by KATE LEAVER
The last time my mother was on a ship, she was four years old. She rode the odd 13,500 nautical miles of wave, through the navy swell from London to Sydney, to start a new beachside life with her family.
So when mum and I found ourselves aboard a P & O cruise ship regally called The Pacific Jewel, it was a very different experience. We stopped at three island ports, each more sparkling than the last: Noumea, Lifou Island, and Port Vila in Vanuatu. It was a Pina Colada Adventure of circus performers, aromatherapy saunas, and geriatric Bingo. It was a cavalcade of happy families pacing zebra-print carpet and dining at sumptuous restaurants.
The only thing in common was the pirate-themed costume night.
The most important thing I can report from the high seas is that sharing a small cabin with your mother can be a rather gorgeous bonding experience. For me, it was a quick 5-day refresher on why my mum is so impossibly fabulous.
Now, when you’re on a cruise, you meet all sorts of people. Big ones, small ones, young and old, noisy folk, honeymooners, grandparents, sneaky teenagers, cute toddlers. They swim, they dance, they impersonate Elvis in front of hundreds of people. They play 9am trivia, learn the tango, hit the treadmill, treat themselves to massages, relax by the pool, and spend quality time with the family. If they’re feeling lucky, they hit the lavish blackjack table.
And they eat. A lot.
(See the gallery below for evidence of the ship’s two most divine deserts: Luke Mangan’s Chocolate Tasting Plate and the head pastry chef’s Mango Four Ways. I ate the perfect steak & truffle mash with sides of bacon and zucchini, pear and rocket salad, and thick chips so quickly I’m afraid I didn’t get a photo. Just imagine the most delicious thing ever, and multiply it by 5).
It’s a funny thing, spending a week with strangers on a ship, but it gave me time to see my mum as other people do – immediately warm, kind, and funny. The person who guesses the nationality of cleaning staff when they challenge her, who makes people roar with laughter, who gives so generously of herself to complete strangers. And, sitting just past her pretty smile, quite the filthiest sense of humour I’ve ever known.
I caught myself looking at my mum sideways when we were sipping cocktails in a group, marveling at the ease with which she connects to people. I saw, all over again, what a nimble friend-maker she is, and how grateful I am every day to have her with me. I swooned and plucked up like a peacock every time someone else realized how awesome my mum is.
It’s been six years since I lived at home with my mum. I visit her often, and we speak most days. But I carry around with me in my most vulnerable times, a persistent nostalgia for living at home with my ma. She’s special. For that week – bobbing on the ocean, swimming in waterfalls, eating three-course meals every night – I felt at home again.
I think maybe because my mum is my home. We’re soul buddies, and we survive anything together.