There are three mythical places that exist just about everywhere in the world of writing walking directions. I have searched for them on volcanic plains in the Canaries while an aggressive sun tried its best to beat me into submission; in fertile valleys on Crete as hopeful raptors circle overhead hoping for my demise; and on paradisical Croatian islands with a kaleidoscope of butterflies dancing about my head, obscuring my search for these legendary El Dorados. These are places I have desperately wanted to reach on numerous occasions.
These Neverlands were referenced again a couple of days ago. All three were located, allegedly, on a walking route across Exmoor. Once again, with renewed hope, I set off hoping maybe this would be the time when the promise of reaching them didn’t let me down. As boisterous clouds bullied a weak sun and burbling brooks chuckled at my vain crusade, I failed yet again in my ongoing mission to determine exactly where ‘Eventually,’ ‘Soon,’ and ‘Shortly’ were located.
Hands up, we were guilty of referencing these fabled places when we first started writing walking route directions. But over the years, with experience and by utilising better technology, we erased them, banished them to oblivion where they belong.
In direction terms, they mean nothing. They are useless. And yet, they still perkily appear in walking route directions on a semi-regular basis.
What does ‘Eventually you will arrive at a X-roads’ mean? In 5 minutes or 5 days? In 100m or 100km? I once did a Charlton Heston on La Palma, falling to the ground after yet another ‘eventually’ referenced a point that wasn’t forthcoming – ‘You maniacs,’ I cried, shaking my fist at the sky. ‘There is no eventually is there? Damn you!’
Then there’s ‘shortly you will see an old iron pump on the left,’ which had my neck performing a military ‘Look left!’ until it locked in that position by the time said rusted pump appeared.
On one paragraph of the route directions we followed the other day, there were three ‘soons.’ Soon you will come to…, soon you will arrive at…, soon you will reach…
All these ‘soons’ involved wildly varying distances, and that’s why there’s a huge problem with making friends with these capricious words when it comes to compiling route directions for others to use. They’re hazy, indecisive. If they spoke Spanish, they would shrug their shoulders and reply ‘más o menos’ at the end of answers given to every question asked. They are shifty, untrustworthy characters who get jittery when you try to pin them down.
‘But when is this hell of an ascent going to end?’ asked pleadingly with a pathetic wheeze.
‘Eventually,’ one will shrug.
‘Soon,’ the second will smile.
‘Shortly,’ the third will say, patting me on the shoulder as if it were my friend.
And then they’ll all snigger behind my back.
There is no place for these vague good-for-nothings in walking route directions.
Here’s a tip for anyone writing walking route directions. If any of these three pop into your head and say, ‘use me, I’ll be your friend,’ send them straight to the Job Centre for Words so they can be directed into more suitable employment.