|I have been described as unemotional, flippant and even uncaring. I feel this is quite unfair. Sure, I can be curt and okay, I do repress my emotions at times, but uncaring? I suppose that a weaker mind can mistake arrogance with strength, nonchalance with dignity and, um, ignorance with selfishness.
It is fair to say, I suppose, that I do sometimes feel a little put out when it comes to sickness, especially when that sickness belongs to someone else. I just find it such an inconvenience and I never wallow in self pity myself. I’m just no good at that sympathy thing. Perhaps service in the army might help explain this, ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude.
In any case it’s just one of the many reasons to enjoy solitude. It’s good to get away from ‘people’ and their nonsense. I use to love travelling and getting away from the stresses of life. Driving throughout Great Britain and even in different countries, in a car or on a motorbike, I certainly developed a keen sense of adventure. I enthused on finding the hidden paths, seeking out amazing landscapes and sceneries, discovering new cities and archaeology, exploring cultures and entertainment, from dawn to dusk, dusk to dawn and without a care for time or man.
Then I met her!
To me, she was a cross between Audrey Hepburn and Winona Ryder. She was classically beautiful, incredibly seductive and I was absolutely smitten. She had long mahogany coloured hair and matching eyes. She was tall yet delicate and would become tearful at the slightest discretion. She was crying out to be loved, protected and for someone to make her feel safe. I was the very fellow.
She also loved to see different places and to visit the countryside, but she was less keen about travelling any kind of distance. Walking she loved. We’d walk and walk everywhere, we’d walk until our feet bled, but when it came to driving she just wasn’t so keen. For me, the travelling on the open road was part of the fun. One day, under pressure, she told me that she suffered from travel sickness and it just, put her off going out with me. She was getting upset. I intervened.
“It’s ok,” I said sympathetically, “It’s alright.”
“Are you sure.” she said.
“Yes.” I said winking.
Our first driving trip out together was to the North Yorkshire Moors and a place called Helmsley. We lived in the North East so this was fairly close, about 30 or 40 miles. She had taken her tablet and had her travel sickness wrist bands on. They were an attractive tangerine colour with lime action pinstripe through the middle. It was a gorgeous sunny day and we had a picnic prepared for when we got there. It was perfect. I drove casually, through villages and into the countryside and followed long winding roads up towards the beautiful, tranquil, historic town.
After a short time she sharply turned to me and blurted out, “Don’t go too far.”
I looked at her quizzically.
“We are going to Helmsley, it’s as far as Helmsley. If I don’t go as far as Helmsley, then I can’t get to Helmsley”, I said amusing myself quietly in the process.
However soon it became apparent and rather less amusing, that “Don’t go too far,” is actually poorly speak for, “I’m going to be sick.”
We spent the rest of the morning mucking out the passenger side of my car, stopping and starting every ten minutes, breathing in the countryside air with all the windows wide open with my head hanging out and enjoying the heather and sheep around each lay-by we happened upon. I couldn’t help but be annoyed.
“Why not tell me a little bit earlier?” I thought.
“I could have stopped.” I thought.
“That was mental.” I thought.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve just got really bad travel sickness.”
She could tell I was quite wound up by the whole experience and probably noticed that I hadn’t spoken or looked at her for an hour. She looked up at me with her tearful, puppy dog brown eyes and dried vomit on her chin.
“It’s ok.” I said holding my hands up in front of me and attempting a smile. “It’s alright.”
However, our alliance had definitely been tested.
Our journeys thereafter were often dogged by this affliction. Personally, I had never experienced travel sickness, so I found it hard to stomach. We both did, in our different ways. However, I always stood by her, trying to help if I could because she was just such a lovely girl and so I tried to be patient and to be a comfort to her.
“There, there,” I would say and, “Are you alright?”
She tried various kinds of medications, but in truth, they rarely worked. She even tried doubling up on the wrist bands. Occasionally, I would throw in words of wisdom like, “Open the window,” but my words just seemed to fall on deaf ears, or to my surprise, scorn. Whether I spoke or not it had no effect, she would throw up regardless.
Eventually I had an idea. Why not let her drive? She drove to work and it was ok. Admittedly she worked half a mile away from our home, but maybe, just maybe, she could drive us on trips out and not feel sick.
When I suggested it, she wasn’t keen, not keen at all actually. However, after weeks and weeks of, “Why not?” and “It’ll be fine” and “Just try it,” she begrudgingly agreed to give it a go and so we did.
She was a nervous driver. She drove slowly, very slowly, infuriatingly and incredibly slowly. She panicked, she panicked a lot. She panicked marginally less at every left hand turn, than at every right hand turn and she panicked at every junction, every traffic light and every roundabout. She stalled, she stalled a lot and she continually asked whether or not she was in the correct lane. She would always ask which road to take, when approaching a road sign that told her which road to take. If ever I was nodding off she would make a high pitched sharp intake of breath followed by a volley of screaming obscenities at one of our fellow motorist. It wasn’t completely blissful.
However, all these things were a blessing, even endearing in comparison to the alternative because when she took over the wheel, when she drove, it actually made the difference. There was no stopping and starting. No tear-chokingly bad smell. My hands were no longer welded to the steering wheel through stress. I no longer just kissed her cheek to show signs of affection. I’d smell her breath, for pleasure. I could relax in the knowledge that we could drive all around the countryside vomit free and breathing in life. This worked so well, too well actually. My luck ran out and it all came to a head on the day I call ‘Yellow Sunday’ – ‘The Whitby fiasco.’
On our journey to Whitby one summer, she had taken over the driving from me because she was beginning to feel unwell. She was less of a nervous driver now and managed fine, as long as we headed in one direction and the roads were clear.
However, the roads weren’t clear and soon traffic began to build up. Driving along for a few miles on these winding country roads, she looked over at me and began to retch. Desperately, I bolted upright and looked for somewhere for her to pull over quickly.
“Pull over here!” I pointed at a farmer’s field entrance. We whizzed past. She just - kept on driving.
“Here will do, stop here.” I said pointing towards a lane. She just - kept on going.
By now, she was pulling the strangest of faces. It was as if she was preparing for a competition for gurning, which she would surely have won.
I cried out in terror. “Hold on!”
Alas, it was too late. Although she had placed her hand firmly over her mouth, her cheeks filled up like a balloon and then exploded. With her fingers splayed, she spewed out in five separate directions. Everything within 180 degrees was splattered, including me. It was everywhere. On the dashboard, the windows, the steering wheel, the gear stick, all over her, all over ME! Needless to say, I was less than happy. I was fuming. Words were exchanged this time and our defences were prepared.
“Why didn’t you pull over”, I said with force.
I was frowning at her with my mouth wide open and displaying an exaggerated gob-smacked expression, gesturing for her to look around the car at what she had just done.
“The car behind was too close,” she said sadly, looking straight ahead, “…and it was going too fast and I couldn’t think straight and…”
She was beginning to cry, which upset me too, so I quickly stopped her from continuing, shook my head and gave her a hug, which I miraculously pulled off, without actually even touching her. “Sshh, come here. It’s ok.” I said, “It’s alright”
It wasn’t ok and it wasn’t alright. It was insane.
As a result of this physical impairment, we stopped travelling around together as much. When we did forget why we didn’t go anywhere, we were quickly reminded a couple of miles from home. When we did travel our weekends were spent staggering around a variety of interesting lay-bys. Quite often I would point out the ones we had visited before, whenever we were passing. “There’s one of ours,” I’d say. As far as travelling companions go, it would be fair to say that there was tension between us.
She even managed to plumb into new depths of despair, the first (and last) time, she travelled pillion on my new motorbike. We were travelling one early evening, from Redcar to Saltburn, which is roughly six miles away. I distinctly arranged with her before setting off to tap me on the shoulder if she needed to stop.
“It won’t be a problem.” I said, “I’ll just pull over and you can jump off quickly.”
The tap on my shoulder came surprisingly early, but it was vigorous enough for me to realise that we were about to decorate. I pulled over immediately and when I stopped and she stumbled off. The vision before me has scarred my mind forever.
It was as if her head had exploded inside her helmet.
Chunks and slime, in a variety of colours, peppered her visor and dripped down her jacket. Still dizzy, she wobbled about with her arms extended. She looked like a new, never seen before, creature from Doctor Who. The scene turned even uglier and worsened when she removed the helmet. Remnants of her digested dinner, was stuck to her long mahogany hair gluing it to her face and then, when it couldn’t get any worse, it got worse. Even more of this incredible liquid spurted from her and onto her boots. I stood aghast. I was surprised, I was very surprised. My mouth and eyes were as wide open as was possible. I stood like this for a full minute. What do you say to someone who’s just done that? Words cannot be formed to express in a cohesive manner anything to assist this situation. I was pretty sure that, whatever I said would be the wrong thing to say, so the right thing to say shouldn’t be said because it would also be the wrong thing to say.
I said nothing, it was easier than thinking.
We didn’t get to Saltburn that day and she had to wear that helmet all the way back home while leaning into the back of me!
Tensions between us were now at an all time high. My love of the open road was now compromised. In fact, I hated travelling. Anytime she suggested we go out somewhere I grew continually defensive and agitated. “Get stuffed,” I’d think and “Go to hell.”
I was no longer bothered about going anywhere. Even on the trips she didn’t puke, I always thought she was going to. It actually crossed my mind that she was doing it on purpose, just to annoy me. So, naturally, when she approached me one day, with the idea of going on holiday to Jersey, by driving from the North East to the South Coast, which incidentally, is around 400 miles and then, sailing across The English Channel, on a ‘speed hovercraft,’ I was ever so slightly apprehensive.
“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR TINY, TINY MIND? NO! NO! NO! ABSOLUTELY NO WAY ON THIS EARTH.”
The drive down to Torquay was not dissimilar to the soldiers’ movement on the Somme. Advancing six inches per week and with spilled guts everywhere, we finally arrived at our stop-off point in the small South Western seaside town. All negotiations between us had now broken down and our battle-lines were drawn up. Even my sarcasm and witticisms were no longer a source of amusement. Not even to me.
At dawn the next day, we took up our positions to do battle aboard the ‘speed hovercraft’.
It was a wet, gloomy, stormy day. I was armed with dark sunglasses, a rather suave cream jacket, a football magazine and an MP3 player with spare batteries. She was drugged up to the eyeballs with every remedy known to man. As the deafening roar of the engines erupted and rain lashed against our portside, her knuckles whitened on the armrest. We were inside the craft, comfortable, warm and dry. So I unleashed a token volley across her bow.
“Look, do you want to help yourself? Do you? Relax your body, stop tensing up, take some deep breaths, stop thinking about it and go – to - sleep.”
“Genius. That was clever.” I thought.
That said, with a flick of my thumb, I was at a Pearl Jam concert and checking out the latest Arsenal away kit. Motors running, we had set sail.
I was quite dismayed when I looked around the cabin. Beyond the couple of hundred seated passengers, I could see the crew fixing plastic aprons over their uniforms and each one was collecting a stack of buckets.
“Oh joy,” I thought grimly, “this is going to be fun!”
Five minutes later passengers were already blue and falling about. It was incredibly choppy as the hovercraft lobbed about and yet Leah was just sat very quietly in her seat. Five minutes later, while a frantic crew ran around the deck emptying their plastic buckets and obliging passengers refilling them, Leah was still very peaceful. As I looked at her I suddenly realised something was wrong. Something was very wrong. I broke out into a cold sweat and shivered. My eyes started to well up. My hands went clammy and my mouth dried out completely. I stared at her intensely and felt the blood leave my cheeks and my throat tightened sucking the air out of me.
“Oh No! Oh my god. I can’t believe it.”
Three seconds later I was laid in urine, with my head in a cabin toilet being violently sick. The unthinkable had happened. The motion of the ferry had out-manoeuvred me and for the first time in my life, I was travel sick and ‘boy’ was I sick. I convulsed involuntarily until I was empty and yet my body wouldn’t be satisfied, unless my internal organs were hanging out inside the bowl as well.
I had lapsed into primitive thoughts. I spied a tap, shuffled over, clambered up and gulped down a pint of tepid water while the ferry swayed violently.
In a daze, I dragged myself across to the door and tried to stand up. Automatically my intellectual brain kicked back to life. I had to go outside and face the public.
“Be cool,” I thought breathing hard, “With dignity now.”
If I could find the deck without being noticed I could still achieve some salvation from embarrassment.
“She wouldn’t need to know” I thought.
“I’d never live it down” I thought.
“I could pretend I was getting some air” I thought.
While I still felt I could move, I charged out the toilet and seesawed across the swaying cabin like Frankenstein’s monster at a rave, past a couple hundred passengers.
“Almost there,” I thought, “stay cool.” A short corridor linked the deck and my salvation, with the cabin and complete humiliation. As I approached I could see it was lined with groaning ‘zombiesque’ passengers, laid out and strewn on top of each other. That wasn’t going to stop me. As I climbed over the bodies, holding my mouth shut and reminding myself NOT to splay my fingers, I could see the deck, despairingly, just two strides away.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was cordoned off with a chain, for safety purposes.
‘No man’s land!’
I was stuck in a mixing bowl of a corridor. Time was running out for me. In one direction was the deck, freedom, the open air, dignity. In the other direction was the cabin, embarrassment and total humiliation. Victory or defeat and victory had been cordoned off, with a chain. With nowhere left to run and being swung to high heaven, I projected a huge jet of tepid water into the air. I was going down and mutating into a zombie.
I was now laid in someone else’s vomit, but I no longer cared. The enormous waves crashed over the bow but I no longer cared. The freezing cold splash-back, ruthlessly drenched me. I didn’t care. I was completely incapacitated, head spinning round and round, while the ferry continually bungee-jumped in and out of the sea. On the way down, I had automatically gripped the handrail as if holding on to life and yet while spread across the floor, I no longer cared if I lived. Frozen, motionless except for the occasional spasm, I realised that if the ferry sank, I would remain there. Years later, divers would find my skeleton lying in that corridor still clutching hold of that handrail.
After what seemed like days, the engines softened, the ferry stopped bouncing as vigorously and it slowed down mercifully. Almost immediately I recovered, as if I had been given a shot of adrenalin. I was able to move again. I had survived. I felt elation. I felt cold and silly.
I picked myself up and stretched. My body ached all over and I was drenched and freezing. I looked at my clothes, they were absolutely sopping. My cream jacket was now a coat of many colours and I had lost my sunglasses. My shoes and even my socks were plastered.
While I surveyed the damage, I suddenly had a sense that eyes were on me. The very thought, made the hairs on my neck and arms stand on end.
“Oh no,” I thought, “Oh, please no”
To my absolute horror, when I looked up, she was stood just ten feet away and directly in front of me. The drugs had worked for her in more ways than one. She was pointing at me and grinning, which in a split second turned to pointing and hysteria. Crying and laughing she didn’t need to say a word. She couldn’t say a word, even if she wanted to say a word. In fact, the more I stood there, with a blank, sad expression on my face, the more hysterical she found it. She was doubling up, crying, holding her sides and slapping her legs. I’d never seen her so happy. She laughed so much she aroused the attention of everyone else on board and many of them were smiling and sniggering and tittering and some were even pointing as well. It was what you might call, embarrassing and the worse possible outcome imaginable.
I knew I would never live this one down. I was crushed, defeated and yet, I knew I deserved it because I’d been less than compassionate to her over time. Once she had collected herself, she gracefully staggered across to me, slipped her hand into mine looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t half love you. You’re so funny,” and then began falling apart again, having to use me to hold on to me to keep herself up. It was the best day of her life.
It was ok. It was alright. She had won this war and actually, she deserved to. From that day to this, I vowed never to be curt or impatient whenever she has sickness. I have remained sympathetic to her and to bad travellers every since.