7 December 2020
Louise would have been 31 today. Almost ten years since she died. It is simultaneously like yesterday and an aeon ago. This morning – 3 am to be precise due to jetlag – I flipped though her Facebook photos and her joie de vivre, sense of naughtiness and good humour shone out to me. Of course she had her moments – we all do – and I remember when she was about 14 or 15 regularly waiting on the stairs listening for the late night bus to rumble past in the hope that she would be on it…and at some point she would tumble through the front door and I would pretend to be asleep.
And there was the time we had to bail her out of Kentish Town police station for being in possession of rather more spliffs than the police thought were appropriate for personal use. She got off with a caution and an undertaking to attend a weekly class to teach her how to be good. Well that was never going to happen – being good I mean: she dutifully attended the classes and, being Louise, was fascinated by her fellow offenders.
Ah Louise – how we miss you.
And this year we have a double reason to celebrate 7th December – for it is also the birthdate of my other great labour, my book, ten years in the making, encouraged and inspired by Louise’s enthusiasm for our history and delivered in perfect synchronicity on her special day. In another twist of karma the official launch date is Tommy’s birthday, 21st January. There will be a launch on 20th Jan so save the date.
Normally we visit the Bench with Tommy and some of his/her friends and toast her memory. But the last two years we have been away, both times diving. In 2019 we travelled the world and made it back just in time for lockdown (perhaps it would have been better to have stayed away, what with Brexit and our hideous government) and this year we find ourselves overflowing with rock fever, the Little England mentality driving us mad.
So here we are in the delightful Maldives, one of the only places where you can arrive and holiday almost immediately without huge restrictions. I say ‘almost’ as we are surprised at having to have a COVID test-on-arrival and then be confined to our – admittedly luxury – over-water bungalow until the results come in!
The beauty of an over-water villa is that you can simply walk down some steps and slip into the turquoise sea – heaven. After a couple of nights was are upgraded into an even finer abode, with an outside shower & bath plus a wider terrace where we can do yoga, then chill out with a glass of wine and watch the sun go down.
We came here to dive and discover that Moofushi is the most awarded dive resort in the Maldives – and Blue Tribe is a well-run outfit. Compared to previous visits, the corals and marine life are healthier now after years of bleaching and shark over-fishing.
So the days merge into each other: early to rise, breakfast and out on the boat by 9 am for two dives. Usually the two of us have a guide to ourselves, but we mix it up a bit. The diving is not as spectacular as Raja Ampat or the Solomons, or the sharks as numerous as in French Polynesia, but we have good viz and see turtles, colourful schools of reef fish, eagle and mobula rays, loads of stone fish and one day an early manta at the cleaning station – and Ross saw a whale shark in the channel but failed to notify me (grrr) – very very rare. Ross’s photos can be found here
After lunch we doze, swim and read; one night I have a post-prandial board meeting that goes on for four hours – but that aside it’s wholly relaxing. A good massage to help my poor rotator cuff injury, and in the evenings drinks with some of our new friends and dinner under the stars.
The other guests are about 70% British and mostly young – I think the all-inclusive offering appeals and it being a quarantine-free destination on return has resulted in hotels rising to 95% occupancy (from zero in early November) as Christmas approaches. A great relief for the islanders who have been struggling during nine months of lockdown. Tourism is the largest source of income here – and most resorts employ workers from India and Sri Lanka: the pandemic has had catastrophic effects on so many livelihoods.
The one drama of our holiday takes place on our penultimate dive when we are accosted (underwater) by a diver from a liveaboard who has lost her group and is out of air, and Shambe our dive master has to give her his octopus. It is a close shave for her, abandoned both by her dive master and by her so-called buddies. Don’t dive on the MV Orion! They chose Manta Point as their first test dive in a strong current. Utter madness.
Moofushi is everything the doctor ordered for lockdown escapees – small (not too small though), friendly staff and guests, great service and comfortable villas. All too soon our eight days have passed. One day we will return to this beautiful island, and meanwhile recommend it wholeheartedly.