Driving to Exeter, I would take the motorway round Birmingham. Paul, dealing with the navigation, thrusts five pages of instructions from the internet at me. He has not printed out any maps. Do you have a road atlas? Er, no, it is in the other car. We could have turned around then, half a mile from home, and got my satnav, but, well, we were on our way. He does not like satnavs.
He wants to go via Oxford. He knows the first fifteen miles. I need to sleep on the car journey: not very sociable, but, well. Where now? We go North on the motorway, I say. I am surprised he is driving round the roundabout again. I told you, That way! I have a look through the five pages. It goes through back streets of Chichester, and I have no idea where that is. Paul, do you want to see Chichester? Not particularly. Go down the A34 to Newbury, and use the motorway. So we do.
In Exeter, well, possibly I misinterpret one instruction, possibly a signpost has been changed, but we miss one and the rest become useless. Without a map, I do not know where Prince of Wales Road is, it could be in any direction, and a hundred yards or a mile. I could lambast and excoriate him. It is his stupid fault, not printing out a map is ineffably stupid, what did he imagine would happen? Actually I go quiet. I want to be constructive, and get where we want to go, but have little idea how. I am getting anxious. He does not get angry either, saying I should have interpreted the instructions better: that would not be a strong argument, and I have never seen him angry. So we drive around, and we ask people, and we go off up a hill into the Devon countryside before he admits this is not the right way. Then he sees a road sign for the University. I could not have read that from here, I say, and he explains how long sight is a problem rather than a good thing.
I had not known we cannot book in until 6pm. I had quite fancied wandering in the town, but have lost my appetite for that. He buys me a drink. He is nice that way. It is hard to get angry with him. I had never worked out whether his self-deprecation, about how I, his wife’s family, just about everyone is cleverer than he is, is an affectation, or a belief which allows him to amble along, not achieving anything much. He is 57. When he joined CAB, someone proposed he did a management course, but he thought, at 38, he was too old for that. He has not advanced since then. He has told me that story several times.
In the evening, he wanted to go out and buy a radio. He would try the supermarkets. We drive off together, and indeed find two supermarkets, and he gets a radio, and then we manage to find our way back. His “travelling hopefully” has actually worked. And when we drove home, he just took another road, seemingly at random. I suppose this shows a trust in Providence, which can be beneficial.
-Why don’t they give any roadsigns?
-Paul, this is a residential street!
We carry on up the hill, past large detached properties, until we get out into the Devon countryside. Then we go back to the town centre, and the “inner bypass”, where we find signposts to the main roads out. When we are on the motorway, I poke around in his glove compartment, and find his satnav.