Fate blesses me, coaxing me from my home-decorating hamster wheel with the offer of a two-week Caribbean cruise. I jump at the offer, vibrating with excitement at the thought of leaving my glacial cottage for a fortnight afloat on warm aquamarine waves.
I will be cruising the “jewels” of the Caribbean on a ship replete with spa, fine dining, balconies, suites, caviar and champagne on demand. After all Martin’s work slaving at my cottage, of course I invite him to join me. Besides, there aren’t many other people I could spend a fortnight with squashed in a cabin.
We land on Saint-Martin, exiting the airport into a wall of heat, soft and gentle as a hug. I feel my body, tense from a winter shivering in a stone cottage, thaw out and relax.
Onboard the ship, the pampering begins. Everything is luxurious. The teak balconies, the lavish buffets, the decks laid with fat-cushioned sunbeds, far enough apart that you don’t have to socialise, weaved between by staff ferrying cocktails. Thoughts of the sewage issues plaguing my cottage quickly evaporate.
In Somerset, I’ve fretted endlessly over my new house – about the cost of heating oil and the black bloom of mould reappearing on my bedroom wall; about whether I’ll ever finish the kitchen (having enthusiastically ripped out the old cupboards, only to quickly learn the limits of my DIY skills). Now instead I give in to being spoilt.
Instead of spending days worrying about whether the fascia is leaking and how much it will cost to get the electrics re-wired, I turn my attention to finding the perfect sunbed to spend the day on reading Danielle Steel. I swap my morning panic about whether the boiler will be working well enough to give me hot water for a shower and, instead consider what time is acceptable to start ordering piña coladas by the pool, and whether it’s a faux pas to order cocktails directly to the hot tub.
I go from a cottage smothered by a fine layer of black dog hair to a cabin where the cleaner comes twice a day: making my bed, folding my clothes, leaving fresh flowers and fizz.
I forget how, at home, I have learnt to clean the outside drains by shoving a stick down the manhole through a sludge of caramel fatberg and instead waste a whole morning in my cabin wondering which cushions to choose from the pillow menu.
Some compare luxury to being treated like a child. On the cruise I enthusiastically regress to an infant state, swapping stressful grown-up decisions about how long to fix my mortgage for supremely frivolous ones, like whether dinner at 7pm is too early to leave us enough time for cocktails beforehand on the deck.
At times the indulgence on the cruise is profuse. Our cabin maid suggests Martin and I might like to place a regular order for caviar and champagne at 5pm to our cabin every day. We baulk at the ludicrous offer, then take her up on it. (It’s all-inclusive!)
For a week Martin and I are in bliss. Then something happens I had not thought possible. We acclimatise. Luxury becomes the norm. I forget that I live in a cottage where I often wake up shivering or my shower is interrupted by the shower head falling off the wall, and instead become so accustomed to luxury I start finding problems with it.
I go from giggling at the novelty of having “staff” to becoming mildly irritated by just how regularly the maid tidies our cabin (moving my carefully flung clothes) and how frequently the phone rings. “Can you believe it’s that fine restaurant calling to see if we want dinner in the grill again?”
We commiserate with fellow guests that on some days the absolutely perfect weather is a few degrees too hot (because instead of being out at sea the ship is moored by another paradise island). We feel disappointed when our piña coladas come without the extra topping of dark rum that one barman adds on specially to spoil us.
Martin and I are horrified when one morning we go out to the deck and find our favourite sunbeds have gone. Where are we supposed to sit? Having been shocked by the excess of placing a daily caviar order, we raise our eyebrows when once it comes 15 minutes late. We laugh at ourselves for being so spoilt yet it’s true that, somehow, amid total luxury we still find things to be dissatisfied with.
I’m reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s observation in his book David and Goliath where he explores how the relationship between money and happiness is an inverted-U curve. So, while having more money makes you happy to a point, after you’ve met your basic needs and enjoyed a few luxuries at some point your happiness plateaus and begins going into decline. Gladwell suggests that there is something in struggle itself, in hard work and knowing the value of money, that gives us satisfaction. That happiness is not so much about money but being fulfilled.
On the cruise I come to appreciate this, and realise something. That my tricky cold cottage with all its frustrations, cracks, troubles and leaks might actually be making me happy – not in spite of the challenges it throws at me, but because of them. Because with every new hindrance and glitch, every leaking tap and broken radiator I face, I get a kick out of working out how to fix it. And, afterwards, the buzz of knowing I did it.
I fly home, flushed by my epiphany, excited to go back to my cold, damp, leaky, wonderful cottage. I open my door to find Workaway T shivering in the kitchen
“The boiler has broken,” she says.
This week I’ve been obsessed with…
The Misfortune of the English, a new play by Pamela Carter, directed by Oscar Toeman, about optimism, misadventure and a group of schoolboys lost in a blizzard. Currently live at the Orange Tree Theatre and on livestream May 12 here
• The Candid Book club, a collection of five book-reviewing women of colour hosting online and live events: find them on Instagram @thecandidbookclub
• Ormande Jayne’s Peony scented candle. The house may be mayhem but at least it smells good