gps fix

hobby logoSuddenly we find ourselves with four satellite navigation systems. I’m not quite sure how that happened. One moment we’re eschewing all fripperies and gadgetry of the electronic age, and the next we’re overburdened with the damned things.

We started with a Medion. She has a fine middle-English accent, gentile mannerisms and is ever polite, never failing to say please. With three sets of command for each geographical manoeuvre (prepare to turn right – please turn right in 200 yards – now turn right) we never missed our turning, except deliberately to tease the poor woman. We named her Akela, the guide leader. She did us proud, except in the middle of cities where she tended to become confused. For some reason she hated Edinburgh – we followed her every instructions and drove around in vast loops before we eventually ignored her to find our own way south – not advisable in a lumpy motor home.

She grew a little out-dated, however. After she’d warned me about her need for an upgrade of the mapping, I contacted head office and was advised they weren’t going to produce upgrades. Instead, the company had brought out a new model. A bit odd, I thought and bought a Navman instead.

We named him Marvin, after the depressed android in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He goes into deep dudgeon if we ignore him. He never says please, can’t be bothered to tell us route numbers or road names and proffers just two advance commands, the first being “turn right in 490 yards” and then a desperate “turn right” just too late to remind me I should be making a change in direction. Marvin is not a happy man. If we transgender him, his feminine alter ego sounds like that woman on BBC’s 1950s programme Prudence the Pussycat. The programme scared me when I was a toddler, and I still suffer flashbacks to those unfortunate days whenever I hear her voice. So Marvin rules us with a sort of arrogant electronic manic depression.

When another Medion came up on E-bay, Mrs Subbuteo put in a bid and won it. It turned out to be an older version than our original one. The same woman’s voice tells us where to go, politely enough, but leaves out the names of roads and she keeps losing sight of where we are because her mapping is about six years out of date. Suddenly she falls quiet while the monitor tries to suggest we’re in the middle of a field of barley. And she still gets lost in the middle of cities. So we haven’t named her in case we become too attached.

Like the old Tommy Cooper gag – I complained that the satnav loses us in cities and the e-doctor said “well don’t go there then.”

To complete the quartet, a friend persuaded me to buy a GPS receiver and a Dell Axim PDA running Memory Map software. The way he described the gadget, I was unable to see how I could survive without it, at least until I bought it. Now I’m unable to see why I bought the thing. It doesn’t give instructions, of course, but it shows me on an OS map exactly where we are at that precise moment and throws out a vector to show the direction of travel. It’s useful for those long walks away from roads and particularly vital should we ever get lost. Except we always seem to end up in places where I haven’t yet bought the maps. So it shows precisely where we are but on a blank screen, making it impossible to work out where we should be and where we need to go next.

As a bit of fun, we tried all four together on a journey from Derbyshire to Norfolk. The bickering was intense. God help us when this gadgetry will be gifted with artificial intelligence to rival human. But funnily enough, between them they provided us with everything we wanted. Perhaps one day satnav designers will manage to combine the plus points of all these toys and drop the negatives, thus producing a really useful tool for drivers. In the meantime, Marvin seems to be in charge, provided he can find a way to remain positive about life.

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