Simon Norman

SIMON NORMAN is a bit lost, but it’s OK – being lost can sometimes mean finding yourself/a patisserie/ at least a Starbucks coffee.

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Are we there yet? A classic question. And the answer is yes: week 8 will soon be upon us, and with it will come a glimpse into a world where essays, laboratories and supervisions are a thing of the past. A world where the only acceptable reason to be up at 9am is to open Christmas presents. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

When I was younger, the question: “are we there yet?” was not a regular part of our car journeys. I was always fairly perceptive to the fact that, given that we were driving, we weren’t there yet, and probably wouldn’t be for a fair amount of time. The only time I ever asked the question would be on the rare occasion that we’d find ourselves lost in the depths of Devon or Cornwall on holiday. Invariably there’d be a difference of opinions up front and discussions about which parent was the better map reader. And once my mum’s tears had dried, it was either my sister or me who chipped in with: “are we there yet?” Absolute comic gold.

The thing is, I don’t think any children will really get the chance to recreate my childhood glory in any meaningful way. Nowadays, it is remarkably difficult to get lost. Just last week I resorted to loading up the GPS function on my phone to find my way to Jesus Lane. That’s not OK.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an anti-technology rant, but there’s just something awfully romantic about cartography. It’s far more impressive to drive from one end of the country to the other with relying only on an AA Road Map and motorway signs than following the orders of a disembodied passive-aggressive voice.

There’s actually something very cathartic about being hopelessly lost. If you ever find yourself in the situation where every single road you can take is just as likely to be the wrong road as it is the right one, you should embrace it. Being lost isn’t that big a problem. In fact, being lost can force you to wander around new cities aimlessly and stray away from the usual tourist traps. And this can lead to finding that one perfect taverna or patisserie which will form the basis for months’ worth of holiday anecdotes.

I know being lost isn’t always so idyllic, but it is usually quite fun. I was in Japan over the summer with a couple of friends from Cambridge, one of whom is a Tokyo native. This was great news for the rest of us – three white, middle class English brats who have no idea how to communicate in languages that aren’t English. For two weeks we relied on our Japanese friend for everything from ordering food to explaining to the hostel managers that we were going to be drunk when we arrived back.

But one afternoon however, our friend/tour guide abandoned us. She left three linguistically challenged tourists on their own at a train station. In an effort to embrace a new culture, we found a Starbucks decided to order coffee. Simple. Or not.

Somewhere along the line, and through no particular fault of the staff, we managed to take drinks purchased by an elderly Japanese couple, return them with much bowing and proclamations of domo, and then finally get what was probably our intended coffee. In any Hollywood film this would be the crucial first step in a beautiful relationship between one of the tourists and a helpful Japanese passerby. For us it was an awkward moment that emphasised how helpless we were in a foreign country.

It’s a cliché to say that the journey is as important as the destination, but nonetheless I really do think that being lost is fun, and almost always gives you the opportunity to learn important life lessons… or at the very least order coffee in Japanese. And so if you’re feeling lost and like term should be over soon, ask yourself whether “are we there yet?” is really the most important question to ask. I bet it’s not.