Sat with SatNav
I was sat with SatNav as usual this morning – welcome company as I sped through the quivering dawn towards a steely skyline. I was heading for a primary school in Port Talbot, 30 miles from home, and was glad of her company – well, until she slid into her fractious mood.
“Ding!… Ding, DING!” she started nagging me, half way down the M4. Evidently, she was bothered about the traffic observation cameras, but being a human being, I was smart enough to realise they weren’t speed cameras. But she’s a backseat driver, this one – she likes to rule, and rule blind. “Ding, DING, DONG!” she reprimanded, as I passed under a camera-clad bridge at 74 mph, in the slow lane. I snarled back.
She’d already tried to lead me to a disused business park en route to the motorway, and when I’d plumped for the next turning instead – signposted M4, she’d added a sigh to her withering “Recalculating!” (She did!) So now she was in a sulk, and so was I.
But majestic mountains were catching my eye, over to the right: colossal green slabs, sunlit, set back beyond the surreal dune-land of Bridgend Vale, like stage scenery. To my left, the sea was rising into view too, sheet-metal silver… soon obscured by a tangle of sky-high chimneys and lurid smoke plumes. Then the rows, rows, and more rows of grey boxes: factory-workers’ dwellings from a century ago – still standing, still homes to many… and suddenly I was in the thick of them, and of rush-hour.
“Turn right, turn right, turn RIGHT!” How long had she’d been warning me? I’d missed her mention of the road name anyway, and here were three right turnings. Braking suddenly, and setting horns beeping all around me, I tried the middle one… Tip! Splash! Yikes! … Oh, great!
“Where possible, do a U-turn.” Her voice could not have been more acerbic. Was she blind? Throughout my seven- or nine- point turn up and down the water-logged potholes between ditch and wire fence, she held her tongue, but her silence hung over the dashboard like a penalty notice… Streaming with sweat (making my daybreak shower pointless), I juddered back to the road and opted for the next right.
After a sullen silence, she acknowledged my correct choice by leading me on through the narrow streets. Ah, but she had her revenge planned. Suddenly I was at a gigantic roundabout, with instructions to take the “fifth exit”. My maths, never a strong point, fell apart completely in the face of panic. Round and round I went, with all the morning traffic of this industrial maze, getting off at each of its five exits in turn, while Miss rained down ever-conflicting orders on my head.
“Take the fifth exit… the third exit… the fourth, fourth, FOURTH!”
Huge, disconcerting signs swung up in my face by turn: Motorway West… Docks… Industrial Estate… No Access… Motorway East… and the slabs of sea and mountain swung with them. I’d be late for my school, booked a quarter of a year ago! Time was racing, my heart was racing, everything around me was…
Returning home, I followed my navigator’s every command. Worn out from a day with school-weary kids in sweltering classrooms, I couldn’t have faced a repeat episode. An ear tuned to her voice, and an eye trained on the road, I let the rest of my mind glaze over.
“In one miles, turn left onto ______” [my road], she said eventually, and I did. “Drive 200 yards,” she instructed. I obeyed. “Arriving at ______ [my postcode] on left,” I heard. I indicated, pulled up, looked out, and sure enough, there it was – my home for the past 21 years.
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