If your sense of direction is as bad as mine, you may recognise the following facts:
- When you come out of a shop you have no idea in which direction you’d previously been heading.
- You see your sat nav as coming after only oxygen, water and food in the order of life’s necessities.
- You navigate a department store by wandering around each floor completely at random till you spot what you’re looking for.
- The fact that you’ve managed to find your way from A to B has absolutely no bearing on your ability to find your way from B back to A.
- You’re entirely capable of getting lost in the area where you live.
I have barely any sense of direction. This is a fairly common phenomenon, and as people like me will know, it’s hugely inconvenient.
A conversation I find myself frequently having:
Friend: You know where the such-and-such place is?
Me: No, I don’t I’m afraid.
Friend: Yes you do. You just go round the Eastern Bypass, and along the A463 past the Old Lion.
Me: I don’t know those roads. I have no sense of direction, so there’s really no point in describing to me where that place is.
Friend: Oh yes, YOU know. You just have to go along Potters Lane, and take the right fork halfway along by the Shell garage. You know where I mean?
Friend: The Shell garage. On Potters Lane. You must know it.
Me: No. No, I don’t know it.
Friend: You do! The one you come to straight after the Easham flyover.
Me: Oh yes! That Shell garage. OK, thanks.
Of course, I still have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, but lying is the only way to get them to shut up. Because people who do have a sense of direction simply cannot get their head round the sheer spatial incompetence of people who don’t.
Not being able to find your way around makes day-to-day life difficult in all sorts of ways. For example, if I’m in a restaurant and I go to the loo, then when I come out again I’ll have absolutely no idea where I was sitting. The open layout of restaurants makes me acutely aware that the friends I’m with can quite likely see me standing there looking perplexed, even though I can’t spot them among all the crowded tables. And I find this embarrassing. So I walk confidently in the direction I hope my table might be, and pray that I find it before anyone realises I have no idea where I’m going.
As a child, I was taken on the same route to school from Sunderland to Newcastle every day for nine years. But when I passed my driving test and was able to travel independently, I had no more idea of which way to go than if I had just arrived in a foreign country. As I approached age 17, I used to say to myself with increasing anxiety, “I have to learn the way because I’m going to be learning to drive soon” and I’d really try to concentrate and memorise the route. But I couldn’t. I simply couldn’t.
Perhaps my most memorable getting-lost incident was at the end of my Cambridge interview. Having spent an hour trying to be my most intelligent, thoughtful, competent and mature, I shook the interviewer’s hand, bid him farewell, and walked into a cupboard.
For an insane second or two, I wondered whether I could get away with just staying in the cupboard. Then I saw sense, reversed sheepishly, and was gently pointed towards the door.
They still let me in to the university, amazingly. This perhaps is down to the fact that academics are not themselves renowned for their practical skills.
So, a question for those of you like me… what ridiculous situations have you found yourself in due to your bad sense of direction?
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