Sunday, 9 August 2009

NufNuf’s Last Freakout?

Hal 9000 C - ChromeImage by K!T via Flickr

I have already told of my delight at the fact my new Nokia N86 8MP (or 8PM or whatever it is) has a built-in SatNav that can negotiate the terrifying urban-planner road grids of the desert oasis city of Al Ain but NufNuf, as we have christened her, got her acid test last Thursday.

Trouble was, I didn’t know she had been using quite such high quality acid with such gleeful abandon.

I did my usual Thursday morning slot on Dubai Eye Radio’s Business Breakfast, sharing it with special guest star Rebecca Hill, the director of the Middle East Public Relations Association or MEPRA. Presenter Brandy Scott, Rebecca and I had a happy blether about the new Middle East Public Relations Awards that MEPRA is launching for the first time this year.

A slight twist in the tale was that Rebecca and I were due in Abu Dhabi, a good 2 hour drive away, to present a MEPRA Twitter Workshop. This was to be the third of a series of MEPRA Twitshops presented by Spot On Public Relations’ MD and partner in crime Carrington Malin and yours truly. It was supposed to start at 9.30am, and the radio slot ended at 7.45am so we were already a tad tight for time. If we didn’t get lost in Abu Dhabi, the city of a Million Confusing New Roadworks, we might just get to the meeting room by the time a desperate Carrington faced down a packed room of some 40 agitated PR professionals jeering and throwing buns and stuff.

I’m not a big Abu Dhabi boy. The last time I was down there I got horribly, irrevocably lost. In fact, every time I’ve done down there I’ve got lost.

Everyone in Abu Dhabi says the same sort of thing to you: 'Oh, it’s easy, just turn right by the intersection with Sheikh Zayed 1st or 7th Street, take the second left by the Bilbalbol Sebastopol Lebanese Supermarket and we’re the building behind the purple railings you’ll see the third watertank down from the second dustbin to your left as you face the coffee pot opposite the blue mobile phone shop sign. You can’t miss us. Everyone knows it.'

The invariable result is a hot, sweaty and frustrated mess. Harried and hooted by Abu Dhabi’s aggressive and unpleasant drivers, you drive round in ever-decreasing circles until you finally explode in an act of spontaneous combustion. By some miracle of trial and error you’ll finally find your destination (in a completely different place to that described to your by your potential host and somewhere that nobody in the world has heard of) and be met with a smile and a genial, 'Did you find your way alright?'

This, then, was a job for NufNuf the Nokia SatNav. Get us there first time around. And by golly, she almost did it. The trouble started when we hit the Eastern Ring Road, which NufNuf thought was still desert. She also lost the GPS signal. And she started to have a head-fit that resulted in a strange and electrifying silence. There’s nothing worse than driving with a SatNav and approaching a T-junction to the sound of silence. Whichever way you choose to go, unguided by ‘the voice’, you’ll hear ‘Route Recalculation’.

After a silent eternity and some panicky guess-work, NufNuf suddenly sprang into action again and, thanks mainly to her, we got there with half an hour to spare. Pats on the back panel for NufNuf, then.

But the journey back was a totally different affair. My first mistake was swapping Rebecca for Carrington (when offered a swap of male for female company, people, demur. That is my advice. Demur.). My second tactical error was ignoring NufNuf’s calm ‘Follow The Road For One Kilometre’ for Carrington’s snatched, ‘No, that’s crap. Turn left here.’

I mean, one of these people is a professional SatNav, after all!

That unscheduled turn started us on a nightmare, harum-scarum journey through the busy, alienating skyscraperscape of Abu Dhabi that I will not forget in a long time. Because NufNuf freaked out.

'In 300 Metres, Turn Right,' said NufNuf. And then, 'Turn Left' She added calmly in an almost reassuring voice.

'In 200 Metres, Turn Right, Then Left.' Okay. We turn right. 'Turn Right.' Umm, we just did. 'In One Kilometer, Take the U-Turn.' But what about the Left Turn? 'Turn Right here.'


'Turn Slightly Right.' Umm, 'Turn Left.' Whaaat?

The car behind me is blaring its horn, the lorry to my left is cutting in to the right and there’s a LandCruiser undertaking me from behind. The ubiquitous sound of beeping is like an experiment in sensory deprivation, drowning out every other sensation but fear, an auditory waterboarding. My mouth is dry as we swerve to stay alive.

By now NufNuf has lost the plot completely. 'GPS signal lost. Route Recalculation. Turn Left Here. I Am An Armadillo. A Moose Once Bit My Sister. Please Hold, Your Call Is Important To Us. We are the Borg.'

But if NufNuf was being scary, Carrington was worse. Every time NufNuf did her next HAL9000 Goes Insane As He Starts Dying Scene impersonation, he’d talk over her with some new pronouncement of techno-doom. 'It’s gone mad. We’re going to die. Nobody will ever find us. Turn Oval here.'

Between them, they manage to dump me into an insane world of techno-fear, acid flashback surrealism mixed with real-life, heart-attack inducing danger.

We finally made it to the ring road, recognisable monuments looming into view. ‘Would you like fries with that?' said NufNuf in a reassuring voice as Carrington leaned back with a pleased sigh of ‘Told you the bloody phone was wrong!’

Next time I’m taking a taxi and leaving Carrington and NufNuf together. They’re made for each other.

For the first time, I see my own disintermediation as a positive blessing...
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Oussama said...

Good that you are back safely to write about it.
Funny enough, when I lived in Abu Dhabi I used to think the same of Dubai (allow 45 minutes to getting lost in Dubai). Taking a taxi to Abu Dhabi will not guarantee that you will not get lost just that you maybe a little more comfortable and less vigilant doing it if you are lucky, normally it is a good way to raise your blood pressure.
As for poor Nuf Nuf you either listen to her or shut the damn thing down, you can't have two guides on the trip (same like cooks and ruining the broth)

TToukan said...

My understanding is that NufNuf knew what she was doing, but you had to question her nonetheless. Perhaps if you switched the voice to male, you'd feel more comfortable with "his" directions? By the way, were you using A-GPS? (Assisted GPS) Even with a weak signal, it assists using your network's connectivity (SIM)to locate you, and thus you shall never be lost!

nzm said...


When in Italy in January, we had borrowed a friend's GPS and used it (Helga) to calculate a route to visit some friends who were staying in the country about 45mins out of Siena.

I had just commented to J that "wasn't it amazing that we were in the Tuscan countryside, being directed by a little machine that was talking to bigger machines out in space, and we were being guided effortlessly to our destination."

At that stage, Helga started to give us less directions. After the next little village, she went totally silent.

5 kms up the road, in the middle of nowhere and not a house in sight, she announced. "You have arrived at your destination."


She had taken us 20kms off course. When we finally did arrive, she actually displayed the little town on her map - with the name that we had keyed into her before leaving. I think that what's you call educating a Garmin.

Next time, we'll also carry one of those old-fangled folded paper maps as well!

Grumpy Goat said...

Clarissa acquitted herself admirably on our recent Great American Road Trip. She was, however, very insistent that we selected the I-95 when the parallel Merritt Parkway was a much nicer road.

"Recalculating. Take ramp right..." etc.

She does get the message eventually: When on our hols we prefer the Pretty Way.

Phillipa said...

I'm sorry for laughing at your unfortunate experience - satnavs are like the sybillic oracle, if you ask the question you must accept the answer ...hubris is punished by experiences such as yours

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