The Age of the Sat Nag by Faye Milburn

I remember the day like it was yesterday. My father returned gleefully from the November rain, cradling his new addition, swaddled in a glossy Dixons carrier bag. He proceeded to lay it gently down on the kitchen table then extracted its contents with care, his coarse engineer’s hands nursing its smooth form: the Sat Nav was born.

Its name was TomTom Go, of Dutch origin, its revolutionary touchscreen (this was 2004) left the formerly trusty battered A-Z feeling both ancient and redundant, claiming to make journeys simpler and, most importantly, swifter. ‘What could possibly be wrong with such an innovative piece of technology?’ I asked myself. Oh, how naïve I was.

Never has a man more rapidly shaken off his stubbornness and claims of navigational prowess than my dad after this purchase. The end of male arrogance regarding sense of direction should have had the whole of femalekind exclaiming joyously from the rooftops but instead has left us, or me at least, mourning for its return because what has taken its place is infinitely more irritating. A notion difficult to fathom, I know.

I must admit I was mildly excited by the novelty of the thing during the first journey we shared together; enchanted by the arrow that tracked our path and even somewhat tickled by the slightly cheesy chequered flag that marked the end of the route. But on the way home it dawned upon me that the clipped, authoritative tones were to become a notable part of any future journeys. This thought sent my nerves jangling, though my increasingly fragile condition probably also had something to do with the fifth blaring warning that there was a speed camera in the near proximity in the space of ten minutes, a noise akin to that of an air raid siren, but probably more alarming. Today, eight years later, this seemingly unassuming gadget continues to appear dead set on ruining the small pleasures of car journeys, the relaxed reading of a book or listening to the radio made nigh on impossible by the erratic and often terrifying commands from the voice above the dashboard.

More on that chequered flag. A sight accompanied usually by the confident assertion: ‘You have reached your destination.’ Annoying even when it’s correct, but particularly abrasive when it tells you you’re outside your Great Auntie Joan’s house when you are in fact opposite a cat grooming parlour amidst a suburban industrial estate, but this is obviously excused as ‘just a little blip’ by the man frantically punching the postcode in again for the device to recalculate. It’s all a bit bemusing really.

And these are not their only downsides, dear readers. Sat Nav converts’ submission to this small but powerful device leads also to some moronic displays of blatant disregard for common sense; sound judgement thrown out of the wound-down window. Now, much as the Duke of Edinburgh tried to equip me with a functional knowledge of maps, it unfortunately failed, and I guess some of us are simply born with the ill fortune of a lacking sense of direction, but even I know that when a sign explicitly mentions the name of your desired destination, you follow it. No matter how irately the condemned woman behind the glass shouts for you to go in the absolute opposite direction. Yet these men, these slaves to the Sat Nav, indoctrinated by Jeremy Clarkson and The Gadget Show alike foolishly state with a smug expression, ‘But darling, it clearly knows a shortcut.’ A statement they adamantly advocate even 40 minutes and 27 miles of winding country roads later; the underside of the car left behind at that charming cattle grid.

But it was still quicker than taking the signposted route, of course. That Skoda transporting the family of four parked up, the contents licking the last of the ice cream from their now soggy cones just coincidentally looks exactly like the one in the rear view mirror from the motorway which had stopped in a lay-by (to read a good old fashioned map).

This being said, it appears where the modern man is concerned, a mid-life crisis is less decipherable by what car they are driving but instead what they have suckered to their windscreen, a method of fixture I’ve only ever witnessed used for the aforementioned and of course, children’s bath toys; both clever marketing scams to make mundane activities more pleasurable, and convenient Christmas or birthday presents alike.

So here follows my plea to any future drivers: purchase a Sat Nav if you so wish, but don’t be beguiled by its shiny modernity, or treat it with inexplicable blind trust. Please use with caution, and maybe even a teeny, tiny hint of common sense.