to prepare us for the different world waiting for us around the corner.  I’m giddy as a kipper, Mr C doesn’t see it (yet).
From arriving at the docks we’re checked in and clear customs within half an hour. 
Mr C thought the ship would be big but I don’t think he was prepared just for how massive she is as he has a slight panic about how something the size of a small village is going to be able to float. 

 Mr C is now armed with his cruise card which acts as his passport, his cabin key and his ‘credit card’ whilst on holiday.  The word ‘cabin’ has obviously confused him. 

He thinks that we’ll be in hammocks with only a small porthole to see out of.  I watch his face as we enter the body of the ship and it’s wearing an expression of ‘wow’.   That’s nothing compared to his first sight of the ‘cabin’ – a lovely roomy 4 berth with a living area, two TVs, fridge, large ensuite and a balcony.  Ice-wine (oh the nicest beverage in the world) is waiting for us in an ice bucket from my lovely friend Michele – and welcome chocolates for the boys.  At least the boys took it that they were for them from the speed they tore into them.

It doesn’t take us long to unpack as there is just the one formal night on this cruise.  There is plenty of room for all our clothes.  Tweenage boys tend to take up a lot of space, but we aren’t falling over each other by any stretch.  We take Mr C on a whistle-stop tour of the bars and restaurants and the theatre.  You really see the true length of the ship when you’re on a residential corridor – it feels an incredibly long walk back to the cabin if you pick the wrong staircase .  Mr C was expecting one restaurant, one swimming pool, one bar.  There are twelve restaurants and four pools.  And a sports court.

There is the obligatory life-jacket safety meeting

and once that’s out of the way, things feel more in holiday mode.  The brass band on the dockside plays as we push away into the sea.  We don’t have a celebratory glass of champers as we’ve just devoured the Ice-wine and any more booze would see us floating without the aid of a boat. 

We have a bit of a scrub-up for dinner.  It’s casual on the first night, but still nice to change and be fresh.  Mr C thinks the menu is the same on every night and can’t quite believe that it changes.  His brain starts whirring about how much food that must mean they carry in the galleys.  I – me – Mrs Stress-head – tell him ­ to chill and pick up the wine-list.   The prices of booze on board are surprisingly good value.  In fact the gorge Pinotage which my eyes always drift to is one of the nicest I’ve ever had and would cost much more in a Leeds bar.  Mr C is more than peckish now, as we haven’t had anything since a very early lunch stop so a starter, soup, main, dessert, cheeseboard, coffee and petit-fours is a welcome prospect – except he’s pig-full by dessert and can’t fit anything else in.   The people on the next table have a birthday so there’s the waiter chorus of Happy Birthday – the most tuneless singing in the world, but one which no holiday on a P & O ship is complete without. I’m waiting for the CD.  

He’s loving the ambience of the restaurants and the friendliness of the waiters and can’t believe how alive the ship is after dinner.Spoilt for choice what to do: shop, go and see a show, visit the casino… we plump for the coffee bar:The Tazzine. And the Metropolis - right at the top of the shop. The sea is calm as milk – Mr C can’t actually believe we’re moving.He’s heard too many stories about force 13 gales but the ship is rock-steady, the sun is blasting out rays – we could be in the Med rather than heading towards Zeebrugge

We have a relatively early night because it’s been a long day and we’ve got a trip booked to Bruges.  Our cabin has been tidied up, chocolates placed on our pillows, the lighting subdued and the beds turned down.  Mr C isn’t used to this treatment (and he better not get used to it at my house either!) We have a coffee on the balcony, looking at the moon and nothing else really and Mr C can’t quite believe that he feels the ‘nothing’ is a really nice sight. Rather disappointingly for me, the ship doesn’t rock me to sleep with that cradle-effect that can have other people reaching for the sick-bags.  It’s so steady, we could be on dry land.

Bruges is our stop the next day.  It’s boiling – but getting on the bus and being presented with free Belgian chocs makes me think I’ve booked the right trip.  After weeks of rain the sight of a honey-yellow sun is divine (although when we ring home, Barnsley is having the same so we can’t gloat as much as we’d like). 

Bruges is delightful - like a cobbled street town from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We half expect to see Benny Hill working from a toyshop here.  It's much bigger than I imagined, with pretty pealing bells and chocolate shops EVERYWHERE.  Quite imaginative designs of chocolates too (gulp!)

The heat drives us into a roadside bar at lunchtime where we are forced to partake of the local blond beer – and thank God for that.  It’s like nectar. 

My son picks the best thing on the menu – the local speciality:  beef stew cooked in brown beer with ‘frites’ (which always sound so much crunchier and healthier than chips). 

 Luckily the heat forces us into another bar later on where we have more local beer and the lads have a waffle.

Obviously I buy chocolates – in a traditional shape as I’m not sure my dad would appreciate chocolate reproductive organs.

We wave goodbye to a very warm Bruges as we get tarted up for the formal night. Mr C, not normally happiest in suits, is totally up for that. ‘Do people usually make the effort?’ he asks, unable to quite believe that nearly everyone is swanning around in long dresses or cocktail dresses –even the women! Some men are in suits, some hardened cruisers in their tuxedos.

Mr C – bless him – thought that everyone walked around in tuxedos during the day as well.  Ah the myths there are on ships!  He now realises that you don’t need horribly expensive ball-gowns and Moss Bros suits on cruises.  One black frock with a different necklace does me for at least two posh nights.  He decides to fit in a few catalogue poses - I feel obliged to assist.

I have a gorgeous meal this evening – asparagus with a duck’s egg and parmesan crisp,


 and then a pear tarte with vanilla pod ice-cream

 Then we are off to the cabaret lounge to watch a comedian.  If you would have told me that I’d be fascinated by a bloke standing on a stage making noises like trains, I would have laughed you out of town.  But I am amazed.  So – never say never.
On the third day we land in Le Havre.  I cocked up a bit really as I booked us on a trip to Paris for the day – which is over a three hour drive away.  ‘Oh you should have gone to Honfleur – it’s the prettiest place in the world!’ said my friend Michele. But I tried too hard to impress – and that was a mistake because you really don’t need to try on a ship.  It’s impressive enough without any extra effort.
Still – it is again the most beautiful sunshiney day and nice to wander around Paris. We pass the Princess Diana memorial above the tunnel where she died.  The flame is an exact replica of the flame on the Statue of Liberty.

We have a lovely walk to the Trocadero to take pics and sit by the fountain where my son made us all v envious by jumping into the water because it was so unbelievably hot. 

 Then we take the Metro to Tuileries so I can drag everyone to Angelinas for the best hot chocolate in the world. 

 A great plan – except that we are wilting in the heat and only want beer, very cold beer.  So I can’t show off the chocolate, but I can show off the ice-cream. 

Their ‘Marron’ ice-cream is to die for. 
Luckily I don’t die though and it gives me a bit of a chance to show off my masterly local ordering of different flavours of ice-cream.  (I tried speaking French in Bruges yesterday where they speak Dutch and thought I was Italian… so I had points to earn back).

It is a long journey back – we slept – and we go straight into dinner.  Mr C is now fully in cruise mode.  It’s about after three days that you ‘slip into’ the holiday I always feel.   He’s loving the ship so much, I could have cancelled the trip to Paris and just sat around the pool doing nothing and I think he’d have enjoyed it more.
We go to see a show in the theatre, have a cocktail in Las Ramblas which is the most chilled out place on the ship for me – all Spanishy and live guitar music in the background.  And cracking Sangria. 

I don’t know who switched on the weather but it’s absolutely gorgeous.  When we retire to the cabin, the lads are peckish (what!!!?)  So they decide to order some pizza and pasta from Room Service.  Mr C volunteers to pay.  It's free, laugh the lads.  Mr C thinks they’re joking – they aren’t!  (my son sneaked out on the balcony with his!)

The last day is spent in Guernsey.  A cloud drifts past the blue sky, realises he’s on his own and so buggers off embarrassed.  We go downstairs for a posh breakfast this morning, picked from a menu and served by waiters rather than the buffet serve-yourself restaurant upstairs.  It’s tenders to get ashore – my faves – lovely little bouncy boats to carry you from the ship. 

We have a lovely walk around, but it’s too English for me with all those shop names:  Monsoon, Boots, C & A (C & A!!!!).  It’s too much of a reminder that I’m near home and I don’t want to be because it’s all been too nice – again.  And any cruise I’ve ever been on ‘could have been a bit longer.’ 

When we get back to the ship, we find some sun-beds and the lads get in the pool and I know that Mr C will love his sea-days more than the port days when he comes back – and he will… because I’ve got him hooked now, like some benign drug-pusher.  The lads decide to go off and get a burger from Frankie’s the poolside restaurant – Mr C again whips out his card and again the lads chuckle because it’s free.  He can’t believe it that you can just go and get food and not have to pay ( It’s too dangerously wonderful and now he’s back home, I hope he doesn’t try it in Macdonalds).  

 Today has been easy and relaxed and I think his favourite day because he didn’t have to get up early to get on a trip.  He stretches out on a sunbed with his drink and I feel his bones sighing. 

As a taster this cruise has whetted his appetite and he wants more because the ship-magic has worked.  It’s lived up to all my hype.  (We’ve only been back two days and he’s bought a bow-tie).

We have dinner

then watch a comedian, walk around the deck with the stunningly gorgeous backdrop of a glass-like sea and a pink sun. 

Our bags are packed and left out at night to be taken ashore. Posh breakfast the next morning in the restaurant to send us on our way and we’re back to earth with a bump stuck in traffic jams after a fatal crash on the M1. Some poor sod isn’t going to be booking any more holidays – that makes me extra keen somehow to get home and whip out my brochure.
Would I recommend this cruise?  As a test for anyone not sure if cruising is for them – oh yes.  One formal night is perfect – not too much pressure on finding a wardrobe (although I do have friends who don’t take a suit at all because they spend all day at work in suits and so prefer to eat up in the buffets in the evening which is a much more casual affair!)  It’s just enough time to feel yourself falling under a ship spell, if you’re going to – and if you hate it, well, it’s not too long until you’re back home (Can’t say I’ve ever met anyone who has hated it, although there must be some - I'm just glad I'm not one of them.)

The main myths dispelled for Mr C are that a cruise is for 'old, posh people'.  The Ventura is a family ship and there's loads to do for people of all ages.  That people have to spend a fortune on designer gear for the night - and the day.  Prada and Primark mix quite beautifully.  And you won't find anyone walking around in a ballgown during the day - it's comfort first and bugger the designer names.  That people don't spend half their holiday being sick over the side because the boat is rocking like newlyweds in a caravan.  The ships are fully stabilised - but yep, when there are high winds, there is movement (a jab in your bottom from the onboard doc will sort you out - it's bloody fabulous).  This cruise was as steady as a plastic surgeon's hand.  That you're going to be cramped.  There's LOADS of space on board so Claustrophobics won't need extra meds.   And it's SAFE.  You might be 19 storeys up and looking over at the sea but the only way you're going to end up overboard is if you deliberately climb up over the barriers and throw yourself into the briney.  You can't 'slip' through the railings (even if you did lay off the cream teas).  And it's nigh on impossible to be bored.  If quizzes, swimming, theatres, gyms, comedians, live music, dancing, shopping, lectures, the spa, scoffing, port visits, the cinema aren't enough for you, then good luck finding a holiday that does 'float your boats.'

The blow of getting home is a sort of soft one for me as I’ll be back on board within weeks ‘working’ on a much longer cruise in the Med.  One where I’ll be able to immerse myself fully into the lovely relaxing life, napping during the day on a sun-bed and hoping the lads give me a nudge if I start snoring.  As soon as we’re booked up on our next one with Mr C, I can guarantee he’ll start ticking the days down to lying out and vegging on that sunbed.  That’s what happens when the addiction kicks in ;)

Thanks to P and O Cruises as always.
For anyone who wants to read my book about fictional women on a real cruise in the summer slip 'Here Come The Girls' in your holiday luggage.  A few people have written to me to say that they've booked their first cruise after reading it - if that's happened to you, I'd love to know about it :)

AND if you want to win a free copy of Here Come The Girls - just tell me which your fave P & O ship is and why.  I'll ask the lovely Michele Andjel there to help me pick.  Competition ends on 10th September.

Milly x

Follow P & O on Twitter  - @pandocruises