Today, we are attempting a drive across the county.
I drive. Aimée navigates. Certainly, she tells me when I’ve gone past the junction I wanted. Her style of navigation is very much all or nothing.
Either, we’ll go across a roundabout, and then she’ll tell me we should have taken the first exit, or she’ll do the whole journey before I’ve put my seatbelt on.
For example, I unlock the car and settle myself in my seat. I haven’t put the key in the ignition yet. It’s questionable whether or not my door is shut. I certainly haven’t reached for my seatbelt. She’ll tell me to head for Exeter, go off on the M5 North, then I’ll want the third exit, some debate about what junction number that is, off on that one whatever it is, twenty-something(?), and then I’ll need to take the second exit at the roundabout, straight over two others, and there’s a turning on the right before the traffic lights.
“Head for Exeter, was it?” I’ll ask.
I’m sure I drive her round the bend.
I’m in for quite a journey today. We’re taking the dogs to an enclosed field to let them run their minds away in safety. We’ll be meeting a friend and her long-haired dachshunds and miniature pinschers. The weather is lousy, and there’s been an accident on the A30.
We’ll have to use the old A30, Aimée tells me.
Already, I have concerns.
I know the village in which I live. You could drop me in any part of it, and I’d find my house or the Legion, whichever is closer and has alcohol.
I slightly know the nearest town. Better than not at all, anyway.
I’m not good on Exeter. Getting to it, through it, or out of it, utterly befuddles me. Off we go to the old A30. Passed Cranbrook, the new town, very shiny, passed the turning for Broadclyst, where I used to work – the building is still there, the business isn’t.
I have not been this far down this road before. Even as a passenger. I don’t know where I am. I hate this.
I have my choice of lanes, left for Exeter, right for Clyst Honiton.
Obviously, I want Exeter, she’s told me Exeter, I get into the left hand lane.
About three miles later, she tells me, we should have been in the right hand lane.
We link up with the new A30. It’s at a standstill. Short bursts of acceleration, in which we cover around a car-length of distance. My knee starts to jiggle. I try to remember when I last checked the oil sump. Rather than think about that for too long, I look at the digital clock on the dashboard. It’s 5.34pm as we cross a roadside sign stating that we’ll reach the M5 in one mile. The traffic slows as everybody from the left hand lane, that being everyone in Devon, decides they actually want the right hand lane, where I am. I hate this.
I watch a bus standing stationary on the horizon. He hasn’t moved in twenty minutes. We now proceed in car-door lengths.
I lust for the days of car-lengths.
My uncle used to drive like a maniac. When he was a young man and there was far less traffic on the roads, he used to drive as if the roads had been created just for him. His father used to grip the passenger seat, clenching his teeth.
In recent years, he’s gone completely the other way. He drives impossibly slowly. Like a corpse. He does get out of second gear, but I think he shifts straight to fifth.
Having been a voluntary police officer, I think it must have been marginally embarrassing for him when he was pulled over for driving too slowly, a couple of years ago. He was, admittedly, doing 45mph on the M1, definitely slow enough to cause an accident, yet he felt he was being careful.
Part of the problem for my uncle is that the roads are so much busier than they used to be. People whizz across roundabouts with no discernible drop in speed. We might as well put it down to the advent of the internet, everything is so much quicker and more available these days, that everyone finds themselves in a maddening hurry all the damn time.
My uncle is not in a hurry, and without much experience of the newer technologies, other people’s speed is quite devastating to him.
Newly informed that, in point of fact, his crawling car was causing a hazard, he bought a satnav.
He programmed it, chose a voice he could tolerate, and went on a little adventure. Just down the road, to an area he knew quite well. Something about the device’s synthetic, plastic smell made my uncle uncomfortable. It was too new to be reliable. He would far rather go somewhere he could find his way home from than somewhere new, just in case the satnav didn’t work and he got lost.
As the woman’s voice led him from one main road to another, he gained in confidence and felt satisfied with what he’d previously perceived as an extravagant purchase. The satnav was fine – in all but one respect.
My uncle arrived at a roundabout. The voice told him he would want to take the first exit from the roundabout, so to stay in the left hand lane. He did. He even indicated. And then, nothing. He waited. Rush hour mums and city-flung commuters stacked up behind him, and he waited.
Sweaty-eyed motorists, desperate for the mad dash home, beeped their horns and hurled expletives at him.
My uncle, slowly but surely, wound down his window and called out, “She hasn’t said to pull out yet!”
I am utterly bereft. I don’t know how he could have thought the satnav would tell him when it was safe to enter the roundabout. Really, I don’t even know how he thought that would work. There were no cameras fitted to the car. And would you really trust some faceless voice to tell you when it was safe to enter a busy junction?
It took us forty-seven minutes to get to the M5 turning. Already late, Aimée sent a text from the back seat, and I drove us home. The road was clear coming back. It took twelve minutes from smokey-stalled to driveway.