It was a childhood dream of mine to have large-scale Ordnance Survey maps on a mobile apparatus that I could have on my lap in a car. Back in the late 1950s I thought only of a paper map in a long strip, that rolled north and south. I couldn't see how it could be made to roll east and west also. I made do with real maps, bought in shops, that covered fixed areas. I never had a problem with folding them up, but it irked me that each sheet cost so much and covered so little of the country. A single map might be two or three times my weekly pocket money.
Once working, the personal map collection quickly grew. But the dream of having maps at various scales on a device that I could easily carry around with me never died. It was finally fulfilled in 2012, when I bought a tablet.
But a tablet wasn't quite the answer. It was a bit too large and heavy to take on a day out, and risky to use in a busy street. Nor was it weatherproof. Something like a proper solution wasn't long in coming: my first Android smartphone. And now I have my latest phone, with its large (but not too large) screen.
I still have a huge collection of paper maps, and I constantly consult the oldest of them for historical purposes. But I don't take them on holiday much. I've been trying not to since getting the tablet in 2012 - they clutter up the caravan. But it was never entirely practical to leave them home until I had the bright screen and long battery life of my smartphones.
I've always used a good road atlas. This is the latest-bought of the one I best like. I get a new edition every three years:
When touring, you need a road atlas like this to view a wide area of countryside, so that you can judge how far you can reasonably go. And, of course, choose the places to aim for. But on the road I rely on the phone. Most of my maps are downloads, and need no Internet connection to work. I use whichever scale is right for the moment - it's easy to switch between scales - and it's all there on a compact device that pops in my bag. So, contemplating a visit to Tyneside when I'm staying up in Northumberland in two weeks' time, I can summon up a succession of maps on my phone, each one suitable for a particular purpose:
All this is very practical, and very useful. Where could a problem possibly arise?
Well, there's none at all when at my destination, and walking around, or when on a train. But if I'm sat at the wheel of my car, I'm running a risk if I touch my phone and I'm seen by a police officer, or I'm caught on camera. For they've tightened up the penalties for using a mobile phone while driving, which includes checking your route when stationary at traffic lights. I'm certain that no distinction would be made between having the phone in your hands to make (or take) a call with it, and having it in your hands to read a map.
This doesn't faze me at all. In paper map days, you'd pull in, unfold the map (or consult the road atlas), then drive on. Now, in 2017, I shall have to do the same, but ideally cut the engine before consulting the phone, just in case I'm being observed. Then, after putting the phone away, fire up the engine and drive on. I don't think this procedure will be nuisance, but nuisance or not, I intend to avoid the attentions of the police. It would be galling to face an accusation of breaking the law, just because I was technically still 'driving' Fiona.
It's no answer to say that the police will surely have their hands full with more pressing matters. There will always be zealous officers who just happen to be looking, and feel duty-bound to act. How lucky do I feel? Not very. I don't want a tap on my window as I'm working out the best route.