Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bear right

In Australia, we only ever owned second-hand cars.

In 1989, I had a 1971 model. Love Chunks had a 1976 model in 1985 until we sold it for a mere $50 in 1994.

We bypassed the 1980s models entirely and in 1999 bought a still sweet-smelling ex-government station wagon from 1996, loving it and driving it until handing it over to Sean for a mere six hundred bucks in May last year.

It was Switzerland that finally saw us in a new car in 2011. Power windows, blue tooth whatcha-ma-callit sockets and an electric sun roof. Two sets of tyres that require changing around for summer and winter and a free windscreen ice-scraper given to us by the bank who loaned us half the money.

Partnering this swanky purchase was a much cheaper one, but one that has proved its value a hundred-fold. Ken, our GPS.

He's called 'Ken' because the Australian male voice file available for free download was called Ken and this personification of the little black rectangle that fits snugly into my handbag has remained. "Where's Ken?" we'll all ask, before leaving the apartment. "Is Ken powered up?"

On the road, he takes a few minutes to clear his head as being turned on in an underground car park is akin to screaming in space. Nobody can see, hear or find him. Back on ground level and in the natural light, he regains his footing. Sometimes he scares me when he first starts talking and I fumble for the volume button. Maybe Ken Mark II could clear his throat or crack his knuckles before commencing?

"Bear right," he says calmly, giving me plenty of notice to:
a) look into the rear vision mirror;
b) remember to check my left hand side and not my right before changing lanes; and
c) not to panic about being unable to read the teeny weeny street signs that are never large or on poles but stuck, oh-so-discreetly, onto the corners of buildings themselves.

"In two hundred metres, take the third right at the roundabout," he advises, allowing me to take note of my pleasant surroundings - oh look, the cows are still wearing their bells and are munching away on wild flowers right next to the international airport runway - and grope around for the sun roof switch.

Love Chunks has long suffered from my lack of direction, inability to read maps and predictable failure to identify turn-offs in time. Despite these (very valid) concerns, he also worries that Ken now makes my life too easy; that I'll never learn how to read a map without turning it in the direction we're travelling or guesstimate my way home by looking at the Alps, the slope of the streets towards the water or where the sun sets.

He's correct, of course, but I've driven further and more frequently because of Ken's patient assistance. He speaks English and avoids Sapphire's ridicule by not ever bothering to pronounce the French names of towns, streets or suburbs. Why should he when a "You have reached your destination" does the job?

Ken doesn't sigh, panic or get angry if we're hooning down the motorway in the wrong lane and missed the lakeside exit. Instead he pauses for a moment to gather his thoughts (and new satellite bearings) before either suggesting that I "turn around where possible" or he thoughtfully creates another route entirely.

"Shoosh," I'll say over the conversation in the car. "Ken just gave a direction and I couldn't hear it." He takes precedence over everything else occurring inside the vehicle including fart jokes and gossip.

On longer journeys, if there are no roundabouts, corners or turns, he stays silent. This is when it can get unsettling. I'm hoping that Ken Mark II or III is also programmed to add some words of encouragement such as, "You're doing well, keep it up," or "This is the right way, don't fret, pet," which would go a long way to making the journey a pleasanter one.

Even a few "I like what you've done to your hair today," or "Have you lost weight?" type of endearments wouldn't go astray but for now, Ken dearest, I truly love your work.


The Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

We don't have Ken - we have "robot woman"; she talks to both me and Mrs PM via the Navigator App on our phones and gets a little annoyed when we miss the turning (or rather Mrs PM misses the turning). She speaks English but can barely pronounce some English town names - like Oswaldtwistle - which almost made me crash the car when I heard how she said it.

Unlike you, I'm not keen on "robot woman" - I want Mr T ...





nuttynoton said...

Ken was a saver on our journey in Switzerland despite the fact when they craftily closed roads he became confused. I was recently in France with a couple of Friends and our Black Box was a female called Mercedes after a bossy colleague of ours and how we have had fun telling her!!

Great post and send our regards to Ken!

diane b said...

Many people knock the GPS but we too find it very handy especially in Sydney and Melbourne, where we are strangers. Ours is called Phillipa after her voice name. Bill shouts at her and calls her a silly bitch but she never looses her temper. Being a typical male, Bill doesn't always think she knows best. Sometimes he says, switch her off I know where I am now and then promptly gets lost. Whenshe says travel for 10 k and she becomes silent, we say she has gone for a coffee and hope she'll be back in time for the next change in direction.
A friend of ours was describing her trip through the middle of Australia. Her GPS said travel for 2325 k and turn right. As you say a confirmation during this time would be handy.

Andrew said...

Can I suggest that if your map reading is not good at your age (said with the the utmost respect), you are not going to get any better at it. So enjoy the company of Ken. He might be your friend for life.

Cat J B said...

Oh, I so want a Ken.

I drove the boys to the museum yesterday and the most anxiety inducing part of the whole fiasco was most definitely driving there, negotiating the Punt Rd/Batman Rd exit, where there is about 1 freakin' metre between the two exits......., veering over the centering bump thingy on Nicholson St when I realized I'd missed the parking area and had to do a u-turn across the tram only lanes (boys asking me if the police were going to arrest us) and all the rest. It gives me kittens just thinking about it now a day later.

Oh Ken, Ken, come into my life.......

River said...

I have no need of a GPS, I let the bus driver take me where i need to go, and the routes are pre-worked-out, so there's no dramas unless the Clipsal races are on. And the Tour-Down-Under.
My first hubby was a Ken, he must have been part GPS, he always managed to find his way home, no matter how drunk he was.

Pandora Behr said...

I have Shirley the GPS, named after a friend's mother who always sounds like she has a fag in one hand and a pint in the other - and you would never mess with her. Great invention aren't they. Just wish you could program them to avoid Punt Road...

Anonymous said...

Hi Kath
I love Ken too
He always gives me a good route too
Guess we will just have to share!
great blog!

Hannah said...

I have a 2009 car, but no GPS, so I still write myself directions on a slip of paper. Funnily enough, I write like Ken speaks. Ever since I got my license, my car has been littered with slips of paper reading "right at third lights left at next roundabout left at funny bend curve of road through four sets of lights house on right somewhere".

One day I'll upgrade. Maybe.

Kath Lockett said...

Robot Woman doesn't sound anywhere near as nice as Ken, Plasman. That said, I'm not sure that I'd want Mr T as my helper either. We had a friend who used Yoda for a while: "Turn right at the next roundabout you must, hmmmm."

Nutty, I'll give Ken your kindest. I hope that no GPS is named after me 'Blonde Loser' or 'Map Mucker-upper' perhaps.

Phillippa doesn't seem like she deserves such harsh name calling from Bill, dianeb, especially if he gets lost after turning her off. (Maybe she's chuckling in 'off' mode).

Andrew, I agree. There's no way that my sense of direction or map reading skills are ever likely to improve and Ken has just made life a helluva lot easier. For Love Chunks (who usually drives when we're together) as well as myself.

CatJB, get yourself a Ken. You'll very soon learn to love his calm, dulcet tones, even if he does sometimes get flummoxed at unexpected roadworks.

River, maybe your ex-Ken is the VOICE for the GPS Ken...!!?? We have friends here who don't have a car, but use their Tom Tom when walking through new parts of town!

Pandora, as long as your 'Shirley' is sober and lucid when she's at work, then she can smoke all she likes. Another couple here call theirs Dorothy in honour of his mother who tends to know it all....

Hi Anon
I hope by 'route' you really do mean the innocence of 'route' and NOT the Australian version!

Hannah, I used to do that too. The Melways had sticky labels poking out of each page that I'd flip over and have with coloured arrows and Ken-like directions.

Lynne said...

Kath - that made me laugh out loud (not a good idea at work!). We have the services of Samantha. I'm sure Nick fantasises about her. She has a sexy voice. Personally, I don't care what she sounds like - just get me there!!

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks Lynne - just tell your colleagues that you were reading next financial year's budget estimates - that'll explain the laughing!

Louise said...

I love Ken! We have a GPS but I turn the voice off because it drives me nuts, and I usually have some idea where I am, where I'm going, and all the signs are in my native tongue.