Ferry tale


Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant in ‘An Affair to Remember’


WHAT a wasted opportunity it was, not getting stuck on that Irish Ferries ship that was stranded at sea for 48 hours on the way to Cherbourg this week.

The reason is that last year I bought the Rolls Royce of travel insurance policies for a princely €40. It covers me against accidents, acts of god, ash clouds, absent-mindedness, you name it. And I haven’t got any value out of it.

This is the sort of insurance policy that can even make a virtue out of a person’s shortcomings. If an item of luggage is delayed in arrival – delayed, mind, not even lost – I stand to gain €450, even though I’m too mean to spend money on clothes and hence can double the value of my entire outfit simply by putting a box of matches in my pocket.

Other personal failings are similarly rewarded. For instance, if my wanton unpunctuality causes me to miss my flight, am I obliged to trudge home in a sorry fashion, thinking about all the fun I’m not having? No, I am not. I am urged to sashay home and put in a claim for €1,000.

And what if, owing to my chronic reluctance to commit myself to a plan – any plan – and stick to it, I simply change my mind about travelling? Am I punished for my caprice? No, I am not punished. I am compensated, to the tune of up to €7,000.

Having never been knowingly overinsured before, I was really hoping to get the full use out of this. Instead, things have all gone swimmingly. Everything took off when it was supposed to; volcanoes remained stubbornly dormant; I didn’t break any bones while skiing (though I have only myself to blame for that, having neglected to ski); not a stitch of my impressive collection of outmoded polyester ended up in Abu Dhabi by mistake; because I travelled with people who still think you have to be at the airport two hours before, even when you’ve checked in online, I didn’t miss a single flight (though a certain amount of unpleasantness while we waited two sodding hours for the gate to open was unavoidable). And I flew Aeroflot, time and time again, without so much as a near-miss to show for it.

Now my beautiful insurance policy expires tomorrow, and won’t have benefited me in the slightest, not least because I wasn’t on that ferry. Worst €40 I ever spent.

The unlucky ship, the Oscar Wilde, left Rosslare last Sunday and was stuck outside Cherbourg because of the weather; when it finally docked on Wednesday, they couldn’t get the door open, so everyone was stranded on board for several more hours, gazing at that tent of blue which passengers call the sky, to paraphrase Oscar.

Only think of the cancelled hotel rooms I might have claimed for; the loss of my priceless mystery documents that got blown overboard; the ruination of my plan to spend a fortnight glamorously swanning around the Riviera in my manmade fabrics.

Having said that, it would take some effort to compensate a person for being stuck aboard a ferry. There are, of course, people who swear by ferries, but only because they’re too damn yellow to fly. So they pretend to enjoy the shrieking children, the stink of puke and chips, the tootle and flare of slot machines, and the society of a gang of merrymakers from Liverpool who are somehow still having a great time even though they’ve been drinking Carlsberg Special Brew for 24 solid hours and ought to have passed out long since instead of tirelessly trying to rope you into a singsong.

This isn’t what boat travel should be about. Boat travel should be about being Bette Davis in the second half of Now, Voyager. You begin as a frumpy middle-aged woman and by the time you’ve finished your cruise, you’ve lost ten years and ten kilos, while gaining the admiration of Paul Henreid and the ability to rock a hat.

Or better yet, you’re Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember. You manage to charm Cary Grant aboard a transatlantic liner, even though he’s a notorious dilettante and you’re a shade on the prim side, let’s be truthful. What a bit of luck. Then you meet his grandmother and the two of you get along famously. Things couldn’t be going better. Sure enough, you fall madly, hopelessly, teddibly in love.

Admittedly, for this ferry story to reach its happy-ever-after, you have to be hit by a car on your way to an assignation in the Empire State Building and end up in a wheelchair. But anything is possible: if he can paint, you can walk. And anyway, think of the insurance payout.


Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 17th March 2013 

Bedsitland and a soft sell

“An area developed for golf enthusiasts”?


THIS week we found out how both of the other halves live. The poor half are living in squalor on Dublin’s northside, while the rich half are enjoying a life of comfortable bankruptcy in England. The rest of us are somewhere in between, puzzling over our fractions.

The squalor has been found on Dublin’s North Circular Road, the heart of what used to be known as Bedsitland before bedsits were outlawed last month, solving one problem and creating another for reasons that really aren’t all that clear.

Environmental health officers from the city council inspected 589 privately-owned flats and found that 483 of them left too much to be desired by way of safety and comfort. They lack proper sanitation, they’re damp, they’re inadequately heated, they don’t have hot and cold running water, and their gas and electrical appliances are not properly maintained.

The landlords have been given a year to set their houses in order, which means the tenants have also been granted another year amid the cold and the mould and the potent reek of butane and lovelessness.

So much for the wretched inhabitants of the North Circular. The very same day that we found out about the living conditions of those misused men (and they might not be mostly men, but it seems likely), we also got a gratuitous gawk at the former home of a former boy from the former boy band, Westlife.

In 2004, Shane Filan built a massive, 10,000-square-foot McMansion in County Sligo at a reported cost of some €4 million, providing clear proof at the time that, from a financial perspective at least, if not an aesthetic one, you can do a lot worse than flogging vestal pop to pre-teens.

Then Filan immersed himself in property, and ended up €23 million underwater. So last year he was obliged to depart his homeland for the more clement insolvency regime across the Irish Sea, where he now lives in a house in Surrey worth a piffling €2.5m.

The estate agent’s listing for ‘Castledale’, as the Sligo house is known, includes an exhaustive description and 30 photographs for nosy parkers to pore over while mulling deep philosophical questions about what the life you didn’t live might have been like had you lived it.

Shane Filan’s house is set on four-and-three-quarter acres including a “small lake”. It has five bedrooms and six bathrooms and a bar and a gym and a studio and a three-car garage. So far so unlike anyone else’s house.

It also has a “piano area”, and… wait, hang on. If you’ve got a piano, then you’ve got a “piano area”, don’t you? Your piano must inhabit an area of floor, surely, unless you’ve suspended it from the ceiling for some idiotic reason of your own, or you’re just pretending to have a piano, or it’s made of anti-matter (and if your piano answers any of these three descriptions, please stop reading now and go and talk things over with someone you can trust).

‘Castledale’ also has a “cinema room” instead of a cinema, and a “nursery room” instead of a nursery, and a “gym facility” rather than a gym. It has a “sunroom area”, not a sunroom. You begin to get the picture. So if you’ve got a piano and you’ve never thought of calling it a “piano area”, well, that’s because you’re not an estate agent and you’ll never be an estate agent. You don’t have what it takes to be an estate agent. Now put that coffee down. Coffee is for closers.

Another interesting feature of ‘Castledale’ is that it has what’s called “an area developed for golf enthusiasts”. The agents don’t explain what that means but we can take a guess it probably entails a gin-tonic fountain, a wardrobe full of God-awful clothes, and a microphone, for all those faux-humble speeches.

The house has been stripped of furniture, so we don’t get to mock the previous inhabitants’ taste, more’s the pity. It’s not like Graceland, where visitors laugh superciliously at Elvis’s shag pile, while the voice of Elvis is heard protesting crossly from beyond the grave: “Jeez, everyone had it then! Is it my fault Priscilla hasn’t redecorated?”

‘Castledale’ is on the market for €990,000, or less than a quarter of its reputed build cost. But there’s a fierce bang of Westlife off the place. If those walls could talk… they’d croon breathily: “Take a look at me nooooow, there’s just an empty space.” Plus there must be a strong possibility that Brian McFadden relieved himself in any or all of the six toilets. Caveat emptor and all that. But if it’s sanitation and heat you’re after, it’s a better bet than the North Circular Road.


Published in the Irish Mail on Sunday, 3 March 2013