Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Map That Came to Life

A month ago I wrote a posting bemoaning people's growing inability to read maps. The subject also featured in a Calder's Comfort Farm at the time, where I wrote:
England is a palimpsest of Medieval churches, abandoned mineral railways, ruinous Gothic institutions and follies built by mad aristocrats. But you won’t find them on your satnav.
While writing about maps I had at the back of my mind a book that was in the library at Fields End Primary School in Hemel Hempstead in the late 1960s. (Don't look for it; it's not there anymore. The school, I mean.)

That book was called The Map That Came to Life and today it is the subject of a posting of one of my favourite blogs: English Buildings. (I have shamelessly stolen the illustration from there.)

Philip Wilkinson, the owner of the blog, writes:
Written by H. J. Deverson and illustrated by Ronald Lampitt, The Map That Came to Life was first published in 1948, and was much reprinted. It describes how two children (and a dog) go on a walk across the English countryside with an Ordnance Survey map to guide them. Much of what they find on the way is marked on the map, whose symbols for roads, railways, telephone boxes, tumuli, and so on and on, turn to reality along the way. The reader, meanwhile, learns how to read a map, and how maps have much to teach us about the world around us.
Back in 2005, in line with this blog's undertone of radical nostalgia, I quoted a New Statesman article by Malcolm Clark. It described the world portrayed in the popular Ladybird books:
Those wide expanses of seashore and countryside on Planet Ladybird are seen as totally safe. There are no overprotective parents, no teachers dreading accidents or subsequent inquests, no lawyers waiting to sue when Peter stumbles during a jump over a stile. Nor are there any dirty white vans prowling along B-roads on the off chance. 
Public space was not thought to be dangerous then, and this is not just nostalgic idealisation. I grew up in a small town in the early 1970s. The vast public park really did have attendants. It also happened to have well-tended flowerbeds and a boating pond. These days, you have to train your dog to tiptoe over the syringes. The war memorial is covered in graffiti and there isn't a police station for ten miles. If you sent Peter and Jane there to fly a kite, you'd kit them out in bulletproof vests first.
Philip Wilkinson writes of The Map That Came to Life in a similar vein:
In some ways the world of The Map That Came to Life does not exist today. These two children set off on a walk across unfamiliar country with only their map for guidance. They talk to strangers – who give them fascinating nuggets of local information rather than luring them into dark corners. Their dog spends most of its time off its lead, rivers and lakes hold no terrors for them, and, of course, this being 1948, they are not much troubled by traffic. 
It’s different in other ways too. The villages through which they pass are well provided with the kind of facilities – shops, pubs, Post Offices, a forge – that we mourn the passing of today.
And talking of radical nostaligia, brings us neatly to a posting on Stumbling & Mumbling today. Chris Dillow writes from nearby Oakham:
I suspect a reverence for English traditions is more common on the Left than amongst the Conservative Party. Neil Clark’s tastes border on the reactionary; Francis Sedgemore is a Morrisman; you’ll struggle to find a Conservative voter at a meeting of CAMRA or at a Martin Carthy gig. And when Shuggy writes that “our culture seems incapable of expressing disapproval of something unless it can be shown that someone's rights have been violated” he is expressing a conservative view. 
Many leftists, then, have Tory sentiments. And many Conservatives do not; David Cameron's Desert Island Discs are not those of a conservative.
It's interesting how far an old children's book can take you.

Later. Now read the whole book.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Map That Came to Life. I haven't seen anyone mention that book for ages. It was one of my favourites as a child and I still have the book now. It was feeling pretty dated when I was a child but I loved it.