AS I sat sunning myself and soaking up the splendours of an azure lagoon on Mauritius, my attention was caught by the sight of a pretty girl in a bikini heading towards my lounger. To what do I owe the honour? I wondered, as she padded over the golden sand. ''Hi!'' she said, winningly. ''You've got a big belly. Do you fancy showing it off in the guests' review tonight?'' To say that my ego was crushed by the effrontery does not really capture the flush of humiliation which washed over me. OK, I could be slimmer, but does the size of my stomach make me a circus exhibit? The girl - actually she too was past the first flush of youth and her belly was not exactly a draining board of taut and ribbed muscle, I sourly made a point of noticing - explained. She was what in Club Med speak is called a ''gentle officer'' (GO) or, as others prefer to label them, a member of the happy police. She was one of the countless young things employed by the company to make sure everyone was having fun and to teach them the intricacies of anything from archery to windsurfing, golf to water-skiing. They work seven days a week seemingly all day and put on an often embarrassingly bad cabaret of sorts six nights a week. On the seventh night, the guests, or gentle members (GM), are encouraged to put on their own show. The principle being that if you let your hair down, or your belly out, you have a better time. My GO had been assigned the task of rounding up men with amply proportioned midriffs. They would then be asked to get on stage after dinner. Their partners would draw a face on their stomachs and then the men would be asked to flex their abdominal muscles, thereby contorting the expression on the drawn face. The person who raised the biggest laugh from the audience would win a prize. Perhaps it is my English reserve. Perhaps it is the unutterable unfunniness of this sort of entertainment, particularly when one is self-conscious about one's burgeoning belly, but I regret to say I declined to take part. After all, I don't want my belly to make people laugh. I want a belly that people admire, or even covet. However, my refusal was noted. In so doing, I earned a black mark from the GOs for being a spoilsport and not a joiner-in. Not a good thing on a Club Med holiday, the whole point of which is to get people involved in group activities, encourage them to lose their inhibitions and empty their pockets. Mauritius is an idyllic island in the Indian Ocean counting Madagascar as its most prominent neighbour. The island itself is tropical and lush. What lends it special attraction are the necklace of lagoons circumscribing the island, the bountiful palm-fringed beaches and the magnificent coral reefs. And, it has to be said, the people, who were largely courteous and of a very happy disposition, despite an air of poverty outside the cloistered protection of hotel compounds. Club Med Mauritius sits in a prime site in northern Mauritius overlooking a lagoon of quite extraordinary greens and blues. A hundred metres or so offshore is a coral reef where white foaming waves crash and the full force of the Indian Ocean is dissipated. The lagoon itself is a shallow bath of exquisitely warm and calm water providing a home for scores of exotic fish and coral types. Half an hour's snorkelling there gave me more delight than the sights afforded me in a two-week diving holiday in the Mediterranean. Among the treasures, Clown fish and the absurdly exotic Picasso trigger fish vied for attention with the most vibrantly-coloured if somewhat menacing-looking eels I have ever seen. The site itself is well landscaped. A nine-hole pitch and putt course meandered its way around ponds, streams, palms and flower beds. Colourful birds fluttered between the trees and shrubs. The pool was ideal for the demands of my new stomach-slimming regime of swimming as well as for splashing about. Mauritius itself is famed for being home to the now extinct Dodo. The island is of volcanic origin and has a population of about one million. It is now independent, but has variously been colonised by the Portuguese, the French and the English, all of whom have left their mark. The most common language is French but English is widely understood. The people are a mixture of European, Indian and African. Included in your Club Med package is water-skiing, windsurfing, sailing, snorkelling, archery, aerobics, water polo, volley-ball and golf. All these also come with free, expert tuition. In addition, you can buy add-on excursions and such luxuries as sunset cruises and deep-sea fishing expeditions. Also, three buffet meals a day are included. Be prepared to be overwhelmed here. And watch that tummy. There must have been something in the region of 25 different types of breakfast available from fresh fruit to cooked. Lunch was even grander and dinner yet more indulgent. Lavish salads beckon from one corner, while an inviting sizzle of frying meat reaches out from another. Should you eat fish today or beef? Have a cold meal or a hot one? Would cheese at lunch be OTT?Should you go back for seconds, thirds, even fourths? Would it be gluttonous to sample three different types of trifle? These were the questions on most people's lips every day. Because it is run by the French, the food was sumptuous and splendidly presented. One evening the theme was ocean fish and, as decoration, 300 pound hammer-head sharks, blue marlin and sail fish adorned the tables. As much wine or beer as you could drink was also available during mealtimes. It seems churlish to gripe in the face of such extravagance - there were waiters on hand to cook your meat precisely to your instructions - but the dreaded happy police, donning their best false smiles, were somewhat too evident. Because the meals were buffet-style, tactics had to be adopted to get the best tables before the other salivating guests. If you were not careful, unwelcome hands would guide you to sit with the boorish South African family whose views on race issues made Jesuits look like paragons of tolerance, or with the senile French couple who were determined to practise their Englishdespite the fact that their lexicon was limited to children's comic book proportions. Another distinctively Club Med feature is the company's eschewal of cash transactions. Drinks taken outside mealtimes at the pool-side bar, the beach bar or the on-site nightclub had to be paid for with beads purchased from the reception. The beads came in three colours representing different denominations and could be stuck together to make a necklace. Club Med says the absence of cash helps you forget the real world. That is utter tosh. Instead of sitting there with a drink and struggling to convert Mauritius rupees into Hong Kong dollars to work out how much it cost, you sit there trying to convert beads into rupees into dollars. The beads still possess the spirit of money even if it is a different sort of money. I suspect the real reason they use beads is two-fold: they don't trust the starvation-wage staff to handle cash and they hope the drunken reveller will spend more freely, thinking ''What the hell, they're only beads''. Accommodation at Club Med lies on the border between spartan and adequately comfortable. The rooms have their own toilet, shower and balcony but no television, radio or telephone. There is no room service. However, all facilities are within easy reach and all rooms are well-appointed with fine views. Mauritius is probably as close to the paradise island as one could hope to find. Its principal attractions are its beaches and the watersports they afford, although there are places of interest in the interior such as gardens, colonial homes and plain tropical scenery. Whether you are single, a couple or a family, Club Med offers a not too expensive way of enjoying the place, getting a little sleaker and meeting people. But be warned, you are encouraged, sometimes rather vigorously, to join in. Mark Hughes flew with Air Mauritius.