Many of us assume we are who we are just because that’s who we are. We’re often oblivious to the influences, small or large, which shape our character, beliefs and drives. We assume that we’re born with certain talents and lack others. We know what we like but really, we only like what we know. We think we think what we like, but it’s more likely that we just like what we think.
It was this question, of why am I who I am, that drove me to examine my life to see if I could see why I have embraced my creativity and imagination while some others have not. Why do I love to spend my time thinking, writing, making music, creating new things. Was it that I’m just more thoughtful that others? Is it that I’m just more inclined to invent new ideas in my head, to solve problems in interesting and unusual ways. Is it a natural born talent that I have that other’s lack, no matter how they try, they could never match my kind of creative life?
Of course not. There are a whole host of reasons why I like what I like and do what I do. I’ve explored my memory and found all manner of defining moments or exposures to certain stimuli. There were times when I had encouragement and times when I was told I was useless. All these pushes and pulls guided and shaped my self image. But I came upon a much more subtle and not very pleasant reason that I can award the real trophy for the most character and talent defining cause in my early life: carsickness.
That’s right. Puke. I must have spent more time feeling or being sick than most. Almost any car journey over 20 minutes could result in queasiness (or 5 minutes if in a friends Ford). Visiting relatives in Yorkshire was the big journey. From Bristol, Durham and then later Hampshire to Bradford and back, usually over a weekend. Between 2 and 5 hours in the back of my Dad’s Morris Marina (the worst), Austin Maxi, Princess (the best), Vauxhall Cavalier or Rover SD1.
My brother, immune to travel sickness would play with toys, read, do puzzles, play Fighting Fantasy books among other things. I could do none of those. I could only stare out of the front window, trying to keep very still and my eyes straight ahead. If I looked down for a second I would tumble into the reeling ugliness of that spinning griddliness of foreboding sick. My head would swoon and my sense of smell magnify by a thousand times. Sometimes opening the window for a rush of freezing cold air helped, but not much. My mouth squeezed itself full of saliva. If I dared open it to get my Dad to stop the car, I’d tumble out onto the long grass of the verge, hoping that the ensuing vomit wouldn’t come through my nose this time, or worse, sting the back of my eyes. If we couldn’t stop, there was a large iceceam tub to hand. Either way, I’d be spitting for some time the excess saliva, waiting for my head to stop spinning before getting back on the road and beginning again. If you’ve never had car sickness, it’s not like other sicknesses, like food poisoning, where afterwards you feel better. With travel sickness you feel sick for up to two hours after the journey whether you actually been sick or not. When we arrived at my Aunty or Grandma’s house it would be lunchtime, often fish and chips, sometimes from the then magical Harry Ramsden’s. All I could have was to try to ignore the smell and have a glass of lemonade.
So to avoid this hell I had the be very deliberate and determined to concentrate on looking out of the front (not having rear seatbelts help in this respect). Listening to music made it worse so I had to ask my parents to turn the radio off. I had to steal my mind on something to really concentrate on. I could recall in my minds eye every frame and intonation of voice from episode three of Doctor Who and the Destiny of the Daleks which had been on the previous Saturday night. I would make up my own stories in my mind, making them as solid and as memorable as possible since I wouldn’t be able to write any ideas down for quite a few hours. I would visualise Cyberman bases instead of buildings and Dalek saucers instead of clouds.
I had an imaginary friend who was a fox who ran alongside the car, jumping over obstacles, over bridges, through fields and under junctions. When we stopped at the Little Chef he’d either gone on ahead or was lagging behind so we never actually met. But once we were back on the road, he’d be there again.
My favourite game was the car game I invented I still play this one today. To begin, you pick a car from either the overtaking lane or the oncoming traffic lane, whichever has a reasonable flow of traffic. The game starts when you have chosen a car that you like, say a Jaguar XJS which has passed by. This is now your car and you count every car that passes by after it. If you don’t pick a replacement car by the 10th car (or higher number if the flow of traffic is faster), then you have to swap the Jaguar for whatever the 10th car is. The point of the game is to keep switching from great car to great car without having to lower your standards to some rubbish old Ford Escort or embarrassing Datsun.
If I kept my body still and my mind moving I could beat the sickness. I must have had thousands of hours of this sort of thinking. So when I’m in a situation today that I have to wait, I’ll never get bored. I’m always thinking. Always imagining. I can’t help it, I’ve had so much practice.
Perhaps we don’t have talents at all. Perhaps we just have quirks of our physical nature that in some weird un-calculated way forces us to behave in such a manner that may lead to some behaviour that is recognised as useful. I believe I can lay the blame, or the thanks, at an unusual cause. For my imagination, thank you, sick.
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