Conversations with a Sat Nav
I’m beginning to wonder if our sat nav has been remotely rigged by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. It’s a real possibility that ahead of the Irish Open at Royal Portrush in June, the NITB has hacked into every sat nav in the country to ensure that all visitors detour via our most scenic routes. Sadie (as the sat nav is known in our house) seems always to want to direct us off-road. She has a penchant for mountains, not so much the coastline. She likes to go inland. Way inland. Far more inland than I want to go. She avoids major towns, well-surfaced roads, is partial to a forest, a trickling burn. A few weeks ago, on the way back from a writing workshop in Enniskillen with the Fermanagh Creative Writing Group, she sent us home via the Sperrins. We travelled over fifty miles from Fintona to Maghera without passing through a town. We saw signs for towns, tantalisingly close: Omagh, Dungannon, Cookstown, Draperstown, but each time we drew near, Sadie’s voice seemed to rise, ‘Turn left down road I can’t pronounce’, she said, and off we went again, over another hill, down another dale. It’s not such a bad thing to see a bit of the countryside. On that occasion, my husband was driving, our girls were in the back of the car. It was a sunny Sunday morning. We were happy enough to wend our way and as it turns out, the journey, though apparently circuitous, took no longer than google map would have us believe it would have taken via the main route. So no bad feelings, Sadie, none whatsoever. Until last night. I was in Ballygally at the Halfway House Hotel, meeting with the local book group. I’d programmed Sadie for the journey there but cunningly switched her off until I’d reached Larne when I reckoned her propensity for the scenic would be fairly well compromised. (I was in Larne the week before with the Writers’ Group there. Sadie had sent me up Slemish. I was on to her.) On the outskirts of the town, she advised me to turn left through a housing estate. I could see on the screen that we were moving away from the coast (you know where you are with the coast, keep following it and you’ll hit a town eventually) but I decided to go with her and it was okay. There were two or three miles of countryside and a hump-back bridge but then the sea was to the right of us and all was well, Ballygally in sight. We had a great chat at the book group about The Butterfly Cabinet, then off I set, alone, around ten o’clock to make my way back. ‘Turn right,’ said Sadie as we left the hotel.
‘Oh no you don’t,’ said I. ‘We’re going straight to Larne on the Coast Road and then directly to Ballymena. None of your oul’ nonsense or I’ll switch you off.’
‘Recalculating,’ said Sadie in a distinctly miffed tone. And so we continued. ‘Turn right,’ repeated Sadie at Drains Bay.
I looked around sceptically, but as there was an actual sign for Larne I thought, ‘Fair enough, that’s what we’ll do,’ and it all looked fine. There were streetlights and houses and even a mini roundabout. There was a white line up the middle of the road. These are all good things, in my book. ‘Not far from Larne now,’ I told Sadie, companionably, just a little while before all of those things, the signs that we were nearing a major town, slowly but very definitely disappeared one by one. ‘So, you’re taking me back more or less the way we came,’ I said, ‘over the hump-back bridge?’ and Sadie said nothing. The houses fell away. In the headlights, I could see trees. It wasn’t long before the gears began to strain. There was no bridge. There were no cars. There was no sign of Larne. The road had become a single track. There was no place to stop and turn the car around. ‘Sadie?’ I said, and Sadie said nothing. On the screen the next turn-off was seven miles away. The terrain, what I could see of it, was unquestionably mountainous. There wasn’t a sign of a living soul in sight. She’d done it again and I’d let her. So I did the only thing I could. I switched on The Late Show and Cherry McIlwaine and I listened to her liquid voice and to Van Morrison and I glanced nervously at the fuel gauge and I told myself it would be okay.
And it was, of course it was. After several tortuous black winding miles the road improved and then there were lights. Never before in the long history of Antrim has a traveller been so glad to see Broughshane. I actually whooped aloud at the traffic island. And the M2? Well, I was in an ecstasy of relief. Here’s a picture of the beautiful card given to me by The Ballygally Book Group and designed by the talented Emma Whitehead of Top Floor Art. It features a butterfly-shaped cut-out from a map of the north coast that pinpoints Portstewart, the setting for The Butterfly Cabinet. It couldn’t be more perfect. Except maybe, Emma (and this is not a criticism you understand, you couldn’t possibly have known) if you’d chosen a section of map further round to the east, it would have been quite useful to have on my way home.