I'm thinking of a friend this evening, off on a long drive and tired before she started, and hoping she might enjoy the following when she reaches her destination.
We were entertaining friends a few weeks ago, friends who had travelled the length of the country to spend just the weekend with us (I realise that's a fairly short journey for my American readers, but I'm still used to forty minutes being a long trip) and friends who had travelled the breadth of the country to see the friends who had come so far south. And on the Saturday we took sideways trip to Hemel Hempstead.
Now Hemel Hempstead holds memories for me. I once managed to arrive there, entirely by accident, when attempting to drive from Royston to Stevenage
This being the case, and me being the driver, I was delighted to accept my friend's loan of Pat the Sat for the journey. Pat was duly programmed, the bus was loaded, and we set off. We pootled along, following Pat's somewhat peremptory commands; "Turn Left. Turn Left. Continue; at the roundabout take the second exit. SECOND EXIT" until, somewhat to our surprise, we found ourselves heading for the M25.
With hindsight, seating Pat's owner in the far rear of the bus, behind several noisy children, may have been a mistake. It was as we passed the last sensible escape road before the M25 that she woke up to our location and decided to redirect us. What followed was an epic battle of wills between Pat and Friend, with myself and other friend mere tools. I drove, she attempted to mute Pat. Pat became increasingly hysterical, repeatedly begging me to turn around, before opting for subterfuge, and instructing me to take the fourth exit at every roundabout we met.
From far behind, Friend attempted to shout out directions. This was hampered by her inability to see the road ahead past the crowds of wheelchairs between her and the windscreen, and the inability of the child sitting beside her to hold his head up without her assistance. Pat decided to play dirty, repeatedly sounding an alarm for fuel stations at times calculated to drown out Friend's instructions, ringing a "shopping centre nearby" bell at crucial moments, and continuing to beg us to turn around before eventually submitting to the inevitable and deciding to recalculate, just a couple of miles from Hemel itself. A final attempt to deliver us to a school rather than the mobility shop we'd been aiming for, and she subsided into sulky silence as we switched the engine off.
We shopped, we attempted to find lunch and settled for a picnic, we watched children drive (and fail to drive) wheelchairs, we fended off tantrums, and we settled on a ploy to persuade Pat to steer us home more sensibly.
So, we reloaded the bus, Friend programmed Pat to take us to Aylesbury (halfway home on the route we actually wanted to take), and we set off. Round the magic roundabout with no casualties, onto the road we wanted, and heading into Aylesbury we reprogrammed Pat to find the road home. She was not happy. Pat directed us through many busy towards the town centre. At one point, I passed a side road which would have taken us on a beautifully scenic country trek slowly towards our house. As I began to change lanes to follow it, Pat woke up. "STRAIGHT AHEAD" she said firmly, brooking no opposition. Doubting my ability to pootle through the lanes without her assistance, I obeyed.
Pat smirked, and instructed us to turn left. Bouncing our way down a speed-bumped housing estate road, we realised she was out for revenge. And, over the next hour, she took us past country manors, through busy villages, along single track roads mostly populated by tractors, before eventually dumping us onto the busiest stretch of the A34 at the busiest time of day. Grinning evilly to herself, she ran out of battery and we limped our miserable way back home again.
I was back in Aylesbury last week and drove myself home without Pat or any of Pat's relatives' assistance. It was a lovely journey, Autumn turning the trees shades of glorious gold. And no sniffy voice instructing me to turn left down impossible sideroads nor insisting I took the motorway. I think I'll stick to maps and memory for now.