So, last Saturday, me and my fiancée and a friend set off for a wedding. It was the wedding of two good friends who’ve (quite frankly) been through the wringer in recent times, and yet they’ve always come out smiling and generally chipper, so we all wanted to be there for the wedding; clothes and new shoes were bought, a dinner jacket was hired by me (no sense in buying one when my current size of ‘fat sod’ is, I intend, merely temporary), and we hired a car to get us there.
The wedding was taking place near Uxbridge, which is on the west side of London, so let’s call it 9:00 on the clock face. As I’ve probably said before, we live in East London, so that’s at about 3:00 on the clock face. So, the logical route would be one which took us, as far as possible, from east to west in a straight line (though ideally avoiding the city centre). A couple of days before, I logged onto the AA Route Planner website, and – using our starting and destination postcodes, got a printout of our trip, which was estimated to take about 80 mins. We left just after midday for a 2PM wedding, which seemed a sensible margin. The hire car was new and full of petrol, and we all looked quite spiffy, and we set off along the route in an optimistic mood.
That mood lasted about fifteen minutes; I took a wrong turn in Docklands which send us off the wrong way (through the Blackwall Tunnel and almost to the Dome before I could turn around), and that lost us some time, but when we got back to the point of my mistake and started following the instructions again, it became apparent that my error was just the start of our troubles, as the AA’s suggested route told us to ‘continue straight ahead at the lights’ when in fact the road featured a roundabout, with no straight-ahead option.
We tried the various exits in turn, and it gradually dawned on us that not only was the route one which involved travelling on imaginary roads, but that it took us down towards 6:00 on the clock face before circling back up to around 11:00 and then down to a sort-of 9:00 direction. In short, it was hopeless, and driving it on a Saturday was an impossible task, so our friend navigated us to Islington, at which point we followed the Euston Road along to Baker Street, and then got on a main road to the location of the wedding.
Those of you who aren’t familiar with London probably won’t know or care what the above sentence, with the place names in, means, but it’s neither important to know or relevant, really, as the fact of the matter is it was nowhere near as easy as that sentence makes out. After all, we were in Central London on a Saturday.
It became abundantly clear that we weren’t going to make the start of the wedding, which was both annoying and upsetting, as we wanted to be there for our friends. Then, as we sat in the car in traffic which I could have outrun even in my present non-running condition, it became clear that we probably wouldn’t make the wedding at all. But maybe we could make it to the reception.
And indeed we did – though not after some trouble finding our final destination, because the AA Routeplanner kindly decided not to give us any kind of directions once we got to the village where the wedding and its reception were being held – despite me having put in the postcode of our destination. You’d think that in a village the size of Denham, it wouldn’t be too tricky to locate the Golf Club, and indeed it wasn’t too hard to find. Shame we found the wrong golf club first and had to wend our way to the right one – past the rather lovely church where the wedding had finished, and where the rose petal confetti on the ground outside the gate was yet another reminder of what we’d missed – so that by the time we actually arrived, it was three hours since we’d left home.
We arrived late, irritated, but most of all upset at missing a once-in-a-lifetime event. If we’d known that it was going to take that long, we would have allowed time for it, but we were misled by directions which were just plain wrong. This isn’t the first time we’ve been scuppered by the AA Routeplanner, I have to say – driving in Warminster a couple of months ago, the route map told us to follow a road which simply wasn’t there, and then missed out several of the final stages of our journey, meaning we had to call our destination and be talked through what to do, like something out of an old Airport film (though it could be said that it was more like Airplane!, though that’s open to debate).
Several people have said ‘well, you should get a sat-nav’, which I find a moderately moronic solution since we don’t actually own a car, and I’m inclined to agree with m’beloved’s assessment that next time, we’ll do it the old-fashioned way: by sitting down with a road map. I’m certainly biased that way after the journey home, which took about 75 mins. Granted, it was late at night, but we winged it in terms of the route, and somehow, without the help of major motoring organisation the AA we made it home safely and with no hassle at all, faster than their projected return time.
So, despite having linked to it in the second paragraph, I strongly recommend that you do not use the AA Routeplanner, as my recent experiences with it have shown it to be wildly unreliable. For those of you with a car, a sat-nav might well be the answer (though not necessarily) , or using a map might be old-school but prove oddly reliable. And of course, if you’re going to join a road recovery organisation, I recommend the RAC.
Still, it goes some way towards explaining why I recollect seeing members of the AA on the news urging the government to build more roads: clearly, they want the roadways of England re-shaped to match with the version of things that Routeplanner’s made up in its mad microprocessor mind.