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A Trip to the Seaside

Author: Sandy Whitnell

‘Oh, shut up,’ I tell her, good humoured but determined. She won’t listen. She never does.

Here she goes again in that confident tone of hers, ‘Where possible, make a U turn.’

‘No, I won’t,’ I say, ‘not this time. This way is nicer. Better scenery, and it can’t take any longer.'

Without speaking she adds two minutes to the journey.

‘Two minutes extra? Is that all? No problem.’

She gives in, and we settle into the journey on my chosen route. We travel on in silence. She’s not a sulker, though, she’ll be talking again before long.

I love my satnav. Together we have conquered city centre mazes and meandered along the remotest of country roads. She knows every sordid alley and sleepy hamlet. The shortest way to Stirling Castle? The fastest route to Dad's care home? The Pencil museum, avoiding motorways? Bring it on! I wouldn’t be half so adventurous without her. I just wouldn’t go there.

There were no satnavs in my childhood. It was paper maps and human error, and woe betide you if you called a bad turn and got the family lost.

The best map of all was the one my dad ordered from the Automobile Association about two weeks before our annual holiday. It arrived in an official looking envelope. Inside, neat pages of thick paper stapled at the top.

The unique, magical quality of this map was that it was made just for you. The route actually started at your house and ended at your exact holiday home. I imagined a man frowning when he got the request, then researching and typing it – a couple of days work at least, surely. He would, of course, be wearing his smart uniform, and put on his peaked hat before going home in the evening. On the way he would salute all the motorists sporting an AA badge, as was his duty.

If we were going to North Wales the route resonated with exotic sounding places – Rhostyllen, Gwersyllt, Wrecsam. I’d have the map in the back seat of the car and tick off the places as we went through them, excitement growing as we got closer and closer to the sea. My younger brother would shout out whenever he spotted the bright yellow and black AA phone boxes – a common sight on the trunk roads of Britain.

I think about those journeys as we follow a route of bobbing daffodils, placid sheep, and blue sky. This feels like an adventure too. We’re heading to the sea to breath in clean air and listen to the wail of the gulls.

Its been a while since me and my satnav have set out together. Covid has kept journeys short and local. I can almost smell the sea.