How to block a road

Our friend J. lives on a back road, which since we’re in Britain is called a lane, but what matters isn’t what it’s called but that it’s narrow and has two ninety degree bends where anything bigger than a little red wagon risks getting stuck forever. It also fords a small, unimpressive stream which can rise enough that driving across it would be really, really stupid.

I may have exaggerated those bends by just the smallest amount. If a normal car couldn’t make the turns, the hamlet would have been cut off for centuries and evolved its own language and customs. And probably its own form of government. So yes, an average-size car with a competent driver who’s used to our roads will be fine. If the driver’s an emmit, though—that’s a tourist, to give you the short definition—a normal car won’t get stuck but the emmit may go paralytic with fear and have to be rescued by someone local who has a calm manner and a gentle voice.

Delivery vans can also get through, and residents have been known to order who knows what-all off the internet: groceries, anvils, sex toys—the same odd mix of the necessary and the even more necessary that people throughout Britain rely on the internet to bring into their lives.

A delivery truck blocking the lane. I'd have missed it, but J. pointed out that it says, "Expert Logistics" on the side. Great logistics, there, folks. Photo by Duncan Walker.

A delivery truck blocking the lane. I’d have missed it, but J. points out the lettering on the side: “Expert Logistics.” Great work on the logistics, there, folks. Photo by Duncan Walker.

But even though delivery vans have been known to enter the hamlet and leave unharmed, tales circulate of larger trucks getting stuck on the bends and—well, the longer the story circulates, the longer the truck is caught on the bend and the more complicated the rescue becomes. By the time the story drifts to the far edges of the parish, houses will have to be demolished and put back together again, stone by stone by stone, and half a dozen tow trucks and rescue vehicles will be stuck as well. They’ll be there for months. Possibly years. A campsite has been set up to house them.

When J. talked about what happens on the lane, she mentioned both trucks and lorries. If you don’t know what the difference is, don’t look to me to clarify the situation because I don’t either. I could look it up but something about the murkiness of the British/American miscommunication appeals to me.

On the morning I started writing this, I had to drive down the lane and through both bends because the police had closed off what we call the main road (anyone who doesn’t live here would call it a back road) after an accident. That made the lane the shortest way around the roadblock. No trucks were caught in either bend. No rescue vehicles were stranded. So I can testify that the road’s open after whatever the last rumored incident was–whenever it may or may not have happened.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: We have no secrets in the village, but we do have a lot of inaccurate information. I’ve also written about this particular set of bends and rumors before. The reason I’m coming back to it now is that J. and A., who also lives on the lane, are trying to get it designated a quiet lane so that sat-navs (make the GPSs if you’re in the U.S.) won’t be able to direct drivers down it. Because right now they do, even when a different route would be easier. Even when it would be not only easier but shorter.

Why do they do it? Because, as the kids where I grew up used to say. (The italics are there because they said it in italics. And that was before any of us knew what italics were.) Once because was the answer, the conversation was closed and logic wouldn’t help. No appeal was possible.

More trouble, same lane. Aren't you glad not to be the driver? Photo by Duncan Walker.

More trouble, same lane. You begin to get a sense of the problem here, right? Photo by Duncan Walker.

One grocery delivery outfit tells its drivers to follow their sat-navs no matter what, so even if they know a route’s insane, they follow them. In Cornwall, that can be lethal, and I mean that literally. Sat navs can take you the wrong way down a highway exit ramp. Less lethally but more locally, some of them will take you up a washed-out, unpaved road that will eat your axles for an appetizer and then come back for your springs and your window glass. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that if you gave your sat-nav an address in Ireland it would take you straight into the ocean. Because, hey, it is the most direct route.

Are the grocery delivery drivers supposed to keep their foot on the accelerator as the water rises? I don’t know. All I can tell you is that they follow their sat-navs around those two tight, stone-walled bends, although there’s a much simpler way to get almost anywhere. Because, like anyone else, they want to keep their jobs.

So here’s this quiet little settlement plagued by drivers who don’t want to be there and who are sporting that panicked, I-have-a-sat-nav-but -where-the-hell-am-I? look.

A. has committed herself to fixing that. She can be a real terrier, and a terrier’s what’s needed for this. She’s already called a couple of the sat-nav companies and gotten the lane taken off their list of ways to get from point A to point everywhere else. But to back all the companies down, the road has to be designated a quiet lane and the parish council has to impose a twenty-mile-an-hour speed limit.

Last I heard, J. and A. were headed for a parish council meeting and it will be taken care of.

But that won’t entirely solve the problem, because sat-navs don’t update themselves. Their owners have to update them. Which involves paying money—something people may quite reasonably not want to do since they already paid money for the damn things and if they’re not broken, why throw more money at them?

We actually did update a sat-nav once. The update wrecked it. Or maybe the problem was connected to that sledge hammer. Me, though? I blame he update.

So—if I understand the situation—the current generation of sat-navs may have to die before the problem will be solved.

Even so, the hamlet’s closer to a solution than places with equally difficult roads but no resident with the skills, the energy, and the commitment to back down half a dozen sat-nav companies and a grocery delivery service. Trucks will get stuck in those places. Rescue vehicles will pile up behind them. Rumors will grow, but they’ll do that anyway.

All of this leads me to a question: What’s going to happen when driverless cars are turned loose on our roads? My partner, Wild Thing, has macular degeneration and has had to quit driving, so we have a more than intellectual interest in driverless cars. Is she going to end up in a car that decides the best route home is up an unpaved road that will eat one axle and both front doors? Or that takes her down the exit ramp to the A30–Cornwall’s main highway? Or to Ireland by way of the Atlantic Ocean?

She has enough vision left to see where she is, and I’m assuming passengers will be able to stop driverless cars somehow, and maybe even reprogram the route. But what happens to passengers with no vision? Do they have to wait until the feel the water rising? Will the driverless car need a driver? A navigator? An editor? Is all the work focused on how the cars follow the road and avoid accidents instead of on the routes they’ll follow?

38 thoughts on “How to block a road

  1. Three things:
    1. The SatNavs in Ireland are clearly the revenge of evil but tech-savy leprechauns because EVERY damn route takes you to unpaved dirt roads that disappear in the entrance to some rural farmyard. Do not pass rainbow or collect pot-o-gold. (Only slightly alleviated by the hysterical American-accented TomTom voice garbling both the gaelic and english versions of each street, which takes so long you’ve long passed the exit to your next dirt road-o-doom.)
    2. We update our SatNav every year before we drive to Spain. That has resulted (100% of the time) in the purchase of a new SatNav, random meltdowns, and much much swearage. And STILL it sends us down those dirt lanes…
    3. We also live on a cobblestone ‘lane’, down which delivery vehicles are sent to their doom almost daily. We don’t have a TV, so it’s a major form of entertainment for the dog and me.

    Okay, four things.
    4. This post is hilarious!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. My single trip through the back roads of England was plagued with SatNav trouble. It was as if the thing wanted to say “I’m not sure. I think you should turn right, but you may want to go left…or straight, straight might work.” I love starting my Friday’s here. I hope they get the road made quiet. I didn’t know that was a thing that could be done. I would assume the SatNav would still work for the people who live on the road and want to go somewhere else.

  3. Link didn’t work for me but if I remember correctly Emmet is the Cornish language word for an Ant… as in crawls all over and gathers in large numbers in popular places. Probably based on chemical signals or cheap tickets.

    As a cyclist I do worry about how driverless cars will make ethical and moral choice in unavoidable situations, such as ‘probably kill my passengers, or a pedestrian or run over and probably kill cyclist…or maybe that cat’. If we can program their Sat Navs to make some roads simply not exist to them it’ll make me feel better to know they’re not around. Much like normal motorised traffic really.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s a good reason the link didn’t work: it’s the wrong one. Try this.

      I’ve also heard that emmit comes from ant, but the first person I asked about it told me that holidaymakers are like ants because they line up on the cliffs and stare at the sunset–something I’ve never seen ants do. Go figure. (That’s probably an Americanism.)

      Liked by 1 person

        • As an incomer myself, my understanding is that the definition of Cornish is exacting but the definition of emmit is forgiving–as in, you don’t have to jump through any hoops to get chucked into the category. So even if you can’t find your nearest clifftop, you’re more than welcome.


  4. The emmits I worry about are the ones staring into their iPods or Smart Phones at the edge of the vertical cliffs overlooking the rocks below in the ocean. Gives the Coast Guard something to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s a Pokemon down there on those rocks. If they can only get just a little closer….

      Oops. Now we have to hope the Coast Guard doesn’t start playing Pokemon Go and ignoring the world around them.


          • Comic book and lamp post are a bit different than the edge of cliffs hundreds of vertical feet above jagged rocks. There have been folks who have died trying for that super selfie. But, yeah, I’ve done foolish things, too.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Agreed. And I haven’t walked into anything while reading since. (I must’ve been ten or so when that happened.) The cliff/selfie/Pokemon people don’t get much chance to learn the error of their ways, do they? (That “do they?” is a very English thing to toss in, I think. People around here have a strange habit of adding a question to what’s pretty clearly not a question. It must be viral, because I seem to be catching it.)


  5. Here I am adding a comment on my own blog again. Isn’t life strange. Steve Turnbull, from a Google+ UK writers discussion group, wrote a response that strikes me as worth circulating. In order to avoid double quotation marks, I won’t add quotes to the thing. After this you’re hearing from him:

    Mmm, there’s a sat-nav that, given our postcode, sends people to a place two miles away. Which has the same road name and the same house number.

    “We delivered your passport.”

    “No, you didn’t.”

    “We have a photo of the door. Look.”

    “That’s not our door.”

    …long pause…

    “You’re saying that’s not your door.”

    “That’s what we’re saying.”

    “We’ve delivered a passport to the wrong place.”




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