Maps?  They’re All Over the Place! by David Aitken

Maps? They're All Over the Place!
Maps? They're All Over the Place!

Cities outgrow maps, and various countries try to do the same.  World maps in the past really should have been drawn in pencil, with an eraser attached.

The earliest maps of the world, around 600 BC, were based on a flat earth model, and are probably still used by some people today, cyclists perhaps.  Not mountaineers, though.  Old maps included cave paintings and stone etchings, which sound a bit too cumbersome to be taken on a walking holiday.  There was frequent talk of a “road map” to help us find our way out of the pandemic, at the very time when the roads were almost completely devoid of traffic.  Isn’t that what’s called a mixed message?

The convention is that north is at the top, but maps of Tokyo used to show the Japanese Imperial Palace at the top, and medieval maps were centred on Jerusalem, with East at the top.  Even today, Brazil flouts the North-up convention by having South-up maps.  I’m not sure how they cope with being upside down in Australia.  (Glue on the soles of their feet, we used to say as children.)

Thousands of years ago, maps were just clay tablets, so they would have become soggy on a rainy day.  There are current maps of the Solar System, where as far as we know, it hasn’t rained for centuries.  But there is no reliable sat-nav technology once you get beyond the Milky Way.  ‘Turn Left at Orion’ is an interesting book, but no one has managed that particular manoeuvre yet — allegedly — NASA wouldn’t return my calls.

Some countries produce maps representing their national claims.  Russian maps show Crimea as part of Russia, and Indian and Chinese maps portray Sino-Indian border disputes to their own advantage.  Some maps are static, while others are dynamic or fantasy maps, representing real or imaginary places.

It would be intriguing to see what Atlantis or Camelot looked like, or if El Dorado and Never Never Land were exact opposites, one a country full of fabulous riches and the other full of pawn shops.  I still have my own youthful sketches of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude at the North Pole, well, who doesn’t?

Do you recall the pocket books we used to buy to find our way around foreign destinations, complete with town plans and city maps?  They even contained useful questions in the local lingo, although there was no advice concerning how to understand the answers.  Luckily the locals usually just pointed, and I can’t swim anyway.

The old joke about a pocket map being something to help a Scotsman find coins in his pocket is no longer true in my case, since all my money has long since gone on lockdown treats ordered online.  As to what those goodies were, I’ll leave you to guess.  Or do I need to draw you a map?