This week I’ve driven to Reading, Leeds and Watford. The main sticking point in this whole trip wasn’t the crawling round the M25 at 10mph, but the non-functioning cigarette lighter in my car, not in terms of an urgent nicotine craving, but an urgent GPS dependency.
How would I know where I was going?
I unearthed my battered 2009 A3 road map out of the boot and separated the faded pages from where it has been laid open for years. I analysed the roads and attempted to commit junction numbers and lengthy A-roads to memory. And off I went.
There was something strangely liberating in this. I drove out of Reading based on gut instinct and six year old memories, and searching for signage to direct my route. Unfortunately no sign for the M1 from the M40 ever emerged out of the darkness, and I ended up in Coventry, whereupon it was necessary to have lengthy map consultations once again following two laps of a roundabout searching for what I thought should be there. Onto the M62 and off again. One diversion later (Junction 39-40 of the M1 being closed, for this one single night) I discovered that Wakefield is significantly bigger than I’d ever imagined. I saw the ruins my friend had pointed out, a quirky little church-like building* close to some painted archways. I was desperate to know what this was, but alas the signs focused on A-roads.
For the final part of my journey to a suburb of Leeds, I relented to use up the last 10% of my phone battery in order to find it. I begged it to last, it did, and I drove somewhat blindly, trusting the sat nav would be right.
I so often live life like this, blindly following the assumed direction; a career path, dating-marriage-babies, working your way up the property ladder. But following where the signs lead, while requiring swift and complex lane changes and several trips round a rounabout, is so much more freeing. There was no arrival time for my destination, I got there when I got there. There was no fixed time for my stay on a road, I just drove until I found the next one. I took diversions, without the need for a rerouting crisis from the sat nav.
If I followed the sat nav of life, I wouldn’t have done half the things I have. And I have been a sat nav person, looking forward to the next clearly directed and expected exit or lane change. My transition to road sign, or following life’s leading, hasn’t been an easy one. And it’s still not. I got lost exiting Leeds when the signs for M1 South disappeared entirely, and had my own routing crisis when the M25 signs said East or West, and I only work in Heathrow, Gatwick or Stanstead. I’ve given up my stable career path, done the dating-marriage-divorce thing, and now I’m selling up. Some of these have been relaxed ‘around the roundabout’ times, and others frenetic ‘but where am I?’ dilemmas. I’m living life by the signposts, rather than the expected route. Sometimes they’re the same, sometimes they’re not.
Unfortunately, the metaphorical map of life isn’t all laid out in a book with clear directions and turnings. So in the mean time, I’ll count the junctions and experiences until my turn off. I’ll live my drive until the next coffee stop, wherever that happened to be, because we all know with me there’ll be a coffee stop. And I’m taking the signposted direction, where there is one, as I take an alternative exit off an unexpected roundabout.
*This quirky church-like building is actually a church, or to be more accurate, the Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin, Wakefield. Thanks go to my colleague and his dedicated time spent scrolling down roads on Google Street View to find the exact location I was attempting to describe.