As human beings, we take much for granted often expecting the natural world to accommodate our needs and demands rather than adapting to our surroundings. The sea, unlike the terra firma, does not such show such mercy and is relentless in its awkwardness toward the human condition. The most well-know problem for humans at sea is sea-sickness, or, as the French say “mal de mer” (although Councillor John Hart would probably correct me by saying "avoir mal au coeur" or "avoir la nausée"). But what is it?

We instinctively seek to remain upright by keeping our centre of gravity over our feet. On a boat, the most important way this is achieved is by visual reference to surrounding objects, such as the horizon. Seasickness often results from the visual confusion on a moving craft, when nearby objects move with the motion of the craft. Because the lines of the masts, windows, and furniture on a ship are constantly shifting with respect to fixed references, humans, especially those unaccustomed to being at sea, can suffer a number of afflictions – the most common being sea-sickness..

Sea-sickness has such a remarkable effect because both the sense of sight and touch are disturbed by the motion of a craft on water. The severity of seasickness is also influenced by the irregular pressure of the bowels against the diaphragm as they shift with the rising and falling of the ship.

In his book The Human Body, Isaac Asimov relates the anecdote about a seasick passenger whom a steward cheerfully assures that nobody ever died from seasickness. The passenger muttered, "Please… it's only the hope of dying that's keeping me alive." This is a feeling that I have experienced in the past and will probably do so again in the future. It is not a weakness in one’s ability to sail as we all suffer from it at one point or other and it can be due to dehydration, drinking too much beer on shore the night before (a particular curse for seafarers), not eating enough or simple excitement. But while in Carry on… films it is a comical condition, the reality is that when in charge of a boat or part of the crew, it is a debilitating condition that prevents safe sailing. I have often wondered how people like Ellen Macarthur and Dee Caffari, both round-the world- sailors, coped with such problems as they have no-one else to rely on when they start to become ill.

While we are on our pontoon, Caffari’s yacht Aviva motors in, after being refitted at a nearby yard. She (the yacht) has no masts and is being crewed by those working on her but running down the pontoon, desperate to be reunited with her boat is Dee Caffari herself. On 16 February of this year, Caffari completed a double world first by crossing the official finish line of the round the world Vendée Globe yacht race. At 36 years of age she succeeded in the face of adversity to achieve her ultimate goal of becoming the first woman to sail solo, non-stop both ways around the world. The former PE teacher from Hertfordshire crossed the finish line in sixth place with a heavily damaged mainsail (that may explain why the masts were being refitted) having spent 99 days at sea. She burst into the record books in May 2006 by becoming the first woman to sail solo, non-stop the ‘wrong' way around the world (against the prevailing winds and currents) in a circumnavigation that took her 178 days in a 72 foot steel yacht battling into the wind. Now less than three years later Caffari, who only started solo sailing in 2005, completed the voyage the ‘right' way around the world.

It’s not just the physical condition of seasickness that is a problem when sailing but also the psychological challenge of loneliness or being confined with a small group of people. Many years ago I spent seventeen days alone on a boat without seeing a single person. Getting into a routine helped to pass the time and I certainly spent a lot of time reading but for me it was a choice to be on the boat while for many people, particularly elderly people, that is not a situation they choose to find themselves in.

Knocking on doors in Hendon I find many such people who often want to talk just for some company. I recently overheard one of my supporters spending a lot of time with a person who obviously did not have too much human contact. That is sad within itself but what is even worse is when people die alone. It is the duty of the council to arrange for the funeral of any person who has died, or been found dead in their area, in any case where it appears that suitable arrangements are not being made by any other person. This usually means a person who has died alone without any family.

There are no national statistics for these parish funerals. Under the Public Health Act, when a person with no means or family to arrange a funeral dies in the community, councils have a duty to pick up the bill. If the person dies in hospital, the funeral is dealt with by the local NHS trust. In recent inquiries, the Local Government Association could only get information from four borough councils, and The Sunday Times Magazine contacted the local NHS trusts of these boroughs. All figures run per financial year, and often include numbers of foetal remains and stillborn babies – adults who died alone are grouped with lives that never began. Spreading these figures across the UK’s 492 boroughs, it is estimated that thousands of deaths go unmourned by family or friends.

Last year alone 347 people were buried by Barnet Council and up until the end of last month, the council had already buried 98 people this year. For some time I have felt that we need to make a greater acknowledgement of these numbers. In the same way that councillors are Corporate Parents to the looked after children in our care, we are also, in some way, ‘corporate mourners’ to all those people who we have buried. As a result I have been considering how we can mark the passing of these people in order to acknowledge that they were once residents of the area in which we live.

As society changes we are becoming a nation of Bridget Jones’. Five years ago there were 7m people living alone in Britain – nearly four times as many as in 1961. By 2021, 37% of all households in Britain are expected to be made up of people who live alone. But these figures reflect more than just an ageing population – today, more than 10% of people aged between 22 and 44 live by themselves, compared with 2% in 1973. So Barnet Council may well find itself having to bury more of its residents, like Eleanor Rigby, in the future.