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

    Thursday, November 04, 2004
    Finding a way
    I want to engage with Tim Stott's Variant article, Next on the Left, or: 'What good is a map if you know the way?' in which he investigates the claims of the French curator, critic and art theorist Nicolas Bourriaud that "geography/cartography is now the most appropriate means of exploring the networks, boundaries and socio-economic formations that constitute and circumscribe human relations". Stott suggests that "the complexities of the contemporary world - of financial markets, information networks, social relations, etc - are 'unfigurable' and opaque, and thus no longer representable; but they can be surveyed and mapped."

    I want to engage with it because I love maps. I want to engage with it because I love the processes which create maps - deep walking, profound engagement with place, a bit of artistic creativity. I want to engage with it because it looks like it could form a few interesting projections on how we might see our world today.

    But I can't engage with it just now because my mind is tired, with thinking of what to say to the bereaved today. Many days I do it - think of what to say to the bereaved - but today was different because today the bereaved are my next-door neighbours and the guy, laid-out in the living room, whose cold hand I held this evening, is the guy I've loved chatting with over the fence these past months.

    I could map out Harry's life these past weeks. A more-or-less straight line eight hundred yards to the newsagents and bookies and back, slow, with a stick but also a twinkle. Usually, till very near the end, a twinkle. Not the most exciting-looking map in the world. But it would describe a world of conversation, each staging-post a place of good encounter, exchange of news and opinion, trade-ins and trade-offs, the stuff of Harry's straightforward but full life. On that map I would put dotted lines from side-door to pavement where he wheeled my wheelie bin out and in again on (bin-day) Friday, and very occasionally I did the same favour for him. On that map I would mark in bright red ink my car, whose colour he mocked, me being a Blue, he being of the other persuasion. No-one's perfect. On that map I would illustrate the hole in the fence between our houses through which his yappy dog appears, quite often, to run his nose through my overgrown garden.

    What good is a map if you know the way? I think Harry knew the way; I envy his straightforward life, I'm enriched through mapping his path. I know it's meant to be my job to know the way, but without maps like his, I'm utterly, terribly, lost.