“At the end of the road, turn left”

These words should strike fear and loathing into the hearts of all right thinking people. I refer, of course, to the satellite navigation system, or Sat-Nav: a device more common in cars nowadays than the furry dice or pine tree air-freshener.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think Sat-Navs are great. They do a great job, except when they have to give directions.

I took one along on my recent holiday in Europe. This Sat-Nav had quite a personality. I called her Sally. Sally’s maps hadn’t been updated in 5 years. New roads and motorways, that were built since 2006, did not exist, according to her. She had missed out on some of the best years of the Celtic Tiger. For example: I was crossing the new bridge in Waterford, on our way to Rosslare, and Sally thought I was flying. “Turn left” she would say. “Turn right”. “Take the next goddamn road”. I paid no heed to her advice. It was as if we were a married couple.

On this trip, we went to Brussels. Now, in general, I have no qualms with the designers of Sat-Nav systems, but I am sure of one thing. When they were mapping Brussels, they were drunk. They also were snorting huge bags of cocaine and popping LSD pills by the truck-load. I am sure of it. Either that, or the street planners in Belgium have been very busy since 2006, redesigning the entire city just to piss me off. The result is that the Sat Nav street plans of Brussels bear little resemblance to the actual city that bears the same name. It is possible that there is a “Brussels” in Outer Mongolia that the Sat Nav planners confused the city with. Next exit, Ulan Batar.

I was travelling through these big tunnels under Brussels when Sally suddenly said “turn left in 80 metres”. If I had paid heed to her instructions, I would have been killed straight away. Bang – right into a wall. Sally had decided to forget what tunnels were. To her, I was dilly dallying down a tree lined avenue, birds in the trees, wind in my hair, instead of zooming, headlights on, through the dark, undulating bowels of a major European city.

Now, you need to understand one other thing about Brussels. Due, no doubt, to a row at the highest levels within the EU over the language to be used on the city’s road signs, the powers that be in Brussels made an executive decision. They banned all road signs. Every last one of them. I have a theory that these Eurocrats are simply tourists, who went there for a few days; tried to leave and just gave up. They found a street corner somewhere, stopped their car, sat down in despair, and before you knew it they had rented a house, married, brought up a family, became local pillars of the community and died, all without ever leaving the city once.

You would think, therefore, that a Sat-Nav would be a godsend in a city like that. Right? Wrong. We were trying to leave the city, when we came upon some roadworks. In front of us were orange signs, orange vans and the bright orange suits that construction workers on the continent wear, that make them look like Oompa Loompas. We needed to divert, but Sally wasn’t getting the message. “On you go”, Sally was telling us. “Barrel through them at high speed like a good lad. If the roadworks don’t exist on my maps, they don’t exist at all.” Not fancying a prolonged spell in an orange jumpsuit myself, I decided to seek other options. I went left. Then right, then left. I followed all her instructions to the letter. All was going well until I found myself, 5 minutes later back at the self same roadworks. New strategy – I turned right this time. More labyrinthine winding streets. 5 minutes later, the men in the orange trucks were waving at me this time. Sally was like a moth, banging her head against a spotlight. She had claimed this place as her own.

It was when she had lead me right back into the centre of Brussels that I really started getting annoyed. “Take the next left in 100 metres” she would say. “No I damn well won’t!” I would should out. “Bear right at the next junction” she would declare. “I’m not listening”, I would respond. “Go right on the roundabout, first exit” she would suggest. “Screw You!” I would retort.

At a traffic stop I sent the following message to my pals on Twitter:

Question. How the HELL do I get out of Brussels?

Immediately, I received the following helpful reply.


It was going to be one of those days.

On my return journey, we visited Paris. Paris is just like Brussels, just infinitely more complex. Sally’s task this time was to direct me from Versailles to the hotel where we were staying. The hotel was about 5 miles away. Not a problem, you would think. Sally sent us to a toll road. After paying the toll we were given two directions to travel. “Nanterre” said one sign. “Creteil” said another. Brilliant, except I had no clue where these places were. Sally remained silent – deliberately. We took the wrong road. Now 15 miles away, I tried to turn around. “No Tolls”, I asked. Sally ignored me and sent us back down the same way. The toll had now doubled this time. A journey of 5 miles had become a 30 mile long nightmare, cost me 20 euro, and managed to send me in precisely the wrong direction.

Now that Sat-Navs have become commonplace, it is only a matter of time before the next step happens. They become sentient. They acquire a personality. When you disobey their instructions, perhaps they will sigh. Or mutter something sarcastic under their breath. Maybe they will start shouting at you, telling you that you never listen and that it’s your own fault you’re lost. When that day comes, as it inevitably will, I have already decided what I will do.

I’m digging a big hole in the ground and I’m staying there. You can call me to let know when it’s safe to come out.