My wife has recently purchased a satnav device, as part of what I can only assume is a bid to replace me, bit by bit. I have always been our in-car navigation system, interpreter of poorly transcribed instructions, reconciler of torn map and eccentrically signposted countryside. Now I'm sitting in the passenger seat listening to my wife extol the virtues of her new machine, which she calls Kate.
"I find her voice very reassuring," she says. Kate tells us to continue along the M4, but the only thing moving on the M4 is the little clock on Kate's screen estimating our time of arrival. It's advancing at the rate of a minute per minute.
"Do we get off here?" my wife asks.
"Are you asking me?" I say.
"If we did, Kate would automatically recalculate our route."
"I know how it works."
When we leave the motorway, my wife makes me hold up the machine so she can see the screen.
"Twist it a bit, towards me."
"You're supposed to sucker it to the windscreen," I say.
"I don't like it there," she says. "It obscures the view. Higher."
"At the next roundabout," Kate says, "take the second exit."
We've been lost out this way many times – we've even come to recognise the landmarks that indicate we've gone wrong – but the machine is blazing us a brand new trail. We pass an enormous barracks we've never seen before. Ten minutes later we pass it again. Then Kate tells us to turn right down a bridle path.
"What do I do?" my wife asks.
"I don't know," I say.
"Destination reached," Kate says, with a note of misplaced triumph.
"Are we there?" the youngest says.
"No," I say. "We're not anywhere."
"It's not my fault," my wife says.
"I know," I say, although for me it's more significant that it's not my fault.
Eventually we find our friends' house. Two days later we leave for Cornwall, taking their son with us and leaving behind enough luggage to enable him to fit in the car. A week later, on our way to exchange the child for our stuff, my wife turns on the machine again. Her feelings for Kate appear to have cooled slightly.
"Why won't she let me come off here?" my wife shouts. "Stupid cow."
"She wants you to come off here," I say. "She's begging you to come off here."
"And why does she always say 'second exit'? Why doesn't she just say 'straight over'?"
"I guess it's a bit more precise in situations where..."
"Now she's going to tell me to take this tiny lane. I know that's wrong."
"Why bother?" I shout. "Why use the machine if you're going to second-guess it all the time?"
"I don't know why you're getting so angry," she says, turning left on to the lane. The road narrows to a single track as we plunge into a deep valley. Water sheets across the road at the bottom. Kate orders us to go left, then left again.
"This doesn't look right," my wife says. "What's next?"
"The road ahead jogs a bit," I say, consulting the screen. "And then sort of turns back on itself."
"Satellite connection lost," Kate says. On the screen the little car pivots in empty space as we drive.
"What now?" my wife says, pulling over. I think for a minute; then I remember the child.
"So," I say to him, "apparently we're less than a mile from your house. Any of this seem familiar?"
He sits up in his chair and looks out across rolling fields dotted with sheep, towards the green hills in the distance. "Not really," he says.
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