Friday, 21 April 2017

Blind faith...

Hurlmere is notoriously hard to find. The road signs were removed during the war - to confuse any German troops goose-stepping through the lanes of South Lakeland - and were never replaced. And it didn’t help that the village was right on the fold of the double-sided Ordnance Survey map (Outdoor Leisure 99: Hurlmere, Bloggers How and the Less Popular Lakes). Once a map got scuffed up, or tea-stained, Hurlmere disappeared altogether.

This is, nevertheless, the map that most locals use when walking the local fells. Everyone except Hayden, that is, who ordered up a special map from Ordnance Survey, featuring Hurlmere at its centre, which re-created the pre-Copernican view of the universe: that everything revolves around us. It cost a bit more than the regular maps, but Hayden’s a man who believes in buying the best.  

He never ventures on foot outside the the village without his map in the poacher’s pocket of his coat. With a stubby forefinger he traces the route of his rambles, following pecked lines across the schematic landscape. A map is to walking what a jack and a spare tyre are to driving. Though there are many days when Hayden won’t need it, on another day it’ll be a live-saver. With a map in his hand he looks like a man who knows where he’s going (though when he’s trying to fold the map in a gusting wind, he looks like a man trying to coax a tune out of a cheap accordian).

If we knew where we were, outsiders were less sure. Despite the best efforts of Brenda, our tireless tourism officer, to promote the village’s many attractions, too few visitors were finding their way to Hurlmere.

We thought that technology had come to our aid when motorists started using satnavs. By tapping ‘Hurlmere’ into their dashboard-mounted gadgets, they would hear a disembodied voice telling them, in confident, well-modulated tones, what route to take. We looked forward to ‘the road less travelled’ getting more traffic, with more visitors - and their wallets - beating a path to our door.

Our optimism proved to be misplaced. By putting too much faith - blind faith - in their gadgets, they stopped thinking for themselves. They began to mistrust their innate sense of direction and even the evidence of their own eyes. Convinced that their satnavs were infallible, they unthinkingly followed every instruction… even when, as often happened around Hurlmere, their gadgets got it wrong.

Motorists never wondered why they were following a muddy farm-track instead of a country lane. They never slowed down as they approached the yard of Dale Head Farm. They ploughed on regardless, with the confidence of the damned, through an obstacle course of puddles, savage dogs and clapped-out farm machinery, only coming to a juddering halt when they’d buried their four-door family saloon into Les’s malodorous manure heap. Moments later the voice of the satnav would announce, with finality and the hint of a smirk: “You have reached your destination”.

Always happy to turn a drama to his own advantage, Les would tow the car out of the midden with his tractor and give the windscreen a cursory wipe with the sleeve of his jacket. Once they’d paid a ‘salvage fee’ of twenty quid, he’d send another carload of bewildered people on their way. They paid up without complaint. These were people so disorientated, so obedient to authority and so reliant on misfiring technology, that they barely knew their own names.

Les thought about putting up a sign, where the farm track meets the road: ‘Don’t follow your satnav, you’ll get lost’. But, in these straightened times, he appreciates the extra income. In any case, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with satnavs. Plenty of people in Hurlmere use them, and the secret is not to let them over-ride our common sense. Hayden, true to form, bought the top-of-the-range model, which gives him advanced warning of speed cameras (budget models only remind motorists to smile as the flash goes off). And, be warned, the very cheapest satnavs don’t recognise Hurlmere at all.

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