AIDA AUSTIN: No one would say ‘yes, please’ if invited to sleep in a coffin underground

7.30 pm.
We are in a taverna on the island of Meganisi. 

My sister-in-law and her husband Pugwash, who invited us here for a week’s sailing, are busy ordering food from the menu, providing me with an opportunity to resume, in urgent whispers, the conversation I began with my husband earlier this afternoon, when Pugwash showed us our sleeping quarters on the boat.

I am very frightened of these sleeping quarters. I am frightened of everything about them: the look of them, which is very, very small, and the feel of them, which is very, very hot.

“I mean, I’m not, nor ever have been guilty of preciousness,” I whisper, “or any association with it.” 

“True,” my husband says. 

“I mean, I’ve roughed it with the best of them.” 

“True,” he says.

“But roughing it is different from sleeping in a coffin,” I whisper. 

“It’s bigger than a coffin,” he says. 

“A coffin for a really, really fat person then,” I say.

“No one’s that fat,” my husband says. 

“Let’s not split hairs,” I say, “a coffin for Pavarotti, then. Underground.” 

“Below deck,” he says, “not underground. You’re not precious but you do exaggerate.”

“Look,” I say, “just because this looks and sounds like a first-world problem doesn’t actually mean that it is a first-world problem.” 

“How d’you work that one out?” my husband says, “we’re on holiday, sitting beside a beautiful beach, we’ve got a glass of wine in our hands and we’ve just ordered lamb souvlaki. How much more first-world can it get?”

“It’s not a first-world problem,” I say, “it’s a global problem because no one, no matter who they are - whether they’re from the first, second or third world - would say ‘yes, please’ if invited to sleep in a coffin underground.”

“Below deck,” he says, “just drink your wine. That’ll take the edge off. In fact that’s the answer to the problem: drink enough wine now, then you’ll be fine later.”


“Do you want us to order anything in particular?” asks Pugwash.

It is difficult to muster enthusiasm for a Last Supper but I put in my request. 

“A side-dish of those steamed mountain greens with fresh lemon juice would be nice,” I suggest, most strickenly.


The waiter has taken my death-row meal order over to the chef. My husband, Pugwash and his wife have produced a map and are planning the route our coffin ship might take over the next seven days. 

I do not take part in this; I am drinking wine now so I’ll be fine later.


I am trying to work out what kind of drinking I need to be doing for this is a very specific case; we are heading back to the boat at 9pm, when I’ll need to be able to cross a narrow gang-plank but after that, I must be immediately and entirely comatose, so that I do not care at all that I am to spend a night in a coffin: it is not so much a fine line, I feel, as an awkward one.

Perhaps I need to drink fast. Yes, fast it is.

11pm. I wake up. There is dark all around me.

11.01pm. I cannot work out where I am.

11.02pm. I’ve worked it out: someone has put me in an oven. They have turned the oven up to gas mark 6.

11.03pm. Who can have done this? Gas mark 6 is much too high: it has caused my head to catch on fire. 

I check my head for flames. I need to get out of this oven. My face is melting and I must save my hair. I hear my husband’s voice. 

“What are you doing?” he says. 


“Shh,” he says, “your head is not on fire. Calm down, you’re on a boat. Pugwash turned the fan off. He came in an hour ago. Apparently it drains the engine battery. I’ll turn it on again for a bit. Sod the battery.”

I have no idea what he’s talking about. I feel around for the oven door. 

It must be here somewhere.

“What are you doing?” he says. 

“Getting out of the oven,” I say, running. I find some stairs. 

“Come back,” he says, running after me, “you’re not in an oven, you’re on a boat, for god’s sake.”


I am at the top of the stairs. There is air there. 

11.06pm. Oh. There is sky up here. He’s right. I’m on a boat. And I’m looking for the gang-plank.


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