My internal GPS

Last post in my series on a directional theme.

Here’s the funny thing in my left-right challenged brain. I can travel somewhere once, and years later I will remember how to get there again, no maps, no directions, no written address. Mr S is amazed.

“We go along Victoria Road, turn left after the shops and then take the second street on the right. Sue and Peter’s house is half-way down. They had the gardenias planted planted last time. They may be grown or even pulled out.”

“Do you remember the street name and house number?”

“No, but look that’s their garden.”

Or I will say, “We have to go further down this street and go around the block but don’t take the first one after, it’s too dodgy. Greg’s street is a one-way.”

Mr S has long since stopped replying thus, “You’ve been to Greg’s once, five years ago. He is my friend and I used to come here all the time. I know which way to go.” As he drives the wrong way and ends up having to back track.

Sometimes my internal navigation system can’t precisely pin-point the house. “It’s that one or that one.” And Mr S will investigate. Other times Mr S will be certain that it is a particular house, but my navigation system will be certain I am right. He now defers to me. Nuff said.

Sometimes I have to start from a certain place. So I will say that I could find the place we are going to if we went closer to our old house as I need to approach the city from the west.

I don’t remember street names. In my own city I remember three: York, George and Pitt. Well, that’s not entirely true. I know others, just not where they are. Not much help when people give directions. “Go along Market Street.” Mmmm, which one is that? But I can find a building without street names.

This strange gift is not just for my own city. I can get to places in other towns that I visited once, ten or twenty years ago.

The only blank spot is Sutherland Shire. I don’t do “The Shire”. It’s always a mystery, and not a particularly nice mystery. I always get lost. It’s as if I am going for the first time. Each time. For some reason, my brain blanks it. (No shire people here, are there?) For interstate and overseas readers, you have to trust me on this one. As someone who has always lived in the West and the North of Sydney, I’ve never understood why the shire people have tickets on themselves. And hey, with this attitude, I don’t get a lot of invitations to visit! So, not finding my way around this section of Sydney is not a bad thing.


The only down side to this gift, when they put in new roads, or even more challenging by-passes, everything is thrown out of whack.

Sometimes if they chop down trees or there’s new buildings, I might be affected. But generally, while I use landmarks to give directions, my internal GPS doesn’t need them.

How’s your internal GPS?

PS: I found the following images when I was looking for images on the Shire. They have nothing to do with GPS but they made me laugh. If you’re not from Sydney, they may mean nothing but I think you may have your own versions.

They come from a university paper. Gotta love undergraduate humour.


And love the Westie response. Of course the uni being in the east left out the Westie view. So typical. To think they have no Westies at their uni or to just ignore them.



17 thoughts on “My internal GPS

  1. I think I’ve seen those Sydney maps – but it’s so true! I had a dream the other night, that I was ‘going with’ come other guy, but he WOULD NOT tell me where he was from in Sydney/where he lived. I couldn’t ‘place’ (stereotype) him, and this was deeply unsettling!

    Alas, I have some of your knack, but not all – I know more street names, as we name our assets by the two intersecting streets. I know a lot lot lot of Sydney thanks to my work, and the diversity of the areas electricity goes to :p THat being said, in Brisbane, where I grew up, I need internal compass, and I need the whole ‘just take that road to there’ – it mostly works, though they have done some MAJOR new busways to throw me out!

    We just went to Clovelly (first time together), and it was a ‘by sight and sound’ – seeing signs for/of the ocean. Worked!

  2. I also have the left/right confusion but I think my brain also works similarly to yours. I seem to have a photographic memory for journeys. Like you find, problems arise if there are changes or diversions for road works etc because then I am completely thrown. Also if I make a mistake finding a route the first time, for ever afterwards I always have to go through the ‘wrong ways’ first before I find the ‘Right way’ to that destination. Very frustrating! If people stop me in the street for directions I close my eyes and see myself moving through that journey, giving directions as I go! Weird .

  3. I have only slight shades of the Inner Directional Beacon. I have a really good knowledge of places I’ve visited more than once. But there’s no way I could re-navigate a ‘once off’ venue – not a hope!

    I love The Shire picture. We only went there once during our time in Sydney. It was like a night out of a movie. Enormous mansions, flashy money, skimpy dresses, balmy nights, fast cars and frangipanis. Utterly marvellous in a way that just shocked and awed us as Melburnians.

    I love those cartoon maps! The thing that frustrated me endlessly about living in Sydney was that the map was a giant mental blank in a cultural sense. I was forever asking the mums at school, ‘But what does Maroubra MEAN? And Campbelltown? And Balmain?’ It was all so hard. We sort of figured it out in the end but it took 2 years of living there. Even now, I’m looking at those cartoons thinking, ‘Ohhhh…*now* I get it!’

      • I was actually googling maps and trying to find a Melbourne version, but I haven’t yet. I’d love to have one for some of the parents at our school who have only been in Melb a year or so.

  4. I feel like I have a good sense of direction, but it’s probably a combination of prior experience of navigating in/to a place, and actually having studied maps. When I travel to a new area of my city, I make a point of remembering the routes in and out, the street names and landmarks and so on. It’s all quite deliberate! It’s easy to get around here because of the geography, too – you know if you are going toward or away from the harbour, etc.

    • Unsurprising that you are as exacting in finding your way to unknown places as you are in other areas of your life!

      I often wing it when going somewhere. Know the rough way, and then use a variety of maps to pin point the actuall place. Have lost my way and lost my temper several times. Once memorably I tore out a page from my street directory in a fit of temper. And then tore the page up. Yes, not helpful I know. Especially as I took an extra page – one that I subsequently needed. This before the Internet and when street directories where very expensive. So there were several places in Sydney that I couldn’t visit. “Sorry, doesn’t exist in my street directory.”

  5. Another thought, perhaps related to the left/right confusion issue. I also have difficulties with locks which seem weird to me. For instance about four years ago we bought a new large suitcase for our long haul travels. The locks are different to anything I have ever seen before and I simply cannot master them. That is probably because initially I made so many different attempts to lock the case I completely confused myself. My husband does it first time. Very time we have used the suitcase since then I insist I try first but go through all the same permutations before I admit failure and ask hubby to do it instead.

  6. Very impressive! I’m nowhere near that good. I usually need to visit somewhere multiple times to remember where I’m going, plus the starting point needs to be generally the same area. But forget everything if we’re traveling at night! Then I’ll surely be lost.

  7. I have a very visual memory, so I remember a lot of ‘directions’ by land marks. I know where to turn, but I have no idea what the street is called – when I direct people to my house, it’s all drive past the high school, you’ll see a park, there’s a cluster of houses on the left, turn right there, that’s my street. Work is described as next door to the bar on the corner. Apparently, I give good direction. Once I’ve been somewhere a couple of times, I’m fine. BUT if I go somewhere one way and come home another way, that’s the only way I can go and come home. I cannot reverse the directions at all.

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