The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Directions

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We don’t recall everything we see. Our brain spends much of its time filtering out what it considers irrelevant, and locking on to things it is programmed it to think are important.

Some of these filters are hardwired from millions of years of evolution, while others are implanted by our upbringing, advertising, propaganda and social habits.

This is most noticeable when someone is giving you directions to somewhere locally.

“Turn right at the Kings Arms, past the Golden Lion, then right again at the Slaughtered Lamb. If you reach the Dog and Duck you’ve gone too far.” For some reason, most people I know use pubs as their main landmarks.

A few will refer to art galleries and bookshops, and I was recently directed via an antique shop. I have to admit I had to ask for further clarification on that occasion, although when I mentioned it to Maggie she knew exactly where it was.

Post offices, libraries and pharmacies for some; betting shops, off licences and churches for others.

And with her constant searching for interesting materials for her artworks, Maggie reckons she can find her way anywhere so long as she is given directions in relation to charity shops.

For me, however, if anyone guides me with reference to cafés then I’ll have no problem finding the place. Sadly no one ever does.

One thing I have noticed though - everyone knows where the chocolate deli is…
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21 comments

Anna van Schurman said...

So what does it say about me that I give directions by direction (N, S, E, W) and street names? And I get annoyed when people tell me irrelevant places that I will pass along the way. Too structured?

Kim Ayres said...

But in the US, Half the street names are numbered, so you know that 23rd avenue is just one block along from 22nd. No such logic here in the UK. Every street has a name. And very, very few streets are built along a north-south, or east-west axis.

Add to that the sun is rarely out and knowing which way North is can be something of a struggle.

In conclusion, what it says about you is you'd get completely lost in the UK :)

savannah said...

having lived overseas, i became very used to traveling by landmark. the funny thing is that in los angeles, even with its structured and organized street notation, people STILL gave directions based on landmarks! but then again, it's much easier to see a 20 ft donut than a street sign. ;) xoxox

hope said...

When I graduated from college, I worked as a state police radio dispatcher for 5 years. To this day, before I can stop myself, I will say to a person asking for directions, "Guy directions or girl directions?"

Guy directions=highway/street names with left & right turns at the appropriately named intersections.

Girl directions= same info but with landmarks thrown in. Most of the women in my family panic if they're not sure a turn is before or after the big brick house with all the magnolia trees or just after they pass Mr. Smith's Fruit market.

:)

Charlie said...

Put on your inventor's hat (the tinfoil one), and make a personal GPS system the size of an iPod with the chocolate shop as the starting point . . .

Sarah said...

mmmm chocolate deli.

that is so true Kim, the UK the streets are willy nilly. i got lost on a walk in lee once. scared the crap out of the people i was staying with.

mapstew said...

'Ya want ta go where?'

'Och, ya kinna get ta there fram here'!

Kanani said...

Ah, I seem to have a homing instinct for chocolate!

Kim Ayres said...

Savannah - 20 foot Doughnuts is something missing entirely in rural Scotland. Perhaps we should petition for some...

Hope - the best story I ever heard about direction giving was from Mary of Resident Alien about how she created a map for her then boyfriend, now husband, about how to find her apartment in Japan. It involved smells and wall textures as well as sights and sounds. I'm hoping one day she puts it up as a blog post.

Charlie - you could be on to something there!

Sarah - Mary (mentioned above) is full of stories about getting lost. Getting There Eventually is always good for a read.

Mapstew - and I always thought that was an Irish saying :)

Kanani - I wonder if there's a genetic element - the chocolate homing gene...

PI said...

'Our brain spends much of its time filtering out what it considers irrelevant, and locking on to things it is programmed it to think are important.'
I am really brilliant at the first part of this sentence. It's the second part I have trouble with.
The Irish are brilliant at giving directions. You can never follow them but you have a dam good laugh.

Mary Witzl said...

In the neighborhood we're in now, we use mosques to give directions. In Japan, we used shrines and temples. In Scotland, we used a theatre that had once been a church. In America, we used a mountain... And I still got lost, all the time. Still do...

debra said...

I also have the chocolate homing gene---especially if it's dark chocolate. The huge pine tree that marked the corner of our road has been taken down. Sigh..... Now we have to tell people to turn where the pine tree used to be...

Sayre said...

Honey, I live half-way around the world and even I know where the chocolate deli is!!!
;)

Mary Witzl said...

I've just come back, Kim, to see myself in the comments above! Yay -- thank you for that plug, and how did I miss it earlier? Hmmm...maybe I get lost so often because I'm so unobservant...

Off now to write about that map!

Kim Ayres said...

Pat - the problem is, we tune them into thinking things like soap operas, game shows and problems with the youth of today are the important things

Debra - I remember in a town I used to live in there was a particular shop that had been there for about 100 years, and was a major reference point. Then it closed down and over the next 10 years had half a dozen times or more different businesses running out of it. But the original store was always still refered to. Which confused the hell out of anyone who'dlived there for less than 10 years

Sayre - and it's even on Google Maps...

Mary - your sense of direction is almost legendary - hence the reason I keep pointing people to your blog to illustrate points :) And I really look forward to you finally blogging about the map you gave Mr Witzl!

Nicole said...

everyone always knows where the chocolate is :)

Fat Lazy Guy said...

Haha, that's really interesting. It must say something that all my group of friends give directions based on fastfood places. McD's, BK, KFC, etc :D I'd like to say it was just because they have big signs :D

I tend not to give or take directions. I just go on google maps, street view a couple turns where I think I might get into trouble to see where I need to go, and visualise and memorise the route.

C in DC said...

In rural upstate NY, where I grew up, we often navigated by the big blue postal boxes.

Eryl Shields said...

I find it almost impossible to give directions or to understand other people's; I seem to see only things I find appealing, amusing, or monstrous in some way, and find my way around (or not) by a kind of feeling of familiarity.

Can't wait for Mary to post about her map!

PI said...

Just for the record I can't stand game shows. I don't count eggheads.

Kim Ayres said...

Nicole - welcome to my ramblings - sounds like we have something immediately in common :)

FLG - There's probably a fortune to be made by the person who works with a Sat-Nav company to filter directions via pubs, fast-food outlets, delis, churches etc

C in DC - I've never seen big blue postal boxes. In the UK they're all red

Eryl - the problem with going on feelings of familiarity is if the first time I visited a place I took a wrong turn, I will forever continue to take that wrong turn whenever I revisit

Pat - of course. And I don't count "Have I Got News For You" either :)

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