Walking Into Walls: A Special (Navigation) Story

When I was young, I used to walk into walls a lot.

My parents would let me toddle about the house, as you would allow any normal two-year-old to do, but the minute they took an eye off me, I would invariably find a wall to walk straight into. I like to think that I was a child prodigy conducting empirical research into theoretical physics from a very young age, but my parents were convinced that something was wrong with me. Strange.

The “phase” continued until I was seven. My seemingly unfulfilled desire to collide with solid vertical surfaces, repeatedly, resulted in the loss of two front teeth, a mild concussion and for a short while, my ability to communicate in any form other than frog-like croaking. In movies and novels, when things like this happen to children, they usually become child prodigies, or ambidextrous. I was already a child prodigy, so in my case, head banging had the reverse effect. I became the opposite of a child prodigy, and amphibious.

Spatial navigation remains a problem for me. I haven’t learnt to drive yet (thank goodness for everyone else on the road) but I’ve practically been forbidden from giving anyone else directions. I’ve been living in the same city for 15 years now but I can barely get from my bedroom to the kitchen. To this day, I haven’t been able to find my Narnia wardrobe. And I’m convinced I have one; I can’t have walked through all those walls for nothing. I’m pretty sure I am the Chosen One.

Anyway, strangers have stopped me a few times and asked me for directions to the nearest railway station or Starbucks or Cold-War-themed Disney Adventure Park – you know, ordinary tourist stuff. And I’m so pleased that I bear the look of a well-travelled, knowledgeable local that I ignore the fact that I still need to ask myself (sometimes out loud) which hand I write with to tell my right hand from my left. My usual go-to is “go straight along this road and then take a left”. Sometimes I mix it up a little, and say, “take a left and then go straight along the road.” If the asker looks like he/she expects more, I add “and then take the third exit off the roundabout to your left”. Always left, never right. Right seems suspicious, somehow – anything that practically announces its own degree of correctness is probably wrong. Anyway, I’m not putting their lives in actual danger or anything, just inconveniencing them a little bit. Plus, there’s only one cliff in the area I live, and what are the chances that they’ll drive off that? My mother just doesn’t seem to understand.

Psychology has an explanation for my disability. Redistributed grey matter. People who have more grey matter in the right posterior hippocampus have better spatial navigation. ‘Right’ is my least favourite side. ‘Posterior’ is Shakespeare for buttocks. Hippos are weird. All this supports my main argument: I’m pretty sure I lost some of that grey matter walking into all those walls.

Update: I just told my mother and she says that this is a circular argument. I can’t tell; is it?