Dom Joly: I could have told myself where to go, but my kids did

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The Independent Online

Satnavs – who needs them? When they first came out I totally fell in love. It was like being in the SAS, you had your own little gadget that would tell you where you were and how to get anywhere with the help of what felt like your own personal satellite revolving around the earth just waiting to guide you to Waitrose.

Nowadays, however, they are ubiquitous – every car that passes you has its little electric light box suctioned to the windscreen as the driver slavishly follows the yellow line to his or her destination

Consequently, everybody seems to have lost their natural sense of direction. No longer do they check maps and plot routes, gaining an overview of where they are going and how to do so in the time-honoured, manly way. Now we just tap in a postcode and head off, blindly following the idiot box to wherever it wishes to take us. This would be fine if the thing actually knew the way. The problem is that it doesn't.

I now firmly believe that satnavs are an elaborate practical joke inflicted on the population by irate, non-driving nerds. They are incapable of getting you in and out of any city without circumnavigating the place twice. Often they have their own views on where you should be going despite you having input precise directions.

My satnav hates Swindon, for instance. Any time I get near the town, the flat computerised voice tells me to "turn around where possible and drive away ... now". It also seems to dislike country roads, despite repeatedly turning off the option that selects "major roads only". The little bastard constantly tries to point me towards the M4, even if I'm only going from home to Cirencester.

Recently, I've kept him turned off, but he's got wise to that and has seemingly now acquired his own power-up system. I'll be driving along, perfectly happy, listening to Radio 4 when he'll suddenly turn himself on and start telling me to turn left in 100 yards and head for Brighton. I wondered whether it might just be the voice that I chose. Maybe he was a particularly unpleasant individual? I selected another one – a nasal female who took an instant dislike to me and demanded that I drive her to Cheltenham. I turned her off as well and hid the machine in the boot for the rest of the day.

I read the manual and discovered that I could record my own voice on to the machine. This would have been a bit too weird, so I got my kids to record the 50 or so options that the machine needs. About a week later, I had to go to the United States for a road trip and took it with me. I was travelling with a friend who was at first surprised to hear my kids' angelic voices telling me things like "Daddy, in 486 miles ... turn left".

By the time we'd reached Memphis, the novelty had worn off and I could sense that he was having thoughts of infanticide. The satnav must have also sensed his hostility, as it suddenly made us turn off the interstate and drive through an area that looked not unlike downtown Kigali. Gangs of sullen youths stood on little corners of wasteland, waiting for us to stop. I put my foot down and tried to turn the machine off while trying to use some of my lost orienteering skills to get us back to safety.

I've now decided what I want: a stoned Rastafarian voice who doesn't really care where I'm going. Occasionally he'd say things like, "Man ... if you feel like it, maybe consider a turn soon." Or "I'll be perfectly honest wit' you – I'm totally lost man ... but relax ... and whatever you do ... don't go to Swindon."