Recently my sister Karen and I discussed our memories of visits to Ireland as children - we would go most years to visit Mum’s side of the family in West Cork. Before budget airlines shortened and cheapened the trips, Dad would drive the car from South Yorkshire to Holyhead, where we would take the boat to Dun Laoghaire before continuing our journey south-westwards. For me, these journeys were opportunities to read as much as I could for as long as liked – at least until I could no longer make out the words using the headlights of the car behind. I devoured words – The Babysitters Club, then Sweet Valley High – once a slightly age-inappropriate teen magazine that I’d snuck into the basket as our stressed parents stopped at a petrol station on the outskirts of Bangor.
For my, sister, it was a different story. She couldn’t read because she was too busy concentrating on not being sick: ‘I can remember the smell of Dad’s car, the black rover with the white seats’ she told me, ‘It had a real fusty smell which meant I’d be sick full stop when I went in it, no matter where we were going’.
Preparations for the Irish trips could be fraught. Not for me, I’d be merrily stuffing my library books into a big bag – Point Horror books and a guide to Cornwall that I’d inexplicably renewed eight times (to date I’ve been to Berlin more times than I’ve been to Cornwall). Karen would be shouting that she’d lost her ‘sick bands’ as Mum checked her stock of carrier bags for holes. ‘Don’t call them sick bands, they’re ‘travel bands’’ Mum would reply, looking up from her pile of bags ‘time to take your travel tablet!’.
Karen said that she always felt ill during the drive from home to Holyhead, but that as we drove onto the ferry she would think ‘this is fun! It’s a bit wobbly! This is good!’. These feelings of excitement would carry her up the metal steps toward the outdoor area of the top deck, and with the breeze in her hair she would delight in setting sail. ‘Then’ she sighed, ‘the ferry would turn a corner and that was it.’ ‘What was it?’ I asked, ‘the pit of my stomach’ she replied ‘saying ‘you’re going to puke, you’re going to puke’ – and then I’d puke’.
Arrival on dry land didn’t make a difference: ‘I’d be sick all the way down and past Cork, outside of the car, inside of the car in a bag’. Mum would chain-feed ginger biscuits to her from the stash in the glovebox to no avail as Dad somehow managed to shout whilst holding his breath: ‘NOT ON THE UPHOLSTERY!’
The horrors didn’t even stop on arrival: ‘It didn’t matter if we arrived at eight in the morning, I’d still be sick at eight that night’ she said, miserably, ‘and then I’d have to do it all again on the way back’.