For some reason, even on routes that I have traveled many times, I still sometimes feel compelled to use a Sat Nav. I tell myself it’s because it may help me avoid traffic delays on the motorway, but it’s more likely that I’m just concerned that I will miss the junction.
So on my way to an overnight meeting, at a venue I’ve been to many times, I pulled over at a service station about half way, and typed the destination into my phone. That was probably my first mistake.
In what was probably my second mistake, I then drove off, following the directions from the authoritative voice that came from the phone. “At the next junction, turn left…” And so I did, even though it took me off the main road which I know I have to go down to get to the venue.
I’m the sort of person who commits to things, and once I’ve decided I’m following a disembodied voice, then that’s what I’m doing. And so on I went, following what seemed to be an increasingly bizarre set of directions.
“At the next junction, take the second exit on to B… The journey usually takes me down a main A road, then on to a Motorway, and then back on to another A road before the quick skip through a village to reach the destination. Usually.
As I drove down the increasingly tortuous set of winding roads, with names like ‘forest lane’ and ‘burned stump hill road’ occasionally blinded by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle, I found my mind skipping back to a story I had covered as a young journalist. Mike Hamill, a man who had suffered a rare disease that had made his arms whither away, had taken to driving his automatic Volvo with one foot on the pedals, and the other on the wheel. I don’t know how he turned the radio on. I had covered the case reasonably extensively, speaking to Hamill before attending the hearing at Manchester Magistrates Court at which he was banned from driving. I had got what I thought was ‘every cough and spit’ which was a favourite phrase of my editor at the time.
Except when I came to type it up, it turned out that there was something missing. “Is he going to keep driving?”
“What?” I said.
“Is he going to keep driving?” The volume was louder on the second ask – and trust me the volume could get pretty loud.
“YOU DID ASK HIM, DIDN’T YOU?!”
Of course I hadn’t asked him. I was so full of the facts of the case, and all the ‘colour’ of background information that I’d gleaned, that I hadn’t thought to ask what seemed to be the most obvious question. In the end, he did keep driving, and eventually went to prison because he wouldn’t stop.
I thought about this case, as I drove through the dark, my own automatic car occasionally bleeping to complain that a filter might clog. “What on earth are we doing?” I wondered. “Driving around in enormous metal boxes powered by burning refined oil, while getting lost in the countryside, guided by disembodied voices from small black rectangles. What a weird way to live.” Then I thought again about Mike Hamill, and his desperate attempt to maintain his independence by driving his car with his feet alone. And as I passed a sign that told me I was heading towards a place which I know to be in the opposite direction of my destination, and the Sat Nav told me to turn left on to what appeared to be a farm track, I thought about how lucky I am.