Me and my satnav
I did actually finish writing the book and sent it off (well, I pushed the e-mail button – “sending off” a manuscript isn’t what it used to be) at 11.55 a.m. last Wednesday. It was supposed to be with the American press on Tuesday, but then I had the time difference in my favour.
To celebrate (or to brighten up that post-partal low) I decided to invest in a satellite navigation system for the car. The main reason for this was to compensate for my appalling sense of direction. This is the only intellectual skill that I am prepared to admit shows a marked difference between the sexes. I know men who can even tell what direction a tube train is going. I can’t even get from Cambridge to central London without a navigator, or alternatively ending up hopelessly lost in Walthamstow. Most of my female friends are no better.
The other reason was more of a private fantasy. I chose the top of the range model which you can use in Europe and North America too. I couldn’t resist the idea that the very same gadget that would guide me to Islington, would also get me from Santa Monica to Las Vegas.
The whole process was not exactly trouble free. The first one arrived looking splendid but, as soon as you turned it on, a big red cross appeared right across the screen. I rang up Customer Support who deemed this to be terminal and told me to pack it up and send it back. At this point I wished that I hadn’t been seduced by the ease of internet shopping – it would have been nice just to take the thing back to a (real) shop and pick up another one.
Anyway, the replacement arrived quickly and in working order. I’ve just given it its test drive – to Oxford. I should say at this point that I am already a convert and don’t imagine that in the future I will contemplate even a trip to Grantchester without it. But it has its strange and slightly spooky sides too.
I was not entirely convinced that giving out a loud beep at an appropriate distance before each speed camera was really contributing much to road safety. I’m sure I could take this feature off if I wanted to – but, weakly, I fear I won’t.
It also proved to have quite a mind of its own. Those of us who live in Cambridge have our favourite routes to Oxford. Mine is via Bedford, Buckingham and Bicester. I’ve done it so often that even I don’t take a wrong turning very often. I managed to persuade the machine not to take me on its own preferred route via Huntingdon. But I could never quite get it to follow mine.
Besides, it wasn’t entirely up to date. When I sped round the new section of the Bedford by-pass, it seemed to think I was in the middle of a field and the female voice I had chosen as my speaking navigator went oddly silent. The instruction book explains that I can hitch her up to my computer and up-date her. But will I?
Spookiest of all though, it had one big blindspot: my own house. When I typed in the postcode and house number to register my “home” location, it repeatedly said that there was no such thing. It recognized my neighbour’s house just fine, and the house on the corner of the next street (now for driving purposes my “home”). But so far a my lovely new Satnav is concerned, I don’t exist.