I didn't go to the luxury resort of Amanyara in the Caribbean's Turks & Caicos islands to learn anything. Quite the opposite; I went to kill as many braincells as possible with exotic booze, gaze mindlessly at the sparkling ocean, and forget about being a parent for a week.
I chose Amanyara for our 10th wedding anniversary holiday because it looked like actual paradise, with amazing scuba diving to stop Pink House Husband complaining daily that he 'hadn't achieved anything'. As a mum of two small boys and owner of a start-up business, my daily life relies on hundreds of tiny, mainly tedious achievements: use star-chart bribery to stop child weeing on sofa (achieved); avert tantrum by swapping purple bowl for blue bowl (achieved); stay calm while squabbling kids prevent me from finishing a feature (not achieved). So, on this honeymoonesque, sans-kids holiday (all hail the grandparents) I planned to massively underachieve, ideally in a bikini on a sunlounger, large cocktail in hand, white sand not Cheerios underfoot.
But I failed. I failed SPECTACULARLY. Because instead of learning nothing at all at Amanyara, I accidentally learned 7 very important life lessons. Which I will share with you now...
1) Turquoise is nature's best colour
Hoovering up the world's best guacamole (these avocados had a good life) and gazpacho (cool with a bite of chilli and bread-bridge of tomato) at the Beach Club restaurant, while gazing out to sea, this revelation dawned upon me. I quite simply couldn't take my eyes off the vivid turquoise of the water, surrounded by lush greenery and white sand. The colour was a) stunning, and b) one I realised I had to have in my own home. How about this Suzani floor cushion for starters, from Cult Furniture for only £19? And look how amazing turquoise and pink look together! Lesson learned. Oops.
2) Never squeeze a lime with your hands
You get your fish, you pick up your lime segment, you squeeze, and...you get lime juice ON YOUR FINGERS. I mean really, how primitive. Amanyara knows this is not how to live a successful, limey-fingers-free life. Amanyara knows that if you want to eat a fish, and you want some lime on it, you're gonna need a lime squeezer. Mind: blown.
Here's the slightly sweaty Pink House Husband (it was Very Hot in paradise) smugly demonstrating his new-found al fresco lime-squeezing abilities (first with two hands, then one hand, then while mugging for the camera - see how he perfects his technique!), and a picture of an actual lime squeezer. Want one just the same for your own kitchen? Buy it here for about a pound.
3) P is for Pelican
I knew this in theory. I should have done - that's three humans' worth of ABCs I've lived through (I'm including myself in this count - I don't have a third child I'd hitherto neglected to mention). But like so many things in life, there's knowing the theory, and there's having the practical experience.
So me and PHH went for a kayak along the shore. After an hour or so of paddling we reached a deserted beach and rocky outcrop. All around us - flying, swooping, sitting tugboat-like in the water - were eight real life pelicans. They actually look like the pelicans in kids' books - a most peculiar shape - and their simultaneous team-dive fish catching ability would make Tom Daley weep. Plus, they seemed largely unbothered by us paddling around them, so all this took place about six metres away. Yay!
4) The cocktail with no name is the best cocktail
I don't know why, but as soon as a bartender asks me what I'd like to drink, my mind goes instantly blank and I can't recall a single alcoholic beverage, apart from Jack Daniels. A bit like the time I had my interview at more! magazine (RIP) cough years ago and Lisa Smosarski asked me to give an example of a celebrity that more!, a funky, feminist mag, might feature and I couldn't recall a single famous person, apart from John Leslie.
At Amanyara, although there is a handy cocktail list to counter the mind-blanking problem, there is also the non-list cocktail. Here, you choose the homemade infused spirit of your choice (I went for the vanilla and ginger vodka, above), then the talented mixologist in the Church of Booze (as we dubbed the spectacular round bar by the swimming pool) devises a bespoke cocktail using that spirit, based on what you like to drink.
5) Don't cycle after three mojitos
Clearly, as well as accidentally learning lots of things on holiday, we also drank lots of things, many of them with a reasonably high ABV content. One of my faves, after the Cocktail That Has No Name, is the Amanyara Mojito, which is basically the best mojito you can imagine, topped with champagne. Of course, when you're on a holiday of a lifetime without the floorsplashers, you can drink as much as you damn well like. Except if you're planning to use the bikes.
Amanyara's bikes are quite wonderful. When riding these beautiful beach choppers, you feel like a cross between a Hell's Angel, and The Queen. It's a very majestic stance, settled on your generous leather throne, regally clutching your widely-spaced handlebars. However, there is one small but crucial snag: no brakes. There is only one way to bring these bikes to a halt, and that is to PEDAL BACKWARDS, something one tends to forget after the third mojito. At least the shrubberies in these parts are reasonably soft.
6) Make like Tony the Tiger
In Amanyara, it is very hot. As a result, when it came to pudding, I tended to plump for ice cream or sorbet, to help cool me down. In Amanyara, when you ask for ice cream, they bring your scoop in a bowl with Ricicles.
For the non-UK-based, Ricicles are basically Rice Krispies with sugar, in the same way that Frosties are Cornflakes with sugar. However, I'd nearly forgotten about Ricicles' very existence until they appeared alongside my ice cream*. And it got me thinking: how come Frosties have made it so massive, when their equally tasty cousin, Ricicles, have hardly made an impact? And the more I thought about it (there were no kids to discipline, PHH was scuba diving; I had nothing better to do), the more I became certain of the reason: Tony Tiger! Because while Tony was leaping about, exclaiming 'They're GRRRRREAT!' on Frosties' behalf, who was banging the Ricicle drum? I had to Google to find out (Amanyara has wifi on the actual beach), and turns out it's some spaceman dude called Captain Rik who likes to waft about with his eyes half closed, an apologetic smile and clenched fists.
Conversely, Tony is a brilliant brand ambassador - look at his massive smile, his thumb proudly raised, his confident body language! We can all learn something from Tony: if you want to do something, fucking do it, and who cares if you look like a gurning loon! Also, always wear your name on your neckerchief.
*I'm not sure whether they were actually Ricicles, but they looked and tasted like them
7) I'm now an Aman Junkie
I'd heard the term and seen - and used - the hashtag #amanjunkie before going on this holiday, but I didn't really know what it meant. Now I do.
The thing is, my holiday at an Aman resort was on a different level to anything I've ever experienced. There's everything you'd expect from a top-notch resort - the stunning location, the fabulous accommodation, the incredible food, the attentive service - but Aman takes it one step further. Its hard to explain, but it's to do with anticipating your needs even before you've realised they ARE needs: a cool, minty facecloth when you're getting a little too warm; a freshly cut coconut with straw just as you start to think about being thirsty; fresh mango popsicles when you're relaxing at the bar, salt-saturated after a morning on the beach.
And then there were the extras: A fabulous firework display and beach BBQ on the Fourth of July, with the best grilled prawns I've ever eaten, but just laid on casually with no fuss, fireworks exploding BANG above our heads, sparkles sinking into the darkening sea. A bottle of pink Moet on ice and a bowl of berries left in our room on our last night. On our wedding anniversary itself we were treated to a private dinner in a beach cove, complete with red roses and red wine - and when we got back to our villa we discovered it had been transformed into a love den, with freshly-run bubble bath, lit candles, soft music playing and rose petals scattered over the bed.
My name is Emily Murray, and I'm an Aman Junkie. When can I go back?