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Ancient Feet: 50 - A Globe Of Positioning Cistern

Alan Nolan tells of a lost GPS - or should that be aglobe of positioning cistern.

To purchase of Ancient Feet, Alan's brilliantly funny account of walking Coast to Coast with has pals, vist

Signed copies of the book are available from Alan http://apn.thelea@yahoo.co.uk

Tom and I had spent a couple of days in Reeth on a short visit to the Yorkshire Dales in 2000 and it's amazing how quickly change occurs. I don't necessarily mean the landscape; I'm thinking more of technological change and how we seem able to adapt. Nothing illustrates this better than the rapid acceptance of the GPS. Sitting outside the pub in the sunshine, I couldn't help thinking about that earlier visit and had to tell the others the astonishing story of Tom's GPS.

Tom is the Inspector Gadget of the older generation; the pioneer of technological gimmickry. He must have been one of the first to acquire a hand-held GPS (and learn how to use it) and I think that was one of the reasons for his suggestion that we should explore the Dales. In those days, hardly anyone had even heard of a GPS, let alone owned one. During a long day's walk to Reeth, Tom had been playing with his hand-held gadget, attracting curious glances from other walkers and having to explain to them what the initials GPS stood for and what it did. It seems astonishing now, only a few years later, that not only does everyone know about them but also a great many have them in their cars.

Inspector Gadget became tired of playing with his toy by the afternoon and tied it to the side of his rucksack. When we reached Reeth, we had to stop while he checked the address of our B&B for the night and he had to remove his rucksack to find his notes. As it turned out, we were no more than a hundred yards from our digs. Next morning, we were ready to leave when Tom realised his GPS was missing and, after searching our room without success, the landlady and her husband were enlisted to check the house to make sure we had not put it down anywhere else. The only explanation was that it had fallen off the rucksack when Tom was searching for the address the previous evening.

We went and searched the area and called in at a nearby Health Centre to see whether anyone had handed it in there, but again without success. Although disappointed, Tom consoled himself that he would be going to America shortly and would be able to buy another one (being cheaper in the States than here) and that it would be more up-to-date than the old one. As we left the village, we noticed a police car parked at the kerb outside a detached house which turned out to be the local Police Station, if that is the correct way of describing it. We went up the path to the front door, only to find that it was locked. This seemed very strange considering there was a police car parked outside, and we thought it even stranger when no one replied to our knocking on the door.

As we stood at the door, wondering what else we could do to attract the attention of the officer inside, we noticed one of those intercom systems on the wall to the right of the door but at about knee height (well, about my knee height but Tom's waist height).Tom pressed the buzzer and the most bizarre conversation ensued.

'Hello,' said a disembodied voice.

'I'd like to report the loss of a GPS.'

'A what?'

'AG...P...S,' Tom said slowly.

'What's one of them?'

'Look, why don't you let us in?' asked Tom.

'What do you mean?'

'Open the door and let us in.'

'I can't.'

'Why not?'

'I'm at police headquarters in Northallerton.'

Northallerton! Fucking Northallerton! What happens if there's an emergency in Reeth? Northallerton is bloody miles away.

All this time Tom was bent almost double, speaking into the intercom and, after he had recovered from the revelation about the disembodied voice, he tried another tack.

'I'm in Reeth and I've lost a GPS, which is a Global Positioning System.'

'What does it look like?'

'It looks a bit like a mobile phone but you can't make calls on it,' said Tom.

'Where did you lose it?'

'I think it must have dropped out of my rucksack last night when I arrived in Reeth.'

'I'd better take some details. Let me get an incident report form. What did you say it was called a globe of positioning cistern?'

Tom answered endless questions for the ridiculously long form, stooping the whole time with his ear to the intercom.

'I'll give you an incident number. You'll need this for your insurance company,' the voice said at last.

'Just a minute. Let me find a pen and some paper.'When you are on a walking break and staying in B&Bs, you carry a great many things but pen and paper are not usually amongst them (unless your name's Don, of course. He has a complete office suite at the bottom of his pack). However, Tom did manage to find a pen and also managed to find a till receipt, the back of which he could use to write the number. He crouched down again.
'OK. I'm ready.'

Tom, bending down, now had his right leg raised and held his scrap of paper on his right knee with his right hand and, holding his pen in his left hand, tried to write as he wobbled about on one leg, struggling to keep his balance and each time he started to write, the pen pierced the paper.

'2 ... 5 ... 7 ... 3 ... 6 ... 2 ... 4 ... 9.'
'Couldn't you make it any longer?'Tom asked sarcastically.

'3 ... 5,' continued the voice.

'I didn't actually mean it.'At last,Tom had all the digits written down.
'I'd better give you this reference number as well.'

'Another number?'

'8 ... 7 ... 8 ... 1 ... 4 ... 6 ... 9 ... 9 ... 2.'

Tom struggled again but at last he had all the details and we were able to set off on our day's journey.

Tom hoped that he would hear nothing more about the GPS as he was keen to buy a more up-to-date model, so he was disappointed when he received a letter from police headquarters in Northallerton a few weeks later, informing him that the GPS had been handed in and asking how he wanted it to be returned to him. He replied to the effect that it should be sent in the post, but asking whether the police could give him the name and address of the honest person who had handed it in, as he would like to send a small reward. He had in mind sending 10. When he received the package, the accompanying letter gave the name of the honest person as Lavinia Pemberton-Smythe and the address was The Grange, Grinton. Tom visualised The Grange as being the residence of the local squire and Lavinia being the beautiful daughter who had been out riding on her white stallion when she spotted the GPS. How could he possibly send a 10 reward to someone like that?

As always, he came up with what he thought was a brilliant solution. He has raised a great deal of money for a local charity by producing and selling books of short walks from pubs in his local area and these retail at 5.95. He decided to write to Lavinia thanking her very much for her honesty in handing in the GPS, for which he was most grateful, but his letter went on to say 'I had thought of sending a cash reward but when I saw your name and address, I did not want to insult you by offering cash. In the circumstances, I enclose a signed copy of my book Walks Around Langley and Sutton.'

'You bloody idiot,' I said when he told me, 'I remember walking past The Grange and it's an Old Peoples Home. Lavinia is probably a doddering ninety year old in a motorised wheelchair and she only spotted the GPS on her way to the Health Centre because she is closer to the ground than anyone else. The chances are she pocketed it, thinking it was a mobile phone and that she would be able to sell it and buy a bottle of gin. The reason that it took her a month to hand it in was because she couldn't work out how it worked and couldn't sell it to any of the other residents in the home because they couldn't make it work either. So don't be surprised if you get a letter back saying 'Keep your poxy book. Just send me the money' And what would a ninety year old in a wheelchair, living in North Yorkshire, want with a book on walking in Cheshire anyway?'


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