Ash, Palaces and E.M Forster

This week should have started with a journey I had been dreading since last November. By screwing up my diary, I found myself double booked, accepting a concert in Ireland while I was already contracted to perform on a cruise ship. The only way to do both was to get a taxi from Southampton on the day of the concert, fly to Dublin, do the show and then re-join the ship in Spain a couple of days later. Possible, but stressful. Fortunately for me (though no one else) the volcano meant all flights we're off and neither I nor the orchestra could make it to Ireland. The concert was cancelled and I stayed on the ship long enough for the ash crisis to blow over. Hopefully our Nat Cole concert in Dublin will be rescheduled soon; it's such a wonderful programme.

The cruise was on the brand new SAGA Pearl II - a very friendly, small, stylish ship - and was one of the most enjoyable I've had for ages. I visited Casablanca for the first time and enjoyed a traditional Moroccan lunch and a visit to the huge Hassan II mosque. In Lisbon, another one of our ports of call, I decided to venture further than Zara and the High Street pastéis and get the 40 minute train to Sintra. What a find! All these years I've been visiting Lisbon and I never knew about these palaces and castles right under my nose.

A few days later we were in Cadiz. Another revelation. Packed with charming streets, every corner turned revealed a new delight. Walking through the narrow streets to the huge cathedral was almost as dramatic as approaching Petra's Treasure House through between the rocks as the snatched glimpses suddenly reveal an overwhelming architectural eye full. It's a place I will definitely revisit.

All this time away meant I could finish my book Howard's End. Beautiful writing and thrilling story. It’s littered with some lovely meanderings, like:

“But the Imperialist is not what he thinks or seems. He is a destroyer. He prepares the way for cosmopolitanism, and though his ambitions may be fulfilled, the earth that he inherits will be grey.”

“It is the vice of a vulgar mind to be thrilled by bigness, to think that a thousand square miles are a thousand times more wonderful than one square mile, and that a million square miles are almost the same as heaven.”

Inspiring stuff!