Health · Notes from West London

Travel sickness

Another Bank Holiday weekend, another trip to visit friends outside London. We rarely make trips outside the M25 area and when we do we have a good time. For various reasons our seating arrangements on long car journeys, for at least part of the trip, are as follows: my wife drives, our 11 year old son takes the front passenger seat and I sit in the back with our 9 year old daughter. At other times I drive, my wife sits in the front and the children sit in the back. The first arrangement reflects the fact that I have never suffered from any form of travel sickness. I am grateful for it and reflected on it while sat in the back of the car on the way home from our day-trip to Worthing. I began drafting this piece on my netbook while we were driving back to London in the dark and my daughter dozed off to my right.

I can do just about anything in the passenger seat of a moving car: read, write, watch a movie, use a computer or smartphone, talk, stay silent, sing, eat, drink or play the ukulele. Many people are not so fortunate. My daughter is unable to read or look at a screen while the car is moving. One reason why I sit in the back for at least part of our car journeys is to act as an Audio Book: today it was another chapter from whichever Harry Potter story my daughter is reading. It’s easier to project my voice forward from the back seat rather than try and direct it backwards from the front passenger seat.

This happy disinclination towards travel sickness makes me (in my view) an excellent passenger (and, like all men, and like Dustin Hoffman in this clip from “Rain Man”, I regard myself as “an excellent driver”). Freedom from travel sickness extends to journeys on boats and ships. Our childhood holidays were spent in Ireland, we always travelled by ferry, and I have taken ferries to France and Holland many times over the years and never felt ill. Twice I have been on boats in Force 8 weather conditions, travelling back from France. On both journeys our departure was touch-and-go until the moment we set sail. If the gales had worsened to Force 9 we would have stayed behind and I’d have had an unplanned overnight stay in France. The only inconvenient thing for me about travelling in a Force 8 gale the last time it happened (in 1997) was being unable to read my book. I was travelling alone and had planned to read another 50-100 pages of the Booker Prize winner “The Famished Road” by Ben Okri, but only managed about 30 pages. It was a tough read anyway but the amount of noise all around me (screaming, groaning, people getting sick and falling over) affected my concentration, as you’d expect. At one point the ship lurched so violently that a rack of optics (those bottles of vodka, gin and other spirits behind the bar) crashed to the ground. The sound of so much breaking glass was also rather off-putting.

People change. The time may come when travel by road and sea is no longer so straightforward for me but in the meantime if you need a travelling companion who can relay information from any kind of screen, read out loud from a book, engage in conversation, stay silent or play the ukulele, I’m your man.


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