“Stop the car!”
“Stop the car! I’m going to be sick!”
That was me yelling.
That was how it always was for me as a kid on long car journeys. Especially when stuck in the back seat.
After my parents split, my uncle Tony (mum’s twin brother) took our family on holiday to the West Country seaside. Mum had no car, couldn’t drive and probably had no money for train fares.
One year – I was about 11, I think – we took a trip to Devon. Mum, my elder brother Rob, younger brother Jez, myself and Uncle Tony.
These days in the car you’d take the motorway all the way (via M4/M5) or most of the way (via M3 and fickle A303) – and be looking at a one-stop drive of 5-6 hours. But our journey back then was along the ‘coastal route’ of A roads. Estimated journey time EIGHT hours.
Eight hours! For an 11-year-old boy that felt like an eternity.
Off we went. Uncle Tony – an amateur rally driver in his day – at the wheel of his sporty 2.0 litre V6 Ford Capri. Mum in front passenger seat. Three boys in the cramped back.
We had been on long car journeys before and they always had the same effect on me. Motion sickness. Annoyingly, neither brother suffered with it.
It was a hot sunny day. The roads seemed busy enough (and by today’s congested standards it wouldn’t warrant a mention on the radio’s traffic reports). The biggest challenge was boredom.
An Ability I Did Not Have
Rob had this ability to read anything in the car. Books, comics. The lot. As soon as I tried to dip my head in a page that nauseating reflex action would give me a nudge. So, that was no good.
The adults would try their best. Suggest games. We played ‘I spy’. That did the trick for a while. We played a game called ‘pub sign cricket’. You scored runs if the pub name had legs (eg The Dog and Duck) , lost a wicket if ‘legless’ (eg The King’s Head). That was even more fun. You really had to look out the window and concentrate.
But eight hours is eight hours. You’ve had breakfast. The roads were fast with sweeping bends. But there were also lots of towns to pass through. That meant stop-start, roundabouts and plenty of ‘rolling’ action in the back.
Will spare you the details. They had to stop the car three times for me to ‘do the business’. Lunch didn’t help matters.
It was only when we were about an hour from our destination that my tummy chose to settle. I could sense the end in sight. My mind focused on looking for the road signs which would say ‘Brixham’ and alongside tell you how many miles were left. The signs were like a countdown clock… 45 miles, 37 miles, 20 miles, 11 miles, 5 miles…
… and then we were there. We had arrived. We were by the sea.
Time for a Walk
Having quickly unpacked at the rental apartment on the hillside overlooking the fishing harbour, we went out for a walk.
This was a small fishing village and to me it was beautiful, so rich with life. The quaint little shops. The fishing and leisure boats bobbing up and down in the water. Seagulls hovered and squarked in bustling and bullying fashion.
And there was on old ship with sails moored on one side of the harbour wall. I was told this was a replica of Golden Hind, the ship that Sir Francis Drake used to sail around the world to profit and please Queen Elizabeth I. (Watching a recent episode of QI it seems the ship was actually called The Pelican but I’ll always think of it as the Golden Hind).
This was probably the trip which gave me a real taste for fish and chips. For some reason they tasted better here. And there was always room for an ice cream. Looking back, these traditions and rituals have not changed one bit. It’s a very British thing. Seaside. Fish & Chips. Ice cream.
As for long car journeys?
The motion sickness seemed to ease and pass as I went through my teens. I still find it hard to be a back seat passenger for anything but the shortest trip. Those who know my history always invite me to the front passenger seat. Whether that’s caring or car preservation is neither here nor there.
But put me in the driving seat? I can do as long a journey as you dare to challenge me. I’ve done Folkestone to Edinburgh (10 hours), round trips of 500 miles in a day and toured across much of the UK. Total mileage behind the wheel at a wild guess would be 300K.
The boy who hated long car journeys became the man who loves long car journeys (provided he’s behind the wheel). The love of fish, chips and ice cream has stayed with me. The sights, sounds and smells of the sea continue to fascinate me.
The time, effort (and occasional upset tummy) to reach the seaside were worth it. And when I think of my hiking trips, home and abroad, the same applies. To reach the places which stir the emotions, lift the spirits and leave me in awe, overcoming the challenge rarely leaves me unrewarded.