Bob Dylan on satnav

Most, indeed, I suspect all the jokes have already been cracked about Dylan allowing his voice to be used for satnavs (‘How does it feel, to be on your own, no direction home…’, ‘Seems like I been down this way before, is there any truth in that, Senor?’ and so on). It’s interesting that something which is fundamentally useful – what Ilich called, very awkwardly, a ‘tool for conviviality’ – has become an item to be customised in a comical fashion. Dylan’s voice is added to a long roster (Tommy Cooper, John Cleese, The Queen) of celebrity voices you can pay to have on your machine.

But why not something a bit more taxing? Journeys are things to be passed. Why not a satnav which gave you the direction, but gave it in anagrams which you had to work out – presumably you could set it to different levels of difficulty. Or perhaps the directions could be given in backslang, polari, rhyming slang or aigy-paigy (sometimes spelled aighi-paighi or aguey-paguey or haigy-paigy etc.) – this last one simply consists of putting ‘ag’ (long ‘a’) between the syllables of a word, e.g. Whagich wagay dagid hage gago? (This seems to have been a Northern slang, but I may be being influenced by the fact that the most expert speaker of it I’ve ever met came from Manchester. ) I also wonder if ‘Professor’ Stanley Unwin, whose mangling of the English language was so popular in the fifties and sixties, could have been a great satnav distraction.

Perhaps a satnav could double as a teaching aid for aspiring linguists, so that the instruction had to be repeated in translation. V zákrutách vás môže nebezpečne vyniesť! The turns might cause the car to swerve dangerously! (That’s Hungarian, from an online phrase-book.) Or perhaps the satnav could learn to play ‘That’s My Dog’. This was the most popular pastime in which my family indulged on long journeys. One point for a horse, two for a dog, three for a cat, and, when in ireland, four for a donkey. You had to be the first to call out to get the points, and you had points deducted if (say) you yelled ‘That’s my dog’, only to see, on closer inspection, that it was a pram with a child in it. I can remember one huge family in-car row once when, passing an open space to the north of Newcastle, we came across a woman exercising about nine dogs. Since the whole car was shouting ‘That’s my dog!’, it took some very detailed consideration by the referee (my father) before the points were shared. Normally, he never played it, since he believed that the Driver Should Drive. But he did once beat me 69-68 at the very end of a seventy-mile trip, by spotting a cat by the side of the road as we were slowing to a standstill. (The fact that I can still recall the actual scores after almost fifty years is a bit worrying. There’s being rankled, and being rankled, but I think I should be ashamed of myself.)

Of course, with the news that product placement is to be allowed on the TV, it can only be a matter of time before satnavs say ‘Turn right. Third exit. And shop at Tesco.’

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