Thirty-Second Thing: Pain in the neck

I started writing this post quite a while ago, so it turns out to be rather ironic, given the title, to be completing it after a bicycle accident has left me with painful whiplash (as well as an array of colourful bruises and grazes on my legs and arms). As indicated by my last post, I’m a cycle helmet wearer, and it certainly proved its worth on the occasion of my recent tumble, enabling me to get straight back in the saddle, and I am pleased to say, I am already on the mend.

When I’m not getting around on my bike, I am a frequent traveller on the ‘permanent way‘. My aversion to flying has resulted in various lengthy journeys by locomotive across Europe, most recently to Venezia Santa Lucia (door-to-door from Gateshead: 3 trains, one metro across the Tyne, one metro across Paris: total journey around 24 hours).

I was not, needless to say, fortunate enough to be on the Orient Express and indeed, the experience of sharing a stuffy 6-berth couchette with a bunch of strangers on the rickety Thello sleeper is perhaps as far the romantic ideal of European rail travel as it possible to imagine.

Furthermore, I appreciate it’s not practical for everyone to travel by train. You need the luxury of time for one thing and since the birth of the budget airline, faster options are also often much cheaper. If I felt able to board a plane to reach my destination, believe me I would. Nevertheless I am glad that there are enough of us out there still taking this mode of public transport to make it viable for companies to regularly run such trains.

Before embarking on any train journey over-(or technically, with the Eurostar, under-) seas , I always check out the excellent website The Man in Seat Sixty-One to get the low down on all aspects of the journey. I also think carefully about what I might need en route – over night journeys mean darkness and less to see out of the window and therefore plenty of reading, listening or viewing material is essential to pass the hours, and emergency snacks are also vital as you never know when the buffet car will be closed for ‘reasons beyond their control’. I would also add earplugs, a torch, tissues and little bottle of antibacterial gel to my ‘essentials’ list, but I put such over-preparation down to brain-washing in my formative years courtesy of the Brownies.

Day or night, I tend to sleep pretty well on trains, although getting into a position that doesn’t give you a stiff neck is always a challenge, particularly in an upright seat, and even more so when you don’t have the window seat. Years ago, I got one of those inflatable neck cushions but found that while it started off by solving the head-rolling problem (apparently suffered by humans and meerkats alike) it always slipped off during my slumber. What it needed was a means of holding it in place. Some kind of closure. So, I dug it out and conceived of a bespoke cover, which can be tied in a bow at the front, rather like an inflatable cravat.

I probably need to come up with a name for this invention if I’m going to patent it and make my millions, but for now it has revolutionised my upright train-snoozes – and no one has pointed and laughed (yet).

Tools / special requirements: Stretchy fabric makes it easier to get the cushion inside the cover – for stretchy fabric you need a special needle on the sewing machine plus hand tacking stitches before sewing is highly recommended.

Time taken: Around 2 hours

Things learned: Before the invention of the automobile, whiplash injuries were commonly known as ‘railroad spine’ as they were noted mostly in connection with train collisions.

Satisfaction (1-10): 9

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