At the ripe old age of 72 I've decided to award myself a gap year. Woke up one day and realised that ever since I left cookery school at 20, I have never had more than a few weeks off. True, I've had plenty of wonderful hols and I took a few months leave when my children arrived, but I've never before opted out of real work for long.
I wanted a rest from novel writing, or indeed any book writing at all. So far I'm about half way through the year and to my surprise I have not suffered my usual writer's angst -- feeling vaguely restless and guilty if I don't write for a few hours a day. This could be because I've been doing it in a lot more style than hitching with a backpack. Instead I've swanned about the world, imbibing museums, music and sights in equal measure, and rewarding myself with frequent doses of five star luxury.
Happily, because I'm a director of Orient Express Hotels, I've been able to stay in the famous Mount Nelson in Cape Town, three safari camps in Botswana, the Governor's Residence in Yangon, dreamy hotels on Bali, and even get to sail up the Irrawady in a river cruiser and rattle up the Penang Peninsula on the Eastern Oriental Express. And I have just returned from a quick trip to Russia where we have the iconic Grand Hotel Europe in St Petersburg. What an extraordinarily lucky woman I am.
Needless to say I have put on half a stone in half a month. I had diligently lost that 7 lbs before the start of filming the new series of the Great British Menu. Then we had a short break and I went to Russia and stuffed myself full of herring and potatoes, caviar and blinis, chocolate cake and apple pie, all washed down with good Georgian wine and lots of vodka. We had two days of Orient Express meetings which meant two days of unavoidable dinners and lunches. Or at least unavoidable to me. I am incapable of resisting good food.
But at least I have developed a system for controlling, or half controlling, greed. I say to myself "Is it worth the calories?" If it is not truly delicious, it's not worth swallowing.
Trouble is caviar and vodka are always worth the calories.