Please Turn Left Now

We rented a car on Friday to drive down to Nottingham for the weekend to visit friends, and it turned out to have sat nav. I’d never driven a car with sat nav before, with its LCD screen in the middle of the dashboard and mellifluous but stilted Englishwoman telling us what to do. Jane turned it on as we left the carpark and before long it was telling me to turn left every time I turned right, because at first it was trying to guide us back to the rental place.

Driving out of town it wanted to take us down the east coast, presumably because the route was a few miles shorter, but I wanted to go down the west, which has a much higher proportion of motorway. So I struck onto the Biggar road, only to keep getting told to detour or turn around. “PLEASE turn LEFT—NOW.” “PLEASE turn LEFT—NOW.” “If possible, PLEASE do a U-TURN.” “PLEASE turn LEFT—NOW.” It was like being told off by a robot Supernanny.

(The oh-so-English “pleases” got me. I wonder what we would have had if it was Scot nav. “Turn left now, ya numpty.” “Och, turn yer wheel roond and go back tae Edin’bruh, ya pure mad dafty.” “Take the low road, ah’m tellin’ ye, the low road.”)

It kept this up for the next thirty miles or so, trying to turn us onto smaller and smaller side roads which presumably were shorter as the crow flies but looked like they were only used by sheep. At one point the map on the screen showed that it wanted us to double back onto a lane that ran in parallel with the very road we were driving on, so that we could drive right back the way we came.

Eventually it gave up, after calculating that we were so far from the A1 that the M6 was quicker in mile terms and not just having-six-enormous-lanes terms. And it was when we left the M6 that it really came into its own. The motorways around Manchester/Leeds/Sheffield are all over the place, and navigating through that lot would have taken ages, especially as it was after dark. But Robonanny steered us right past Giggleswick and Wigglesworth (no giggling in the back, you two, or you won’t be getting your Wiggles’ worth) and through the middle of Leeds. I know that we definitely drove past the Sheesh Mahal, because that’s not a name you forget in a hurry, especially when it’s lit up in pink neon. From there it took us down the M1 and right to our friends’ front door.

It took us a similar but not quite identical route on the way back on Sunday afternoon—straight through the middle of Bradford, along Northern streets we would otherwise never have seen. Yes, but for sat nav, I would never have seen the Bradford newspaper headline “MICE DRIVE FAMILY FROM HOME” (using rat nav, presumably). And I would never have heard Jane hum:

nana nana
nana nana
nana nana
nana nana

22 November 2006 · Travel

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