I get lost. Easily. It’s a joke among friends and family how easily I get lost. At times I manage to get lost in town – and I’ve been living around here all my life, although I have a private theory that Mantua at times must stretch, curl or uncurl this or that street, and move gardens and squares and palaces – for either comfort or fun…
And I don’t need to go to town, either. There is this village nearby, where I have been teaching some sort of drama classes to middle-graders for years, and where the Town Hall, and supermarket, and local library are, and where friends live. For all that, it’s a truly small village, and I go there often enough, have been for decades – and still manage to lose my way.
I’d say I have no sense of direction – except that it’s rather that I have an intermittent and selective one: put me in the centre of a large city I never saw before, and within an hour I’ll know my way around. Why is that? I haven’t the foggiest, but so it is. Always has been.
Lately, though, I’ve noticed a curious thing. The first time was when arriving in London with the bus from Stansted, through Shoreditch and Bishopsgate, and knowing where I was because of the hours spent poring over the Agas Map for the novel.
And then… I’d never been in Oxford before the HNS Conference – so, on Sunday afternoon, after we were finished and I still had plenty of time before making my way to London, I thought I’d wander around a little. I set out alone and mapless, gazing about as I walked – from St. Anne’s College towards the centre. And suddenly… St. Giles, St. John’s College, Cornmarket, and… High Streate, suddenly said a voice in my head. Quater Voys. And I knew where I was. And I knew my way around. And I knew it because of Wenceslas Hollar‘s 1643 map of Oxford, that I’d been studying for the couple of scenes in my novel that take place there.
So I went around, and visited St. Mary, and Trinity College, and the Bodleian Library, and the just strolled about, and went back to High Street for cream tea at the Mitre – and then back to St. Anne to collect my luggage. And never got lost once. And yes, the magic would have ceased the moment I stepped out of the old town – but while I was there, I always knew where to go and how to go there.
So it would seem that this is how I am: no amount of acquaintance with a place, however small, will teach me to navigate it – but let me have moved my characters through a centuries old map, and I suddenly grow an inner homing pigeon.