A voyage along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast seemed a well-deserved reward for the trials of spring until I discovered it had been arranged by Asquith Royal, our inventively opportunistic accountant. This promotion of his new Wine Cruise venture was a prospect that left me longing to stay in my Balmoral Palm Court sanctuary. Alas, the complication that six “lucky” amateur limerick writers had already won a competition to enjoy my company on this jaunt confirmed that I’d been cornered.
The details depressed. As competition judge, Asquith had guaranteed himself passage, but I only fully appreciated how much of the contents the Spittoon of Fate had been poured over me when work forced Mrs S. to cancel. Ever generous, she offered her place to our old university friend, Barbara Potts, an aspiring socialite presently engaged as our cleaner. The torture of fourteen days on a boat with Asquith and Barbara would surely have stretched even Dante.
Spirits fell further upon arriving at port and discovering that we were spending the entire cruise aboard a Turkish Gulet, a wooden vessel that is to high-class yachting what the humblest Bordeaux shack is to Château Mouton Rothschild. The cramped conditions were made insufferable by the sleeping arrangements. I’d been allocated cabin Number 7 and was now to share with Asquith. The plank of wood halving the bed was all that marked my 7a from his 7b.
Introducing my limerick-writing shipmates to the “wonders” of Turkish wine had always seemed like a tricky proposition, but was now rendered impossible by the two vintages on board. Angora wine is simply dreadful – you’d get more flavour from a sweater – and as for Dikman … well, you’re a clever enough readership to insert your own jokes here. That left the raki, which does seem an abhorrent way to treat perfectly good grapes until you recall the fate awaiting them at the local wine vat.
By day two, Asquith and Barbara had begun the inevitable holiday romance, which was conducted noisily aboard the already fetid Gulet and not, I fear to say, always in her cabin. With only the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer” having successfully transferred to my MP3 player, even music offered little escape.
My single solace came in the company of the one paying passenger, young Jean Dundas. Far from her press portrayal as a scheming temptress enriching herself through passing Council planning documents to an unscrupulous East European property magnate, I found Jean to be a vulnerable young girl anxious about the gruesome threats reportedly made against her by that eventually thwarted Latvian. She spent most of the cruise sleeping in her cabin, but I hoped my ear proved sympathetic during our communal meals. Barbara – never shy to blackmail – made extremely worrying noises about reporting this friendship back to Mrs S.
As we prepared for dinner on our last evening at sea, the Gulet was violently shaken by the approach of a gigantic luxury yacht. I casually recognized the Latvian flag and observed the vessel’s name – Brīvībai. When the aforementioned property magnate emerged on deck, Jean gripped my arm and pleaded for protection. Curse my sense of honour – it seems gaily oblivious to the most obvious of lions’ dens.
Asquith, by contrast, was overjoyed to see such a potentially lucrative client enter his nets. Leaping below, he fetched a previously hidden bottle of prestigious Californian red, which he then waved over the side while shouting about how happy we would be to entertain. Emotions raced as I wondered at the presence of such a fine vintage and struggled to hold on to an increasingly hysterical Jean.
Suddenly a shot rang out.
Looking sick, Asquith tipped forwards into the Mediterranean, pulling Barbara over with him. Rushing over to look, my initial alarm at the crimson flow blossoming from his chest turned to real despair as I realized he’d already uncorked that most desirable bottle.
Our Latvian visitor megaphoned over his apologies for the alarm caused. His gunfire was simply a reaction to his ecstasy at being reunited with Jean. The alleged threats were explained away as being simply “for press effect”, and he felt certain that tracking down her mobile signal proved his undying devotion. A marvellous evening then ensued on board the Brīvībai as the reunited couple were serenaded at starboard and we, at last, enjoyed some gourmet dining. Only Barbara’s bellows, from across on the Gulet, occasionally interrupted our reveries as she lectured Asquith about “cowardly, despicable behaviour”.
This month’s recommendation? When in Turkey, enjoy endless sunshine and the crystal blue sea, but – please, please, please – bring your own bottle.