It’s not that I have no sense of direction. I definitely have a sense of direction. It’s just – it doesn’t seem to work round here.
And by round here, I mean Planet Earth.
I get lost coming back from the shops. Driving’s worse. Even with Satnav. Despite the stern make a u-turns, I can’t resist taking lefts or rights instinctively – almost as if some unseen force has leaned in through the window and grabbed the wheel.
And given the strength of that feeling, how wretched is it that it’s always, always wrong?
I suppose I should take comfort from the fact it’s probably genetic, as much a part of me as my short legs or big-footed laugh. I bet a few hundred thousand years ago, a Neanderthal guy looked out of the cave and said something like: I’m just going outside for a bit – and wasn’t seen again for three moons.
I thought you were just going outside for a bit?
– I was
We thought you’d been eaten by a sabre-tooth
– No. I mean – I saw one, but it didn’t seem that bothered.
So what happened?
– I got lost
Lost? How could you get lost? You stepped outside…
– There were these rocks that looked like faces... (blushes / scratches his head / laughs in a big-footed way that makes the ears of a nearby sabre tooth prick up).
Or the Napoleonic Wars. Ordinary Seaman Clayton, said something like: I’ll just nip ashore and give ‘em a hand with them barrels – and wasn’t seen again till Waterloo.
You stand before this Court Martial accused of desertion, sir. How d’you plead?
– Not guilty yer honour.
Not guilty? How so?
– I got lost, sir
Lost? The deuce! Lost, d’y’say? You walked to the end of a gangplank, man! Barely half a cable. You got lost?
– Yessir. I became disorientated.
What nonsense! What on earth by?
– Well, there was this seagull waggling his feet…
Funnily enough, I used to think working by the sea would help. You’d think a hundred and eighty degrees of water might improve the odds. Turns out it has the opposite effect, intensifying the confusion.
The other day I had a patient assessment in a residential care home, one of those endlessly sprawling conversions with corridors, passageways, rooms and offices sprouting randomly one from the other like some nightmarish burrow, excavated around the roots of a giant tree. Anyway, the auxiliary who showed me through bustled along by scent more than anything, I think, her eyes squeezed shut, vigorously wiping her hands on a Birds of the Garden tea towel.
‘When you go, go by that exit there,’ she said, nodding blindly but firmly to a door back of a hair salon. Three ancient women were sitting under static hair dryers that looked like upturned jet engines and just as noisy. The women stared back at me, magazines poised.
‘Hello’ I said, waving. They carried on staring, so I turned my attention to the door, frowning and nodding at it in the kind of mime that was supposed to demonstrate to anyone who cared to see that here was a man marking out his territory, making a mental plan of it all, figuring out the whys and the ways. Of course, the three wise women saw straight through it. They laughed, divining my fatal flaw.
‘Don’t get lost!’ the nearest one said, raising a crooked finger. ‘Or you’ll end up like us’
‘I wouldn’t mind!’ I said.
They laughed longest at that.