The Masquerade Ball

A masquerade ball. Lulu’s internet school, InterHigh posted details of the upcoming event. We’d considered it in Fort Lauderdale’s airport departure lounge. Lulu had worked so hard during the year. She’d got up so early in the Caribbean and listened to everyone in her class but still hadn’t seen anyone’s faces. Before we even got on our amazingly good value flight (cough to the sound of Norway), we’d booked a ticket for Lulu to attend the ball and a hotel room in Bristol’s bustling city centre.

We got to the Marriot by mid-afternoon on Friday. Everything was ready. Happily, the dress had been bought before we knew about the ball. Lulu had presented it to me in the American equivalent of TK Maxx next to the motel.

I’d stared at its electric blue material. ‘What do you need a dress for?’ I’d begun to say. Then I saw the ‘dress for less’ price. ‘Try it on.’

So, a lucky coincidence.. next were the shoes. My mum and Lulu came back from a London shopping expedition with rose gold wedges. A handbag and a gold belt arrived a week later in the post. The note attached said, ‘They go with the shoes.’ Two days later, a gold lace mask arrived. ‘They go with the handbag.’ Thanks Mum.

So far, internet school has been an experiment for us. We haven’t met another sailing family who uses it. But personally-speaking, I love what it can do. It allows us to travel freely as long as we have a wifi signal. Lulu still gets a broad-based, secondary education. She can access the British education system and prepare for their exams. One of the unexpected joys of it is that her teachers have been on our journey with us. In this way, Jorge the Spanish teacher has taught Lulu in the car in the BVIs and in the passport office in Trinidad. Emma has taught Lulu geography for two years. Did she realise that while she was teaching tectonic plates, her voice has rang out on the high seas, sailing over an active underwater volcano?

Emma wrote back, ‘Amazing news! I’m just about to take my border terrier for a walk through the snowy, glacial hills of the Brecon Beacons.’ This stellar woman is all about the geography.

Some of the logistics have been interesting too. Sourcing data SIM cards. Finding a workable signal. In the end, we scraped through. When Quest’s anchorages have been rolling with squally storms or the uncertainty a new destination, Lulu’s teachers have provided something of a consistent touchstone.

This season, we’ve woken at 4:30am twice a week when the British Summer Time sprang forward. Internet school is time-tabled like ordinary school so in the Caribbean this means a five-hour difference. Lu’s first 4:30am session has been on Wednesdays for English. Each time, I’ve gotten up an hour earlier than that to get breakfast ready. Turns out if you feed Lu hot, buttery noodles, she can wake up at any time of day. Result! Well, it opens her eyes anyway.. the teachers do the rest.

Each week, the English teacher Simone would start by asking for reading volunteers. Each week, Lulu would moan, ‘I can’t read out loud this early in the morning.’

One week, I adjusted the cabin light and said, ‘Why don’t you offer to read in the second hour?’ She raised an eyebrow sleepily at my question and sucked in a noodle. Tap, tap, tap went the keyboard.

‘Ok, Lucia,’ Simone’s voice came out of the computer into the pre-dawn, ‘you can read in the second hour. Now have you all noticed class that I’ve dyed my hair a rainbow colour?’ We narrowed our eyes as Simone got up to let in light through the roman blinds behind her.

‘So that’s rainbow colour.’

‘I can’t see it,’ Lulu muttered. ‘More halo than rainbow.’

Thursday pre-dawn was different. ‘You should all be writing out the golden link in your notebooks,’ Jacqueline the history teacher said every week at exactly 4:30. ‘You have five minutes to finish.’ This was like running a mental race whilst climbing out of a deep hole. And yet history has been such a fascinating subject this year. Pocahontas, the Puritans, King James I and the Gunpowder Plot. Every week like a jigsaw piece. Lulu often finished off an essay’s worth by 6am. See what I mean about her being a super star?

This was all was going through our minds as we changed for a quick, pre-ball dip in the hotel pool in Bristol. A man lay out on a deckchair next to it, fast asleep. His body was covered in tattoos.

‘Look Lulu,’ Delphine said, ‘it’s Alan, your science teacher.’

We swung around. In class, Alan is unfailingly nice and about as hot-tempered as a tablecloth. Was this extensively tattooed man really him?

‘How do you know?’ Lulu demanded.

Delph giggled. ‘From his snoring.’

Great joke Delph.

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