Date: 3 February 2016.
Location: a bar, Soho.
My tendency to make dangerously poor decisions has not, contrary to my hopes and expectations, notably decreased with age.
It's Wednesday night and I've been invited to celebratory drinks at the local pub — of our Harlow office. For various reasons, it's important that I show my face, despite the fact that Harlow is in the middle of nowhere, Essex. I plan my long journey. Upon arrival at Harlow Town station, I Google the pub and see that it's just a measly 0.8km away. So, like the brazen, thrifty, happily walk-a-mile-in-Reiss-heels London creature I've become, I stroll right off the national rail service, out of the station and breeze past the cabs.
This is a decision that I will come to bitterly regret.
It immediately starts to drizzle.
As I attempt to cross a four lane roundabout that is choked with rush hour cars, I realise that Harlow is simply not a pedestrian town. Everyone else has already realised this. I'm the only person on foot and it's getting dark and scary.
Google takes me down a side road lined with auto repair garages and plumbing wholesalers. There is a queue of gridlocked cars, their drivers peering curiously out at this odd solitary pedestrian. I avoid eye contact and turn up the music on my iPhone (The Wombats, Glitterbug) and persevere. 400m, 200m, 100m…. And I'm still in predator alley. This is so obviously wrong and I kick myself for taking this long to work that out. I re-Google. A different address comes up. It's only 0.9km from the station — in the opposite direction. Okay, I give up, taxi time. But there is no such thing in sight.
I set off on foot back towards the roundabout, take a different turn and start trudging along the footpath, caught between a thick wood and a highway. A few hundred meters in and Google tries to lure me down a path through the wood. A shortcut to the pub, it says! I'm not fooled. I want to live to a crusty old age, not feature in tomorrow's headlines as 'Australian lawyer found decapitated in Harlow forrest'. No, the sun is moments away from setting and I'll be damned if I'm walking through a marshy park in the pitch black wilds of Essex. Cunningly, I change the settings on Google maps from pedestrian to drive. It leads me on towards to a second comfortingly well-lit giant roundabout. After the roundabout, the pub is just 0.4km to the right, along the highway.
It's around about this point that I realise that Google has been playing me, just as I have been playing it. The pub was never 900m away, it was 0.9 miles away. Or, 1.4km away: a very different proposition in the dark and in the rain. But I'm in this now.
At the roundabout I meet a new fun surprise. There are no pedestrian lights. A few thoughtful drivers, looking both horrified and bemused at my predicament, let me cross. I stand in the central island of the roundabout — hating my life and the education system that has so failed me — in my prim little Hobbs dress and insubstantial ballet flats, clutching at my handbag for dear life. Another set of pitying drivers let me cross to other side.
Here, I meet my final challenge. There are no sidewalks. Nothing. This town is so staunchly unfriendly to pedestrians that there is nothing between the roaring road to my right and the deep grass of a sheep field to my left. I want to cry. All that keeps me from giving up, digging a burrow and sleeping out the night here is the warm and beckoning light of the pub, just 600m away.
I continue to trudge, now through slippery mud. There are several low points over the next ten minutes. I catch my stocking on a bramble and tear both it and my leg. I stumble into a puddle. At one point I lose a flimsy ballet flat into some mud. Finally, it occurs to me that there are probably several of my colleagues watching from the snug confines of their cars as they, oh so intelligently, drive to the pub — cackling.
Finally, muddled, scratched and tearful, I make it to The Dusty Miller and barricade myself in a bathroom for ten minutes of stern chats, tonight questions and aggressive grooming.
You can revoke my grown-up status now.