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Sunday 14th September 2003

Amazingly I didnÂ’t have much of a hangover today. Which was lucky as Antti had plans for us.
We were going on a boat trip.
AnttiÂ’s friend Pekka (I think thatÂ’s how itÂ’s spelt) who works on the lighting (Antti said he worked in lightening and I have chosen to correct that mistake, but I now begin to wonder if it wasnÂ’t a mistake) has a little wooden boat, with an engine rather than a sail, and with a rather neat little cabin which Pekka built himself.
Antti and me first popped to the supermarket to get some beer (maybe the Finns do like a bit of a drink then) and some sausages (which seemed apt given the show that me and Antti were now brothers in). The plan was to sail down to one of the islands off the coast and then cook the sausages on a fire. It seemed like an excellent plan.
We then walked down towards the docks, passing a whore-house that had recently been shut down by the police (it used to be used by Russian prostitutes and was painted red, so it was locally known as “The Red House”. It’s for sale now for around 200,000 euros, so if you want to buy a dilapidated building that was once the scene of some Russian whoring then get in touch with me and I’ll try and put you in touch with the estate agent. Don’t buy it to turn into a whore-house though. The last people who tried that are now in prison….. There, there’s something that I’m guessing you didn’t know about Kotka til now!) and then headed across some railway tracks.
It was a bit of a desolate area. It struck me that I was following a man that I had only met the day before and who I didnÂ’t know anything about (except that he was so obsessed with cocks that he wanted to put on a show about them- weirdo) into a deserted part of a town that I knew nothing about, except that theyÂ’d once been a whorehouse here, but there wasnÂ’t anymore.
He could have anything planned for me.
As we rounded the corner though I saw the river and some boats and Antti said, “There’s Pekka” and a ruddy faced blond man waved at me from his boat.
I was safe.
I was just heading out to a deserted island with two men that I didnÂ’t know. Nothing could go wrong.

I was pretty sure that I was going to fall into the water at some point. ThatÂ’s just the kind of twat I am. And the first thing I had to do was jump a couple of feet from the jetty on to a fairly wobbly and not entirely massive boat. I managed it OK. Then I had to work my way round the side of the boat walking on a small ledge. The boat proved to be fairly unstable. As all three of us moved around it lurched back and forth. I was pretty certain I was going to fall in.
I made it to the back of the boat and sat down, relieved that I wasnÂ’t drenched with cold Finnish water. I worried that I was going to make a fool of myself. Although I wasnÂ’t badly hungover, I was a bit tired and my stomach felt a little delicate. Would I be sick? Would I embarrass myself in front of these manly men who could build boats and create lightening from their finger-tips?
Then I said to myself, “Rich, relax your shoulders.”
I relaxed my shoulders.
And all seemed to be OK.

You know it really works. I might write a book on it for real!

I have talked myself out of doing so many things in this life for fear that I might get embarrassed or fail or because I am scared.
Quite a pivotal moment in my life (and my mum is going to love me for telling this story) also involved a boat and jumping on and off of it. I was around four or five and our family used to go on little barge trips on some canal somewhere (I think this was when we briefly lived in the Midlands). One time, when the barge got to a lock and the water had just started to go down (and so obviously had the barge) I decided I would jump ashore to watch. Just as I was about to launch myself, fearful that I wouldnÂ’t be able to make it, my mother grabbed my arm and so I ended up jumping half in and half outside the barge. One leg went down the side of the boat, just as it was nudging the wall. My leg was bumped between boat and wall and though I wasnÂ’t hurt it was a nasty shock. My mother is a wonderful woman and was only trying to do what mothers do and protect me from danger. But I feel I could easily have made the jump and in fact her efforts to protect me only did me harm.
Maybe I would have grown up to be the slightly cowardly (though occasionally recklessly cocky) man that I am now anyway, or maybe being over protective to your children can stop them taking the risks that make life worth living (and IÂ’m talking about risks as simple as jumping on to a boat. All youÂ’re really risking is getting a bit wet).
Or maybe I am just using this whole incident as an excuse to be a great, big, fucking baby.

Whoever’s fault it is (and it’s mine whatever, let’s face it. We can’t blame our parents for anything. “Oooh, my mum cosseted me when I was a child” – so what? Now you’re a man. Snap out of it.) I want to change that attitude. I am not an idiot. I am quite capable of jumping on and off a boat (whatever my mum thinks) and balancing on a small ledge even if the ledge is lurching about. I was going to enjoy myself and participate. There was no way in a million years that I was going to fall into that water.

We sailed (don’t know if that is the correct term if you are engine-powered) round to another jetty to pick up Cari. I had bravely moved to sit on the roof of the boat. Pekka was sitting up there too drinking a beer, using a walking-stick like affair to move the steering wheel thing (sorry my brain isn’t working too well today – it’s called something else on a boat, I know. I should know. I used to want to be a pirate, but my mum discouraged me. She thought it would be too dangerous getting on and off all those boats).
Antti asked me if I got sea-sick. Normally I donÂ’t, but then my stomach was a bit delicate and I hadnÂ’t eaten since the reindeer last night and weÂ’d just passed a factory that made paper and which produced a smell that was second only in pungency to the plastics factory in Bridgwater.

As we approached the jetty a speedboat whisked past sending our boat bobbing violently in its wake. I thought I was going to fall off. I grabbed on to the side like a sissy and made some woh-ing sounds. The hardy Finnish sailors laughed. This apparently was normal. Grabbing on was considered cowardly. This after I had turned down a beer in favour of a Pepsi Max.

Once Cari was aboard we set off into the great unknown. I took a beer this time and after a couple of sips my queasiness had gone. Ah the regenerative power of alcohol. The weather was absolutely glorious and the sun glinting on the dark water genuinely looked like gold. I know thatÂ’s a trite and obvious simile. But really, it was true. You wouldnÂ’t believe how bright it shined.

Here I was on a boat in Finland with three men that I had just met and I felt more relaxed and comfortable than I have for a long time. Occasionally they would speak in English (though none of them were particularly fluent and Pekka seemed to know very little- which was still an infinite amount more English than I had picked up of Finnish), but things were relaxed enough for them to chat to each other whilst I took in the view and enjoyed the ride.
There was a rugged manliness to all this and once again it made me consider all the hungover Sundays I have wasted sitting in my dark house watching TV. I could have been in a boat jumping over the waves in Kotka harbour (if IÂ’d known that it existed). It was so quiet (apart from the rather loud engine of the boat), and empty and the air was so fresh.
This is what life is about. I again thanked my lucky stars that my stupid monologue has been successful enough to cause something like this to happen.
We passed pretty islands of various sizes, many with summer cottages on them. One island was small enough to have just one wooden house on it. It reminded me of Chard Island, only a bit more developed and less likely to disappear at a momentÂ’s notice. I entertained the idea of moving out here and living there. But they told me later that it gets pretty nasty in the winter, so maybe I could just rent it for a week or so (though IÂ’d need to learn to drive a boat first, and find out what the steering wheel is called and be able to get on and off without thinking I might fall in at the moment).
Eventually after a good couple of hours we stopped off on a deserted spot on one of the islands. Again there was a momentÂ’s hesitation before I dared to make the leap to the shore, but I did it with ease (thankfully the ground wasnÂ’t moving and lurching around) and we all immediately found a tree to wee against (a different tree. WeÂ’re not strange).
As the most manly of us all (not a prissy writer or actor or director) Pekka set about creating the fire. I was relieved to see that he used matches and lighter fluid, rather than unleashing the lightening that I knew he was capable of producing. HeÂ’d even thought to bring a little grid of metal to put the sausages on. Then he went back to the boat and re-appeared with a big knife.
I wondered if despite all the bonhomie and apparent friendship this had all been an elaborate plan to get me somewhere remote, murder me and then barbecue me on the beach like a pig. It must have crossed their mind. IÂ’m very succulent. And perhaps they wanted to get me back for eating that reindeer last night.
But he just used it to prick the sausages (how symbolic do you want this to be?) and we drank as we waited for them to cook and looked out at the sea in front of us.
The sausages were eaten from napkins with mustard poured onto them, no buns or bread, so it was very Atkins diet friendly. And being the first thing IÂ’d eaten all day (it was now 3pm) it was a most welcome repast.
We listened to the radio, drank and chatted, until the air started to turn cold and the wind started to blow and we decided it was time to head back.
The return journey was colder and we sat in silence, but we four men had shared something that day that words couldnÂ’t add to. All brought together for this insane reason.
People are much more good than bad, I thought, tending more to friendship than hostility. It had just been a brilliant way to spend an afternoon and I hadnÂ’t fallen in.
But now I was tiring and hoping I might be able to head back to the hotel for a nap before the inevitable evening of drinking.
We returned to the jetty and the sailors fastened the boat ashore. I climbed up on the roof and walked out onto the front bit of the boat (again, that probably has a name, but I’m guessing it’s just “front bit”).
I had one last leap to make. Surely I couldnÂ’t fall in now, after IÂ’d acquitted myself so well (I had eaten the most sausages, thus making up for my lack of nautical experience). Cari was already ashore and watching me. I looked at the leap and again stopped in my tracks. There were ropes there, I could lose my footing and this wouldnÂ’t be a comedy fall. It would be a nasty head against jetty or boat affair, involving blood and possible death if it went wrong.
And IÂ’d been so sure that IÂ’d fall in eventually. It couldnÂ’t be a self-fulfilling prophecy could it?

Of course not, you clots. IÂ’m 36 years old. I can jump off a boat on to a wooden pier thing thatÂ’s only two feet away.
I just thank God my mum wasnÂ’t with us or my brains would now be dripping off a jetty in Kotka.

(Photos of today's boat trip can be found in the downloads section.)

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