Do you ever go on an unexpected diversion? I’ve just been on one and I haven’t left my desk. Diversions happen all the time. Sometimes they can be good such as when you’re browsing Wikipedia intent on looking up a specific fact only to end up several mouse clicks away. I’m diverted all the time at work, starting off doing what I intended only for the phone to ring, emails to arrive, the fax machine to jam and before I know it I am 6 0r 7 tasks away from the job that was urgent 2 hours ago. I might remember that original task but the chances of remember task 2 or 3 after completing diversion 7 is less good.
I do get diverted a lot in the garden, in the shops even on the television remote control. Maybe it is because life is so fluid. I could have a short attention span but I don’t think that is the case. Most likely it is because I have lots of imagination and an explorative tendency.
All of us writers no doubt get diverted when writing. To an extent it is healthy and shows us the story has a life of its own. You start off writing about Jack on the way home from work sat reading the newspaper on the train and before you know it not only has the passenger opposite left with his wallet and USB stick on the seat but Jack insists on seeing whose dead legs are poking out from the toilet compartment into the corridor.
That’s where my blog has taken me today. A few days ago I fully intended to write about something in particular. I even started writing the text but when I went online to find an appropriate graphic, that was it I was on an unexpected journey. A dead King of England here, a radio news broadcast there and a few topics filed for later blogging down the line and here I am going to talk about maps.
I’ve always been intrigued by maps. Maps can give out so much information, they can be beautiful to look at and they can be fun. No really.
30 years or so ago I used to do jigsaws puzzle and my favourate jigsaw was ‘The Counties of Britain’. Each county would have a painting on it of what goes on in that county. Coal mining in Yorkshire, sailing off the South Coast and a good 50 square miles or so represented with a painting of people pushing a round cheese down a hillside. Bizarre. Soon afterwards I got a similar puzzle but this time a map of the world. Egypt was sandy with a Pyramid on it, there was a long wall in China and that country with cowboys on the one side and a statue of liberty on the other was a lot like my country but wasn’t quite. To complete the puzzle I’d always start off with the skinny places that stick into the sea. Japan, Italy and Central America and once I realised Japan didn’t connect into Austria then I had the world figured out.
Everyone has seen maps of the world whether they are simple geographic maps or maps showing which areas have lots of rubber trees and corn fields. Even the basic map tells us a lot. People generally produce maps for themselves and as such put their own country at the centre of the world. Below is a basic version of a map that our fore-fathers in the UK would have been familiar with, the Empire map with you-know who right in the middle of things. Even geographic terms persist from this map. The Far East, The Middle East, The Near East are all based on distances from London. If you live in Nigeria then the “Middle East” to you should really be in South Africa and from Los Angeles the Far East should be Eastern Europe which to London is just the Near East. Oh this is confusing…
If you are from North America you probably have seen maps like this:
and playing on a hunch I imagined China would see itself as the centre of the world and would have London at the far west and New York at the far east. 10 seconds on Google and my guess wasn’t far wrong:
Of course this is all natural, everyone is pre-occupied by themselves and as the world is globular then there really is no right or wrong. Below is the most recent map I could find which if you look closely includes South Sudan in North-East Africa:
If you look at maps not only do they give you information but they also raise questions if you look at them. Many of these are about borders, just by looking at them the Canadian/USA border could not be resulting from natural boundaries such as rivers or Mountains. Why does Egypt have almost a rectangular border except for a few squiggles? Do near Moscow have anything in common with those Russians near Alaska? Why is the England/Scotland border the way it is? Is there a reason why there are all those seas as lakes from the Mediterranean eastwards, were they ever linked? How do they replenish themselves? All things I used to think about until I found out the answers.
These are all the sorts of maps that I would look at as a child but then when I got older I started looking at transport maps.
While looking at train maps in Europe I came across the one below for proposed high speed train routes in the USA. I love train travel, no flying involved and no driving for me. What’s not to like?
The map above is basic but it has told me of two places I have never heard of before, Eugene and St. Paul. The map doesn’t just show where the new rail routes may go but some of the biggest cities and natural trade and tourist routes.
These days the internet gives access to a whole host of maps, some of which weren’t even conceived of when I used to look at my paper atlases. There are too many to show here but here are two or three interesting maps I thought people may like to see.
This one above shows the connectivity of the world for for international travel and communications.
The map above shows the urban population for each country and the percentage of the whole population. Here in the UK we have 90% of the country living in urban areas, pretty much the highest anyway.
Finally we get to the map that started off this whole escapade. This is the modern version of the map I used to look at as a boy and I went through all the maps above and more just to find it. That’s the beauty of maps though and when you do get diverted maps can come in handy there too.
Looking at the map above and comparing it to the geographic maps further up shows lots of interesting points. One can’t escape the fact that though China and India are large countries, they have huge populations. Most countries have populations in balance with their territorial size although this doesn’t mean that they have the resources or are developed enough yet to reach western standards of living. Russia, Australia and Canada are just some huge countries with a relatively low population. There is no escaping the fact that for the size of the UK territorially, we sure are stuffed full of people.
I hope you liked my diversionary journey through the maps and I promise I’ll get back to original blogging point sooner or later.