13. Travel

13. Travel

29 May 2024

 ‘Oh no, she doesn’t get migraines, does she?’ I heard these words the first time I slept in my partner’s mother’s house and was too ill to get up! He was not my husband then, but I had flown from New Zealand to inspect him in his natural habitat. I was not only exhausted but experiencing my normal post-travel attack. She may as well have said: ‘Steer clear. Damaged goods, son.’ He did not steer clear. On the contrary.

We had met on his ship. I was there because my migraine brain could not face flying long haul again. Yet I needed to be in New Zealand to help care for my mother after my father had died.

Migraines engineered our beginning and almost our end, so they have been part of his life from the start. But the first time I was too sick to go ashore with him as arranged, he assumed I was rejecting him and using migraine as an excuse, something I would never do despite others playing fast and loose with it. Fortunately, I was able to point out that his reaction was a cliché, he disbelieved me and assumed rejection, and we sailed on literally and metaphorically. I knew of course that he was going to play a significant part in my future, despite my handicap!

Living as far from New Zealand as I could get was not a good idea once migraines came to stay. Of all the travel options, flying is the worst. I have filled more travel-sick bags than is seemly, and flight attendants really don’t like dealing with them. Which I understand. I don’t enjoy filling them. But they could at least pretend. One flight attendant noticed I was ill and said she had the answer which I assumed was a flat bed in business class. Alas she returned with a business-class eyeshade! Fancy but useless.

My husband is a keen skier and one year – much to his surprise and delight – I decided to embrace late onset skiing, thinking my attacks were becoming manageable. But no. I was deluded. Though I took to the sport adequately, overall, I spent too much precious time in French and Austrian hotel beds.

Travelling the world with the Merchant Navy in my trailing career was essential if I were to see my husband for more than four months a year. I loved being at sea, and while the captain’s suite was normally comfortable, North Atlantic winter storms were a trigger – combined with the many smells on ships – particularly that of burning fuel. My disappearing for several days required explanations not always well received. And if I were travelling with other wives (and they had to be wives to be there), my absence from the bar and social events, such as watching films, was even less understood.

I was able to go to sea until the storms drove me home, because we had no children. This apparent choice was made for us. Being alone on a small island with a newborn and getting sick often were not ideal breeding conditions. I knew I couldn’t do it. And he knew too. He wanted me, not a womb. Even a healthy Merchant Navy partner is a single parent for much of her children’s life.

He was, though, always asked how many children he had – by agents, pilots and others who visited his bridge. ‘We have not been blessed,’ was always his reply, and when one character said: ‘Your wife should see a doctor,’ he quipped: ‘my wife is a doctor.’ He’s never been short of a riposte.

I have had migraines worldwide on motorways, on most oceans, in hotels, self-catering, transiting the Panama Canal, biking, skiing and walking. Hotels and self-catering can be particularly tricky. For this reason, I prefer a standard suitable for prolonged bed stays. I spent two days in bed in Gleneagles and we had to cancel a booking in the Andrew Fairlie restaurant. H is a foodie and this was to have been a great treat for him. In Aberdeen, someone with a key came into my hotel room intending to get into my hotel bed only to find it occupied. We concluded this was an employee about to do something illicit, thinking the room empty. H was away in search of medication at the time! I assumed the intruder was him returning. When I realised it was a stranger I was not in the least afraid, as being dead is always a good thought when in terrible pain.

Self-catering is a growing problem, especially latterly, when all manner of purchased smells are added to make the place seem extra clean. This has laid me low in Fort William, the Peak District, Ireland, Northern Spain and many other walking destinations.

On arrival anywhere I have to seek out smelly gadgets, plugged in or otherwise and hide them in deep cupboards. I also have to hope that whatever fragrance they have been using to ‘clean’ has long gone. I realise that many will be pleased to find their holiday accommodation impersonating a pine forest, but a sizeable number will not, and others will be made ill. Whether the smells are natural or chemical makes no difference to me. Our sense of smell is an astonishing asset. Bombarding it is seldom good.

The worst aspect of travel is that I have to hope I will be well enough to set off. When I have no choice and I am not well, I medicate myself and go. On these occasions I pray the unseemly amounts of medication will work. I routinely pack several days before departure just in case I become unfit to do so; that’s normal migraine practice.

Many with conditions that randomly appear will know how inconvenient this extra stress round travelling is.

I have had many memorable travelling experiences but the one that is unforgettable is being on a bus in Maharashtra in India and travelling to a hill station for the weekend.

The bus was full of people and animals and through the open windows dust-laden wind blew about my head as the engine groaned and snorted its way to Mahabaleshwar round hairpin bends and beside precipitous drops to valleys where people and animals looked like ants. It is thought to be the best of many hill stations in Maharashtra and it was certainly spectacular scenery at 4500 ft above sea level.

After I found a hotel with a good bed and a cooling fan I became very ill, although I did not get frequent migraines at the time. Unfortunately, I was pestered by salesmen knocking at my door offering saris, silks, carpets and jewellery. They mistakenly assumed I was wealthy, which was far from the truth, although I fully understood that tourists are economic units who should buy as well as gawp at wonderful scenery. The reality was I was on another ‘journey’ altogether and in Pune doing a yoga course at the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute. To qualify as a teacher, that travel was, at the time, essential.

Photo credit: Fotolite

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