So, what about Christmas? Well, the temperature was around 24°C. We were a little over three hundred miles to the west of northern Namibia and the sea was pretty calm although there was a freshening breeze from the south which made us pitch slightly more than we have recently experienced. Having said that, it certainly didn’t dampen the celebrations which were conducted with great energy and enthusiasm. At breakfast, I noticed that the Captain was wearing epaulettes with cadet’s insignia. Then I saw that other officers were in cadet uniform too. On enquiring into the reason for this, it transpired that certain cadets had approached the officers and asked to swap epaulettes for the day. Thus the Captain became a cadet and the youngest cadet, with exaggerated gravity, became Captain. After breakfast, there was a church service in the helicopter hangar. There are a few Muslims among the ship’s complement but most are Christians. The service was wonderfully animated. I joined it when it was in full swing. The singing, “Someone is Calling my Name”, was bursting with spiritual passion and accompanied with dancing. It was a very African affair and truly inspiring. I found it stirred deep emotions and, despite some difficult preceding days, I was able to share the joy that was in abundance. I have the greatest respect for the cadets. They treat everything with full-on enthusiasm and good humour. It was a spectacular service – an experience to remember.

Meanwhile, in the galley Mogamat and his team were preparing lunch. There are eight of them in all. Everyone was wearing Father Christmas hats and, despite the ambitious task ahead of them, they were in great humour – spud bashing, soup making, mixing ingredients, slicing meats and attending to a great number of tasks in the sweltering heat.

On the bridge, Captain Dave and the second officer, Thelma, were on duty while everyone else was celebrating. Likewise, in the engine room, the Chief, Hannes, was keeping the machinery going with a skeleton crew to help him. I seldom see Hannes. He is either in the engine room or working in his cabin at his computer. Nowadays, captains and chief engineers have very administrative duties and spend much of their time managing the ship and communicating with the outside world much as a chief executive in a busy office back home might do. When I first met Hannes, it was on our departure day from London. It was a frantic occasion and, as I passed him in the passageway, I recognised from his uniform that he was Chief Engineer. I introduced myself and asked his name. He said ‘Hannes’, thought a moment and explained that it was actually ‘Johannes’. “But”, he told me, “you better stick to ‘Hannes’ – it might become confusing if I meet Prince Charles. You’d have to introduce ‘Your Highness’ to ‘Johannes'”!

Later, Captain Dave joined John, Jill, Heather and I for a celebratory get-together before lunch.

Lunch was an epic feast. Everyone had Father Christmas hats and crackers. Clint and his fellow stewards brought out the first course, Cream of Butternut Soup. Delicious! Then we had Yellowtail (fish) with Calamari in a Seafood Sauce, followed by Tiger Prawn Curry. As if that wasn’t enough, we were then presented with a combination of Roast Beef, Baby Carrots, Green Beans, Roast Potatoes, Roast Turkey with Cranberry Sauce and Roast Chicken with Rice. There was a lot of toasting and clinking of glasses. “Absent friends” were frequently remembered, forgotten and remembered again! I thought of my family and friends as I’m sure we all did. It was an orgy of food which was rounded off with peach trifle and cream and an enormous Christmas fruit cake which had been decorated with nuts and exquisitely piped icing in fancy patterns which was gone in minutes!

Normally, after such a feast, you would expect to depart from the dining room groaning from the sheer weight of such an eating marathon with a view to finding somewhere to lie down and quietly die of over-indulgence. I was completely ready to disappear for the rest of the day but, oh no! It was the Christmas Dance Off in the hangar. If church was a lively affair, this was positively explosive as each pair of dancers was judged by their fellow cadets with shouts, cheers and waving arms. It is no surprise to me that Africans seem to have a better sense of rhythm than us Europeans. I know it is a generalisation but one that I believe is true. Certainly the dancing on SA Agulhas was spectacular and involved a lot of bum wiggling and pelvic thrusts which hinted at something rather more physical than the leaning from foot to foot with disdainful glances at the ceiling or floor (which is more the sort of dancing I am used to). Wow! This was electric and there were yells of excitement as some of the performers surpassed themselves with extraordinary prowess. How they were able to judge this amazing demonstration of individual expression was beyond me. But the organiser, Mlungisi Nowandwe, had worked it out and judge it they did. The winner of each pair was the one who, when compere Londiwe Zulu called his or her name, attracted the biggest screams and shouts. Volume was final arbiter!

I was enjoying the spectacle in mild gastric discomfort. Lunch was somewhere between my chest and my waist and moving up and down to the thumping rhythm that filled the hangar. In this state, I was suddenly horrified to hear that someone was calling my name. The shout went up “Mr Anton, Mr Anton”. I wasn’t alone. Darren, the Doctor, was the target for my dancing partner. “Doc-Tor, Doc-Tor”. This was my worst nightmare. I cannot dance. I once learned to waltz but I had forgotten the steps and, anyway, that wasn’t going to help me here. “Mr Anton, Mr Anton” “Doc-Tor, Doc -Tor”. I looked around for help but everyone (including my colleagues) was urging me forward onto the stage. I thought of passing out (I have in the past pretended to pass out when in a particularly awkward clinch with a predatory girl at an office party in my youth). I could slide quietly to the floor and that would be it. But no, like a lemming on a cliff edge, the urge to jump took over and, zombie-like, I made my way to the stage and joined Darren who looked calm and a dead cert winner as he limbered up like a boxer. There were shrieks of excitement and Londwie was urging everyone into a frenzy. The music started and I strutted. Think of Mick Jagger in the early days of the Rolling Stones. The camp foot stomp and sideways hand clap with facial contortions to match. I was really getting into this. A little exaggeration here, a lot of exaggeration there. I tried a high kick which seemed to be appreciated. I tried another and fell backwards almost flat on the stage but, despite my years and lunch, I made a spectacular recovery. Darren was laughing and had virtually stopped. I sensed that all I had to do was one or two more funky struts and the competition was mine. With a final flourish I completed my sequence with a manoeuvre that caused uproar. It was in the bag. Londiwe called out the Doctor’s name. A great cheer went up. Londiwe called out my name and the eruption was volcanic.