Today was a really special day. Lauren’s 9th birthday, and the day we crossed the equator!
I was really touched how everyone – from the captain to the crew to all the other passengers – conspired to make today special for Lauren. Every single person she came across during the day wished her happy birthday. It was certainly one of the more memorable ones, and the first one since she was two that I didn’t have an incredibly complex cake to put together.
Last night I was give special permission from the chef to use his kitchen after Lauren had gone to bed to prepare her traditional birthday breakfast of pancakes. Given that passengers aren’t normally allowed to even step foot in there, this was a big deal. Working in that insanely hot environment gave me even more respect for our chef Matteo, who has worked on the ships since he was 19 and must now be in his 50s. And I have to say, the kitchen is a model of cleanliness and professionalism, everything sparkling and in its place – I guess having everyone go down with a bug would be a nightmare on a ship.
Once I’d finished the pancakes and cleaned up after myself, I decorated our table in the dining room which sparkly confetti, and the lounge with over-sized multicoloured balloons with ‘I am 9’ on them, before falling into bed just after midnight.
This morning when we arrived for breakfast, there was a little pile of things left for her from the other passengers – a bar of chocolate, a little bag, a necklace from Dakar, a card game. Somehow the fact that people couldn’t go shopping and had rummaged around for something special made it even more meaningful. I had decorated our table with confetti, and Lauren enjoyed taking the pancakes round (I’d made nearly 20 big ones).
After breakfast, we had decided to ‘do’ presents the German way, blindfolding her and hiding them one at a time under a bin. She was then given a stick (a broom handle) and told to bash around until she hit the bin, with the adults calling out ‘hot’ ‘cold’ ‘chaud’ ‘froid’ – sometimes in a not very coherent manner. At one point she wandered out into the corridor while I was hiding another present, and she narrowly missed bashing the captain, who looked rather bemused as he rapidly sidestepped her flailing broom handle.
The presents were just little bits of things really, with an emphasis on consumable or tiny, but she seemed happy and the game made them last longer!
At lunch, the Germans arrived with sparklers and presented her with a card with tokens on for a game of monopoly, a game of ping pong and a game of wizard – ‘whenever she likes’ – which was brave! Vincenzo, our steward, helped me bring in the two birthday cakes (!), decorated with various candles and edible decorations I’d brought with me, and we managed to make them stretch to all 37 people on board – it was Lauren’s desire that no one be left out. I was really glad we had bought the supremely expensive but delicious cake in Dakar, as the one I had brought from the UK wouldn’t have gone far. We also managed a version of Happy Birthday in English, French, Italian, Portuguese and German between us.
After lunch we all congregated as usual in the lounge for table football, and the French and Swiss ladies requested a ‘dance show’ from Lauren, having seen her dance at some point before. It was the second time they mentioned it, so I allowed her to oblige (I am always wary of inflicting such things on people, lets face it, other people’s kids can be excruciating to watch, but they seemed genuine, and its not like they had the option of the Bolshoi). She did a couple of ballet pieces and then slammed out a crazy routine to Waka Waka. At some point, Bernard the French guy asked her to teach him some moves, to great hilarity all round, especially when she started with a kick down into the splits!!! The things he did with his hips should never be repeated.
Around 2pm we crossed the equator. I was keeping a close eye on the GPS on my phone, and we went up on deck at approximately the right time to look around – not really sure what we imagined – some kind of dotted red line across the sea? – but it was just endless sky and sea, as it has been since we left Dakar, and after taking a picture of the infinite stretch of nothing, we returned below decks to the cool of the cabin and (yet another) game of monopoly.
Late afternoon there was a knock at the door. I wasn’t really decent so sent Lauren to answer it. She came back beaming with a bag full of stuff from the captain and officers: a Grimaldi cap and t-shirt, a game of scrabble (in Dutch, which adds to the challenge), and a bag with ‘Happy Birthday from all the staff of the Grande Amburgo” stuck on the front. I’d seen the captain rummaging around in the storeroom earlier, and assumed it had something to do with the mythical equator ceremony we had heard rumours about but that never materialized. Lauren was delighted, and wore the t-shirt and cap for the rest of the day.
All in all, it was a wonderful, memorable birthday. In fact, it was so much easier than birthdays at home (involving parties, sleepovers, elaborate cakes and activities) that I may well plan to be in the middle of the ocean every 9th of January from now on !