I pride myself on my navigational skills. All my friends will tell you that I scorn satnavs and swear by homing instinct and map books. Not that I don’t own a satnav: I do. I won it in an online competition which involved me volunteering the information that Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights, (or possibly that Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre – I forget which it was now, it was so long ago). Half an hour later I was told I was the proud owner of a satnav. It was all very odd. If I’d realized what the prize was, I’d have kept quiet. Such is life.
Purely out of curiosity – and to experience life at the cutting edge of technology – I did use it once, on my way back from my weekly shop. It tried to send me up a single track road with no passing places and nowhere to turn around, so I consigned it to the depths of the glove compartment forever, along with a packet of wet wipes, an ancient and inedible roll of extra-strong mints and a shriveled up apple core.
Last week, when I decided to take a few days off and head north into Scotland for some R & R, I set off for my rented cottage confident in my ability to find my way unerringly to my destination armed with nothing more than a map book, the cottage owner’s directions and my famous homing instinct.
Finding Scotland is easy. You just keep going north until you pass a sign saying ‘You Are Now Entering the People’s Republic of Scotland’.
Finding the area of Scotland I was going to – Dumfries and Galloway – is equally easy. Just after you pass the aforementioned sign, turn left. Bingo.
For a while, everything went swimmingly. Once you’ve negotiated the crazed shoppers throwing themselves across the road to reach the temple of rabid consumerism that is Gretna Gateway Outlet Village, you’re on the perfectly splendid A75, cruising effortlessly towards your destination, enjoying the rolling Scottish countryside and thinking how thoroughly civilized it all is.
It was when I left the ‘A’ roads that the trouble started.
You see, I was totally convinced that I knew where I was going. I’d researched it thoroughly beforehand, peering at maps, reading the directions, carefully circling places in pencil and making notes to myself about which way to turn where. My downfall was brought about by a combination of hubris, natural stupidity and the fact that, unlike most people, I don’t have a ‘left’ and ‘right’: I have a ‘left’ and ‘other left’ … and if I don’t have a helpful co-pilot to shout ‘THE OTHER EFFING LEFT!’ at me at the relevant moments, I tend to go the wrong way. (If I’m giving someone else directions, I have the disconcerting habit of waving the correct hand around while saying the wrong word, which invariably ends with the poor lost driver saying ‘Thank you very much’ rather feebly and then driving off in the hope of finding someone who isn’t a gibbering idiot.)
Having spent a sizeable chunk of my adult life negotiating narrow country lanes – reversing for hundreds of yards, squeezing into tiny passing places and performing 16 point turns – they hold no terrors for me, which is just as well because otherwise I’d have been a basket case by the time I finally found the cottage.
(I will now switch over to Internal Narrative Mode to give you a true flavour of what followed …)
‘Okay … So I have to go straight through this village … Ooh. You can’t. That’s funny, I’m sure the map didn’t show a fork in the road there. Well, I’d better take this one, it looks like the more major road. … Oh I say, that’s a nice church … and look at that dear old chap sitting on the seat with his walking stick, gumboots and tweed cap – how quaint is that? … Um … I think it’s this way … do the instructions say ‘left’? Is that left? Which hand do I write with? Oh yes … this one … ooh, don’t do that when you’re driving you fool … so that’s left … so that’s NOT left and anyway I’ve gone past it … This road looks interesting … what does that sign say? … Upper Middle of Nowhere? … I remember seeing that on the map and it’s going in the right direction …. Aargh! … tractor …. Back we go … there was a passing place back here somewhere … oops, mind the wall … ah yes … here it is …. Oh, it’s all right, don’t bother to say ‘thank you’ it was my pleasure, really it was, you hatchet-faced moron … . Never mind, onward and upward … Golly, very upward … I don’t remember anything about a steep hill … and there’s grass growing down the middle of the road, that’s never a good sign … a-a-a-nd … bugger-that’s-a-long-way-down … I think I’d better turn around when I can and try that turning I missed … Oo-er … it’s becoming a cart track … ah, a gateway … that should do … a-n-d …back the way we came … Isn’t this fun? … There’s the turn again … what does that sign say? … Lower Middle of Nowhere … okay, that sounds hopeful … dum-di-dum-di-dum-di … Oh there’s that’s the nice church again … and the old chap on the bench … heh-heh-heh … I know where I’m going sir, really I do … Crikey that’s a very humpy hump-back bridge … and all those scrape marks where cars have grounded on it … wait for the graunching sound … no, we’re good … That’s a very posh house … that can’t be it, can it? … Does it look like the picture on the directions? … Well, sort of … but …. that really can’t be it … much too grand for the likes of me … let’s go on a bit further …. turn right over the bridge it says …Bloody Hell!! Where did HE come from!? … That was close. Sodding locals … what a pretty road … all green and leafy … and LOOK, we’re coming to a village.’
And there, again, was the church and the old chap in the gumboots and tweed cap sitting on the bench …
By this time the light was going and I decided it was probably prudent to pull up and consult the directions again … but they were scarcely helpful: ‘Leaving the village, drive point two of a mile and turn left. Drive for one point three miles and turn right. Drive point three of a mile and turn right into the driveway.’
As I read them, wondering how anyone could reasonably expect me to watch the mileage while simultaneously avoiding drystone walls and boy racers, the strangeness of the wording struck me and I realized, belatedly, that they’d been cribbed directly from a satnav – which is when I had my one bright thought of the entire trip.
‘If I program the post code into the satnav, it should take me where I want to go.’
I rummaged in the glove compartment, dragged out the hated technology, plugged it in, punched in the postcode and …’Turn left …‘
Like a little sheep, I allowed it to guide me back down the way I’d just come, past the old chap on the bench, and into the woods.
‘Drive for one point three miles and turn right.‘
I stared down the way it was directing me. The lane went over something that was not so much a bridge as a slightly-wider-than-average iron girder. Under no circumstances, normally, would I have gone down it … but the satnav was nagging, so over I went, waiting for the scraping noise as I lost my paintwork.
‘Drive point three miles and turn right.’
‘You have now arrived at your destination.’
And, to my amazement, I had.
The cottage was in a location so far off the grid that I needed a satnav to find it. The irony was blinding.
Nice cottage, though.