Must I navigate?

By

IN a life dedicated to observing the human species I have noticed, with what I believe to be irrefragable accuracy, the curious fact that in the field of motoring there are some people who, for no very clear reason, like to bat down motorways at excessive speeds, and others who, for equally obscure causes, prefer to meander along pretty cross-country roads. These latter are so smitten by the thought of leafy lanes, dear little villages nestling under sheep-grazed hills, and hedgerows laced with roses that it takes them half a lifetime for the truth of the matter to sink in.

This truth of the matter being that when the Jehus have chivalrously given up the idea of belting along the tarmac at 100 m.p.h. in favor of dithering around in the byways of the countryside, they expect the slow coaches they are humoring to direct them. By means of a map.

Maps, as everyone knows, come, like people, in assorted shapes and sizes. There are those in book form and those in folders, those that take in a county and those a country. They all, however, have one point in common. This is that wherever there is an important decision to be made, it comes just off the page you happen to be looking at. At the exact spot where the minor road should join the major one there is a crack of naked white cambric or a request to turn to Page 98. It is doubtful whether anybody has ever wanted to go to a place in the middle of a map.

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Whether a map reader is good at it or bad is immaterial to the fact that if one is reading a map one cannot also be admiring the countryside. It seems impossible for us cross-country wigglers to grasp this. Which is strange; for although designed ostensibly to look at the landscape, these drives are nearly always, for passengers, ruthlessly operational, as, with heads down and shaking fingers, they trace the convolutions of tiny roads across wobbling charts.

Not for us the cornfields, the far horizons, the cottage gardens. Eyes screwed up with concentration, we try to steer a course from Little Pudham to Nether Shere which should lead to Gladly if we don't miss the turning to Bramham. At intervals we look up in a strained way to seek for signposts, but we are far too worried to care about buttercups or Norman churches.

That this powerful obsession with finding the way correctly, so that our driver, who has sacrificed so much, does not have to back (as that is not very popular), or ask the way from a girl pushing a perambulator (this is utterly shameful), or stop altogether while thoughts are gathered (this is anathema), that this all-absorbing business of tracking a route accurately detracts from the pleasure of the trip is, apparently, a hard lesson to learn.

Persistently, pathetically, we beg to be taken on the slow roads, invariably forgetting we shall not see one-fifth of what they have to offer.

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