A press release arrived on our sun-lounger this week. Well, not exactly the sun-lounger itself, but the tablet gizmo thingy that Treadwell has taken to using instead of the laptop. Frightfully useful gadget compared to lugging a 20lb steam-powered ‘portable computer’ around.
Portable? Hah! If Hannibal had been equipped with them, he’d have needed a lot more elephants to cross the Alps for his little tête-a-tête with the Romans.
But the tablet – a pure joy to use and peruse. We can even do The Times crossword on it when we’re tired of the sea view. But we digress…
The press release was just one of several that morning, with one missive breathlessly telling us about the new ‘wellness’ programme aboard Regent Seven Seas (love the cruise line, but can’t bear that word. ‘Wellness’? It sounds like some kind of druid’s greeting – “And how is Your Wellness today?”).
Then there was the one about the Maiden Voyage of the new Uniworld river-cruise ship, the SS Joie De Vivre (love the cruise line, but what were they thinking with that name? Joie De Vivre? It’s only a step removed from La Plume De Ma Bloody Tante).
What’s up with ship-naming conventions these days? We’ve only just railed against the likes of the Norwegian Breakaway (ghastly) and MSC Seaside (even worse), and along comes this challenge for all non-French speakers. “Joy de what? What on earth does that mean?” You can hear it already. But we digress once more…
No, the real headline-grabbing item was all about the latest novelty going aboard the new Silver Muse of Silversea Cruises (maiden voyage, April 19). Now, regular readers will already be keenly aware we are not fans of cruise novelties or gimmicks. If we want bumper cars or ten-pin bowling, we’ll go to the pier at Southend-on-Sea (actually, that’s the last place we’d go, but you get the idea).
But this is something genuinely new, except for the fact it’s very old, nay, traditional for sea travel. It’s a library. But not just any library. It will be created and stocked by none other than Heywood Hill of Curzon Street.
Heywood Who? We hear some of you ask. Tsk, tsk. Such ignorance. Darlings, Heywood Hill is simply THE bookshop, the crème de la crème of all book retailers, the heavyweight of hardbacks, the prince of publications. It has been around since 1937 and still keeps the esteemed company of its Mayfair next-door neighbour Geo. F. Trumper, Gentlemen’s Barber’s and Perfumers (Est. 1875).
It was originally created by Old Etonian Heywood Hill, who married the daughter of the third Earl of Cranbrook. Today, the company is owned by Peregrine Cavendish, the 12th Duke of Devonshire, and it remains a legend in bookshop terms.
It is about the size of a large telephone box (if such a thing still existed) and is positively Tardis-like in its ability to encompass a seemingly endless array of curiosities, novelties that in this case take the form of all manner of rare books, cultured titles and erudite reading.
And, from next month on, it will also be sailing the Seven Seas inside what promises to be Silversea’s most refined vessel.
Back in my youth, I spent many a happy hour poring over the various volumes behind Heywood Hill’s staid arched doorway, but it has been years since either of us wandered that way. Happily, it seems they Hill may now be wandering towards us.
Because, if there is one thing that goes together with a good promenade deck almost as well as a gin-and-tonic, it is a good book. Back in the day of five or six sea days in a row (and which still sums up a proper Transatlantic voyage, by the way), escaping into an engrossing novel or epic history story was de rigueur for all well-travelled passengers.
You simply couldn’t survive without some essential reading, and the ability to regale your fellow travellers with a full précis of it over afternoon tea and scones.
Sadly, it was a tradition that seemed to have been lost in the modern cruise ethos, an anachronism of a former time and style of cruising. With so many gadgets and gimmicks being loaded on to ships in recent years, the humble book isn’t even an afterthought for most cruise lines.
But not any more. For, in the shape of Heywood Hill, Silversea passengers will be able to enjoy a genuinely bespoke library experience, a selection of books curated with a true literary bent.
The library will be part of the new Arts Café aboard the Muse, a combination cosy lounge and exhibition space that will also feature changing works of art as well as this mini-temple to all things bookish.
Nicky Dunne, Chairman of Heywood Hill, explained: “We are delighted to be working with Silversea Cruises. A library is a sanctuary from which to explore the world in comfort, just like a world class cruise ship. The brief was to choose books that Silversea guests will really enjoy and that will only add to the quality of their experience onboard. We have taken a lot of trouble in selecting titles for the Arts Café and we can’t wait to hear what the passengers think of our choices.”
Barbara Muckermann, Silversea’s Chief Marketing Officer, added: “Like Silversea, the Heywood Hill brand stands for quality, expertise and personalisation, so we are thrilled to have them curate Silver Muse’s library. We’re excited to offer guests the all-new Arts Café, which promises to be the ideal space for kicking back with a book, enjoying a cocktail or catching up with friends over a coffee.”
Realistically, they had us at ‘cocktail.’ But add in a decent cappuccino or espresso, as well as an excellent reading choice, and we will be aboard every time.