Maps, atlases, globes, Google Maps and satellite navigation each have their uses and characteristics, but all serve the purpose of illustrating where we are locally, countrywide or globally. Each has a level of usefulness relative to accuracy and ability of the user to process and apply the information for his or her particular purpose. Early maps of the ancient world, decorative maps of the new world, a sketch simply drawn on the back of a fag packet or a large scale particular O.S.Number, obsessively refolded in its original crisp creases, can be a source of joy to some, but of little interest to others who may prefer to know all there is to know about birds. Ostensibly, the fundamental function is to show us where we are and the route to where we want to go.

Reading the map is fine to identify the “You are here” spot, but working out which direction to take by relating the two dimensional representation to a busy junction in a strange city, remains a mystery to me. I often have to look both ways coming out of the likes of Waterstones, to make sure I turn in my desired direction along Princes Street.  

Ability to process the information required to develop a sense of direction demands exercising a particular area of the brain. Some people have easy access and some don’t. Research into poor sense of direction has revealed to me a recently named condition and shown that it is not necessarily a characteristic of #vulnerable age. So that’s good! Well, I knew that already really, because it has been something I have dealt with ever since I became aware, but not very concerned about it. Dromosagnosia – from the Greek way or road and agnos which has been drawn to our attention very recently for another reason. It is an absent or reduced sense of direction when driving. But, here’s the pleasing bit for me; poor sense of direction doesn’t come with poor sense of anything else, because the afflicted in this area are generally above average intelligence, having sacrificed this to excel in other areas. I read it in The Guadrian so it must be true! I have friends who will testify to my need for verbal directions no matter how often we share the same journey, and I could give so many examples of wasted time spent driving round and round in vaguely familiar territory only to end up where I started. Sighthill Industrial Estate springs to mind.

Many of us will recall the childhood fascination of spinning a globe, and learning to find our own place on it. How familiar those names and shapes became; the heel and toe of Italy, the Horn of Africa, and that place we called Signapoor from where an uncle in the Royal Navy sent a post card. On this was based my understanding of the big wide world. Much later, it was useful for me to know where exactly in Africa the country of Nigeria, the pink square a bit further south than the Sahara, is situated, so that I could be confident I knew where in the world I might be going.

One year, in the mid 80’s maybe, the New Times Atlas would have entered many households as a coveted Christmas or Birthday present. That magnificent book was a delight. It brought another dimension to the fashionable entertainment of the time, i.e. looking at the projected slides from friends’ holidays. The atlas would be opened on the floor, with a finger tracing the far flung route and putting the pictures into a wider context. Although the atlas was a well used addition to the huge dictionaries with tissue paper thin leaves and print so small the volumes came with their own magnifying glass, it was often thought to be a bit of a scunner because it was too big to fit on any of the lower book shelves, and too heavy to lift down from the top. But the main benefit of an atlas is that it requires no sense of direction to consult such a detailed representation of the world. All that’s required is the curiosity to look and the sense of adventure to one day go to see for oneself.

The A.A.Road Maps and several A to Z’s were always kept in the passenger door cubby hole.  I never had any difficulty looking up the index and finding the page, but whether or not the page needed to be turned upside down to match my direction of travel has always been a puzzle.   However, all is not lost.  My new car has a Sat Nav, so once I work out how that works, I’ll be well on the right road.

The Google Maps facility to Get Directions is a good one for me because it gives written instructions, total distance, and estimated time. I have no difficulty following written instructions and nor have I difficulty with the concept of distance. I promise not to dwell on the potential risk of having to call on emergency services and to placing further burden on already stretched hospitals, at a time when we were told to go no further than the end of the garden path, of traveling from London to Durham, nor to comment on the apparent certainty that a four year old will not need a loo or a fidgeting distraction stop at a motorway service station on such a dash. You will all have already decided what you think about that.

There is so much in literature and song about travelling, roads, highways and byways. We talk too, about lives mapped out, and chosen pathways. Many will reflect on the decision they made when coming to that fork in the road, and the difference it has made. My Granny always said “Whit’s in front o’ ye winna gae by ye”, so leaving things in the hands of fate may be the preferred philosophy for some. But right now, we are presented with a Route Map for Scotland’s way out of our current need for hunkerin’ doon. Last week we were introduced to, invited to scrutinize and comment on if we so desired, the safest way through and out of where we are now. You can imagine I was happier to be met with a document of text and not an actual cartographic illustration. There are those who agree with the journey plan and others who think it will take too long. I know someone who may say it’s a long way round for a short cut, but it’s purpose is clear, the necessary steps well delineated and the desired end identified.

I will take the liberty of likening the principals of the Route Map to the use of an Ordinance Survey Map of any area south or north of the Central Belt, which will show pathways, steep contours, rivers, bogs and forests.  Given specific co-ordinates, the desired destination can be identified.  There is no doubt that we will have to navigate through and over what will be rough ground and steep hills, if not mountains.  The exact co-ordinates need to be in place for a well organised responsibly undertaken expedition to begin.  There is a quiet confidence that we won’t have too much longer a wait.  There can be no wholly meaningful estimate of arrival time yet, nor the time each leg of the journey will take to complete, because conditions may change, and the nature of the change allowed for.   Exact co-ordinates need to be in place before it can start, but with the best preparation and appropriate equipment, hopefully we can all set off in the same direction.  Inevitably there will be eejits who think it is OK to climb Ben Nevis in a pair o’ trainers, but we have to try to persuade them otherwise.  

There is no denying that this lockdown must seem like a never ending trial to some, for whatever their individual reasons. In his book The Road Less Travelled, M. Scot Peck says “ … our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable … in such moments .. we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways and truer answers.” Whether we agree or disagree with his maxim, at least it suggests that we need not be completely devoid of hope that we may end up in a place of change for the better.

It looks like we have Hobson’s Choice with the directions we must follow to keep to the Route Map if we have a chance of getting there. With a clear set of directions at least we shouldn’t get lost, no matter the level of sense of direction. Fear of getting lost as a child was never very real, but we were in no doubt about a solution to any such eventuality. I haven’t ever and still don’t ever hesitate to use it and it will probably be my default tactic in the future. My Granny told us “Ye’ve got a guid Scotch tongue in yer heid so jist ask!”

I’m still on the right track!

2 thoughts on “Maps

  1. Well I’ve always blamed my lifelong poor sense of direction on my father who never seemed to walk or drive the same route twice. Now when told its a skill I lack I can argue that it shows my above average intelligence. What that says about “ himself’s”:extensive collection of around 60 OS maps is another matter. Who knew our wee country could be divided into so many areas.


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