Trails and trials of the writer who walks
During the Pennine Way walk, I met a man who had so much path-finding gear, he needed three chargers (he even had an emergency gizmo that could send his exact location directly to the mountain rescue service with just one click). I can safely say that my Windows smartphone would have been no use to me whatsoever in any emergency, so I had carried it powered off and didn’t need to charge it once during the three weeks. It only saw the light of day when I needed bus times in Hawes and when I got bored in the Wetherspoons, Lancaster, waiting for my train home. To be fair, the phone is a Nokia Lumia in a price range targeted for children and pensioners.
Yesterday, however, must be noted as the acme of its little mobile life. I was in Manchester to watch a performance of La Traviata at the Lowry Theatre, a short tram ride from the city centre, and then I was going to stay overnight at the youth hostel in Castlefield. For those who don’t know Manchester, Castlefield is the Canary Wharf of the norf. The hostel bunk was a mere £8 plus £4.99 for a full English eat-as-much-as-you-like breakfast. (The opera ticket was £57 even with OAP concession – for that much, they should have let me sleep in the theatre). Returning to the hostel in the dark, around 10.30 pm, I alighted from the metrolink at the Deansgate-Castlefield stop and followed everyone else down the nearest steps, only to find myself on the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak, in empty streets with no familiar landmarks and no idea which direction to take. Thank you Nokia Maps on my Windows smart phone for finally being of some assistance. It’s certainly a happy little appy in cities, but take it out on to a lonesome hillside and the little green spot that’s supposed to tell you where you are sits and sulks amid grey expanses of nothingness. Scroll far enough and you might find the M66 or Halifax (although even that is optimistic as the phone requires a mobile signal), but it refuses to reveal the necessary footpaths to get there. It’s clearly a metropolitan type, and yesterday the dancing green spot led me quickly to Quay Street and familiar territory.
This morning, while I was still in Manchester after a sleepless night because the railway track was about five metres from my window, I was stopped by a lady who wanted to get to Upper Brook Street, off Oxford Road. She had a map in her hand which she had printed at home and was now finding too small to read, even with her glasses on. So why did she pick on me when there were so many beautiful young people with eyesight milling around? I couldn’t read it either, even with my glasses on, so out came the phone which confirmed where we were and showed that Oxford Road was not far away if she continued due south.
“Oh, I wouldn’t know which way is south,” she said, which is not unreasonable on a dull Manchester day. There has never been a more perfect opportunity to draw up my sleeve thus revealing my huge Casio digital multi-function watch – so large I now have one arm longer than the other – and, with a quick dink on one of its four buttons, up popped compass mode.
“Yes,” I said proudly, like an explorer pointing out the south pole, “It’s definitely that way, due south.”
What a thrill it was to use my entire range of navigational equipment to help this damsel in distress. It could only have been improved if we had happened to be under 200 metres of water when I brought out the watch.
The opera, by the way, was awesome.