Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Topographic idiot

This year's Nobel Prize in medicine has been awarded for identifying the spot in the brain that enables us to know where we are.

I must have been born without this spot, or it was somehow damaged early in my life.

My father used to call me “topographic idiot”. In those days it was acceptable to say something like this to a child without considering life-long trauma. But I was an obedient child and believed what I was told.

I have been lost in places I had known for ages. I have been lost driving, biking and walking. I have been lost in Moscow and in Stockholm, my two hometowns; and I have been lost in unfamiliar places more times than I like to remember. I have been lost while picking up people from airports – it's totally embarrassing. I once had to call my best friend from a payphone – it was long before mobiles – and ask her to come and find me because I was lost, two blocks from her house where I has been hundreds of times. I can still get lost in Milton Country Park where I walk at least twice a week. I constantly get lost in central Cambridge. 

Obviously, this important part of the brain that helps other people to know where they are is missing.

But there is hope for people like me. (I am sure I am not the only one in the world; it is just too embarrassing to admit). Last Sunday I went to Ely to see a friend. I have been to Ely scores of times, and I know how to get to the Cathedral parking, and if it is full, I know how to get to another parking. Anything beyond that is too challenging for a topographic idiot. In such situations I gratefully remember one of my wonderful granddaughters who insisted, two years ago, that “Granny wants a smartphone for her birthday”. There are many things I use my phone for (least of all for phone calls), but is was the first time I used voice navigation. Wow, how much I loved this nice lady who told me, softly and patiently, like you should speak to a topographic idiot: “In a quarter of a mile, in the roundabout, drive straight through and stay on the road”.

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