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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, August 05, 2002
    In the real world
    Today I'm fascinated by a map. It's a waterways map, which I bought at Ellesmere Port Boat Museum this afternoon. It covers the canals of Cheshire and North Wales and what's fascinating about it is that it reinterprets that whole country for the person reading it.

    Most maps highlight roads - this doesn't show any, just bridges, which are important on the canals so that each one is numbered and many bear names: 'Crows Nest Bridge', 'Round Thorn Bridge'. Most maps highlight urban settlements - this simply follows the waterways, emphasising settlements along their way whatever their size (eg, Bell o'th' Hill, Welsh Frankton) and sidelining major towns in the area (eg, Crewe, Flint). Most maps don't offer homely advice such as early closing days, names of all the pubs en route, and tips about navigation ('Be prepared for fast currents here'). This does. (Imagine a motorway atlas with similar tips: 'If there are roadworks on this stretch of the M6, take a good book to read', or 'A14 - watch out for lunatic drivers in Huntingdon area'. etc).

    I like this map because it shows our little world in a new light. I once went on a narrowboat holiday and enjoyed the different perspective on the British countryside which it provided. It challenged my perception of landscape, of how I see and prioritise things. It challenged also, the temptation to criticise such 'other' perspectives, on the grounds that they're not 'the real world'. For some people, this world of boats and locks and 4mph limits, IS the real world. I had a good conversation with just such a couple today, who live very comfortably and contentedly on a 70ft narrowboat. And, returning home on the rush-hour M53 with an impatient Mercedes speeding behind me, I appreciated and applauded them.