Cruising: or how I learned to love the Towel Monkey

Better than a view of the No47 bus.

Last year we went to Mauritius. This will come to no surprise to anyone who has ever had more than a fleeting acquaintance with me, as for six months beforehand and a good six months after, I shoehorned the phrases “we are going to Mauritius!” and “We went to Mauritius!” into conversations about buying plimsoles, repairing guttering, tax rebates and marital infidelity.

If you have spent most of your child-rearing years holidaying in a mobile home campsite in northern France, complete with wafer-thin mattresses, sporadic rain, and nightly, bad-tempered games of gin rummy, as we have, then you will understand why on the first day of the Mauritius holiday I actually wept with joy and waded into the sea with all my clothes on.

And why, like turning left when you get onto an aeroplane, I believe going to Mauritius actually ruins you for every holiday you will ever have in your life ever. Unsurprisingly, this year nobody wanted to return to the mobile home, and having been left a small family bequest (not enough for Mauritius. Believe me, we checked), we decided to spend it on a short cruise round the Med. It’s hard to satisfy 3 children with a wide age difference, and people I know who know about such things told me that their children loved it. That the food was incredible. That we would never want to do anything else.

Well, to a point, Lord Copper. Child#1, a teenager, refused point blank to join the teenagers club. I couldn’t blame her. The mere thought of being 13 and walking into a disco full of other teenage strangers makes my toes curl with fear. And I, as she keeps reminding me, am OLD.

Child#2 didn’t want to join the “Explorers”. What he really wanted was to play Nintendo. And on being told no, he spent half his time by the free frozen yoghurt machine, and the other peering over the shoulders of random foreign Nintendo DS players whose parents were obviously NOT INHUMANE TORTURERS, returning only to regale us with their Pokemon battle strategies.

Child#3 is just too little. His eyes actually brim with tears at the mere words: “kids’ club”. He doesn’t hear well either, so the thought of leaving him in some cacophany of careening offspring didn’t appeal. Which took away around 70 per cent of our reasons for being there.

Perhaps we are just not cruise people. The ship was astonishing, yes; a vast floating city of spotless pools and Titanic-style opulence. Our cabin was generous. But we live in the middle of nowhere in silence disturbed only by birdsong and the sound of my neighbour’s distant shriek when our dog steals into her kitchen, and being surrounded by so many people made me feel permanently vaguely panicky.

Plus we are holiday slobs, and my husband was visibly horrified when he discovered we were expected to dress for dinner. On ‘formal’ night, it is fair to say we were the only family where the head of the table sported flip flops and a checked shirt (this pretty much qualifies as formal for him. On the other formal day he wore his battered Converse).

Towel Monkey. Do not try this at home.

And then there was the waiter thing. I could cope with having our own steward, not least because he was a genius at bath-towel origami. And anyone who means I don’t have to pick up all the towels gets my vote. But there were no fewer than FOUR waiters to our dinner table. It became embarrassing.
Me: “Can I order a coke please?”
Waiter 1: “I am the head waiter, Madame. You will have to speak to your table waiter.”
Me, to Waiter 2: “Um, can I have a coke please?”
Waiter 2, smiling: “I am your table waiter, Ma’am. You need your bar waiter.”
Waiter 3 arrives with wine. Me (thirstily): “Can I have a coke please?”
Waiter: “I am Jose your wine waiter Ma’am. You need to speak to your bar waiter.”
Me: clutches tablecloth, makes dying-of-thirst noises, lowers bucket into sea and drinks seawater. They were all lovely, but really, a system where you can’t Just Order A Fecking Drink is not my idea of luxury.

And that opulent menu was a little wasted. Because just as they do every holiday, the boys gradually reduced their menu options to two food groups: Pizza and Chips. Plus Ice-cream, which, the youngest assured me several times, is actually a vegetable. I kept checking his legs to see whether it was possible to get rickets after six days at sea.

Still, it was amazing in bits. Waking up at sea is pretty marvellous, (even if one day I threw open the curtains in my undies to find a harnessed marine engineer on the other side of the porthole. I’m not sure who shrieked louder). My morning run round the top deck was idyllic. Watching a movie on an open air screen at night on a moving ship is also a new high on my pleasures list. If we do it again, we might even get the time right so that we arrive more than 15 minutes before the finish.

And I spent every evening staring out at the sea and saying dreamily: “I know it’s stupid, but I keep hoping to see a dolphin”, and, occasionally, playing an infantile family game where someone shouts: “Look, a dolphin/whale/waterskiing donkey!” and cackles with glee if anyone unwittingly turns to look.
But, as if by magic, on the last evening, I looked out and suddenly there were two dolphins, their bodies a pair of perfectly silhouetted arcs, diving into the water alongside the ship.
“Dolphin!” I shrieked, when I could speak.
“Yeah. Right,” said my children, not looking up from their ice cream.

“So what did you think of that, kids?” I said, when we finally disembarked in Barcelona (my new favourite city. But that is another story).
“It was good,” said Child#2, thinking for a moment. And then he turned back to his Nintendo. “But it wasn’t Mauritius.”

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