In every situation in life, there's always a way to make a tit of yourself
Maps the world over proclaim themselves to be helpful little tools offering us assistance in those tricky matters in life, like finding the nearest Public House, determining whether a nearby church is equipped with a tower or a spire, and ensuring that you don’t do something stupid like walk into a river because you mistook it for a footpath. A map is often idolised as the guiding light of the lost traveller – 1:25,000 scale salvation in fold-out form with a lightweight protective plastic coating and a handy key.
This particular pedestal is one which the map does not really deserve to have been placed upon. Anyone who has been in a situation where it has become necessary to utter the words “let’s consult the map” will have discovered that maps don’t help you to navigate anywhere except well on your way to domestic disputes.
As I mentioned before, I recently went on the annual family summer holiday. This year the chosen location was Manorbier, near Tenby in South Wales. So, in order to get there we had to load up the car and set off on the six hours of stewing in a confined and distinctly stuffy space. For most of this journey we did not require the map’s services. Oh no, the map had been cast aside in favour of its younger, shinier and more domineering cousin – the SatNav. We had placed all responsibility for getting us safely to where we needed to be in the hands of a vastly superior navigational device.
There is no arguing with a SatNav – you tell it where you want to go and it tells you how to get there with such a disconcerting level of authority that it almost makes you “Turn Left”, even though the traffic lights are actually on red, just so that she doesn’t shout at you. Unlike the map, the SatNav does not you offer a bewildering maze of route possibilities, but rather presents you with what is clearly the best way, nay, the only way for anyone who isn’t an imbecile, to reach your destination.
The SatNav also removes all the minor safety implications of unfolding a 1;25,000 map of South Wales inside an already overloaded car. After all, the SatNav would never compromise your ability to spot oncoming hazards by making you inclined to watch the little arrow moving along the little blue road instead of watching the actual road in front of you. Nor would it hurl itself suicidally from the windscreen and cause you to rummage around in the foot well with one hand on the steering wheel, whilst hurtling along amongst three lanes of motorway traffic.
Nevertheless, SatNav had guided us safely most of the way. But then we stumbled upon a situation which the SatNav does not have the mental acuity to deal with – an unexpected motorway closure. Calamity had struck and a crucial section of the M4 was cordoned off. Sensing defeat, the SatNav attempted to take her own life by leaping from the windshield into my dad’s lap in a desperate act of self-immolation. My mum, who up to this point had been dozing quietly in the back seat for quite some time, was hastily woken and told to “consult the map”. It was the map’s chance to shine in the face of the SatNav’s failings.
But it was not to be. My mum’s confusion and frantic riflings confirmed the lesson that Duke of Edinburgh expeditions had once taught me – that maps are surprisingly unhelpful unless you know exactly where you are, in which case you presumably wouldn’t need to be looking at one anyway. Terse words were exchanged between parents and the temperature in the car rose palpably.
So there we were, repeatedly circumnavigating the M4 roundabout with my mum attempting to locate the correct bit of Wales on a large yet surprisingly unhelpful map, the SatNav shouting muffled and entirely futile instructions from my dad’s crotch, and the whole family sweating nervously as my dad tried not to kill us all in a badly timed lane-change.
It got quite tense. Tempers began to fray. Senses of humour started to become a distant memory. And in the almost unbelievably British climax of the whole incident, the words “for goodness sake just pull over and ask that policeman where to go!” were exclaimed.
So in the end it was a good old Bobby who managed to direct us off the inevitable collision course to divorce suits, domestic abuse charges, and hefty insurance claims for bumper damage and whip-lash. The map and its equally unhelpful-in-a-crisis cousin only made matters worse.
The trouble with mixing map-reading with familial relations is that navigating from a map requires a fair amount of interpretation. And there is quite substantial evidence that in order to maintain peace in stressful situations it is usually a good idea to avoid differences of opinion. Of course, map-reading also requires more complex skills like making sure you’re on the right page, holding it the right way round, and that you do in fact know which way is North. And with the almost inevitable inability to master these skills come the bickering, the derogatory remarks, and the eye rolls that will have you speeding your way down the dual carriage way to domestic difficulty before you’ve even worked out whether you’re facing north north east or south south west.