It goes like this:
PB: We really need a holiday. And you really need a treat.
Me: [narrows eyes]
PB: How about I take you on a lovely break somewhere really lovely. With museums and stuff.
PB: Hmm. How about some lovely sailing?
Me: Sailing? But I've never been sailing and I can't swim.
PB: But it'll be lovely. We can go to Helsinki and St Petersburg. They've got loads of museums and stuff.
Me: Is beer involved?
PB: Was that the doorbell?
Me: Is beer involved?
PB: Oh look, an eagle...
Me: [stomps off, googles 'Helsinki, St Petersburg, beer']. So this holiday might be The Great Baltic Adventure, retracing the journey of Imperial Russian Stout then?
PB: [thoughtfully] Hmm yes, something like that.
Me: Oh for fuck's sake alright then. But only if the boat has a bar and hammocks.
At this point, a quick quiz:
Question One: Does this boat look as though it has a bar on it? a) Yes or b) Don't be ridiculous
Question Two: Does this boat look as though it has hammocks on it? a) Hmm yes isn't that a rather comfortable hammock just over there with a little table beside it perfect for putting your G&T on or b) Do I look like an idiot?
But listen to me and my moaning. Who needs a bar and hammocks when you can sleep on a shelf, share your living quarters and 2 small loos with 12 men, wear so many layers of clothing that you look like Tinky Winky, get dragged out of 'bed' every 4 hours to do another watch in the rain and listen to people banging on about beer all day? I'm just ungrateful, that's my problem.
The lowest point came at 4am (that's right, 4 A.M., the one that happens in the morning) on the second day, pulling damp oilskins on over my pyjamas and struggling not to vomit. I looked at PB with what was possibly the seed of hatred in my squinty little eyes and hissed "why have you done this to me?". Possibly not the best thing your wife can say whilst on a holiday you paid for, but still.
Once the sea calmed down, I got my sea-legs (which weren't any longer or more tanned than my other ones, I noticed), and grudgingly have to admit that I started to enjoy it. Rumours exist that I actually admitted I wanted to do more sailing. There's also photographic evidence of me thoroughly enjoying myself. See exhibit A below.
But it was the trip of a lifetime. We made some new friends, adopted a young Scottish distiller (not sure how delighted he is about the deal, but there you go), ate more custard creams than it's actually possible to do without causing serious health problems, visited Tallinn's only surviving Depeche Mode bar (there used to be 2 but one closed down, goddammit), laughed until we were nearly sick and managed to get through 2 weeks of high sea shenanigans without falling into the Baltic and dying. Which is always a bonus.
Most importantly, I returned home A Moral Victor. When the BBC posted the story of our trip on their website, featured it on the Today programme, put it on BBC Breakfast and The World Service and called it an 'epic beer adventure', I'd won a small but significant moral victory.
People, The Culture Dodge is official. Next time, I'm booking the holiday. Saudi Arabia is lovely in the Autumn, I've heard.
For more information on a wonderful feat pulled together by the lovely Tim O'Rourke, do click here.