"Can you remember the last time we went away together for a holiday?" My husband Billy and I had plonked ourselves down in a Heathrow lounge to await our Air Mauritius flight. "Nope," he replied, searching in his bag. "Morocco?" "Maybe so!" That got his attention. Around 1982 we'd escaped to Marrakech – memorable not just for the dodgy food, but also for the romance that took place in between bouts of vomiting. Of course, that was just before we had kids. "Hmmm," I mused, "so it's actually been 30 years since we took a break alone together…"
"Oh, fuck!" Tragedy had struck Billy in the form of no swimming trunks packed. That's got to be one of the main differences between wives and husbands – whereas I spent hours in front of my mirror trying on bathing costumes, cover-ups and sundresses to decide what to bring, my husband was trunkless. "No problem," I said. "I'll grab some from duty free." To punish him, I chose the silliest pair I could find – pink and white candy stripes. Unfortunately, he loved them.
Twelve hours later, after we'd been shown to our over-water villa at the Constance Le Prince Maurice, on the north-east side of Mauritius, I found a panic-inducing note regarding the hotel restaurant's evening dress code: "T-shirts, Bermudas, flip-flops and sports shoes are not accepted… gentlemen are requested to wear long trousers and shirts with sleeves." Expecting the worst, I sneaked a peek at my husband's holiday wardrobe, but was pleasantly surprised to see he'd actually packed the necessary. Now I just had to convince him to wear it.
To be honest, Billy associates all travel with work and would rather be burgled than fly off somewhere for a few days' R and R, even somewhere as beautiful as Mauritius. And I remembered a little too late that he absolutely detests sand – something to do with its "tendency to enter bodily crevices it has no business being in". I, on the other hand, adore the beach.
Our bungalow was over a mangrove lagoon, but a minute's walk revealed a perfect crescent of white sand dotted with comfy banquettes shaded by thatched umbrellas. I sneaked to the secluded far end, stripped to my iridescent lime-green G-string and began to tan my butt. I ordered a delicious vanilla and ginger cooler – brought by a buff man with a French accent – and decided I was in heaven.
But it wasn't long before I saw a hairy comedy king in baggy white linens strolling down the beach towards me, unabashedly eyeing the aristocratic-looking topless French women along the way. He clocked me and a frown formed. Billy hates my "Brazilian hooker" beach look. And he was bound to attract unwelcome attention. If I was here by myself, I could probably lie near-naked on the beach and go unnoticed; unfortunately, there's no mistaking Billy. Remaining fully dressed, he slid resignedly on to the lounger beside me and sipped some tea that arrived with the most wonderful tiny handmade lemon marshmallows.
"I fucking hate sand," he sighed, before settling in with my newspaper and falling asleep. I turned over on to my stomach and returned to the serious business of arse-browning, keeping a wary lookout for any stranger who might stroll up the beach in our direction. My exposed white, dimpled backside was not for public consumption. Unfortunately I, too, must have nodded off.
"Mr Connolly?" A British man in shorts and sunhat was standing over a wary Billy. I woke instantly and twisted round in alarm – then realised too late that although my arse was now covered, my breasts were not. "Sorry to intrude, but could I possibly have… erm…" he looked at me, though not at my face, "both your autographs?"
After that, I took to sunbathing in the privacy of our enclosed outdoor shower area, and rocked a more covered-up look for public beach appearances, swimming, snorkelling and kayaking. Oh yes, I like being active on holiday: engaging in beach activities, sightseeing, taking photographs and learning the local dances. Billy, on the other hand, likes to do sweet FA.
"Won't you come for a swim?" I would ask. "Nope," he'd always reply. "You don't have to worry about anything in the water," I coaxed. "There's a shark net." There wasn't, but Billy's a bit shark-phobic, so I lied. More to the point, why would he go to all the trouble of putting on his new candy-striped shorts and taking four steps across the beach to splash about in the warm lagoon when he could lie under a coconut tree and watch Celtic v Rangers on his iPad?
"You wanna get a sports massage?"
"Will you stop trying to schedule me!"
The next day I did get him to leave the room long enough to enjoy a relaxing massage in the frangipani-strewn spa and eat a fantastic dinner – fresh fish and fabulous desserts – at the Barachois, the hotel's romantic floating restaurant that's hidden away in a mangrove forest at the end of a long wooden pier. But that was the extent of his out-of-room forays. The rest of the time he lay in bed under a cooling fan and watched episodes of Boardwalk Empire starring his pal Steve Buscemi.
"I'm going to be shown round the hotel – you wanna come?" Silly question. I was starting to feel annoyed, but by the time I'd toured the property from library to lap pool, I'd managed to remind myself that doing what he does for a living involves a great deal of travelling, and that the previous weeks' concerts in San Francisco and New York, closely followed by a press tour for his new movie, Quartet, required an awful lot of energy. He deserved – no, needed – a complete rest. I resolved to try to balance sharing downtime with my own favourite activities.
Scuba diving is always top of my list and the following day Raphael from the Blue Diving Centre took me on a superb, deep dive to see an entire forest of gigantic, healthy, golden gorgonian sea fans, some the size of a small house. Lying at 34m, they were mercifully beyond the destructive reach of the coral-trashing cyclones that turn up here every so often. Subsequent dives revealed a marine environment teeming with big-eye trevally, titan triggerfish, a whitetip reef shark snoozing in a cave, and flocks of enormous spotted eagle stingrays flying majestically in formation over my head. I wished I'd had time to dive on some of the wrecks – casualties of treacherous winds, seas and reefs that threatened seafarers around this island.
My great, great grandfather Samuel Stephenson had built a ship here – the Rosalie – at the beginning of the 19th century, just after the British forces won Mauritius (then called Isle de France) from the French. He sailed her to what were then the Dutch East Indies and ran opium to China, before running aground near Bali and falling foul of pirates. I took a trip about an hour south of the hotel to check out Ville Noire near Mahébourg, where ships were once built. Traversing the old bridge, I was thrilled finally to see Captain Stephenson's old stomping ground. Those early European sailors had founded a nicely sheltered shipping base here. I imagined Samuel walking across that same bridge of Ville Noire, in the taverns, and even feasting on dodo.
"I think it's safe to say," I informed Billy when I returned, "that Samuel Stephenson ate dodo!" Lowering his iPad, Billy raised one eyebrow. "Dodo and chips?" he suggested. "Dodo in a basket?"
"They were enormous," I laughed. "I just learned they were so trusting they actually ran down the beach towards all those hungry sailors. Poor, naive birds. No wonder they didn't last…"
"Och well," he shrugged, "do you like my drawing?" Billy has become quite the visual artist. He had spent the morning creating a new felt-tip rendering of a very weird poodle. It was pointless to ask why.
"Lunch on the beach?" I inquired. Surprisingly, Billy was up for it. Tea arrived with the marshmallows du jour – mango this time – and then simple prawns and salad with ginger and lime, washed down with fresh coconut juice: my favourite kind of food. And that evening in the restaurant, Billy announced he had found "the best crème brûlée I've ever eaten". Unfortunately, this was followed by a loud condemnation of the band: "Jazz makes me want to vomit!"
But our enthusiasm for the food grew to the point where we jointly agreed it was probably the best we'd ever had. More importantly, towards the end of our six days in Mauritius, Billy was beginning to feel more rested, and even agreed to accompany me on an afternoon trip to Port Louis, on the western side of the island. We drove through sugar cane fields, tiny towns with cement houses and brightly painted stores, and bustling communities full of busy tradesmen and sari-clad women. We passed wonderfully ornate Tamil temples, admired the unusual shapes of the far-off hills, and went "Ahh!" every time we saw another "flamboyant" – the signature scarlet-flowered tree that seems similar to the Mediterranean flame tree, only larger and even more floridly impressive.
Port Louis turned out to be a sizable city boasting a new colonial-style shopping centre on the old quay. We strolled into the Blue Penny Museum, which had some fascinating old photographs of the early days of European settlement in Mauritius. And then it was back to the hotel for one last secluded, starlit dinner. This was a rare occasion of outdoor privacy for us, and it almost brought out the inner Romeo in my pale-blue Scottish person. There was no jazz to complain about, only the lapping of the Indian Ocean and a warm sea breeze, eliminating the mosquito threat. It was a sweet finale to a surprisingly lovely break.
How was it for you? Billy Connolly
When Pamela sets her mind to something, she's probably going to achieve it. I've learned this over the years. So when she suggested a holiday in Mauritius, I only said "No!" as a temporary stalling mechanism. The tenacity with which she pursues the doing of her will is insurmountable, so within weeks I found myself being dragged to yet another airport for yet another long-haul flight.
I fucking hate going on holiday anywhere but in my own home. My idea of a nice break is lying in bed being brought cups of tea while watching football, episodes of Law & Order or one of those reality shows set in a prison. And it fucking terrifies me to be somewhere where Pamela's going to be lurking about waiting to guilt-trip me into going on a walk to Japanese gardens, sampling vanilla tea or trying to stay upright on a contraption that doesn't know if it's a kite or a surfboard. Wild horses couldn't persuade me. If she'd had her way, we'd start the day with an hour of power yoga on the shore, followed by a gluten-free breakfast, a scuba dive to see enormous, bitey things, then a tanning session on the beach where the combination of sunscreen and sand turns you into a giant schnitzel. After lunch there'd be kayaking to a deserted island, then a candlelit dinner in some exotic outdoor location where small bitey things make you even more miserable than the big ones.
On the positive side, the hotel was fantastic, and the food the best I've ever had. The desserts were only wee, so they made you choose four – a real trial! I preferred to eat in the room, but naturally Pamela wanted to dress up at night and sit near people in "smart casual" outfits, with a fucking jazz band battering my ears for hours on end. I'm sure other people enjoyed it, but I'm not big on jazz. You just never know when it's going to finish.
I liked the local sega music though – a group came to the hotel and performed on the beach – until Pamela insisted I accept an invitation to try that hip-wriggling dance with a pretty Mauritian girl in a long frilly skirt. Pamela even booked me up for an hour of fly-fishing, which was OK, except there was a lot of talking and laughing. I suppose that's how they do it there but I prefer to fish in silence. Oh, and there were a lot of shiny people lying about in designer beachwear, which usually pisses me off, but the women very kindly removed most of their clothes, making it more bearable to walk along the beach when I ran out of excuses not to. At least there was Wi-Fi everywhere, so I could always get the football results or emails from my friends at the cigar shop in New York. I told them what I had to put up with, and I must say they were less than sympathetic. I suppose I shouldn't really complain. After all, it was the best holiday I've had for 30 years.
• Pamela and Billy's trip was provided by Audley which offers seven nights half-board at Constance Le Prince Maurice hotel from £2,230pp based on two sharing. This includes flights with Air Mauritius from Heathrow and private car transfers.
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Liverpool's players are poised to kick-start their summer with a beach holiday with a difference, in the shape of a post-season friendly against West Ham in Mauritius.
The club's director of sales, Olly Dale, was in Mauritius this week to examine the facilities at Anjalay Stadium, the nation's 30,000-capacity showpiece sports venue. Mark Gibbon, widely described in local media as an "agent of West Ham" but whose precise relationship with the club is unclear, was also present, with the match pencilled in for Sunday 18 May, a week after the curtain comes down on the Premier League season.
They were accompanied on their tour by the Minister of Youth and Sport, Devanand Ritoo, his chief of staff, Dev Phokeer, and a representative of Health and Sport, a local company involved in the deal to stage the game.
"I'm very impressed with everything in Mauritius, it's a great country," Dale told reporters. "We've had a very warm welcome extended to us here, so thank you for that. We look forward to any prospective game with the knowledge that this is a fantastic country."
While L'Express reported that the game had been confirmed, Le Mauricien insisted that the deal remains to be completed but that the project has the full backing of the government and local authorities. The teams would not be the first major footballing figures to visit Mauritius, which hosted Sepp Blatter during Fifa's annual congress in Pailles last year.
"It's a fantastic country. It's a fantastic welcome. The people are beautiful," said Gibbon. "I'm very surprised how professional the facilities are, good enough to host any international event here. I'm very impressed indeed."