I'm currently reading Apsley Cherry-Garrard's account of Scott's doomed Antarctic expedition of 1909. The slow unfolding of the tragedy and the beautiful writing make it a compelling read.
What Scott never had to do though was to clean up a vomit-sodden child on the hard shoulder of the A1(M) using his pants as a sponge.
This is a tale of hubris. You would do well to heed its lesson (unless of course you actually want to spend time picking partially digested raisins out of your knickers on the kerb of one of the busiest roads in Europe.)
We decided that it would be nice to spend the time between Christmas and New Year taking a trip down south to see my parents. Our thought process went like this:
(You may adopt an annoying smug, self-satisfied tone whilst reading this bit) The girls travel really well. Long car journeys are fine for them. They're sooo good. Never any trouble at all. Driving for seven hours will be fine.
My sister texted from York suggesting we stop off on the way down. Oh no, we said, that's too far out of our way.
We got up at 6.00 and piled into the car. We'd been to the library and got fully tooled up with story CDs. This wouldn't be a chore. This would be an active pleasure.
We make good time. Had a bit of breakfast in the car and after about three hours we stop at Durham services to have a coffee and a snack. The girls share a panettone and drank fruit juice.
We hit the road again and, apart from the questions prompted by the complex social issues raised by the third repetition of a Jacqueline Wilson CD, the journey was unfolding in the painless manner we had predicted.
And then we hit that interminable section to the north of York where they have been doing roadworks over the same 20 mile stretch for what seems like the best part of a decade. You have to drive at 50 and there's no hard shoulder. And no escape.
Suddenly, behind me Sorrel lets out a loud belch. There's a beat of silence and then a liquid gush followed by another. The car fills with cries of alarm and the sweet odour of apple juice, panettone and stomach acid. She is drenched in sick. It's filling her car seat and spilling over into the foot well.
I realise with some surprise that I'm driving along next to actual hard shoulder. I pull over as far as I can without rolling us down the embankment. We get out and gingerly remove her from the car. It's about 6 degrees and blowing a gale. She's crying and shivering and it slowly dawns on us that we have nothing with which to clean her up.
I open the boot and grab the first thing that comes to hand: two pairs of my pants. Helen hastily strips the poor child and wipes her down as the traffic rumbles past in a steady stream. We put her nightly on her and wrap her in Helen's cardigan.
The car seat is a mess. I take the other pair of pants and wipe it up. We take it out of the car and strip the cover off it while I use sparkling water and underwear to valet the sick off the car upholstery. I pull the seat belt to one side and my hand comes away covered in warm slime. Oh God. Through the retching I coo reassuringly to the children. I sound like a werewolf trying to swallow its own tongue. I start to wish I were one of Jacqueline Wilson's feckless absentee fathers.
Eventually we are able to bundle up all the vomity stuff and stick it in the boot. We line the naked car seat with my dressing gown and pull back onto the motorway.
Five minutes pass as Helen and I gaze into the middle distance the horror of what we have just witnessed playing in our heads like the upriver sequence of "Apocalypse Now". There is silence then Sorrel says, "I'm hungry...."