Sunday, 20 March 2011


Holiday romances are a terrible cliché and should not be taken seriously at any cost but I’ve just come back from a Nile cruise followed by 3 nights in Cairo and guess what? I fell in love.

Having steeled myself never to allow another man anywhere near my heart ever again (my body is another matter . . . ) this Prince of Egypt with his devastating good looks, liquid eyes, batwing eyelashes and thick black locks swept me off my feet the second my gaze lit on him.

I didn’t seek it - I didn’t want it - I didn’t need it! - but there it was: heart fluttering like a trapped butterfly, breath catching in my dry throat, clammy palms, nervous giggles – the whole nine yards.

Of course when I say ‘in love’ I actually mean ‘in lust’. He was – and is – drop dead gorgeous.

For the first few days we flirted: little flashes of eye contact, secret smiles, looks than lasted longer than was strictly necessary. A tentative dialogue began: about the temples and the tombs at Luxor, the camel ride to the Nubian village, the felucca boat near Aswan and all the wondrous wonders of his amazing ancient world.

Almost subliminally, he began to materialise wherever I happened to be: on the sun terrace, round the pool, in the lounge, the dining-room, the reception area, the Panorama Bar. Late one afternoon at sunset, when everyone else had gone to their cabins to get ready for the Galabaya Party, I stayed writing up on deck. A lone figure lingered near the prow gazing out as the languid river drifted slowly past.

My concentration deserted me. I closed my laptop and wandered over to where he stood. And when he looked at me directly, up close for the first time, I drowned . . . drowned in the eternal well of his smouldering chestnut eyes.

What quirk of fate is this? I thought. To come away with my sister to a country no one wanted us to go to and find this magician, this weaver of spells, this legend of the Pharaohs right here in my face?

“Hello again” he whispered, as if we’d known each other long ago in another place and time. The words felt like warm treacle being spread across my breasts.

With very little more passing between us, we contrived to spend more time together. Intimate glances became our private language and I knew – as a perceptive woman – that something special had begun.

We snatched an hour on the last night, up on deck beneath a lemon moon - talking, teasing, our voices thick with promise. I told him (rather cleverly I thought) that my mobile was not receiving calls and would he mind dialling it. So now he had my number.

When time ran out, we said goodbye. He took a step towards me . . . then shook my hand instead. The kiss hovered unfulfilled between us in the air, the power of the visceral more intense than the carnal. We had our chance but didn’t take it. Nothing as base as cabin-hopping for the likes of us!

The minute I left, the texting began. I miss you. I need you. When will we meet again? How can I survive without your smile?

God knows what my bill’s going to be but you know something? I don’t care. Connections like this don’t come along that often and although I’ll probably never see him again, it was a lovely interlude.

He’s 41.

And a little bit married.

So now I’m going to get on with my life and not cry because it’s over but smile because it happened.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Wouldn't you like to fly...?

Did I mention I've decided never to say 'No!' to anything again? I’m not talking about that third helping of tiramisù or paddling across the Pacific on a plank, but turning down opportunities which may not arise again. After all, how many more chances am I gonna get? And it’s never too soon to start ticking off boxes on your bucket list cos before you know it the bucket’s gone rusty or you’ve kicked it before your time. The point is not to be frightened and never to think - let alone say: “I’m too old to do that.”

This musing was prompted by an invitation, as previously mentioned, to go hot air ballooning. Wow! I thought. Offers like that don’t come along every day and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. So I accepted with delight and gratitude but when I started telling people, some tried to bring me down with comments like: “Is it safe?” and “Won’t you be terrified?” which only compounded my desire to go.

The Festival International du Ballon takes place every year at Chateau-d’Oex, a picturesque village in the Swiss Alps. That's where we headed along with hundreds of other enthusiasts and spectators who flock to the town to marvel at the myriad of brightly-coloured balloons of all shapes and sizes taking to the skies.

Everyone ooh-ed and aah-ed as the aeronautical displays took place: paragliding, freefalling, sky-diving and a daredevil stuntman looping the loop in his busy, buzzy biplane. Could this be the famous Jean-Pierre Camembert who always goes down in flames? I wondered - and I knew it was him when I saw his cheesy grin.

The weather was perfect: cornflower blue sky, diamond white snow and billows of impatient inflatables straining to take off. We watched fascinated as the long limp lengths of cloth laid out on the piste were pumped full of air until they rose up like perfect soufflés.

We propped up the Champagne Bar while awaiting our flight and our names were eventually called. Rope handlers controlled the eager vessel as we clambered clumsily into the basket and were then released to soar . . . up, up and away in our beautiful balloon.

The landscape below soon diminished into Dolls' World as we floated freely above the earth – free to breathe the pure fresh air and reach out into the wide blue yonder, no metal wing or plastic pane shielding us from the atmosphere.

The pilot kept the craft climbing with powerful gusts of hot air blasted into the balloon’s body from the onboard gas cylinders. Hot air rises, cool air falls – that’s how it works. I feared my hair might catch fire such was the power of the flames but luckily the tanks were far enough away.

We reached our cruising altitude then drifted lazily across the valley over fields, forests and farmland - on the north side white with snow, on the south, a peaceful patchwork in varied shades of green. Cattle grazed, deer ambled, rabbits scampered homeward as foxes prowled around. It was fascinating to watch from above and you couldn’t help but wonder at this serene and silent world you’d never seen before.

After an hour or so, we landed lightly beside a cow shed, bending our knees as instructed to absorb any impact. The balloon was kept inflated so the pick-up truck could find us then they folded it away, stashed the basket in the back and returned us to our base. If I was asked to describe the experience in one word, I'd have to say'tranquil' for that is the enduring quality of a balloon flight.

Had I said ‘No’, I’d have missed out on a beautiful adventure so I'm glad I ignored the scare-mongers and did what I wanted to do.

I'm ignoring them again on Monday when I leave for Egypt - Gawd 'elp me. Camouflage patterned swimwear is all packed for the Luxor-Aswan trip and sequinned flak jacket and harem pants for Cairo! More about that next time.