(‘Brainless Stupidity’ is a – very – occasional series of diatribes against state-of-the-art manifestations of bovine idiocy masquerading as aids to moden life. Previous targets have
included been the Belgian way of buying fuel and Paypal’s bizarre procedures for identity verification.)
This time, though, our egregiously cretinous example is the in-car navigation system more or less universally known as GPS: ‘global positioning system’ for the uninitiated – of which I suppose there may still be a few.
Now, just as with Paypal or, come to that, the stuff that comes out of pumps and makes your car go (don’t press me on this, I’m not mechanically-minded) I do believe that GPS is inherently a good and helpful thing.
It’s just that sometimes…..
Most of the time, our GPS device is invaluable – and here I speak as a non-driver and therefore full-time navigator. Thanks to our TomTom (other GPS systems are available), the once-regular front-seat tensions triggered by my failure to point out to Madame in sufficiently good time that a turn-off was approaching are largely a thing of the past. At the very least, there’s something else to share the blame and at least some of the opprobrium.
This fact alone is cause to be grateful to our particular device, which we refer to, mostly affectionately, as ‘Crabtree’, in homage to the Englishman-disguised-as-a-gendarme character from ‘Allo ‘Allo whose mangling of French pronunciation was incomparable – until I came along, at any rate.
Occasionallly, though, our Crabtree’s brain seems to go on holiday and he comes up with a suggested route that is nothing less than bizarre. He will, for example, steer us on to the perfectly correct main transport artery, which is good for at least a hundred miles, and then unaccountably try to persuade us to take a – never brief – detour along a few D roads and dirt tracks before rejoining the motorway after putting an additional 20 miles on the clock for a net gain of about three miles as the crow flies.
Mostly we’re alertt to these little quirks – indeed, I sometimes wonder if he throws them in from time to time just to see if we’re paying attention – and as long as they don’t catch us out, we tend just to shrug it off as a quaint foible: part of his charm, if you will.
However, he can overstep the mark. Thus, the last time we were in the UK we were driving from Merseyside to Humberside. The only sensible way of doing this is to take the trans-Pennine motorway, the
much-loved M62. For no fathomable reason we were sent on a major detour through the Peak District National Park. Equally unfathomably, this was apparently all my fault.
However, I digress. Last Saturday afternoon I’m afraid to say that Crabtree broke through into a whole new dimension of…well, brainless stupidity.
Our faithful friend had just navigated us from our home in the rural heart of France to the very gate of the Ferry Terminal at Zeebrugge, in Belgium, a distance of 500 miles, with nary a false move. He even knew (because I’d told him) that it was specifically the ferry to Hull that we wanted.
So efficient was he, and so quiet the roads at this time of year, that we arrived early. There was one car ahead of us in line and we had twenty minutes or so to kill before check-in opened.
‘Aha’, methought, ‘I’ll get ahead of the game here and key in our first destination over in the UK, ready for tomorrow (it’s an overnight crossing).
This first destination is our daughter’s house. It is a thirty minute drive from the ferry terminal in Hull.
It’s not difficult.
So I put in the address. I must admit to a certain curiosity as to how Crabtree would deal with this. It took a while: hardly surprisingly given that, according to the display, he was analysing in excess of a million roads (who knew?).
Eventually a question popped up: ‘This route requires a ferry journey. Do you wish to take a ferry journey?’ It did strike me as a somewhat superfluous enquiry, since I can’t imagine how else you could get a car across the North Sea and we were of course – and as he knew perfectly well – already at a ferry terminal.
But it was nice of him to ask, so I indicated my assent and he went away and busied himself ‘Writing route, please wait’.
This is where, sadly, it gets really silly.
I don’t know about other manufacturers, but when it’s finished with its route-writing, TomTom displays a map giving an overview of the entire route. The fruit of Crabtree’s cogitations flashed up onto the screen. Apparently his preferred route from Zeebrugge to half an hour outside Hull is to drive back to Calais, take the ferry to Dover and then drive north from there.
To put this into a context that my North American reader might understand better, it’s rather like being told that the best way to get from New York to Boston by air is to fly to Washington first.
‘Oh don’t be so bloody stupid’ I said (or words to that effect) and gave him a chance to redeem himself by pressing ‘Calculate alternative route’. He fell silent for another while and then – fully cognisant, remember, that we were, quite literally, less than a hundred yards away from the boat that was going to Hull – suddenly piped up with words that will stay with me forever:
‘Turn around where possible…’
Pass me that Road Atlas.