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December 2006 - Please Turn Around

Regular Comment devotees, knowing the Luddite that I am, would probably be able to guess that I have, thus far, managed to resist the temptation to purchase one of these strange, satellite navigation machines.

The neatly folded, paper products of Messrs Ordnance Survey have been good enough to get Nick Harvey all around the country up to this point, so what possible reason could there be to upgrade myself to stereophonic nagging, from both the occupant of the passenger seat and a stupid little box on top of the dashboard?

Having said all that, however, I do have to admit to quite an enjoyable day, a couple of weeks back, when I was offered the chance to test drive one of Mr Thomas Thomas's devices on a trip up to Birmingham and back.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the story so far, I should perhaps make it clear at this early juncture, that the trip between Harvey Towers and England's second city has been carried out by my good self on some thousands of occasions in the past.

Apart from any other visits, I seem to remember spending an awful lot of Saturday afternoons in the football season, up there throughout the nineteen-seventies, so, to put it in very simple terms, I do know how to get there.

So why, I'm sure you're asking, madam, yes you in the third row back, would I possibly want to test drive the bloomin' thing on such a well-worn route as the one chosen?

Well, dear viewers, for Nick Harvey to do a complete and thorough job of the in-depth analysis of the technical qualities of this satellite navigation phenomenon, it was decided that a known route to the capital of the midlands would be far the best.

It was felt that this option would provide a full opportunity for a completely fair comparison between the incredibly extensive geographical knowledge of Mr Nick Harvey and that of Mr Thomas Thomas.

The fact that I, and the proud possessor of the device in question, wanted to go to the National Exhibition Centre on that particular day did, however, provide a little help in making said decision.

So, off we jolly well go then.  Well, not quite yet.  First we need to stick the thing to the windscreen.  We can't stick the thing to the windscreen yet, it keeps falling off.  First we need to demist the window.

Ah, the thing won't work properly while the heated front window's switched on, anyway.  Something about it not being able to chat to its satellites through all this electricity which is rushing round inside the window, warming things up.

While we're waiting, there's time to tell the beast where we want to go.  Anyone have any clue what the postcode is for the NEC?  No, thought not.  We eventually find a menu listing lots of interesting places to do with transport.  We decide to tell it we want to go to Birmingham International Airport instead.  Well, it is next door to the NEC after all.

The next decision is whether to have the voice of the booming bloke or the nagging lady.  We decide on Mr Boom as a nice change from the usual way we get told where to go by our various 'ers indoors when they're in the passenger seat.

Windscreen dry, heater off, device attached, satellites spoken to, we set off; and the nice man immediately tells us to go straight over at the first roundabout.

Surely he should know we want to buy a paper on the way, so why does he get so excited when we take the first exit off the roundabout instead?

After the paper shop, he very soon sorts himself out again and proceeds to direct us out of town and, in a generally northerly direction, correctly towards our destination.

It's once we've picked up a little speed, about two miles down the road out of Devizes, that we realise that the voice of booming bloke is absolutely useless unless you've spent over a hundred grand on a motor car which is totally silent inside.  Low frequency booming bloke is almost inaudible over low frequency engine and road noise, so my assistant for the day helpfully switches us over to the voice of Mrs Nagg.

We safely arrive at the next town, Chippenham, without any mishap.  Here, you can either go the old way, through the middle, or the new way, all around the bypass.  Mrs Nagg chooses the through the middle option and tries to send us straight down the High Street, which is only closed to traffic at certain times of the day.  Pity she hasn't realised it's THIS particular time of day.

With our abundant local knowledge, we easily, if manually, navigate a detour around the interesting obstacle of a gate across the end of the High Street, to the first major chorus of the lady shouting "Please turn around at the earliest opportunity".

Chippenham finally contended with, north we head, up the dual carriageway towards the M4 junction.  This will be the first point at which I know exactly where I'm going, but will she?

"Take the first exit off the roundabout and join the motorway".  No thank you, madam, it's a much nicer route going straight up to Cirencester.  Then I might head for the M5 at Cheltenham, or I might just go on up the Fosse Way towards Warwick.  I'll decide later on, if you don't mind.

All the way from Chippenham to Malmesbury, she's either trying to get us to take leafy lanes to the left of us, which would eventually get us back to the M4, or she's doing her Bruce Forsyth impression and boring us to tears with her "Turn around" catchphrase.

The one point at which I was expecting her to have another try at getting us onto a motorway turned out to be a great surprise.  As we headed north, past the water tower and out of Malmesbury, I was really expecting to be sent towards Tetbury, Charlie's little pad, and the M5.  But no, this was where she eventually cottoned on to the game I was playing and started to send me on towards Cirencester.

The optimism was unfounded, however.  We haven't a clue where she was intending to send us after Cirencester.  All we know was that I decided on a quiet country drive up the Fosse and she decided to Bruce Forsyth us again for about fifteen miles.

It was somewhere during this fifteen mile stretch that I finally got sick and fed up with all her foreign measurements and talked himself into pressing a few buttons and adjusting her from kilometres and metres into miles and yards, which my poor little Luddite brain can actually cope with.

The rest of the trip up was fairly uneventful.  She got a tad annoyed with us at one point, when she was convinced that we were driving straight across a ploughed field, upon which she didn't realise that the nice new Wellesbourne bypass had been built, but apart from that she didn't get too irritable.

As we found our own way into the NEC's south car park, we decided to turn her off, to avoid the Brucie chorus constantly reminding us that we'd actually asked for the airport.

Now, they really ought to make it a lot easier to tell her what you want to do en-route to your final destination, as the trip home, much later in the day, started as a bit of a catastrophe.

We told her we wanted to go back to Harvey Towers, but after the earlier incident with the newspaper, thought that perhaps we ought to also explain to her that we urgently needed a tank full of extremely cheap petrol and would rather like a bite to eat as well.

Those of you, dear viewers, who simply cannot cope with an entire edition of Comment without a single digression, should note at this point, that the sandwiches in the NEC are no better value than they've ever been.  Perhaps a little less curled-up than on some of my previous visits, but you still need to take out a large mortgage in order to afford one.  That's the reason we were somewhat in need of a little sustenance by the time we left.

Having failed miserably to find the "jungle juice and all day breakfast on the way" menu, we left Mrs Nagg set to Harvey Towers and set off in a generally Coventry-type direction, along the A45, in search of the aforementioned.

To say she got mildly annoyed with us for heading directly AWAY from our requested destination would be to totally understate the art of understatement.

To cut a pretty lengthy story short, she eventually cheered up after we'd put the tiger into our tank and the food into our bellies and, finally, took a right turn, as she was correctly insisting, from the A45 onto the A46, south towards Warwick again.

At the bottom of the Warwick bypass she seemed to want us to continue down the A46, but, it has to be said, accepted almost instantly that I was going to go back down the Fosse whatever she tried to say.

Apart from a revised repeat of the Wellesbourne ploughed field game, she then remained fairly happy all the way back to Cirencester.

Now, there simply isn't a direct route between Cirencester and Devizes.  A look at the old fashioned, paper map shows that you either need to go a little out of your way to the west, via Chippenham, or to the east via Swindon.  I was interested to find out which she chose.  Off to Swindon she sent us and I actually took her advice for a change.

At this stage I was almost admiring her logic, until the point where we were crossing the M4 junction to the east of Swindon and she tried to get us to join the motorway again and head back towards Chippenham.  No way, thank you, madam.  What is this fixation she's got with bloomin' motorways?  Doesn't she understand the incredible pleasure of a nice, rural drive?

I then confused her for a while in Marlborough by taking a narrow back lane that she'd never even considered, in order to avoid the traffic along the High Street; then, on our return to Devizes managed to prove how out-of-date she seems to be, by driving across another ploughed field that's been a trading estate for a good few years now.

An interesting day, to say the least.  The entertainment value was enormous.  I think she might have been useful if we'd had to dive off on a detour to avoid a traffic jam, or an accident or something; but for a regular trip on a known route, and when you get to Nick Harvey's advanced age, you've done most of them before, it's just her comedy value that makes her worth it.

I do think they ought to get Brucie to record one of the voices, though.  I just want to keep on hearing him repeat "Nice to see you turn round and go back, to see you turn round and go back, nice".  Although, once you've got used to the system, the message could even be abbreviated to have him just say "Give us a twirl".

On that thought, I think it's time I wasn't here any more this year.

I suppose the next lot of travelling around the country will be for the Christmas relative visiting.  I think I can just about cope with the navigation on those routes without any help, so I'll only need to take 'er indoors with me and not Mrs Nagg as well.

I trust you'll all have a really good Christmas, I certainly intend to.  Be back here, please, bright eyed and bushy tailed, for the New Year edition of Comment, which will appear, promptly as ever, on January 1st.  Right, I'm off, where's me little map light?

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