Sunday 3 April 2016

Task 23: Mastering the Google Map app

Mention the idea of 'mum map-reading' to my family, and you'd see a momentary flash of trepidation in their eyes. That's because I've always been a hopeless, disinterested and resistant reader of maps, and this attitude has led to moments of what might politely be described as friction between Andrew and me on family outings in the car.  I'm no better if left to my own devices on foot. 'Headless chicken' is the only way to describe my modus operandi as I emerge from a tube station in an unfamilar area of London. 

In recent years the appearance of a sat nav device on our car dashboard has resulted in more tranquil family journeys. However my headless chicken routine on foot has continued unabated. 'Why don't you just use the Google Map app Mum??' various family members have suggested, bewildered at my last century stance. But to me, the Google Map app is still, well, a map. Which means lots of confusing lines to decipher, together with a yawning conceptual gap between what I see on a page and the 3D landscape around me. And hence I've rejected its potential to help me. Until, that is, the sixtyat60 challenge loomed and I reluctantly acknowledged that it was time to embrace 21st century technology and confront my cartophobic tendencies.

It was Lucy who stepped up to the plate to help me complete Task 23.  As someone who describes herself as having zero sense of direction, the Google Map app is a total godsend to her, and she's a real whizz at using it. All of which made her the ultimate guide and companion on this task.

In June 2015, I started my uphill battle to conquer the Google Map app. Lucy demonstrated its' basic principles and I tried my hardest to pay attention. Then to my consternation I was informed that if I wished to tick Task 38 off my list, I'd have to take an official Google Map app test.  I gritted my teeth, accepted these harsh terms & conditions, hung L-plates on my iphone and over the next few months started forcing myself to use the app on open roads and pavements when no one was looking.  

Last Saturday, my Test Day finally arrived. I met my Examiner Lucy at London Bridge Station. I was wearing suitably warm and waterproof attire. My fully charged mobile was poised ready for action. 'OK Mum' said Lucy 'I'm going to give you a route to navigate. I'm going to walk alongside you. I shall say nothing. Where you go, I go. Your task is to navigate your way from London Bridge Station to the Draft House (a watering hole of course) in Seething Lane via Leadenhall Market'.  Then she twisted the knife. 'I'm imposing penalties,' she announced. 'The estimated journey time is 25 mins. If we fail to reach the Draft House within 30 mins, you'll have the pleasure of paying my train fare back to Haywards Heath. If we don't arrive there within 35 mins, we're having lunch on you.  And if we run over 40 mins, you're paying for the family Indian takeaway this evening'. These were seriously high stakes.....

We checked the time display on our phones. When the screens showed 13.30, I fired up the Google Map app, entered the required info and we set off. Except we didn't, because I defaulted to the usual headless chicken routine and went round in circles for 5 minutes trying to work out which direction to go in. I was watching the moving blue blob on the map so closely that fellow pedestrians had to jump out of the way. Bad start. 'Don't just look at the screen Mum,' Lucy said 'Start walking and look around you for clues'. 

All of a sudden my route began to click into place. I marched Lucy double quick over London Bridge (those time penalties were playing on my mind in a big way). Within 10 minutes, there was Leadenhall Market before us. 

I savoured this small moment of triumph. I keyed in my next destination. Whoops....I started looking at the wrong end of the route. Big-hearted Lucy couldn't stop herself from pointing out this basic error to me and off we went again.  Then I was thrown a curved ball - a through route that was shut for the weekend. 'Look at the bigger picture' said Lucy. I took her advice, thought outside the box (apologies for the plethora of business management cliches popping up in this paragraph, must be the effect of walking through the City) and took a detour, thus prising the blue blob on my screen away from its recommended path.  Two minutes later I was back on track and in next to no time our destination was in sight.

We checked the time on our mobiles. the journey had taken me 37 minutes. Hmm - would that time be sufficient for me to be allowed to cast off my L plates and complete the task? Lucy was looking very perky. 'Time for a fat lunch on you' she said, rubbing her hands together in glee. 'And then I'll give you my assessment of your performance.' Blimey, I'm surprised she wasn't holding a clipboard.

And her assessment?  Over to Lucy......

All in all, a strong, dedicated performance. Falling at the first hurdle trying to leave London Bridge could have thrown her, but she carried on unabated through increasingly nasty conditions - bad weather, traffic and tourists - to arrive triumphant at her destination. She even managed to appreciate some of her surrounds (during the few minutes when she actually looked up from her phone....). My final scores?

Enthusiasm - 8
Focus - 7
Awareness of surroundings - 5
Flexibility - 7
Learning from mistakes - 9
Acceptance of her assessor's self-motivated penalties - 10

Overall - 45/60

A solid pass!  (Ed's note: hurrah - thank goodness I was so accepting of the penalties!)

We left the Draft House after a sustaining lunch courtesy of my long-suffering credit card. By now the skies were darkening, the rain was upon us and Storm Katie was waiting in the wings.  As Lucy and I scuttled back to London Bridge Station, I took a quick snap of the Thames towards Tower Bridge. 'What a brilliant city London is' I thought to myself. And now that I'm more adept at using Google Map app, it looks like I'll be able to spend more time appreciating its many delights and less time flapping my wings and going round in circles...... 

I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Shooting Star Chase children's hospice care in memory of a special little girl called Thea Redford. 

For further information or to make a donation please visit my JustGiving page at

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