Saturday 16 December 2017

Lost? No, dear, we're going the scenic route

Most men find unexpected joy in going in the wrong direction, says Nick Harding

THIS WAY: Mitchum consulting a map, something most men are loath to do, in ‘Where Danger Lies’ with Faith Domergue
THIS WAY: Mitchum consulting a map, something most men are loath to do, in ‘Where Danger Lies’ with Faith Domergue

Nick Harding

La Murta is a small, unremarkable hamlet set in the vast expanse of barrenness between Murcia and Cartagena in south-east Spain, a slice of blandness sandwiched between two bigger towns. La Murta is certainly nothing like La Manga, the lush, affluent golf resort favoured by oligarchs and perma-tanned millionaires.

Only a fool would confuse the two. And, having confused the two, only a complete idiot would try to bluff out the mistake by attempting to convince the inhabitants of the lost car he pilots that they are on a scheduled stop and being given the opportunity to see "the real Spain".

That was me. Hopelessly lost in a parched hinterland, explaining to my partner, Stephanie, and my two worried children, that we were lucky to be experiencing a town so raw and authentic. "Look, kids, there's only one shop. And that dog in the road is dead. How incredible is that?"

There was no way I was going to admit that I may have, possibly, typed the destination into the sat nav incorrectly. And when, after 30 minutes of driving aimlessly through La Murta's narrow streets, my cultural-expedition ruse wore thin, I did what any self-respecting man would do. I blamed technology. "There must be something wrong with the sat nav. It sent us the wrong way."

Almost a year to the day previously, I had tried the same ploy as I careered down a narrow mountain track - destination unknown but heading generally towards Monaco - in a rented camper van perilously too wide for the route.

Despite the curses and prayers from Stephanie, who was in the passenger seat and inches from a sheer drop on to ragged rocks hundreds of feet below, I maintained that we were taking the scenic route. It was only a half lie. The view was quite spectacular.

In both situations, and in countless others when I've reached destinations more through divine luck than careful planning, the last thing I considered was asking for help. Instead, I carry on until fate leads me roughly to where I need to be. And I am not alone. New research shows that over a lifetime, the average man will travel an extra 900 miles lost, rather than ask for directions. Only 6pc of men will check a map. Instead, we bumble on and risk arguments with exasperated fellow passengers.

Of the nearly 1,000 respondents in the research, 94pc said women were generally better at navigation even though men are often reluctant to admit it. One in three said they react angrily to a partner's bad sense of direction, which "typically leads to an argument".

No one wants to be told they are wrong, and men do not like admitting it.

We'll use technology instead and when we lose a signal, and our sat nav and GPS are rendered useless, we will spend 15 minutes on a pavement rolling our phones in the palms of our hands to recalibrate them, rather than ask a stranger and lose face.

Why this peculiar male trait? Some would say stubborn male pride. I like to think it's more subtle than that. Men are hardwired to find the way, no matter what. It's in our genes; a hangover from days when male Neanderthals were required to track mammoths over vast tundra and still return safely to the cave by nightfall.

How do I know this? Like most men I have my own innate sense of geographical awareness. It's an instinct few women understand. Stephanie and I will set off on walks in the surrounding hills where we live and I'll eschew maps and compasses, using the position of the sun as a marker instead. We always end up where we are supposed to be, though often many hours later, nerves frayed and slightly annoyed with each other.

"I'm not lost," I will repeat. "Subconsciously, I've mind-mapped the topography."

In fact, for a man there's no such thing as lost. Women get lost, men take unscheduled alternative routes, which add excitement. Who knows what will happen?

Stephanie and I recently stumbled on a beautiful waterfall during an unscheduled excursion. We were meant to be somewhere else, having lunch in a country pub. Any frustration and hunger momentarily melted away at finding such a hidden gem. Sadly, it's unlikely I will be able to find it again.

Sunday Independent

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